As we exit 2021, winter is upon us but spring is on the way, let this be our inspiration for 2022.
Perfect example of art as a mode of exploration and expression of personal experience.
Everything is everything What is meant to be, will be After winter, must come spring Change, it comes eventually
Everything is everything What is meant to be, will be After winter, must come spring Change, it comes eventually
I wrote these words for everyone who struggles in their youth Who won’t accept deception, instead of what is truth It seems we lose the game Before we even start to play Who made these rules? (Who made these rules?) We’re so confused (We’re so confused) Easily led astray Let me tell ya that
Everything is everything Everything is everything After winter, must come spring Everything is everything
I philosophy Possibly speak tongues Beat drum, Abyssinian, street Baptist Rap this in fine linen, from the beginning My practice extending across the atlas I begat this Flipping in the ghetto on a dirty mattress You can’t match this rapper slash actress More powerful than two Cleopatras Bomb graffiti on the tomb of Nefertiti MCs ain’t ready to take it to the Serengeti My rhymes is heavy like the mind of sister Betty (Betty Shabazz) L-Boogie spars with stars and constellations Then came down for a little conversation Adjacent to the king, fear no human being Roll with cherubims to Nassau Coliseum Now hear this mixture, where Hip Hop meets scripture Develop a negative into a positive picture
Now everything is everything What is meant to be, will be After winter, must come spring Change, it comes eventually
Sometimes it seems We’ll touch that dream But things come slow or not at all And the ones on top, won’t make it stop So convinced that they might fall Let’s love ourselves and we can’t fail To make a better situation Tomorrow, our seeds will grow All we need is dedication Let me tell ya that
Everything is everything Everything is everything After winter, must come spring Everything is everything
Everything is everything What is meant to be, will be After winter, must come spring Change, it comes eventually
‘ENTWINED Online Assemblage’ celebrates the end of the two-year, multi-partner programme ENTWINED:Rural.Land.Lives.Art.
The project is organised by VARC (Visual Arts in Rural Communities). It comprises six mixed-length residencies and associated artist projects. Each artist’s practice explored different aspects of what makes a ‘place’, revealing the interconnectedness of rural land and rural lives.
This asynchronous conference is hosted by Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice.
These conference videos seek to interrogate the interconnectedness of rural land and lives. Invited speakers include artists and academics that are concerned with rurality and/or what makes ‘place’.
We hope you enjoy meeting the artists and academics and hearing about their work.
1. Introduction to the conference by Helen Pailing, VARC Project Director View film here
2. Leandro Pisano, curator, writer and independent researcher. Leandro is interested in intersections between art, sound and technoculture and looks at rurality on a local and global scale. View film here
3. Esther Peeren Professor of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam Esther is working on a global project called ‘Rural Imaginations’ View film here
4. Dr Menelaos Gkartzios, Reader in Planning & Rural Development, Newcastle University, talks about the rural and artistic practices, examples of visual arts in the global countryside (Japan) and residencies, mobility and rural place-making. View film here
5. Artist Henna Asikainen presents a video about her project ‘Delicate Shuttle’. Henna’s artwork is concerned with humans’ complex relationship with nature and its intersections with social justice, climate justice, migration and notions of belonging. View film here
6. Mike Pratt, CEO Northumberland Wildlife Trust, speaking from Kielder and talking about the Wildwood Project at Kielderhead and the importance of ‘repair, restoration and rewilding, both of ourselves and of places’. View film here
7. Artists Rob & Harriet Fraser present a video reflecting on their project ‘Sense of Here’ in Cumbria’s Lake District. View film here
8. Artist Laura Harrington introduces ‘Fieldworking: Artist Camp’, a project by Laura Harrington with Chris Bate, Ludwig Berger, Sarah Bouttell, Luce Choules, Simone Kenyon, Fiona MacDonald, Lee Patterson, Meredith Root-Bernstein and Moor House-Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve. View film here
9. Professor Ysanne Holt, Department of Arts, Northumbria University presents ideas from her ENTWINED essay ‘Tangled Up in Place’ View film here
10. ENTWINED Associate Artist Kate Liston in conversation with Roy Claire Potter. Roy is an artist working between performance and writing and Senior Lecturer, School of Art & Design, Liverpool John Moores University. View film here
11. ENTWINED Associate Artist Andrew Burton, Professor of Fine Art, Newcastle University in conversation with Ranti Bam. Ranti is a British-Nigerian artist who works in ceramics. View film here
12. ENTWINED artist Bridget Kennedy in conversation with Professor Ysanne Holt, Department of Arts, Northumbria University View film here
13. ENTWINED artist Shane Finan in conversation with Professor Lynne Boddy, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University. View film here
14. ENTWINED artist Catriona Gallagher in conversation with Michael Pattison, Creative Director, Alchemy Film & Arts View film here
15. ENTWINED artists Robbie Coleman & Jo Hodges in conversation with Chris Fremantle. Chris is a producer, researcher, writer and artist. View film here
16. ENTWINED artist Sam Douglas in conversation with Dr Frances Rowe, Research Associate, Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University View film here
17. ENTWINED artists open discussion at the ‘ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art.’ exhibition at Highgreen, September 4th 2021 chaired by Susan Trangmar View film here
‘ENTWINED: Rural. Land. Lives. Art.’ is funded by Arts Council England National Lottery Funding, Visual Arts in Rural Communities, Newcastle University (Institute for Creative Arts Practice), Northumbria University (Arts and Visual Culture), Northumberland County Council, Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, and Tarset & Greystead Parish Council. The project runs from June 2019 to December 2021.
Invaluable in-kind support has been provided by Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Unison Colour, The Heritage Centre at Bellingham, Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy, Art Circuit Touring Exhibitions, University of Sunderland (WALK; Walking, Art, Landskip and Knowledge), Highgreen Estate, Northumberland National Park Authority, Tarset Village Hall, Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland Archives, Natural History Society of Northumbria and Tarset Archive Group.
For more information about ENTWINED:Rural.Land.Lives.Art and VARC please visit the website
Curiosity is a key part of experiential learning, art, research and many other domains.
This is about the value of curiosity for health professionals. Just go look at Table 1 below and see the obstacles in the work environment and the attitude of the care givers. They are linked.
Also the closing paragraph describes for me some of the core components of expereintial education. It says
Curiosity should then be evaluated among medical school candidates as part of the selection process and nurtured throughout medical school by interventions that focus on training the eye and the mind as in visual art observation, small-group learning, accomplishing a genuinely patient-centred encounter founded on listening and reacting to the patient and developing habitual mindfulness and reflection.
Part of the key theme is the idea of noticing. That means being detached and present at the same time, which is mindfulness.
This article has been other articles in PMC. cited by
Curiosity is a universal and omnipotent, predominantly human trait.1 It underlies child development and plays a major role in learning, discovery and art. In between, it is the spice of daily life and a strong bonding element between people. For clinicians, curiosity makes the difference between tiresome ‘automatic pilot’ practice2 and keenly expecting to meet a new challenge, a new learning opportunity and a new person on each encounter.3 To feel and be able to impart this element of renewal and enthusiasm is perhaps the greatest achievement of medical educators, and curiosity is the sine qua non of this and of any meaningful research. No wonder that curiosity (i.e. ‘inquisitiveness’) is an established primary goal of medical education4 and an acknowledged component of professional competence.5
Yet, ‘curiosity’ as a key attribute to success is not mentioned during residencies and research fellowships. Although curiosity and Observation (importantly, one begets the other) can be acquired and cultivated,6,7 its ingrained presence must be a valuable asset, but it is not evaluated among medical school candidates. In tandem with the scarcity of curiosity as a focus of teaching or training, but the term is relatively poorly represented in the medical literature. A PubMed search for ‘curiosity’ AND ‘medical education’ yields only few publications, mostly irrelevant. Although highly humanistic physicians identified a genuine sense of being curious about their patients as an essential fuel sustaining their humanism,8 and the patients’ perspective is no different,9 research evidence is practically non-existent. Considering the key role of curiosity in medicine (Figure 1), these deficiencies are surprising.
Five major domains are strongly affected by curiosity (an original perspective): A. Data collection – more comprehensive, better elicitation of the patient’s history, narrative, contextual factors and improved observation and detection of examination findings. B. Learning opportunity – patient-oriented, reflexive problem-based learning. Curiosity facilitates finding the best available answers for the patient, underlies a habit of obtaining follow-up, and ensures continuous professional development. C. Research – potential trigger of formulating a general research question and developing future original research. D. Personal view – understanding the patient’s identity and ubiquitous emotional aspects, whether primary or reactive to the illness. Sensed by the patient, it leads to reciprocal trust, adherence and improved health outcomes. E. Mindfulness, introspection, reflection equal self-directed curiosity that improves indicators of patient-centred care and physicians’ well-being.7 A (data), B (learning) and C (research) are predominantly cognitive, while D (personal) and E (mindfulness) are primarily emotive and promote empathy. A (data), B (learning) and D (personal) are all patient-centred (highlighted). C (research) is science-centred, and E (mindfulness) constitutes self-centred-curiosity. Only excellence in C (research) is considered prestigious and associated with career advancement.
If defined as an innate attitude of sincere, widely applied interest in other persons encountered and in things observed, curiosity is associated with a desire to know more and ideally has seven important characteristics. It is omnipresent, and not just clinical. It is target-independent and applies to numerous everyday observations and encounters, often to small details, and not only to grand or unique experiences. It is a lifelong trait, and not temporary or occasional. It is friendly, and not intrusive, felt by the other person and very likely to elicit a warm response. It is bidirectional, mostly directed outward but also bearing inwards as in introspection, reflection and mindfulness. It is conceived as pleasurable, and not a nagging duty. Importantly, it always leads to thought and action, and is not just passive.
In the patient–provider encounter, these broad characteristics ensure substantial curiosity-driven cognitive advantages for the physician, as well as emotive opportunities for both parties (Figure 1). Their application will yield better quality of communication and elicitation of the patient’s history, concerns and signs (Figure 1A), and frequent search for patient-tailored evidence yielding improved decision-making. Curiosity also underlies tracking belated tests and verifying patient outcomes, establishing curiosity as key to imperative feedback, habitual learning and advancement (Figure 1B). Moreover, the physician’s interest will soon translate to knowing and acknowledging the patient,8,10 and correctly identifying common emotional and contextual problems that need attention. Increasing empathy and commitment naturally follow. Thus, curiosity begets emotional engagement and greater therapeutic efficacy:11,12 patients are quick to sense when their provider truly cares (Figure 1D, bidirectional arrow) and respond by better coping and increased satisfaction, trust and adherence, that may achieve significant improvement in patient’s quality of life and clinically important ‘hard’ health outcomes.12–15 A curiosity-based approach can therefore advance health outcomes by two distinct mechanisms, cognitive and emotive, strongly enhancing a currently hampered patient–provider relationship16 and the provision of patient-centred care, a major Institute of Medicine goal17(Figure 1A, B, B,DD).
These substantial multiple benefits contrast with the often-prevailing cursory history and examination; infrequent search for evidence-based solutions; inattention to patients’ concerns or feelings; and inadequate patient-centred care or shared decisions.17–21 Expected providers’ gains are no less important. Up to 60% of physicians report symptoms of burnout (defined as emotional exhaustion, low sense of accomplishment and treating patients as objects) impairing their quality of life and the quality of care they provide.22 Arguably, a curiosity-based approach (including self-directed curiosity as in reflective, mindful practice; Figure 1E) may constitute an effective antidote,7 infusing daily practice with experience and meaning: physician’s job satisfaction is likely to increase together with diminishing stress, burnout and fatigue, improved wellbeing and enhanced professional performance involving fewer errors and greater empathy.
Given the immense impact of the five domains of curiosity in medicine (Figure 1) and its manifold prevalent barriers (Table 1),23 bland declarations4,5 need to be supplemented by action. Curiosity is conspicuously absent from either the Royal College of Physicians report on ‘Changing doctors in changing times’ (2010) or the General Medical Council ‘Good medical practice’ update (2013), although central to their imperative goals. Curiosity should be much more in the currency of educators’ and providers’ thoughts, since current medical education may in fact have a suppressive effect on curiosity (Table 1).24–26 However, no tools exist that capture this intangible qualitative aspect of the patient–physician interaction. Further research is clearly indicated, since current evidence on methods of measuring and cultivating curiosity throughout medical education remains in its infancy.
Postulated major obstacles to the expression of curiosity in today’s clinical practice.a
I. Educational deficiencies
• Curiosity ‘below the radar’ – poor awareness
• Too little time spent at the bedside
• Too few role models
• Deficient training in communication and ‘narrative competence’
• Impaired cultural competence skills vs. increasing diversity
• Overwhelming clinical information and detail vs. poor preparation
• Over-emphasis on efficiency, focus and restraint
• Exam-centred learning
• Passive ‘spoon feeding’ ≫ independent learning
• Atmosphere promoting anxiety and detachment
II. ‘Culture of medicine’ factors
• The ‘Hidden curriculum’ – no marks for Curiosity-driven excellence in patient-centred care
• Technology-focused and test-focused encounter, not really patient-centred
• Patient-centred care perceived as time-consuming, unrewarding and non-prestigious
• Patients perceived as wanting prescriptions, tests and referrals – not a ‘Curiosity’-driven encounter
• Defensive practice
III. Work environment factors
• Overburdened schedules vs. time constraints
• Stress from frequent interruptions, administrative burden
• Short ambulatory encounters and short hospital length of stay; poor continuity of care; fragmentation of care
• Diminished sense of control; regulators stressing form-filling and restrictions
IV. Physician’s personal factors
• Preoccupation with personal problems
• Focus on other preferences (e.g. remuneration)
• Poor tolerance of uncertainty
• Worry about possible malpractice litigation – seeing the patient as a potential adversary
• Build-up of unvented work-related emotions (faulty feedback and reflection)
Based on extensive literature on patient–physician relations, clinical excellence and medical education.
Curiosity should then be evaluated among medical school candidates as part of the selection process and nurtured throughout medical school by interventions that focus on training the eye and the mind as in visual art observation,6 small-group learning,27 accomplishing a genuinely patient-centred encounter founded on listening and reacting to the patient14,25,28–30 and developing habitual mindfulness and reflection.2,7,16 Reading Fitzgerald’s classic monograph31 often leaves a deep impression on students. Since true curiosity that is detached from the patient is hard to envisage, increased exposure to bedside teaching rounds is likely to foster curiosity,32,33 particularly when led by effective clinician role models.29 Curiosity could be evaluated by using standardised patients with ‘half-hidden’ clues amenable to curiosity. The common accumulating barriers to curiosity (Table 1)24,31 can perhaps be overcome by Continuing Medical Education programmes incorporating interactive quiz-based folding case presentations,34 simulation exercises,35improvisational workshops,30 Balint groups,36 reflective writing and narrative-focused exercises37,38 which need to be more widely disseminated.6,7,38 Training providers to non-verbally express curiosity, interest and empathy is important and feasible,39 although most nonverbal communication is subconscious, and sincere curiosity will be instinctively felt by the patient (Figure 1D). System changes are also called for (Table 1, III) but may take more time to implement.16 For now, educational changes, awareness, self-training and a change in attitude can readily accomplish much in reinvesting medical education and our patient–provider relationship with more curiosity.
Not commissioned; editorial review
1. Gregory RL, ed. Oxford Companion to the Mind. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.2. Epstein RM, Siegel DJ, Silberman J. Self-monitoring in clinical practice: a challenge for medical educators. J Contin Educ Health Prof 2008; 28: 5–13. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]3. Schattner A. The clinical encounter revisited. Am J Med 2014; 127: 268–274. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]4. Alpern RJ, Long S. Scientific Foundation for Future Physicians, Washington, DC: Association of American Medical Colleges, 2009. [Google Scholar]5. Epstein RM, Hundert EM. Defining and assessing professional competence. JAMA 2002; 287: 226–235. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]6. Naghshineh S, Hafler JP, Miller AR, Blanco MA, Lipsitz SR, Dubroff RP, et al. Formal art observation training improves medical students’ visual diagnostic skills. J Gen Intern Med2008; 23: 991–997. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]7. Krasner MS, Epstein RM, Beckman H, Suchman AL, Chapman B, Mooney CJ, et al. Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. JAMA 2009; 302: 1284–1293. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]8. Chou CM, Kellom K, Shea JA. Attitudes and habits of highly humanistic physicians. Acad Med 2014; 89: 1252–1258. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]9. Deledda G, Moretti F, Rimondini M, Zimmermann C. How patients want their doctor to communicate. A literature review on primary care patients’ perspective. Patient Educ Couns2013; 90: 297–306. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]10. Peabody FW. The care of the patient. JAMA 1927; 88: 877–882. [Google Scholar]11. Halpern J. Empathy and patient-physician conflicts. J Gen Intern Med 2007; 22: 696–700. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]12. Derksen F, Bensing J, Lagro-Jansen A. Effectiveness of empathy in general practice: a systematic review. Br J Gen Pract 2013; 63: 376–384. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]13. Martin LR, Williams SL, Haskard KB, DiMatteo MR. The challenge of patient adherence. Ther Clin Risk Manag 2005; 1: 189–199. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]14. Schattner A. The silent dimension. Expressing humanism in each medical encounter. Arch Intern Med 2009; 169: 1095–1099. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]15. Epstein RM, Fiscella K, Lesser CS, Strange KC. Why the nation needs a policy push on patient-centered health care. Health Aff (Millwood) 2010; 29: 1489–1495. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]16. DeVoe JE, Nordin T, Kelly K, Duane M, Lesko S, Saccocio SC, et al. Having and being a personal physician: vision of the Pisacano scholars. J Am Board Fam Med 2011; 24: 463–468. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]17. Berwick DM. A user’s manual for the IOM’s ‘quality chasm’ report. Health Aff (Millwood) 2002; 21: 80–90. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]18. Beckman HB, Frankel RM. The effect of physician behavior on the collection of data. Ann Intern Med 1984; 101: 692–696. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]19. Ruiz-Moral R, Perez Rodriguez E, Perula de Torres LA, de la Torre J. Physician-patient communication: a study on the observed behaviours of specialty physicians and the way their patients perceive them. Patient Educ Couns 2006; 64: 242–248. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]20. Levinson W, Gorawara-Bhat R, Lamb J. A study of patient clues and physician responses in primary care and surgical settings. JAMA 2000; 284: 1021–1027. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]21. Schattner A. Being better clinicians. An acronym for excellence. QJM 2013; 106: 385–388. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]22. West CP, Shanafelt TD, Kolars JC. Quality of life, burnout, educational debt, and medical knowledge among internal medicine residents. JAMA 2011; 306: 952–960. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]23. Coulehan J. Viewpoint: today’s professionalism: engaging the mind but not the heart. Acad Med 2005; 80: 892–898. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]24. Newton BW, Barber L, Clardy J, Cleveland E, O’Sullivan P. Is there hardening of the heart during medical School? Acad Med 2008; 83: 244–249. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]25. Batt-Rawden SA, Chisolm MS, Anton B, Flickinger TE. Teaching empathy to medical students: an updated, systematic review. Acad Med 2013; 88: 1171–1177. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]26. Dyche L, Epstein RM. Curiosity and medical education. Med Educ 2011; 45: 663–668. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]27. Koh GCH, Khoo HE, Wong ML, Koh D. The effects of problem-based learning during medical school on physician competency: a systematic review. CMAJ 2008; 178: 34–41. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]28. Platt FW, Gaspar DL, Coulehan JL, Fox L, Adler AJ, Weston WW, et al. “Tell me about yourself”: the patient centred interview. Ann Intern Med 2001; 134: 1079–1085. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]29. Churchill LR, Schenck D. Healing skills for medical practice. Ann Intern Med 2008; 149: 720–724. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]30. Schochet R, King J, Levine R, Clever S, Wright S. ‘Thinking on my feet’: an improvisation course to enhance students’ confidence and responsiveness in the medical interview. Educ Prim Care 2013; 24: 119–124. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]31. Fitzgerald FT. Curiosity. On being a doctor. Ann Intern Med 1999; 130: 70–72. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]32. Lehmann LS, Brancati FL, Chen MC, Roter D, Dobs AS. The effect of bedside case presentations on patients’ perceptions of their medical care. N Engl Med J 1997; 336: 1150–1155. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]33. Peters M, Ten Cate O. Bedside teaching in medical education: a literature review. Perspect Med Educ 2013; 3: 76–88. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]34. Kassirer JP. Clinical problem solving – a new feature in the Journal. N Engl J Med 1992; 326: 60–61. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]35. Weaver M, Erby L. Standardized patients: a promising tool for health education and health promotion. Health Promot Pract 2012; 13: 169–174. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]36. Novack DH, Suchman AL, Clark W, Epstein RM, Najberg E, Kaplan C. Calibrating the physician. Personal awareness and effective patient care. Working Group on Promoting Physician Personal awareness. American Academy on Physician and Patient. JAMA 1997; 278: 502–509. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]37. Charon R. Narrative medicine: form, function, and ethics. Ann Intern Med 2001; 134: 83–87. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]38. Wald HS, Borkan JM, Taylor JS, Anthony D, Reis SP. Fostering and evaluating reflective capacity in medical education: developing the REFLECT rubric for assessing reflective writing. Acad Med 2012; 87: 41–50. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]39. Riess H, Kraft-Todd G. E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.: a tool to enhance nonverbal communication between clinicians and their patients. Acad Med 2014; 89: 1108–1112. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
My visit to the Solway was prompted by a need for a large space without physical barriers to explore what would happen if I walked a drawing of an model of experiential learning through the arts. In doing so my idea about my model changed.
The original model
Models are slippery things. Their appeal is that they appear to give a fixed image of a thing, but in practice whilst they serve as a very useful signpost about which way to go when you set off, the thing you find when you get there is never fixed. So the walk was undertaken as an experiment ‘to explore what would happen…’
What the model predicted was that a number of factors would contribute to the art making. In this case my thoughts were that source material would be Richard Long and the walking and land artists. My personal arts practice or art made included using a GPS and walking to make a mark on the landscape and experience of film making as a means of exploration, reflection and expression of experience. I drew on ongoing research and theory about the outdoors as a liminal space and art making as adventure, as a journey of uncertain outcome, and Shaun McNiff’s ideas about witnessing in the arts therapies1.
The model was correct in that my path would lead in to and out of the art making on the day and on to more art making, research, source materials and theory, and that the generic coloured blobs would be specific to the art making experience. My initial thinking after the event went to ideas about performance and the epistemic object and further trips to photograph and film, reporting this through blog posts.
At the centre of this, an act of art making and poiesis occurs. Something comes into existence that did not exist before and it is called art. It is art by convention, because all this could describe the making of a cup of tea. To this conundrum ’Why is this art?’ one asks the question asked by artist John Baldessari, “Why is this not art.” It is art because it was my intention to make art and my act was guided by research, reference to existent artform and artists, theories of art and my experience of art I made before.
But there was something incomplete about the central concentric circle structure. I was interested in the model showing how each experience of art making occured within a loop of experience, like in Kolb’s learning cycle.
But like the Kolb model is an ideal form which would be expressed differently depending on the setting, the strict concentric form may vary depending on the setting. My experience of art-making was, however, that in making art I stepped away from the day to day life experience and went to a different place. This could state is sometimes known as a ‘Flow’ state from work by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. You get in the zone of concentration and attention, of doing and the senses. But for art-making as experiential learning or personal research or art therapy, you enter a state that is similar to a meditative state, like flow with awareness. You are focussed on making art but also on what it is that you have made and what happens when you make it.
So in the model, as well as cycling through an iterative learning process, there was a linear path away from the world, into a creative state where something happens in partnership with your artform, then back to the world.
Reflecting on how the model changed
On return home from the Solway and recollecting the emergence of performance I went back to my Dramatherapy training. In a dramatherapy session you work with a basic three part structure. ‘It begins with a physical warm-up leading to the Main Event, the place where the real action is. It concludes with the ‘grounding’, returning people from the ‘Land of Imagination’ to their own everyday selves.2’
During the walk recreating the drawing, the shift from walking to dancing, from recreating the drawing to improvising and performance emerged unbidden. One could say this idea came out of my imagination or my unconscious, or it was the product of a state of flow, or having danced in the past, I simply remembered something from my past related to what I was doing in the present.
So there are two things here. One is a linear journey into a place with some degree of separation from the everyday world, into ‘flow’ or ‘Land of Imagination’, followed by a return. This is a linear journey in an iterative looping cycle of learning. The other is the experience of being in ‘flow’ or the ‘Land of Imagination’. This is an experience of art making as somewhat separated from ones day to day life.
Something like this three-stage process occurs in many settings. In story and in film and theatre there is a thing called the ‘Three Act Structure.’ On one hand, this is as simple as a beginning a middle and an end or it is sometimes understood as set-up, confrontation and resolution. Many interpretations exist and there are examples to be found of its use in say cinema, but it is not without some contention. Like one article says ‘The true three-act structure isn’t a formula, it keeps your beginning separate from your middle and your middle separate from your end. That’s it.’
But the ‘beginning, middle and end’ could be seen as a universal or archetypal structure. For example at Outward Bound, in experiential learning, you worked with a ‘training, main and final expedition’. Your training expedition was where you taught skills, the main expedition was where you had the conflict as you got the people to move from being a group to being a team. Final was the unaccompanied independent journey.
In care, we worked with a conflict model and resolution tool called ‘ABC Charts’ meaning A – antecedent, B – behaviour, and C – consequences. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey has a specific expression and detail but is also a three-stage form, the call to adventure, the test and the return.
But the simple, warm up, main event and grounding of dramatherapy mentioned above can be also seen in a form described by Victor Turner and Arnold van Gennep as Rites of Passage.
The above diagram is from Victor Turner a British anthropologist who theorised the above from studies of non-western settings at the top, and western settings at the bottom. This is a three stage journey of return that is linear and cyclical and has a central liminal or liminoid space somewhat separated from everyday life called The Land of Imagination in the dramatherapy model.
Art as liminal space
My proposal is that art making and experiential learning could be understood as having some some elements of the above structure in their practice. I don’t think it is coincidental that after a while on the Solway Walk, I spontaneously rediscovered that I could do the walk as performance. This could be seen as me, albeit briefly, entering a mild ludic state.
There is a lot to this seemingly simple experience of walking in circles on a beach like an idiot. Not least the idiocy. I was being playful throughout. I was in the land of the Trickster or the Court Jester, at once playful and challenging, the one who can perform recombination and inversion.
This is also adventure. The journey between departure and arrival. The journey of uncertain outcome with misadventure available. The three part expedition cycle of Outward Bound. On a slave ship, the middle passage. The refugee in the hands of the trafficker. It is not a thing of the past.
To me there is also something in this of being in the Solway, a liminal space if ever I saw one, between two countries, high and low water, land and sea. To me this is also a state of walking. In walking you are between places, outdoors, in a state of flow, and returned to a mode of existence that predates all of the modern world.
So after a few weeks of reflection my research led me a realisation. The experience was ‘like’ a lot of things, from experiential learning, theatre, anthropology, adventure sports, performance art, and conflict resolution, to Outward Bound and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.
This could also be applied to many arts based contexts and the model has ART FORM as a liminal or liminoid experience at it’s heart, the same as dramatherapy. But the artform that fits this experience best if what is known as Walking Art.
My exploration of my Solway walk has reached a convenient place to move on and in my next set of posts I want to look at Walking Art with a particular focus on it’s scope for promoting health and wellbeing.
Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies – Theory and Practice – Laury Rappaport ed. ↩︎
Discovering the Self through Drama and Movement – The Sesame Approach. Jenny Pearson ed. ↩︎
Performance Studies – An Introduction. By Richard Schechner. Routledge. ↩︎
After doing my Solway Walk I went back to some academic and practice material, reconnecting with Augusto Boal on performance as a dichotomous, and thus creative, process. This connected with my experience of art making as performance as a journey of uncertain outcome. But some of my art making ended up with art objects. However the Boal stuff reminded me of other materials I had read.
In a book called ‘Using Art as Research in Learning an Teaching; Multidisciplinary Approaches Across the Arts’ by Ross W. Prior, there is a chapter that reiterated some of what Boal had to say about the ambiguity of the art making process. In Chapter 8 ‘The ‘Epistemic Object’ in the Creative Process of Doctoral Inquiry’, Carole Gray, Julian Malins and Maxine Bristow the authors, develop ideas about the art object which reinforces Boal’s ideas about aesthetic space but in relation to visual art and the arts object as part of an experiential process. It also talk about ways of viewing art that moves us away from the fine art exhibition, and towards ways of showing art product and process much more conducive to experiential learning. It is about art as research at postgrad level but we can think of art as experiential learning as a form of research or as a source of knowledge at many levels.
The Epistemic Object
Whilst Augusto Boal’s idea of performance containing the aesthetic space as a dichotomous space in which a person acts, witnesses and learns through their own actions, thoughts and feelings, the act of performance is highly experiential, and produces no object in the way visual art does.
In the article the epistemic object is understood as an object which, through engagement and experience, acts as a source of knowledge. In this sense the object could be a painting or an architectural model or the Large Hadron Collider or a diagram of a particle accelerator or the Sistine Chapel. The epistemic object or epistemic art contains ambiguity or uncertainty and thus can be a vehicle for inquiry and thus learning. So whilst ideas about what we we can learn form art is not without contention, as a perspective on art as experiential learning the idea may be useful.
It struck me that when I worked at Outward Bound two classic experiential learning, or ‘problem solving’ activities that could be understood as epistemic objects were ‘The Wall’ and ‘Barrels and Planks’ . Both used creative experiential activities as a source of knowledge. Both could also be understood as performance in the way Boal suggested.
Viewing and more importantly doing art, making art objects could, I suggest, be understood as epistemic objects. What interests me is the way this idea, adopted and hybridised by art based researchers could bring together ways of thinking about and engaging in experiential learning that could encompass science, the arts, outdoor adventure and the arts therapies.
In the article a number of ideas are presented about the epistemic object being ambiguous or dichotomous and open to interpretation and as such, through interaction, open to creative development or re-viewing. With the article the devil is in the detail. To paraphrase of quote parts of the article would loose a lot of the explanation. So a copy of the article is available for download on my blog under this post or can be downloaded here.
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s term ‘epistemic things’ is used as a starting point. Rheinberger is quoted thus. ‘An experiment […] is an exploratory movement, a game in which one plays with possible positions, an open arrangement’. The article continues ‘For an epistemic object to have the potential to develop scientific research, it must embody a degree of uncertainty to be useful’. He asserts that epistemic things ‘are by nature made to be surpassed’’
In the article the things that pass as epistemic objects include Crick and Watson’s model of DNA, made with lab equipment. Things used by architects to design buildings including sketches, drawings, plans, charts; photographs; project management tools – timelines, schedules, tables; virtual prototypes, scale models, and even machines and parts are epistemic objects. A design consultancy process in cited, where individual employees select ‘core value’ cards – a given set of random images – to visually express particular values that they each associate with their company.
Finally there is a wonderful description of how Antonio Gaudi designed the Crypt of the Church of Colonia Güell. ‘Gaudi’s stereostatic model.. brought together a set of inquiring materials – a wooden board, cords, cloth, pellets, photographs. From each catenaric arch (formed by hanging the cords from the board) small sacks of pellets were suspended. The structure was photographed. The final shape of the church’s future architecture was revealed by turning one of the photographs upside-down– indeed a productive thing.’ Read about it here.
To me an ‘experiment’ as described above by Rheinberger, could be an expedition, or a painting, or canoe trip, or a walk on a beach, or a drawing of an idea of experiential learning, or making a movie about a walk on a beach, or a map. All, like a petri dish or a painting, can be an epistemic object.
These are all things that could be understood as ‘thinking by doing’, ‘embodied cognition’ or ‘material thinking’. These could things used by artists, physicists, architects, musicians, geologists, sports coaches. The ‘epistemological object’ differs from the ‘model’ in how it is used and by virtue of it being incomplete, ambiguous, dichotomous, open or emergent. The interaction of the maker of the object with the object is what makes it a source of knowledge or creativity. The model tells us what we already know.
The article describes the role of epistemic objects ‘..is not to represent what is already known, but on the contrary, to come to terms with what is not yet known. The epistemic object is defined by what it is not (or not yet) as much by what it is’, and says artworks are ‘‘generators of that which we do not yet know’ inviting us to think and thereby are epistemic agents’.
My proposal throughout is that if we understand art making as experiential learning then the outcomes of learning are determined by the interaction of a person doing something in which, as Rheinberger notes above, they think ‘a degree of uncertainty to be useful’. This is endemic to art making, to the art object, to the epistemic object. So as a source of knowledge, a mode of discourse and exploration of experience, art making, in all it’s myriad and contested forms treats, like with like. It’s uncertainty matches the uncertainty of experience.
But in making art, how do we show what we have learned, in and of experience, if it is uncertain. The article goes on to link the epistemic object to the act of exposition. Exposition can be understood as being characterised by an exposure, a showing of all and an explanation.
The word exposition is now a noun, the name of a thing. Etymologically it is from exponere which is a verb, a describer of a doing. In the context of art as experiential learning, as part of a research discourse, the writers of the article think of exposition as more of an exposure of doing, thinking, of materials and process.
The article goes further and suggest it is ‘…the sharing of thinking processes and the revealing of methodology; and perhaps most importantly it invites participation in order to enrich and expand understandings from the inquiry,’ and ‘There is a didactic element to the notion of exposition, as far as it teaches how, and as what something may be seen without determining outcomes.’
Visual examples can be found in the article of recent PhD art as research doctoral expositions. Here.
In showing art in the fine art context, the exhibition could have the quality of a museum, with lots of explanations, or it could seek to rely on the capacity of the artworks to speak for themselves. The explanatory method can tend to give a fixed account of the art made. The art speaks for itself is fine, if you speak art in the same way as the artist. Grayson Perry suggested in the BBC Reith lectures that all galleries should have a big sign at the entrance that says ‘YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE IT ALL’. He did and exhibition of work by renowned artist and rank amateurs. He said he liked the idea that when people first walked in nobody knew who made what. They just found stuff they liked.
A big part of what I want to get as is art not ART. The making art rather than the viewing of ‘Fine Art’. Art as doing not viewing. We cannot all be artists but we can all make art. We can make art as a way to learn something about your experience, of art making, of what your art is about.
When I was at school I got a grade ‘A’ in Art and Physics. It took me 50 years to get back to the art thing. But the thought of me showing my art in an exhibition is horrific. At school you had to be wary of being good at art ‘cos if your art was good it got put on the wall. In my school that meant you had sold out. ‘Teachers Pet!’.
But my exposition is here, in my showing and sharing. I want to show you what I made and my thinking about my making. The trick that I am working on is to find a balance between being too rigidly didactic and teacherish and too vaguely arty and obscure. My goal is to show so that you may find some thing you like that resonates for yourself. But like Grayson Perry says, you don’t have to like it all. In this sharing, I am sharing my finding my own way.
With a bit of time we can work out for ourselves what is going on.
In the article there is a quote from an arts researcher, Schwab who says ‘One may even say that there is something inherently gentle to exposition considered as introduction, a relief, perhaps, from the obligation of being a ‘work of art’, in the serious sense of the word.’
Art as experiential learning begs you to take notice of the art you make and what happens when you make it. Exposition could be seen as an antidote to feeling compelled to make a ‘work of art’, and show it like a sellout, and instead make some art and tell us what you did and what it was like, what you learned and then share with us what you made. We can work out what it means for ourselves.
Introducing Augusto Boal’s ideas about performance as a creative space for experiential learning
The act of reflection on my Solway Walk led me back to performance. Performance, like art, is a variable and often contested phenomenon. It can include theatre, dance, music, sports, business, ritual, play, performance arts and general social functioning. It can be a source of entertainment as actor or audience, but here it would be useful to connect with performance as a form of experiential learning. All art making could be understood as experiential learning as a source of knowledge, but performance has a particularly strong affinity with experiential learning as an active embodied process. My take on performance has to be influenced by my Dramatherapy training, in which a group or and individual can engage directly with performance to learn from experience.
One practitioner who works directly with performance as learning is dramatherapist and Social Activist Augusto Boal. He starts with theatre but develops it with the idea of the spect/actor, simultaneously spectator and actor. The spect/actor is performer and audience in one.
In Rainbow of Desire Boal describes theatre by quoting 16th century Spanish playwright Lope de Vega as ’two human beings, a passion and a platform’. This confirms the theatrical mode of performance as being a collective experience. In this case the ‘company’ is two, (and possibly more) persons interacting with one another. The passion is a reference to strong feelings and often suffering. Passion implies experiences beyond the mundane. Finally there is reference to the platform. In theatre this is usually the stage, as separated form the audience. Boal however moves beyond the actors and spectators as physically separated on auditorium and stage.
What is important to Boal is the act of separation rather than the form of two physically separate spaces. He says ‘The separation of spaces can occur without the ‘platform’ existing as as an actual object. All that is required is that, within the bounds of a certain space, spectators and actors designate a more restricted space as a ‘stage’,: an aesthetic space’.1 By this he says ‘In its greek root ‘aesthetic’ means ‘of or pertaining to things perceptible by the senses’’. Boal goes on ’So theatre does not exist in the objectivity of bricks and mortar, sets and costumes, but in the subjectivity of those who practice it’. He establishes theatre can take place anywhere you want it too. I chose a beach.
Boal continues ‘The ‘theatre (or ‘platform’, at it’s simplest, or ‘aesthetic’ space’, at it’s purest) serves as a means of separating actor from spectator; the one who acts from the one who observes. Actor and spectator can be two different people; they can also coincide in the same person.’ (Boal’s italicisation). The individual performer is witness to their own performance in real time and retrospectively.
Boal says ‘The aesthetic space possesses gnoseological properties, that is, properties which stimulate knowledge and discovery, cognition and recognition; properties which stimulate the process of learning by experience. Theatre is a form of knowledge.’ Here he describes theatre and performance as experiential learning. But away from the confines of theatre as a building with a stage, as a state of entering aesthetic space as a form ‘in the subjectivity of those who practice it.’ then theatre and performance as separation between actor and spectator, could be seen as having occured when I made the beach a stage, an aesthetic space, in which I was both spectator and actor. This is reflective practice.
My reflection, or my ‘review’ was live in the doing and the senses, direct in my direct recollection of the experience, reviewed by the witnessing of the camera and my seeing and editing the footage, in the production of the gps track, as a direct reflection of how I recreated an image of an idea, and how I deviated and moved form representation to improvisation. I witnessed myself in performance. Now you witness what came form my performance.
Boal offers one perspective, and there are other perspectives from other arts and performance theorists and practitioners, but in my reflection, reconnecting with Boal’s idea of aesthetic space resonated with my experience of going from walking an image of an idea to making the beach a place to improvise or perform a new image of an idea. He goes on to further develop the idea of the aesthetic space which offers some interesting insights.
He talks about how aesthetic space has a property of plasticity. It can can be anything we want it to be. ‘A battered old chair will be the kings thrown, the branch of a tree a forest…’ The Solway beach became a canvas to draw an image of an idea, then it became a stage on which to choreograph a dance with a piece of seaweed. Boal says ‘The aesthetic space liberates memory and imagination’.
He also says it offers an affective and oneiric dimension which ‘exist only in the mind of the subject… The affective dimension fills the aesthetic space with new significations and awakens in each observer, in divers forms and intensities, emotions, sensations and thoughts’. In the affective dimension the performer is in the moment and observing them self in the moment, they become spectator and actor. The affective dimension is ambiguous and dichotomatic. I think this is the bit that makes reflection on experience in situ available.
Boal goes on to say ‘Oneiric space is not dichotomous because in dreaming, we loose our consciousness of the physical space in which we the dreamers, are dreaming, here she penetrates into her own projections, she passes through the looking glass; everything merges and mixes together, anything is possible’. Which is why at the end of the walk/dance/performance I knew something had happened, but only on reflection at home did this thing that happened decompress. The act of making images of the experience helped with this. I think this aspect is the bit that makes, in the words of Monet and Rothko, the art the experience. The art form becomes a form of knowledge. The art making is research with the art made is the process and product of research.
The dichotomy of the experience is a key element. Of dichotomy Boal says ‘ This property is born out of the fact that we are dealing within a space within a space; two spaces occupy the same space at the same time.. And all those who penetrate it become dichotomous there.’ As a member of the audience watching Macbeth, I am in the auditorium and also on a heath, there to meet Macbeth. As a walker on the beach, I was on the beach but also on a canvas to paint a picture, then on a stage to do a dance. On a ropes course I am safely moving over a step across, but I am also a person who fears that may fall to their death. I want to return to dichotomy in my next posting, but from the point of view of the art object in fine art.
As a therapist Boal also talks about the effect of the dichotomy on the protagonist actor in the aesthetic space. In theatrical mode, he says, ‘..the protagonist-actor produces thoughts and releases emotions and sentiments which.. Belong to the character, that is to say, someone else.’ In therapeutic mode ‘..the protagonist-patient (the patient-actor) reproduces her own thoughts and releases anew her own emotions and sentiments.’ In the case of my Solway walk, the beach was the aesthetic space and the work done was partly about my material I brought, ie the image of an idea, but also my experience of the place as an active participant as art form and process. In all of my work and ideas about art as a form of experiential leaning, the approach is much closer to the therapeutic mode. From experience I have found this sets the whole mode of working with art appart from ideas and practices found in ‘The Arts’ or ‘Fine Art’.
Finally Boal talks about the aesthetic space as being telemicroscopic. ‘In creating the stage-auditorium division, we transform the stage into a place where everything acquires new dimensions, becomes magnified, as under a powerful microscope, thus brought closer and made larger, human actions can be better observed.’
Boal as a therapist and social activist has a good deal to say about how theatre and performance can enable spect/actors to reflect on their own experience and ‘..help the spect/actor transform himself into a protagonist of the dramatic action and rehearse alternatives for his situation so that he may then be able to extrapolate into his real life the actions he has rehearsed in the practice of theatre’.
In moving from representation of an image of an idea to improvisation of a new image and thus a new idea I believe the Solway walk did this for me. The dichotomy or ambiguity in the experience invited me to ‘rehearse alternatives for the situation’. This is a creative act, it is experiential learning, it is adventure. Creativity is a state of uncertain outcome. The journey of uncertain outcome is built on ambiguity. Art is adventure, and whilst misadventure was absent here, it is present in some arts practices and, if I got my tide times wrong, the Solway is a dangerous place. My suggestion is that art making can be an inner adventure or an outer adventure. This is a thing I will discuss elsewhere.
The key themes in this are 1) that performance is an invention of experience not place 2) and as such, by being dichotomous and ambiguous, offers scope for new experiences, and 3) the performance or art made is not just a representation or symbol of experience, it is the experience, and 4) the performance or art made can be understood as research and knowledge of personal experience. This, alongside other modes of understanding experience, offers some unexpected dividends.
Performer, Iggy Pop on a beach talking to someone about curiosity.
In further posts the ideas of performance and art making as a transformational experiential process will be further developed. But a key theme is that this experiential process is dichotomous, subjective, situational, emergent and multi-dimensional, and no single account can describe it in complete and concrete terms and working through direct expression of my own and other peoples working practice is the best way to do this. What I present is art making as adventure, the journey and not the destination.
A great, well researched article from ‘Artfully Learning’ about Fröbel the US educational pioneer. As early as the 19thC he did some very interesting work with learning outdoors and through the arts, including ‘Foebel Gifts’ shown above, designed for open play.
Visit Artfully Learning here. The site by Adam Zucker in the USA, describes itself as ‘…an experiential and critical cross-examination of the fine art world and the educational sphere’. There is a great article on Joseph Beuys called ‘Experiential Learning: Art Against Colonialism’ and some great links at the foot of the post.
If you are not listening to the 99% Invisible podcast, I highly recommend that you start! Two of the episodes from their archives are specifically of interest to the discourse on the complementary relationship between pedagogy and art. The first is a discussion about how Friedrich Fröbel’s architectural wherewithal changed the shape of education; the second episode presents an informative analysis of Isamu Noguchi’s imaginative modernist playgrounddesigns. A follow up blog post by educator and pedagogical researcher, Dr. Louisa Penfold (I highly recommend following her as well!), cites both Noguchi and Fröbel as key innovators of playful learning and modern aesthetics. For those of you who are frequent readers of my blog, you know that I love to write about the benefits that play has on our social, emotional, cognitive and artistic development.
In Dr. Penfold’s response to the episode on the 99% Invisible podcast, she makes a connection between Noguchi and Fröbel, both of whom influenced modern thinking around art, design, object-based learning and play. Fröbel and Noguchi lived centuries apart, but they were both drawn to exploring ways people learn through their interaction with others, their surroundings and the material world.
Fröbel was a leading figure for educational reform during the 19th century. His work with young learners led him to establish the first Kindergarten, as well as a curricula based on socialization and experiential discoveries (his work has been well documented on this blog). Fröbel was inspired by Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, whose approach to “Learning by head, hand and heart,” led to a sweeping modernization of the educational system in Switzerland. Pestalozzi is significant as a precursor to early childhood art education, because his pedagogical methods underscore the importance that drawing has on a child’s development. Like his mentor, Fröbel believed in a strong social, emotional and embodied approach to educating children. His methodology incorporated Pestalozzi’s idea of teaching to the whole child, which means that every facet of a child’s life has a vital impact on the development of their personality, identity and cognition. He took Pestalozzi’s aesthetic educational philosophy further by introducing three-dimensional objects, which utilize art and design as active mode of interacting with the world.
Fröbel realized that the way to educate the whole child is through mindful and tangible activities, which led to the invention of Fröbel Gifts, a set of material-based educational tools that inspire active learning through playful and critical thinking. Fröbel’s own term for this thoughtful action is ‘freiarbeit’ (free work). While the original Fröbel Gifts are seemingly simple in their design, they are highly successful in their intended learning results. The Gifts were revolutionary concepts for early childhood learning, because they provided young children with tangible means to make insightful connections to the world around them. Fröbel Gifts are intended to be used sequentially and under instructional guidance, in order to build upon children’s prior knowledge and experience. Their three-dimensional abstract and geometric design enables the child to construct realistic understandings of abstract spatial relationships by discovering the function of aesthetic forms within natural and material environments. As Penfold explains, “wooden blocks could be used to teach numeracy and counting. Then the same blocks could be used to build a house, allowing children to learn about concepts such as height and size. Finally, the block house could be used to construct a story and teach literacy and language skills” (Penfeld, 2020). This methodology and philosophy of turning abstract thinking into tangible results, is in line with the architectural creed “form follows function.” This simply means that the purpose of a structure should inform how it is physically shaped.
The influence of learning via Fröbel Gifts is noted by the architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, who was given a set as a child and has mentioned how playing with the blocks encouraged his groundbreaking work: “For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top . . . and played . . . with the cube, the sphere and the triangle—these smooth wooden maple blocks . . . All are in my fingers to this day . . .” (George, 2000). Wright’s innovative concept for designing buildings that adhere to their natural environment, is testament to how using Fröbel Gifts can unlock creative and critical thinking.
In contrast to the directional and linear intent of Fröbel Gifts, Noguchi’s modernist playground, Play Mountain (created in 1933 as a sculptural model), was designed to be pragmatically challenging and open-ended. Despite the conceptual differences, the pedagogical impetus behind Play Mountain reflects Fröbel’s concept of freiarbeit, or free play. It also utilizes a combination of three-dimensional forms in order to strengthen children’s concrete understandings of the world around them. Unlike Fröbel Gifts, Noguchi’s playgrounds were not meant to be approached in an orderly fashion. Noguchi’s playscapes had none of the traditional playground equipment. He intended for the sturdy surreal objects and earth-like forms to inspire unbridled imagination. His philosophy was that a playground without any obvious guidelines would help children think critically, embrace ambiguity and become more open-minded in how they observed and interacted with their environments and each other (all these elements are habits of mind that the arts teach us, see: Burton, 2000 and Eisner, 2002). Noguchi’s pedagogical outlook is a key tenet of non-directive play, which is a method that educators and mental health professionals alike use to elicit children’s self-expression.
Noguchi is well known for his abstract sculptures and his modernist furniture. While his fine art is largely non-utilitarian, he struck a balance between function and form through his world famous ‘Noguchi table.’ Noguchi’s liberal explorations into natural, synthetic, abstract and concrete objects, also led to the creation of very unique and astonishing playgrounds. Each of Noguchi’s playscapes are distinctive in that they provide an educational experience for people of all ages. For the youth, they are a whimsical source of unfettered activity, while adults can closely observe groundbreaking public works of art and landscape architecture.
Noguchi created numerous models for play spaces, but only a few of his designs were actually constructed for public use. Play Mountain was one of the initial playgrounds that Noguchi imagined. Around 1934, Noguchi attempted to incorporate Play Mountain into New York City’s urban recreational infrastructure, however, he was unable to convince Robert Moses, the city’s Parks Commissioner. Play Mountain‘s design, which simulated environmental modulations and architectural wonders (like pyramids and ziggurats), would have seemed alien to Moses and other straightforward urban planners. As art historian, Shaina Larrivee explains, “playgrounds, a relatively new priority for New York and other urban areas, were decades away from a renaissance that would embrace experimentation and promote “creative play” (Larrivee, 2011). Noguchi’s playground designs were also ahead of their time from an art historical perspective. The consideration and incorporation of the surrounding landscape within large scale sculptural art was not truly emergent until the Land Art movement of the 1960s (Ibid).
The first actual playground Noguchi realized was only a temporary structure, located outside of Tokyo, called Kodomo No Kuni or ‘The Children’s Country.’ It was built in 1965 for the national holiday, Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Year). In the mid-1970s, Noguchi’s Playscapes was established in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park. (see: Lange, 2019). In his design for Playscapes, Noguchi envisioned an all encompassing educational landscape, complete with a shelter, a classroom, art studios and an office space. He intended for the space to be utilized throughout the year by school groups and summer camps, as well as the general public. The playground equipment is more akin to abstract sculpture than the typical jungle gyms, slides and swing sets seen in most playgrounds, however, every abstract and surreal form is highly functional in encouraging self-directed play. As writer Aria Danaparamita describes, “Rather than dictate a play activity, the structures invite creative interactions. Kids can climb, swing, and roll around in the Playscape’s spiral tower, play cubes and modernist geometric structures with integrated slides and swings” (Danaparamita, 2013).
Noguchi’s last major project was Moerenuma Park in Sapporo, Japan. The park is a 454 acre amalgamation of Noguchi’s ideas and designs for playgrounds and land art, including Play Mountain. Although Noguchi passed away several months into the project’s planning, his friend, the influential Japanese architect Shoji Sadao, carried on with the logistics and construction. This monumental public space, which includes one of Noguchi’s most elaborate play spaces, opened to the public in 2005, 17 years after Noguchi’s passing.
Fröbel’s Gifts and Noguchi’s playgrounds are exemplary models for inspiring children’s development within the natural and material world. Their contributions are a testament to how creativity and compassion can inform and benefit social, cultural and cognitive transformation. Both Fröbel and Noguchi were compelled by an array of modern art, design and architecture during their time, and in turn they influenced future generations of artists, designers and architects who work with children and/or develop educational materials.
Education is a form of social architecture and adheres to the adage ‘form follows function.’ Educators are astute and adept in scaffolding instruction and supporting their students throughout the phases of their development. Educators also physically set up their classrooms in order to build strong social, emotional and cognitive frameworks. The tangible classroom space should be a place that welcomes social discourse, collaboration and both guided and self-directed learning. Artists and educators have a unique position as designers of social and cultural blueprints for generations upon generations to explore, expand and renovate. Through the exploration materials and aesthetic experiences, and being engaged in scaffolded instruction and free play; educational infrastructures are developed, which are essential for our society to operate and progress in a holistic and critical manner.
References, Notes, Suggested Reading:
Burton, Judith. “The Configuration of Meaning: Learner-Centered Art Education Revisited.” Studies in Art Education, 41:4, 330-345, 2000.
Back in the world reflecting on the experience of art making.
On return home, my reflections on the Solway walk had a number of sources. I had my direct recollection of the place and the experience of walking around in circles, my gps tracks and my movie footage.
What was most immediate was direct recollection of the move from representation to improvisation of the image of an idea of experiential learning through art. What was interesting was that the return to the camera where I reflected that ‘I learned something about my model’ was partly an image in my head but mostly a feeling. The feeling was that the move from representation to improvisation was a feeling of change. It was not a rational thing.
I saw the footage and recalled that the pause in my speaking was me trying to connect with the learning. I had a vague ghost of an image and I was trying to visualise it. One source of inspiration about art as enquiry in post grad research came from the work of artist and academic, Dr Estelle Barrett1. She describes art as research as being a thing of ‘doing and the senses’. It is subjective, situational, emergent, multi-disciplinary and often non-verbal. I knew some change had taken place. By changing my experience of embodying my drawing of my idea, my idea had changed.
In my head what floated around was an image of a map of different experiences and interests with my walking path moving between them. On my return home I used a drawing app and made an image of I thought the map might look like. This is what I drew.
The drawing showed three elements. The looping line I had walked. This was my experience over time moving from one thing to another. Then the things I moved through over time, the art I made, other artists work as source material, art and learning theory, more structured research and reading and revisiting various ‘projects’ with a coherent theme. Then there was a n idea of my connection with the art making. I thought about it on the way in and out and reported on it. I have a journal and use sketchbooks for ideas and images. I became a witness to my own art making, and through reportage her, other people also witnessed what I made. The art making was characterised by mostly doing and the senses. I moved out of fully thinking mode.
Central to it was working with artform, which had a bit of all of the above, but had its own things to show and share. I felt a need to return to the central bit. What it contained I realised was always specific to the actual experience of artform at the time. I intend to try and map what happened in here on the day. On another day this would contain something different and something the same.
What emerged form this drawing, this thinking through doing and the senses, was not so much the act of art making I had put at the centre, but a realisation that the experience of art-making was inseparable from all the stuff going on in my life. The intention to make something as art at the centre still stood and like the walk on the beach, this making as enquiry makes itself. The art making has a mind of it’s own, the intelligence of material. And intention made the intelligence of many materials available. In this case the material was walking.
The experience of walking, and then dancing or performing the image was close to what I felt was my actual experience. But I had lots of stuff going on. I usually have a couple of art projects on the go, I have in mind the work of other artists and off other art works I had made, many of which involve walking. In many cases I did more formal reading and research or related ideas or phenomena, including academic research and writing. I experiment with different arts practices, with varying degrees of success. I reflect on art I wanted to make and my ability to do so. I make judgement on myself and my art making ability, and what I felt I ‘should’ be making and what I actually did make. Lots of stuff going on at a personal, intellectual, embodied and artistic level. Nothing is ever static, hence ideas in the original drawing of rhizomatic or adimensional knowledge.
My simple map image above came closer but it was a static image and the experience of the land depicted by the map was dynamic. A couple of things emerged.
1 – If a map were to be made to accurately represent the experience it would have to be local. It would have to show the things that were present in my immediate experience specific to the artform I was working on. The point of a map of a place is that it is specifically local. I was struck that the walk was specific to an actual place, but I was using it to make a map of a generalised idea about art making. This connected to a recurring theme.
Can you generalise about the experience of art making, create an image of that is replicable like I wanted to walk a replica of the image of an idea. Or does art making as a creative act and thus inherently improvised, mean that all art making is specifically local to the experience at the time? If we consider visual art, the art of image, the image has to be fixed. An image can only show a snapshot of an experience, but is can show insight into the personal processing going on with me in the experience. This has strengths and weaknesses.
2 – The move from a fixed image, from representation, to improvisation, to performance, opened the possibility of performance as a useful artform in which the artform was the experience. The film I captured of experience would show the walk as it happened. This would not be a snapshot of an experience. But this has limits. The point at which I moved to performance and I changed my ideas about my model and my art making would be present in the form, unless I added a commentary. But a picture is worth a thousand words. A image is a snapshot of an experience but it can show insight into my response to my experience.
Going from static to moving image.
From a static image I went to the movie footage with the intention of seeing if it could help me process my experience. I went to my movie footage and what struck me was the sound of the place I did the walk. I explored making a movie and to just show we wandering around in circles, but this did not appeal to me. A 20 minute movie of a beach with a man wandering about would not appeal to people viewing the footage either.
The duration was important and some artists have used the durational quality of movies to explore ideas. Andy Warhol famously made ‘Empire’, an 8 hour film of the Empire state building. It is boring but raises issues about how we experience and represent time.
But 20 minutes of me walking about was not what I wanted. I worked at speeding it up but lost the sound of the place. The movie below is my attempt at showing what the walk felt like out on the Solway, between high and low water, in feral space between human and wild spaces. To get the sounds of the experience listen with headphones. The soundtrack is from ‘Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai’ (You Will Never Lose Me) by Johann Johannsson and captured the feel of the walk.
As I write this it is now 2021. On viewing the footage what strikes me now is that I was totally mistaken over the date. I was a week out. The walk was the 18th of November. The desire to change the duration and speed up the footage also reflected a sense in which the walking a mile seemed to take no time. It was not boring and passed quickly. I also noticed that the movement of myself was reflected by a dog walker and the vehicles on the road. Over a month after the experience, this account or reflection of the experience shows me new things.
My belief is that the making of an art object that is between being both the experience and an account of the experience offers interesting opportunities to explore experience directly through art making. My research after my walk led on to two ideas from performance and post grad art as research which explore this idea of liminality and ambiguity between art as the experience and the account of the experience which I will cover in subsequent posts.
As a souse of reflection I also had my GPS tracks. I downloaded them and plotted them on various maps. I put the raw .gpx files into various apps or online mapping sites. One of the things I am drawn to is the way different maps tell you differne things about place you see on the map. I like Korzibski’s idea that ‘The map is not the territory’, both in terms of our experience of place, but in broader terms of consciousness. This is something I want to cover in posts about humanistic geography and the idea that we perform the outdoors as a place and an idea.
The mapping of .gpx tracks did not disappoint.
The idea that the image is a snapshot of moving experience was evident above.
Different mapping conventions show different things. I am fascinated with how using a map of a place before you visit colours your expectations and information about the place before you arrive and experience it directly. Also, if you go somewhere and look at the map on return, your direct experience dominates but you see new things.
it made me laugh to think that 6 hours later and my walking site would be underwater. Obvious retrospectively but it reminded again me that the Solway is never still and yet it is constant. Tides can be predicted with great accuracy, but never occur at the predicted time. A westerly wind will advance an incoming tide and hasten the time of a high tide. The spring tides always follow the full and new moon, two peaks a month. Neaps follow the moon as she moves from full to new moon. But the range of the springs, the height from top to bottom, vary over the year in a similar way to the month. We have two big springs a year. We have two big springs a month.
Working with the outdoors as art to explore and express personal experience can tell us about art, experience and the outdoors. I think offers interesting opportunities. But the outcome is never fixed in the way the tides are never fixed. We can say what we expect to happen, that at Silloth on the south Solway a spring tide of 9.24m will occur at 1306 on January 14th 2021, but in detail, what actually happens is always local. It is subjective, situational, emergent, an outcome of many factors. Subject to the weather and the sand, the lay of the land. My proposal is that the creative act, art making, is likewise. We start with a clear intention to paint a landscape that could be regognised as a representation of a real place, but the details of what we make is not fixed. It is a known journey of uncertain outcome, it is adventure.
The next two posts are about ideas form the arts about performance and the art object which may provide some academic and practice connections between art making and outdoor experiences.
Practice as Research – Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. Edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt. I.B.Taurus Press ↩︎
The Experience of Walking an Image of an Idea about Art as Experiential Learning
Dubmill Point in Allonby Bay was empty and big. From the road to the low water line was about a kilometre. I chose a spot to walk in the centre of the image above, a low bank of hard sand.
My intention was to walk the image below; my sketch of an idea about art making as experiential learning. I wanted to recreate this as a walk on the beach. I would use gps to track the shape I made, and record the walk on camera, and see what happened when I moved an idea from one artform to another, from an image to embodiment. I would walk with intention, attention and attitude. I would then write about my experience, reflect on theories and practices from the arts and learning, and see where this took me next. In my model below I would follow up this experience of art making into reflection, inquiry, reportage and further art making. I would not only walk my talk I would walk my thoughts.
I set up my camera so as to get as much of the walk as possible without me becoming a dot in the distance. I set up my GPS and found my central point, meant to be the ‘Art Making’ part of the image of an idea. I set off walking in big loops.
As I walked it I kept seeking to return to the centre point. At first I found I lost sight of the central point. This would mean my GPS track would not reflect my drawing, so I put a marker there, a bit of seaweed and started again. I treated this as a rehearsal, an initial loop round my experiential learning model.
I set off again to recreate my drawing. I walked a line, one foot in front of the other, but by passing through the central point, I also walked in wonky looping circles. I got into a rhythm, I started to pay attention to how this might reflect art making as experiential learning. The central point became the place I returned to, but the loops took me to different places on the beach.
After a while I started to develop a kind of relationship with the central point. It occurred to me that instead of just walking the shape of the image of the idea, I could do a big slow looping dance with the centre as my static partner. I trained as a dancer and wondered why I had not thought of this before.
In the moment of being in moving as an artform, in the intelligence of that material, in witnessing my doing and the senses, it felt like this had significantly changed the experience. I found a freedom from mere representation, from figurative form, and improvised a new form. It became performance. Through this experience I learned a new thing about my art making practice.
All in all it was a quick and easy thing. It took me about 20 minutes to walk a mile. There is quite a strong tradition of walking as art and performance art in outdoor settings. These forms are interesting in that they are durational, the art making only happens when the person is walking or performing. The experience may well be documented through film, photography or other forms, but it is unlike a painting in which the artform exists after the making it. The artform is the experience. Performance based arts are very experiential and offer interesting opportunities for experiential outdoor learning. But Mark Rothko stated that the art, even a painting, is the experience.
This is something I want to explore further. If the art is the experience, and we work with the outdoors as art, the art we make outdoors can tell us not only tell us something about outdoor experience, it can be the outdoor experience. We make something that is outdoor experience. This interests me a great deal.
Doing strange things in the name of art, like walking around in circles on beach may seem meaningless, but often I find that the most important learning comes out of what seems to be the simplest most meaningless experiences, or experiences that seem to have many different meanings. Ambiguity is important.
Walter de Maria, made action-art and land-art, only available when experienced directly in the outdoors. He said…
“Meaningless work is potentially the most important art-action experience one can undertake today”
“Any good work of art should have at least ten meanings.“
But my intention was to use this to explore my model of art as experiential learning, and at the time what struck me was that by changing from walking the shape of an image of an idea, to performance, dancing, improvising the idea directly in the space, my model changed, and so did my idea about art as experiential learning.
The image that immediately came to mind was my life as a map with different experiences and interests, different places, other artforms made, with the artform I am currently working on as the one with the closest proximity to where I was at the time. In my next post I want to reflect and report on this aspect.
On November 18, 2020, I went to Dubmill Scar in Allonby Bay, the English side of the Solway Firth, to walk. I went to walk as art. Guided by the art therapies and experiential learning, I make art outdoors to explore and express personal experience. I work with the outdoors as art.
Most of my art making revolves around a series of place based projects. For this project on the Solway, I started with walking, but walking as a creative act. Walking in the space, I try to pay attention to what is happening with an attitude of openness to experience. I seek to be in the space as an experiment to see what happens rather than be in the space as a venue for activity. The art is the experience, and the experience is the activity.
This walk needed a large space with open access and no boundary fences, and at the bottom of the tide, briefly, the Solway has a lot of walking space. The Solway does this by being eternally transitory. It is always in a state between high and low tide. The border between Scotland and England, it belongs to nobody but the sea, the sand and the things that live there. These things need no fences or footpaths. I have been visiting the Solway for years. It is never the same twice. It is a space open to possibilities, and as such, a place of creativity.
For this walk, the space was needed to recreate an image of an idea I worked on previously on about making art as experiential learning. My background in experiential learning has introduced me to a number of models of how we learn from experience. In all of them, there is an image of simultaneous movement, around a circle and along a line.
Plan Do Review Cycle
Kolb’s Learning Cycle
Using this idea and image of learning from experience as a starting point I reflected on my own art making and drew a sketch of experiential learning with art making at it’s centre to see how it might look. I wanted to move this idea between artforms. Each artform has it’s own intelligence, and shows things from another point of view. It is used in the arts therapies and is called multimodal working. It is an interesting technique. To aid with this I decided to film the walk.
As a starting point for how a model of experiential learning from art may look, I drew this.
First draft of a model of art as experiential learning.
In this model the looping line is my passage through time, through my life. The central bit is my encounter with art making. When I make art I learn something and this loops out back into my life and informs my next round of art making.
There a sort of sequence to this. I think about making art, then witness and pay attention to what I am doing and my senses when I make the art. The art form, the material of the art making has an intelligence of it’s own which can tell me something. This is an idea from artist and research Paul Carter called the Intelligence of Material (IOM). As part of this I also engage in reportage of my experience, which is what I am trying to do here. Writing and reporting helps me understand what I am thinking. In formal art based research, this is called exegesis, meaning interpreting arcane texts.
At the time I was also thinking about Rhizomatic Knowledge from Deleuze and Guattari and Bubble Charts as I felt that my experience of art making had an adimensional or three dimensional quality, hence the images at the bottom
But the bit I wanted to work with were the big recursive loops through art-making and back into life, where I did more formal research of artform, ideas, the work of other artists, theories of learning or art-making. So off I went to the Solway, with it’s big unimpeded wide open spaces, always in movement between states, and thus ripe for creativity to walk this image of an idea about experiential learning.
It is difficult to create and analyse at the same time, so my intention was to be in the space and the moment, witness what happened when I was walking as art, then reflect and report later on moving an idea from an image to an act of walking.
Generally what happens is that what I learn through the experience of art making acts like a cascade of dominoes, expanding out into inspiration to new art making, connections to theories and practices of art making and learning and insight into place and personal experience.
Over a series of posts to my blog I want to follow the cascade of ideas and art-making that will come out of the walk, then curate the posts into a themed collection of ideas, practices, artworks, a bit like a magazine. Over time I want to do a series of magazines covering different topics relating to art, experience and the outdoors.
In the next post I want to describe what happened when I did the walk of an image of an idea about art as experiential learning.