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Learning through an autonomous experience of art as a social practice

Larcombe, G. (2020) Learning through an autonomous experience of art as a social practice. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00096395


This practice-based research project is designed for artists who also work as teachers within a formal educational setting. It provides a practical methodology for those who wish to make art with students and would like to establish an alternative approach to learning. As a teacher of art, I believe it is important to continue practising as an artist as this can motivate and sustain a personal desire for learning. Through this, it is possible to inspire and instil a similar passion in the students. However, sustaining one’s art practice, whilst fulfilling the requirements and responsibilities associated with teaching is not without its difficulties. To overcome this problem, I believe it is possible for the art teacher to regard their situation as a unique opportunity and consider their social interactions with students as a stimulus for making art. When developing my own art practice with students, I realised I would need to address questions relating to both ethics and aesthetics. This decision was made in response to the theoretical arguments of critics including, Nicolas Bourriaud, Claire Bishop and Grant Kester who frame the broader situation of art as a social practice. As a result, several pertinent questions arose, which would later inform my own practical experiments. • The activity of conversation often plays a necessary and valuable role when artists work with others. However, how can this activity be experienced as art and differentiated from other forms of social interaction? In other words, how do I distinguish my practice as art from the activity of teaching? In order to answer this question, I referred to the theoretical ideas of Jacques Rancière and Theodor Adorno. These ideas enabled me to recognise how the materials, methods and forms used by artists permit a variety of interpretation, enabling their work to be understood as art. In response, I sought to ensure my experiments when working with students would result in a physical artwork. This enabled the work to be partially judged in terms of its formal qualities and, therefore, distinguished as art. Although making a physical artwork with students proved valuable, I also needed to resolve the other important outcomes and educational benefits my methodology offered. As my research project progressed, further questions emerged. • When artists seek to work with other people there is a danger that cultural and educational inequalities are reiterated. This can involve the artist failing to recognise their own privileged position or acknowledge the differences of those invited to participate. Therefore, how does the artist as teacher negotiate this fraught social and educational process? In other words, what is the nature of my relationship with students? How does learning take place and what is being learnt? With further reference to Rancière I recognised how an overemphasis on the artist (teacher) or critic could limit one’s ability to learn through art and could signal wider, social, educational and cultural inequalities. Rancière’s solution to this problem involved a relationship based on absolute parity between the student and teacher. However, this approach to learning proved unrealistic in practice. In order to formulate a more pragmatic account of my working relationship with students I referred to my own practical experiments and the psychoanalytical ideas of Jacques Lacan. From this I was able to develop an alternative approach to learning through art. In practice this involved students being invited to take an active role in developing a curriculum. This curriculum often concerned a social issue, relevant and educationally significant to the students. When investigating this issue, students were trained to analyse appropriate information and texts in order to form their own opinions or arguments. In order to express these opinions through art, students were initially required to examine the way other artists create meaning through various methods and techniques. Examining these methods and techniques not only encouraged students to form their own interpretation of art but also provided inspiration when making their own artworks. As a result, I believe this approach represents a new method of teaching and making art with students. Through this methodology students gain a degree of control over their learning, reinforce critical literacy skills and develop an ability to interpret art, independent to that of the teacher. Equally this methodology provides an opportunity for the artist as teacher to learn with and be challenged by the students. As a result, a more realistic examination into the artist-student relationship occurs, thus influencing the artwork produced. Within the conclusion of this thesis a more detailed practical guide is provided for those wishing to adopt this methodology in the classroom.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:
Thesis/Report Department:School of Arts and Communication Design
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Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design
ID Code:96395


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