Sunday, March 23, 2008

Artists, teachers, learning and pedagogy

Here's a fairly lengthy piece I've just finished for the forthcoming manual that we've been developing from the Teacher-Artist Partnership Programme(TAPP) and work done with David Jenkins as part of the research into the language and discourse of TAPP. It's still something of a work-in-progress but I thought I'd publish it here in the hope of garnering some responses.

The pedagogy of artist-teacher partnerships: research perspectives

Pedagogic partnerships between teachers and artists are useful because they tend to bring to the surface issues which may be taken for granted or hidden in learning settings. They can have a catalytic impact because they enable hidden or unconsidered assumptions about the use of time and space, the organisation of learning, or even established relationships with individual learners to be questioned and challenged. Partnerships can provide a sense of authenticity and engagement because they shift learning into the ‘border zone’ between the worlds of education, culture and communities, opening up a wider set of contexts and reference points for learning than a single teacher or school can provide alone.

However in order for their potential to be unlocked TAPP believes that there is a need to develop a critical and reflective approach to collaboration which displays a sensitivity to potential inequalities and differences of perspective between the partners. Alongside this critical attitude a strong commitment to ambitious and artistically challenging practice needs to be fostered.

1. Artist-educators and arts education

The notion of the artist-educator or teacher-artist has a considerable history. In The Creative College I categorised this field as driven by four dimensions:

a) Artist-teachers
Firstly, art and design education (and some traditions in the performing arts) has championed the ‘artist-teacher’. In the model of artist-teacher, the skill and craft of the arts practitioner is blended with pedagogical knowledge in order to develop forms of teaching which mobilise notions of artistic ‘authenticity’ and integrity. This develops forms of cultural apprenticeship between learner and teacher. Under hierarchical arrangements learners are apprenticed to the ‘master artist’ and learn through exposure to his or her craft and skills, but learning process can also take a more dialogical form, involving ‘collaboration’ and facilitation’ in which the teacher does not seek to direct outcomes but to enable creativity. In most learning, a combination of instruction and collaboration is usually found, but with different emphases in different settings. This is commonly cited in the principle of practitioner-teacher found in conservatoires and art colleges. It is also found in some versions of early years education and, more recently, entrepreneurially focussed vocational education and training in which education is aligned with preparation for the workplace.

b) Teaching as artistry
Secondly, a rich vein of research from Dewey to Stenhouse to Schon has championed the idea of teaching itself as a type of artistry, which involves making rich, complex judgements about teaching - a form of empowered, active professionalism in which the creative decisions taken in everyday teaching settings mobilise tacit knowledge and subtle communication skills with learners.
Can I be both teacher and artist?
While the artist was in a position to completely immerse herself in the process of play with the children once a relationship of trust had been established. I had other incidental duties to manage that impinged upon my ability to become completely absorbed." Tapp participant

c) The arts as resources for learning
Thirdly the work of art itself is a huge resource for learning. Works of art are made, encountered and ‘performed’ in a huge range of social settings, and the interaction between the art ‘object’ – whether a play, painting, piece of music or piece of media - and its social and cultural contexts provides educators with a massive array of questions, issues, philosophical and aesthetic materials that they can invite learners to explore.

Partnership based pedagogies seek to increase learner engagement by involving students in the processes of cultural production and participation, drawing on the social world of cultural institutions. They promote active engagement, which includes observation and acquiring cultural knowledge through being in an audience or culturally focussed visits. They are perhaps less likely to take notions of cultural value as ‘givens’ and are more inclined to open up the processes of cultural production to debate and re-interpretation. This is because they are intended to encourage a process of negotiation between the cultural assumptions of the school and those of the collaborating partner, as well as a self-critical attitude on the part of educators in which their own cultural assumptions, histories and preferences are deconstructed and examined.

From a TAPP perspective, participant-centred arts learning is based on encouraging involvement in the processes of making and doing in the arts – projects which foreground student engagement and inventiveness rather than exercising tight teacher control over the precise form and content of what learners produce. Paradoxically, developing such projects successfully requires a high degree of control and skill from the facilitator, but conceived of in a different sense from traditional teacher-centred instruction in which learner autonomy is limited to the teacher’s view of what is the ‘correct’ outcome. Pedagogical frameworks which are enabling and open require careful attention to structure, resources, and group dynamics. In this version of arts education, observation and analysis are an important part of planning and ‘aesthetic appreciation’ is developed through an involvement in making new work as well as experiencing the work of others. In becoming familiar with a range of cultural texts, products and processes, and making cultural products themselves, learners can develop more sophisticated forms of engagement which feed back into a richer cultural environment for learning.

d) Learning through making art

Fourthly the learning process of making art - particularly processes based in professional studio practice or rehearsal for performance - are used as an educational model. These processes often involve group collaboration but it is important to remember that they can also be highly solitary and individual. Sometimes the justification for students being involved these processes is couched in terms of the generic or transferable ‘soft’ skills that they develop, such as collaboration, communication or team working. Art-making is intimately bound up with identity and self-awareness; this enables teachers and learners to make space in the pressurised social world of the school for self-expression, and can validate many different forms of cultural experience and affiliation.

"The positives in art education work are evident and well documented, and I value the work I do in schools highly. However there are aspects of working as an artist in secondary schools which do not sit right...
The constant call for collaboration in an area which is often about a fairly solitary, highly personal exploration
• The emphasis of verbal communication in a subject which is often about an individual language that has nothing to do with words
• The focus on Artists as some sort of uniquely, innately skilled creative problem solvers who will be able to redress an inherent lack in the system
• The desire to promote equal partnerships in a system where artists and teachers can never be equal
• A blurring of expectation between the definitions: ‘artist’ and ‘art educator’
• An over-simplification of what an artist is, packaging them to fulfil a ‘required’ service
• Time, as a contributing factor to all above is not valued enough" Tapp participant

Because arts education is increasingly annexed to a wider agenda of ‘creativity’ which includes but is not limited to the arts and cultural education, there are often considerable elisions and ambiguities between these four positions. The TAPP research points to the notion of ‘creative professionalism’ as a possible reconciling identity for those working in this fast-moving field, in which it is common for practitioners to adopt multiple roles and identities according to the different contexts in which they operate.

2. Artists in schools

Emily Pringle’s 2002 report We did stir things up: the role of artists in sites for learning provides some ways into discussion of the issues. She explores the many different roles that artists may play in working in educational settings. Frequently artists are labelled as ‘catalysts’ or ‘change agents’ but the evidence from the TAPP research is that either just playing the role of agent provocateur or being invoked as a ‘catalyst’ in the face of the resilient (and resistant?) systems of schools and colleges is unlikely to be successful unless this work is undertaken within a framework of dialogue and conversation. Teachers and school leaders need to be willing to engage with some of the challenges of embedding this approach into the pressured world of the school. This is why TAPP places such great emphasis on shared reflection and dialogue in order for both teachers and artists to be enabled to arrive at a mutual understanding of the problems and issues involved in the work of ‘partnership’.

There can be a tendency for large scale programmes to suggest that ‘creativity’ is something to be supplied by the outside agent. This is a particular risk when using the term ‘creative agent’ to describe the work of visiting professionals, as if what a school or a teacher needs is a kind of ‘injection’ of creativity. A ‘shot in the arm’ of creativity might be useful to stimulate a process, but in the longer term the key issue is to put the capacity and expertise into the educational system to make serious systemic change. So long-term professional development is critical. In the TAPP programme, we drew attention to the considerable heritage of this work in forty years of participatory arts practice and in innovation at the boundaries between schools and communities. We also emphasised the ways in which professional development processes can feed back into learning, pedagogic change and development in schools and cultural organisations.

The engagement between schools and artists could be regarded as an encounter between different kinds of cultural practices, each with their own conventions, codes and approaches. If this engagement is approached in the spirit of a conversation rather than an intervention from outside, we suggest that it is likely to be more successful. A second dimension is that the artistry and creative professionalism of teachers needs also be recognised and supported. A conversational and dialogical framework for professional development is intended to achieve this.

3. Artists in ‘dialogue’?

The notion of ‘artist in residence’ can sometimes carry the sense of a ‘retreat’, but in education the artist in residence is usually seen as a type of public engagement or provocation. There is a considerable history, but very fragmented documentation of artists entering into dialogue with other sectors, in industry, in healthcare, in communities and in education. Artists play many different roles in the modern economy of cultural production, beyond producing cultural products for commercial markets. In fact their skills and experience are in increasing demand as part of a shift towards a more networked and knowledge based society, Some artists, informed by developments in the performing and participatory arts and ‘dialogical aesthetics’, lean more towards using their creative and cultural skills as a social service, rather than as simply the capacity to make physical (or digital) objects or artefacts to be bought and sold in a marketplace. Teachers of the arts, as Henry Giroux points out are also ‘cultural workers’ who put their artistic expertise at the service of others. Many artists (and some teachers) have ‘portfolio’ careers which span the worlds of commerce, community, education, research and social media, with much contemporary arts practice difficult to compartmentalize in a fast-moving informational economy.

A common agenda in residencies that artists are invited to act as either a kind of ‘grit in the oyster’ in order to stimulate or provoke change, or that they are commissioned to ‘aestheticise’ the working environment by producing artistic interventions in the form of public artworks or participatory projects. This is a heavy burden for artists to carry – and not all artists may be comfortable with this role, in spite of its economic benefits - but the underlying thesis, common in conversations about business innovation, and in interdisciplinary practice, is that engagement from different perspectives leads to new insights, feed innovation, and help professionals to redesign and re-imagine their practices. The evidence from TAPP’s ‘Mediated Conversations’ research is that some of the most effective innovation takes place when artists and teachers focus on pedagogic change at the level of the class or in small groups of students, with focussed areas of enquiry, a clear shared understanding of what is being attempted, and an emphasis on testing and refining pedagogy.

4. Artist as ‘role model’

In a ‘liberal’ version of arts education, it is the aesthetic and craft skill of the artist, allied to their deep historical or cultural knowledge of the artform, that students learn to appreciate, emulate and reinvent for themselves. In a more ‘economic’ version of this discourse, artists are cast as a ‘model’ cultural worker - modelling collaborative practices of the workplace, the ‘project team’ in the creative industries, or demonstrating and sharing their ‘creative process’ with groups through acting as a workshop leader, facilitator or choreographer. There are various justifications advanced for this, some cast in the language of vocational or business education; essentially giving learners experience of the professional practice and milieu of the artist. A further, socially oriented model of arts education is that artists with particular ethnic backgrounds or other attributes deemed to be educationally desirable are cast as ‘role models’ for young people or representatives of particular cultural forms.

There are particular risks attached to all three of these representations, which at worst can be tokenistic, but at best can be transformative.

5. Artists and curriculum ‘outcomes’

One of the most commonplace assumptions is that artists are employed to assist in the delivery of ‘curriculum goals’ – and that including a wider range of professionals – and thus artistic engagement - in students’ learning will raise standards of achievement, an approach championed in different ways by the ‘arts integration’ movement in the US and by Creative Partnerships in the UK. While there is some evidence that this may often be the case, measuring the success of an artist’s work in the classroom in terms of whether learners achieve predefined ‘learning outcomes’ may neutralise the potential of the pedagogic partnership, unless there is a commitment to exploring slightly more broadly what the terms of engagement are. For this reason we strongly advocate for sufficient time to be allocated to planning, preparation and evaluation so that a clarity about the status of the artist’s work in relation to curricular frameworks can be achieved. Paradoxically, the most spectacular shifts in outcomes are often achieved when the most attention is paid to refining the processes through which the artist and teacher collaborate. This requires time for planning, reflection and debate.

The challenge I have faced, in seeking to create a more dialogical relationship with students, has been in promoting critical listening and questioning amongst themselves; they view me as the ‘subject who is supposed to know’ (Lacan 1981: 232). In an attempt to assert a change in my authority from teacher to artistic collaborator, participant and learner within the pedagogical environment, I had previously worked with a Theatre-in-Education practitioner to develop a workshop (influenced by the work of Heathcote and Boal) in which I was in role as an artist. The intention had been to for me to model risk taking in the creative process by presenting a depiction in which the action and therefore the meaning-making potential would be directed by the students’ responses so that they become what Boal terms ‘Spect-Actors Tapp participant

6. Complex histories

Since the mid-1970s there have been many accounts written of artistic interventions into schools. However there is no systematic account of this work available, although a fairly extensive bibliography is available as part of the ‘Mediated Conversations’ research report and in research surveys undertaken in the US (Fiske, 2002, Seidel, 2002). Some of these accounts are those that foreground the ethical dimensions of this practice and which root the approach in traditions of community based learning, socially engaged practice and participatory approaches to making art, in which the work of the artist is as much about enabling other people to act creatively alongside self-expression and communication of their individual artistic ‘vision’. But there are many fine lines between inspiring others to create, producing innovative new work, reinterpreting the past, and encouraging knowledge and appreciation of different cultural forms. Not all artists, intensely protective of their individual practice, on which their livelihood depends, will be content to have their work or their role recast in officially sanctioned programmes of cultural learning. But it is precisely in exploiting the tensions, cracks and contradictions of the contested cultural, social and aesthetic field that ‘productive pedagogies’ – special cultural and creative learning experiences - can be activated.

7. The cultural politics of pedagogic partnerships

Each type of institutional setting in which artist-educators are found – e.g. the museum, the gallery, the university, the theatre, the school, the neighbourhood arts centre - has a complex cultural politics centred on the symbolic capital that it attracts and represents: i.e. how it is valued and represented, and by whom. For example some artforms and artform training institutions attract considerably more public resources, support and attention than others. Contrast the working lives of those regularly employed in a generously funded ‘temple of culture’ such as a major conservatoire or museum with the experience of an early-career artist working from a shed or a bedroom; or the different working lives of a classically trained actor, musician or dancer and a volunteer tutor in a neighbourhood arts centre (although many artists work in and across the divides between popular and high culture). Artist-educators work in and between many different kinds of institutions and spaces in a highly mobile informational economy; the so-called creative economy can be experienced by its front-line workers as one of considerable insecurity, precarity and exclusion. The proliferation of participatory spaces, media platforms and arts-educational projects provides opportunities, but also highlights divisions and differences in status and resources between individuals and artistic sectors.

This infuses the work of practitioners, and a school curriculum grappling with this rhetoric of a ‘creative age’, with questions of cultural value. A complex politics comes into play when certain groups - or cultural practices – are described by those in power as socially or culturally ‘excluded’. Artist-educators, working with limited resources, are often expected to mediate differences across what may seem to be intractable cultural boundaries and divides involving issues of race, class and gender.

8. Mediated conversations, occupational mythologies and professional identities

TAPP’s Mediated Conversations research project focussed quite narrowly on the linguistic forms and descriptions used by practitioners working together in partnership. Even the terms ‘teacher’ and ‘artist’ are far from unproblematic. They describe roles with complex social histories and mobilise powerful mythologies and stereotypes, which when used in everyday conversation can easily lead to muddles and misunderstandings. Teachers and artists are perceived differently by learners and this can lead to useful forms of pedagogic encounter.

Most participants , whether they primarily defined themselves as ‘teachers’, ‘artists’ or ‘ arts educators’ in TAPP and Eastfeast had complex career histories with multiple affiliations across both the education sector and the field of culture. Partnership based pedagogies seek to recognise, value and mobilise these in forms of curriculum and project design which allow for a richer encounter between learners and different kinds of ‘teacher’ than the common model of one teacher/one classroom/thirty children all of the same age. Many other combinations are possible, but in order for these to become embedded in everyday working lives of schools, a radical shift in the way in which pedagogy is conceived of is needed – which regards schools as nodes in a much wider learning network encompassing cultural institutions, neighbourhood and community resources, and which fosters the skills in educators to build projects across these divides.

The territories occupied by teachers and artists seeking to collaborate are far from being a ‘level playing field’. They are shaped by complex power gradients which often take the conversational form of mythologies, muddles and misunderstandings, which may contain partial truths but rarely reflect the whole picture. A few examples of such mythologies and muddles that emerge from our analysis of the ‘generative metaphors’ underpinning some of these conversations might be as follows:

salaried educators and freelance artists face totally different economic realities and everyday priorities
• artists and cultural organisations embody cultural authenticity while the culture of schools is controlling and highly regulated
• the creative freedom of the individual artist is in tension with the ethical commitment of the teacher to the wellbeing of children;
• ’risk’ is to be avoided in schools and embraced in the arts;
• the systematic and regulated nature of daily timetabled life in the school is a world away from the ‘creative laboratory’ of the artist’s studio;
• the outcome-driven assessment systems of the school may appear to ignore questions of quality and value, central to the arts, that are not easily reduced to grades and ‘levels’.

These root metaphors and occupational mythologies in the discourses of teachers and artists need to be interrogated and unpacked. Our research shows that this is one of the areas of attention for creative professionalism. At times of stress, there is sometimes a tendency for practitioners to fall back on unproblematised definitions such as these, drawn from reference orientations.

A key task for like-minded CPD programmes is therefore to develop in professionals the cast of mind which can hold some of the concepts in the notion of artist-teacher in tension, whilst stlll being able to act constructively and courageously in the complex contact zone between formal education and the cultural sector. It could be argued that this is precisely kind of critical ‘high wire act’, ultimately a characteristic of creativity and critical intelligence, that CPD programmes designed to promote partnership based pedagogy should be seeking to develop.