Artistic Learning Dialogues

What’s Proposed:
The aim of this research project is to engage in dialogues about artistic learning with artists, arts educators, community/provincial arts organizations, youth and families, school district administrators, policy-makers, industry leaders (including digital media) and facilitate the exchange of knowledge across different perspectives and contexts. The dialogues are part of a larger research agenda to develop an evidence-based theoretical framework for understanding the cultural ecologies and learning trajectories of diverse Canadian youth’s artistic learning and arts engagement in today’s digital age.

The word dialogue comes from the Greek words dia (‘through’) and logos (‘word’ or ‘meaning’). Simply put, dialogue is a flow of meaning. William Isaacs, author of “The Art of Thinking Together” reminds us that the ancient meaning of the word logos was ‘to gather together’ and let people think together in relationship. Patricia Romney, author of “The Art of Dialogue” defines dialogue as a focused conversation, engaged in intentionally with the goal of increasing understanding, addressing problems, and questioning thoughts and actions. Dialogue provides us with an opportunity to play with seemingly separate elements to discover new meaning or ways of expressing and representing what we already know and understand.

How it is carried out:
Artistic Learning Dialogues form the first phase of a 5-year project. A group of partners meet regularly to engage in dialogues aimed at purposeful understanding of the meaning of artistic learning through our different ‘lenses’ or experiences. We also consider artistic learning in relation to key dimensions, processes, constraints, enablers, and contexts, drawing on our collective experience, knowledge, and areas of expertise. We also explore the principles and techniques of dialogue and put them into practice.

Three key assumptions underpin our collaborative work:

  • The meaning of the term “artistic learning” is not static but a function of its use in social contexts.
  • Understandings of what constitutes “artistic learning” are negotiated within the communities we inhabit.
  • A group of informed leaders come to understand the status and dimensions of “artistic learning” through a process of shared meaning making that is made up of the discourses they draw on and use to describe the concept.

A series of six dialogues explore the following questions:

The research team documents the process by recording and transcribing the dialogue sessions, and analyzing the main themes that emerge. These themes are circulated before the next meeting to enable deeper layers of meaning to be explored. In addition, members of the dialogue group engage in an online discussion forum to facilitate further opportunities for dialogue.

Why it matters:
Artistic Learning is an ancient concept dating back to the time of Plato who sought to discover a vocabulary to describe aesthetics in relation to beauty, imitation, and inspiration. The philosopher Foucault described how in the fifteen century a “romantic identification” with the notion of “madness” and “the artist” began to play a major role in the art world. By the seventeenth century these concept had become inextricably linked. There was a certain prestige associated with producing a work of art if the artist or the process was considered “abnormal.” This is thought to be a key reason why the concept of “artistic” and “learning” have not been well-developed in relation to each other, particularly in school-based education or learning theory and pedagogy.

Unlike past generations, young people growing up in today’s digital and globalized age increasingly view artistry or “being artistic” as something that is assumed rather than achieved or bestowed. They are more likely to refer to themselves as “artists” if they create something new or re-vision and transform something that already exists to “make it their own.” Also, CEOs recognize that creative innovation is crucial for remaining competitive in today’s fast changing world. The phenomenal success of Apple is credited to the “artistry” or artistic learning that was characteristic of Steve Jobs; this encompasses more than creative and innovative abilities as it leads to new and interconnected forms of knowledge, activity, sociality, and community. Artistic learning involves generative, continuous, and expansive learning and not the forms of learning that have dominated education in the past. It is no longer enough to acquire a body of knowledge and skill within a narrowly defined context. Our world today requires education that cultivates flexible, adaptive, resourceful, and insightful forms of learning—what Dr. Susan O’Neill and her research team refer to as artistic learning. We believe it is time to explore the complexity and multidimensionality of artistic learning and what it looks like when it is happening in diverse contexts, cultures, and communities.

In Action:
The dialogues will contribute to the first phase of the research that includes producing a collaborative report “Mapping Artistic Learning in Diverse Contexts” and a series of video illustrations of artistic learning in action. By focusing our efforts on dialogue, we will:

  • Create an opportunity for shared inquiry about the meaning of artistic learning in today’s globalized and digital age.
  • Generate insights into artistic learning from different perspectives that will contribute to theory, policy, and practice in arts education.
  • Assist in providing an expansive vision for creating artistic learning opportunities in multi-arts, digital media arts, and non-arts areas.