Looking at Life Skills

(In Finnish: Elämäntaitojen äärellä. Taidetyöpaja nuorten elämäntaitojen vahvistajana)

Fanny Vilmilä


“On Friday it became clear to me that if I have the right attitude, things can happen.”

The report entitled Elämäntaitojen äärellä (‘Looking at Life Skills’) examines the interfaces between art and life skills on the basis of developmental research for the Finnish Children and Youth Foundation’s Taidot elämään (‘Skills for living’) project undertaken in 2013–2016. The project’s target group consists of young people studying in tenth grade at school, in preparatory instruction and guidance for vocational education and training, and in preparatory education for vocational training (VALMA) groups. The aim is to strengthen the identity of these young people and to broaden their outlook regarding the opportunities available to them. The main active component of the project is the workshop-based art project week arranged by the artist instructors. This research report examines the relationship between the art week and life skills and also the experiences of young people concerning the significance of art activities. It also discusses pivotal life-stage education and training in the context of an art week environment.

There has been considerable debate in recent years about the impact of art and artistic endeavours on wellbeing. Besides the impact on wellbeing, art may also stimulate processes that have favourable or unfavourable impacts on the growth of the individual. The growth environment in the Taidot elämään (‘Skills for living’) project consists of pivotal life-stage education and training. In public debate, this pivotal life-stage is often discussed in terms of the threat of social exclusion and the nature of the counselling and services for young people. This has defined the discourse on young people in search of their own path, and the stance all too easily taken is one based on power, where education and training are viewed as something to be imposed on young people who are on the threshold of adulthood. By contrast, in this study the art-based activity performed in conjunction with this pivotal life-stage education and training is approached as an “organic space” in which a key role is played by the knowledge and skills of the young people and their potential futures.

The study is based on observations from twelve art weeks held for classes in the preparatory instruction and guidance for vocational education and training and on discussions with young people after the art activities. As part of the pivotal life-stage education and training and part of young people’s own paths in life, the art workshop was a one week period during which the key focus was not on the skills that might be enhanced during this time, but instead on the kinds of life skills activated at different points in the art week and on how these can be identified, experimented with and practised. The significance of the art week in opening up, touching on and strengthening life skills was evident in the young people’s own observations and thoughts during the art week and afterwards.