Backbones & Autonomy

By Dr Helen Burns

This response was written after the first meeting of the Creative Pedagogy & Pathways Group

Image by Tobi Meuwissen

Strengthen our backbone.

“We are all in our own worlds, busily contending with trying to survive and do a good job for people. We don’t get time to think about the big picture or about how we have come to this. I think arts ed practitioners need some kind of CPD which helps us to understand and be able to articulate the context for our work, theoretically and coherently. I think this would need to include a historical perspective of arts in education. This would go right back to Plato and Aristotle and to dualistic ideas which polarise thinking into academic/intellectual as opposed to sensory activities/things we do with our hands – these ideas pervade into todays education system and de-value art.

We should also look at historical, political agendas in relation to arts education and of course, at neoliberalism and how this shapes and negates art education. We then need to look at alternate ways forward. This would include strengthening understanding of a cognitive and metacognitive perspective of the value of art experience (Eisner, Efland etc.). I think we should also look again at imagination and creativity because a lot of what is said about these has become quite rhetorical – with imagination barely understood really. What does this imply for pedagogy (Dewey, Atkinson, Greene etc.).   That’s how I would do this anyway – and within a format where practitioners are creatively constructing their own overview/articulation/model…perhaps as an artwork, from the information provided (I’ve done something like this before, where practitioners constructed a map/image as we went through the ideas). I like your Russian doll idea (I’m a collector)…it’s like building a russian doll where you have put together and related layers of knowledge, to make an intrinsically strong piece of thinking, which has real integrity because it is well-informed, related to your own experience and therefore, you have strong belief in it.

Enabling people to develop autonomy, in and through art.

I imagine some kind of very light touch scheme, which provides just enough structure to support people in school/community settings to set up a project which does not have to comply with official agendas. This is inspired by Keri Facer, who talks about small, grass roots projects as a means of combatting neo-liberal capitalism which is the source of climate emergency – you can’t fight from within the system – you have to find another way. We need to help people find other ways. Other ways to be free to do art but through this, ways to be free to think and to have personal and democratic agency.

Practically, I imagine offering ‘start up’ workshops which equip people to get projects going. Offering help with the project design. Being able to offer a small amount of money for the project, with access to artists, resources etc. Preferably being able to do some research around these projects – but doing research rather than asking for reports etc. There could be a blog or something which connects the projects.

I think that one part of the support should include enabling people to develop an understanding of metacognition, through art experiences, about imagination, creativity and voice/agency.”

Please add your comments below if you would like to contribute to the debate.