Meaning in Miró: Using Art to Engage in Juvenile Facilities

One of the tough things about art is learning to accept how it makes you feel, which also happens to be one of the toughest things about life.

When I painted murals at the juvenile facility I worked at, it would always garner a lot of attention from the youth in residence. I purposely (and perhaps over-confidently) chose to reproduce famous paintings with the hope they would remember it should they see the image again somewhere in their future lives.

Just as faces are easier to remember than names, these classic images would help connect them to the sense of history I would tell them about the artist and that work. At the very least, I hoped it would remind them of the wonderful conversations we had on those weekend afternoons.


The mural shown here is one of the first works I reinterpreted as a 4×4 painting, and is based on the art of the great 20th century artist, Joan Miró’s “The Garden.” I chose to paint this in a section that housed a group of adolescent males, some with criminal backgrounds and all victims of various types of trauma in their young lives. I was aware this abstract imagery would provoke many reactions, but welcomed them as opportunities for some potentially great discussions.

Some of the comments made to me were:

  • “What’s he got growing in that garden?”
  • “Man, what kind of drugs do you have to do to see that?”
  • And my favorite: “That ain’t art…that’s just crazy.”

Other responses I heard included:

  • “That should not exist.”
  • “This does not make sense.”
  • “How can I understand this? Why should I understand this?”

All are valid questions. None of these have anything to do with the art, but have everything to do with their perceptions about their lives. And so, with what I heard as the foundation, we began to talk.

Using the elements of the mural as the basis of discussion points, we began to talk about how everyone’s interpretation of this strange drawing is, in fact, correct (that’s the beauty of abstract art).  We spoke of the many possible reasons why Miró drew this the way he did, what he might have wanted to say through this work, and –  by sharing his unique vision – what it means to be vulnerable.

We spoke of how there are many things we will never fully comprehend and how we can learn to glean a more positive perspective to help untangle a chaotic situation. Perception, acceptance, tolerance, and eventually, understanding.

These concepts were not labeled as such, yet all these issues were explored and understood a little bit better than they were the hour before we started talking about that crazy art on the wall.

Art genuinely inspires the sharing of thoughts, ideas, and feelings which then encourages and opens doors to healing. Just as a chaotic painting can be broken down into simple elements to assist the understanding of the larger piece, complex issues become quite easily understood when broken down into simple and basic statements of emotion.

My weekend afternoon “roundtables” with these youth helped me to understand this more clearly and it became a driving force in the program I co-authored. And, as I owe a debt of gratitude to every child I have ever met for honing my own understandings and for being such extraordinary teachers, my hope is that they will remember me as having introduced a positive part of their psyche to themselves.

Joeann Tesar is the co-owner of Advanced Learning Concepts and is co-author of Drawing on Emotion – The Healing Power of Paint.

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