Communication and Oppression

All 160 Art 1 students at Walter Payton College Prep worked together to identify oppressive power structures in their lives. Students learned how technology, from the printing press to the contemporary era, can be used to combat oppression through communication. Students developed skills in printmaking as they explored the subversive ability of art to spark dialogue on important social issues. The resulting prints, which reflected each student’s relationship with a specific power structure, were distributed in both the school and the Chicago community of diverse neighborhoods from which many students commute to school. Students furthered the discussion with this broader community by including a collective statement about oppression on their prints and asking for digital feedback from their viewers.

Goals and Objectives

  • Student will use art as a tool for communication.
  • Students will identify a common issue impacting their lives that is also relevant to their broader community and will explore this issue via artmaking.
  • Students will develop confidence to engage in critical dialogue through their artwork.

Guiding Questions

  • How does art function as a format for communicating and starting dialogue about important issues?
  • How do people have access to communication?
  • How can access to information change the way people think and act?
  • How can we start a conversation about experiences with power?

Documentation + Assessment

  • Students photographed their prints on display.
  • Students documented their process through imagery and sketches.
  • Students collected digital public responses

Learning Activities

Step 1
Breaking Down Power Structures
Teacher leads students in critical group discussion on power structures and oppression, inviting students to consider how our individual experiences or problems contribute to systems of oppression. Students develop a collaborative definition of power structures.

Step 2
Visual Research
Students individually photograph and then share an image of a power structure that impacts their lives. Students brainstorm ways to use imagery to convey a specific message about a personally relevant oppressive power structure, loosely sketch ways to bring these ideas to life, receive feedback from their peers, and refine their ideas.

Step 3
Defining the Print
Students develop a final drawing to be printed as graphic, two-toned black-and-white prints. Possible power structures to explore include stereotypes, cultural appropriation, gender norms, military aggression, and incarceration.

Step 4
Creating Linoleum Block Prints
Teacher demonstrates proper linoleum tool use. Students create an edition of 5 two-tone prints. One of the prints is displayed in the school for each student, providing diverse student perspectives of what power looks like in one central location. The other four prints of each edition are saved for distribution throughout the broader community.

Step 5
Connecting with the Community
Students post their remaining four prints in public places. To help inform their audience of their intent, their collaborative definition of a power structure (established in Step 1) is stamped on the print. Students determine the distribution locations based on the specific power structures portrayed in their prints. Each print asks the viewer to respond to a specific question, based on a student's particular power structure, by joining the conversation online.

Step 6
Collecting Responses
Students collect online responses from the public, analyze the information they receive, and determine if there are any common responses regarding power structures. What do these responses in turn say about the way art might function in eliciting this kind of dialogue?

Step 7
Students come together to discuss the impact of their artworks in communicating ideas, and talk about how those ideas were received. Students and teacher discuss ways they might continue to address important social issues through artwork, such as hosting a printmaking event in which they teach community members the printing process while discussing the content.


  • Linoleum blocks and carving tools
  • Ink (one color)
  • Paper

Devan Picard

Walter Payton College Preparatory High School

Devan Picard graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2007 where she received her Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) with a concentration in Printmaking. She then found her way to Wisconsin, where she was fortunate to engage her artmaking practice as an apprentice at a tattoo shop. In 2008, she moved to Taos, New Mexico where she helped curate and operate an Outsider Art collection and gallery space. More recently, in 2012, Devan received her Master's of Art in Teaching (MAT) from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to teaching at Payton, Devan is proud to have taught at Bronzeville Military Academy, Kenwood Academy, and Nicholson STEM Elementary school.

Devan reflects on her process:

Students struggled to define power structures. These structures are huge and difficult to describe in an exacting, insightful way. As students were brainstorming about power structures and what they mean, students defined broad issues. The struggle in navigating these issues was necessary for us to come to a collective understanding of power structures and our roles in helping to support and oppose these structures. Ultimately students succeeded in working together to define specific, meaningful structures to tackle in their prints, and their artworks were much richer conceptually as a result.