I was back teaching contextual studies again on Monday, we were looking at aspects of ‘the social’. I introduced a range of ways to think about this. Historical, (Courbet), the rise of the city as a key element within modernism, social realism, social sculpture/community art. I started with an introduction to Hegel and Marx and finished with a series of questions as to how students could develop an 'ethics for practice'. I'm also putting far more resources up on EStudio, especially links to YouTube videos, which I think are far more accessible to students who are less academic.
Some slides taken from the presentation.
On Tuesday I was on my own again with the rest of the first year while Tom was doing his contextual studies sessions. I was working through the studios doing one to ones with students who hadn’t been seen so far that week. Students are now trying to balance three briefs, (The individual and the social, material processes and collaboration) and the hard thing for them is to understand how they can do this. Most of my time is spent trying to unblock creativity dams, which seem to be mainly the result of how we now seem to develop pedagogical structures.
Students worry about the briefs and what they mean, rather than just getting on with making. I go round trying to get them to re-focus on what they are trying to do. Most of them have much more interesting things to say about the world than the briefs imply, so I have to get them to reframe what they are doing and convince them that all they have to do at the end of the module is present the work in such a way that it demonstrates that outcomes are achieved. This is such nonsense.
I have been reading quite a lot recently and in particular some heavy criticisms of behaviourism, Skinner’s work especially. It would appear that most contemporary writers involved with cognitive thinking have realised that when Skinner and others did not include feeling or emotive understanding in their patterns for measuring achievement, it resulted in huge flaws. This has skewed our recognition of meaning. Meaning is not about understanding at all and understanding, in terms of logical process, is actually quite a small part of the reasons for how and why as humans we function. Skinner took no interest in body schemas and how concepts are grounded in the body, (Johnson’s book on the Body is excellent in terms of unpicking this) perpetuating the mind/body divide. No wonder that art students find learning outcomes difficult to grasp, it is because they are fundamentally flawed. Students want to find meaning in what they do, and so do artists. As soon as you are working with an individual and you can get to concentrate on what means something to them, you can feel the interest growing. Feeling tone is far more important than lists of what to do. It is as if the whole system is set up to punish creativity.
The one good thing has been that the open studio has been divided up by some 8 x 4 boards. This gives a variety of spaces some small and some large, allowing those who need a bit of privacy and wall space to get on with work relatively in peace.
The students I spoke to had some really interesting takes on society and the individual, (the importance of dress, the need for Gothic horror, a need to go back and reinvestigate the moment of Cubism) they just need time to find their various directions and space within which to try out various approaches to what they want to do. However sometimes we try and push them too quickly, it takes a while to get into what work is about, sometimes it’s about how its actually made (processes and materials), but at others its about what you want to say and how to say it. The briefs become arbitrary measures and set up artificial responses, so what they actually measure is how well someone answers the brief. Art education is about finding ways to materialise meaning not to develop ways of understanding, that is a job for academics.