Arts Education

Art Education as Experiential Learning

We can all make art, but most people do not. More people view art than do art. But children do art all the time. They make art as a direct expression of what they are thinking and feeling. It becomes a way of exploring and expressing ones relationship with the world. Later those children become much more self conscious about ‘Art’. It becomes a subject at school. Interest in art dips at secondary school.

It is suggested this a partly down to policy. In England the curriculum has shifted to favour the ’core academic’ subjects encompassing the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). The suggestion by artists is that this means the arts are being squeezed out. But this is contended by the schools minister. The way different educational paths play out is contentious with a toss up between ‘core academic’ path like the EBacc and more a practical and creative path like arts, crafts and design.

What is interesting to me as an experiential educator and arts practitioner is the difference between how people learn for ‘core academic’ routes and how they learn through the arts, craft and design, (including digital arts, performance and music). Arts education adopts a much more experiential approach to learning.

The EBacc covers 5 subjects: english language and literature, maths, the sciences, geography or history and a foreign language. Many already existent curricula are eligible for inclusion in the EBacc. All of these are identified as core academic subjects. Apart from field trips and experimentation there are few practical skills. They prioritise procedural knowledge, the ability to remember facts. They are exam based and place little value on coursework.

Aims for the geography element of EBacc for example states ‘Courses based on this specification should encourage students to develop their knowledge of locations, places, processes and environments…understand the fundamental role of fieldwork as a tool to understand and generate new knowledge about the real world’ and finally ’develop as critical and reflective learners, able to articulate opinions, suggest relevant new ideas and provide evidenced argument in a range of situations.’ This expects procedural and propositional knowledge.

The aims for GCSE Arts and Design states ‘GCSE specifications in art and design must encourage students to: actively engage in the creative process of art, craft and design in order to develop as effective and independent learners, and as critical and reflective thinkers with enquiring minds, develop creative, imaginative and intuitive capabilities when exploring and making images, artefacts and products, become confident in taking risks and learn from experience when exploring and experimenting with ideas, processes, media, materials and techniques.’ And ‘GCSE specifications in art and design must require students to learn through practical experience and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of sources that inform their creative intentions.’ This also expects procedural and propositional knowledge. But it seems to require so much more, much of which would be entirely familiar to an experiential educator. Part of the assessment is practical task and part is a portfolio. An example of an A* students portfolio is here, and it is just truly astonishing.

Central to the experiential approach in arts, craft and design, is making things, and taking responsibility for seeking and utilising information and ideas. Learners learn to learn. It is beyond the scope of this site but a bugbear of my experiential educator experience is the belief that whilst ‘core academic’ learning set you up for college, experiential learning sets you up for work, and I believe, research beyond the graduate level. Here from Careers Portal IE and Forbes are ideas about future employment skills. To me, both have more skills found in the arts and experiential learning.

In formal, academic learning one tends to view knowledge and ideas and data. In school, young people often do not see that core academic learning is about more that passing exams. As they move into work or college the knowledge, ideas and data they need starts to reflect their personal preferences, interests and needs. Other ‘core academic’ learning starts to become useful beyond passing exams. Dizzee Rascal, star of the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony and king of Grime advised listeners 5 years earlier to get a ‘Hard Back, Stern Face’ on an album called ‘Maths + English’ because he said, without maths couldn’t do beats and without english he couldn’t do rhymes. His advice came from experience of business and learning from school.

My proposal is that the arts, and arts education provide ‘core experiential’ learning. They are very well suited to experiential leaning indoors and out, and to adventure experiences but they may not be used as often and as well as they could be. An essential part of using the arts, should you choose to, is viewing and doing art as a practitioner and art maker.

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