UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education
Paper to be presented:
Intergenerational Cultures of Creativity:
Practices promoting active participation and enquiry in the arts
Dr Margaret White
Postal Address: Australian Centre for Educational Studies
Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 61+ 2 9850 9837
Within her position as Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Arts Unit, in the Australian Centre for Educational Studies, Macquarie University, Margaret White's teaching and research are focussed on how artistic processes, experiences and expression are used to work within a culture. Interrelated projects that have emerged from this enquiry include: Drawing Australia, research, teaching and outreach in visual thinking and drawing (www.aces.mq.edu.au/drawingaustralia), historical research into material culture in education involving analysis of images, history of Progressive and New Education, and Constellations of Children's Art, an international online exhibition of children's art, (www.lib.mq.edu.au/ccap).
Intergenerational Cultures of Creativity:
Practices promoting active participation and enquiry in the arts
Viewing creativity as socially configured, it is accepted that children’s creative development is significantly influenced by adults and peers. What of the creative development of student teachers? Of particular relevance in this context are ways that adults, including tertiary students, conceive of creativity within a lifelong perspective. Childhood is frequently associated with creativity, spontaneity and freedom from constraint. Conversely, many adults have a limited view of their own creativity. When a final year student teacher was asked to write an initial perspective of her own creativity she asserted,“ I need to start off by insisting that I am NOT a creative person. By this I mean I cannot draw to save my life," she appeared to equate drawing with creativity. Believing that she lacked the skills to save herself through drawing, this student's view of herself a "NOT creative" provides a valuable impetus to consider perceptions of creativity and the arts among student teachers, and in the wider community.
How can such perceptions be challenged? This paper addresses intergenerational cultures of creativity to consider ways that attitudes to active participation in the arts are passed on. Wenger's (1998) conception of communities of practice in learning, and White's (2005) concept of an ecology of creativity provide the basis for discussion of practices that promote active enquiry in the arts in teacher education. Following from Thurber's (2004) recommendation for future directions of research in art education, this paper supports the place of reflective practice and student self assessment in tertiary art education programs and encourages the practice of actively engaging undergraduate students in arts research methodologies.
Viewing creativity as socially configured, it is accepted that children’s creative development is significantly influenced by adults and peers. What of the creative development of student teachers? Of particular relevance in this context are ways that adults, including tertiary students, conceive of creativity within a lifelong perspective. Childhood is frequently associated with creativity, spontaneity and freedom from constraint. Conversely, many adults have a limited view of their own creativity. When Astrid, a final year student teacher was asked to write an initial perspective of her own creativity as she commenced a fourth year unit of study in creativity and the arts at Macquarie University, she asserted,“ I need to start off by insisting that I am NOT a creative person. By this I mean I cannot draw to save my life," she appeared to equate drawing with creativity. Believing that she lacked the skills to save herself through drawing, this student's view of herself a "NOT creative" provides a valuable impetus to consider perceptions of creativity and the arts among student teachers, and in the wider community. Given that effective teaching in the arts requires a high degree of creativity and imagination, how do students develop these characteristics and how can perceptions of creativity such as Astrid's be challenged? This paper addresses intergenerational cultures of creativity to consider ways that attitudes to active participation in the arts are passed on.
Perceptions of creativity shifted significantly during the twentieth century from views of an exclusive domain of exceptional individuals to more complex ways of understanding the social and cultural contexts in which people interact and behave (White, 2005). Awareness that childhood memories and experiences can influence adults' conceptions of their creative capacity, alerts us to ways that assumptions and beliefs about creative processes and behaviour are formed.
In childhood, creativity may be viewed as a creative ecosystem in which children and adults within a physical environment influence and are influenced by each other's creative ways of being. (White, 2005, p. 101)
Adults who are aware of their own creative processes are better able to understand, and work with children’s creative behaviour (Makin, White, & Owen, 1996). Engagement with children and students as they encounter challenges, pleasures, self doubts and delights inherent in creative experiences is an essential element in a creative ecosystem.
In this regard, Astrid, quoted above, provides a valuable example. Astrid's assertion was qualified by the following rejoinder:
However, as I have noticed others are doing, I would like to attempt this subject as a means of combating my fear of the unknown. I really want to go beyond the boundaries, and reach out to what I know is my creative aspect.
Her full statement makes it possible to infer some beliefs and feelings held by many adults, teachers and parents included, with respect to their creativity:
· Being able to draw is frequently equated with being creative
· Being creative involves facing the unknown, and moving beyond fears of the known
· Engaging with self-doubt about creativity may enable us to work towards challenging these perceptions
Astrid's belief about her drawing ability is not uncommon as a study by Grant, Langer, Falk & Capodilupo (2004) found:
Beginning as early as they can hold a pen, a pencil or a crayon, most people mistakenly learn that they are unable to draw. This constraining mind-set prevents many from enjoying creativity that others find engaging and restricts their opportunities to see the world from a different perspective. (p. 261)
While voicing her apprehension, Astrid articulated some confidence in her creative capacity and indicated her preparedness to challenge her assumptions and beliefs.
Astrid's story provides a valuable illustration of ways that educational opportunities can be created to work with imagination in learning. In articulating a sense of the possible, Astrid is exploring her identity and ways that she can influence her future trajectory. Encouraging active participation and enquiry in the arts involves engaging educational imagination to enable students to manage their own learning and to understand how their past experiences influence their present perceptions. By locating themselves within a wider ecological landscape of learning, students can explore and invent new possibilities for themselves. Wenger (1998) observes, " identity involves choosing what to know and becoming a person for whom such knowledge is meaningful." p.273 Astrid was clearly not accepting things the way they were, she was preparing to experiment and to move beyond the boundaries of her present way of being.
Considering characteristics of environments that foster educational imagination, Wenger's (1998) conception of communities of practice in learning offers a resource for building identity through learning. Creating a community based in practices of social participation can provide opportunities for students to actively explore new ways of learning, to manifest their learning through an identity of participation, and to take charge of their own learning.
Astrid's perspective was written as she embarked on a semester of study in a unit titled Creativity, the Arts and Childhood, in which staff explicitly set out to create a community of practice in learning. Students were advised in the unit outline that they would be participating together in exploring creative processes that involved risk-taking, innovation, a range of emotions, making sense of ordinary experiences by being reflective, by shifting perspective, and by engaging in dialogue with differing views.
Creativity, the Arts and Childhood is a unit generally chosen by students in their final year that requires them to challenge their perceptions through parallel projects in theoretical and practical learning. The practice of challenging student’s perceptions of creativity and the arts is informed by the knowledge that adults who are aware of their own creative processes are better able to understand and work with children’s creative behaviour (Makin, White & Owen, 1996).
Through researching personal creative histories to investigate how their creative growth has influenced their current beliefs and identity, students broaden their perceptions and knowledge of creativity and of arts processes. In the first of two major assignments, visual journals are used to document creative development through a series of structured experiences in tutorials and reflective research into their personal histories. To encourage a higher degree of risk-taking, the visual journals are not assessed.
From documentation in their visual journals, students build up a piece of work that symbolises their creative development. In different years this may take the form of a scroll, map, installation, or visual narrative. A third part of this assignment is a structured chronicle involving reflection on their creative process and artmaking in the light of theoretical understanding that they have been developing during the semester. This theoretical enquiry that occurs in parallel with their practical work, requires the students to investigate different theories of creativity to understand how definitions of creativity have changed over time. The socially-configured nature of creativity is examined, particularly through the work of Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Studies of creative process encourage students to take a meta-cognitive view of their own process, providing another layer of theoretical and personal understanding.
Since 1999 when this unit commenced, records of a range of student assignments and reflections have been kept. From 2002 a more systematic collection of evidence of student involvement has been undertaken. Analysis of student's initial perspectives written in the first week of each semester, reflections written in the final weeks of semester, and formal student assessment of teaching, has revealed some emergent themes that permeate student's engagement in the unit.
The initial perspectives are unstructured, that is, students are asked to write generally of their perspective of themselves as a creative person. Their choice of focus in this writing is in itself an indication of their present concept of creativity. In general, these show evidence of narrow definitions of creativity, and Astrid's equation of creativity as inseparable from drawing was not uncommon. While the idea of creativity is valued, more than half the students demonstrate a constrained view of their own creative abilities. Interestingly, there is generally limited awareness of implications of constrained self beliefs for their teaching practice.
At the conclusion of semester, students review their learning in the unit and write a final perspective in the light of their experiences. The majority show a marked development in their understanding of creativity as socially configured and illustrate this through articulating their own creative process during the semester. Many are surprised to recognise diverse creative traits as they acknowledge apparent contradictions that they recognise from their study of theorists such as Csikszentmihalyi (1990). Significantly, most students show awareness of intergenerational implications of the understanding they have developed since writing their initial perspective.
Analysis of summative evaluations of teaching, conducted externally by the Centre for Professional Development at Macquarie University, reveals both ways that students perceive their involvement in the unit and their developing insights into creative processes. Ratings frequently reflect student's perceptions that this unit offered opportunities for them to learn about artistic processes in ways that they had not experienced in other university units and that they valued the balance between practical and theoretical learning. One comment reflected a student's uncertainty:
Even though it was a learning process, I feel I am so used to guidelines i.e. word limit etc. ... it took me several weeks to have a grasp of exactly what it was I was doing or was expected of me.
This comment acknowledged a significant characteristic of creative behaviour. Uncertainty is recognised by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) as an integral element of creative behaviour. Many students perceived that their work in the unit was extremely challenging and in one year, 93.33% agreed that they were stimulated to work beyond the requirements of the course.
Forms of assessment that differ from those in other university subjects are frequently cited as challenging. For many students, successfully completing the practical assignments is a source of satisfaction and perceived to be of long term benefit. Flexibility to choose topics is valued, "Being able to choose your own topic was amazing! I think it really heightened my own understanding and motivation in the area." Initial doubts were also a valuable source of learning for a student who reported, "I really enjoyed this subject – much more than I first thought. It gave me the opportunity to really consider how to foster children's creativity and my own." This student also makes it clear that she is considering the development of creativity in a life-long context.
In the learning environment created within this unit, the gap evident in some student's initial perspectives between wanting to 'be creative', and the reality of engaging creatively, is narrowed through both practical engagement and gradual transformation of identity. As students examine theoretical models of creativity and creative proccesses, they are challenged to broaden their definitions of creativity and to recognise richer ways of understanding creativity.
Similarly, as students gain insight into their own creative development, including factors that have facilitated or constrained their creativity, their recognition of ways that adults influenced their own developing identities enables them to reflect on qualities that they want to pass on through their practice as teachers. The central place of such recognition in the lives of student teachers is illustrated by Wenger's observation:
It is the learning of mature members and of their communities that invites the learning of newcomers. As a consequence, it is as learners that we become educators (p. 277).
Participating in a community of practice in learning can heighten student's perceptions of their place within a creative ecosystem.
Engaging Students in Research Methodologies
Engaging undergraduate students in self assessment and reflection on their learning as described above, is supported by Thurber (2004) who sees this as a means of introducing students to research methodologies that they may later use in their classrooms. Involvement in classroom-based research is increasingly seen as a valuable means of challenging assumptions about learning in the arts. Eileen Adams, the educational leader of Power Drawing, an initiative of The Campaign for Drawing in the UK, encourages teachers to participate in action research as a means of investigating the purposes of drawing. A significant number of teachers across the UK are engaged in this collaborative project and to date, seven research booklets outlining the findings have been published. Details of these are at http://www.drawingpower.org.uk/ .
The inclusion of drawing sessions in the undergraduate teaching program at Macquarie University, developed partially through a partnership with the Campaign for Drawing in the UK, and the establishment of Drawing Australia, a teaching, research and community outreach project www.aces.mq.edu.au/drawingaustralia Like the UK project, Drawing Australia aims to raise awareness of drawing as a means of perception, communication, invention and action.
As a consequence of the university's policy of encouraging interdisciplinary study, students from any area of the university, including teacher education, are able to enrol in the unit Visual Arts: Conventions, Concepts and Practice, and while no prior formal experience of artmaking is assumed, many students who enrol have some practical experience in the visual arts. From 2003, weekly drawing sessions have been integral to this unit.
In 2005, these students were given the opportunity to participate in a Drawing Australia research project. They were invited to write briefly about their prior experience with drawing, to select three drawings made over the semester and to comment on what they sought to achieve in each drawing, what they felt they had achieved or not achieved in terms of their expectations for the drawing, and any specific developments in their drawing skills they felt are evident in the drawing. Of the ten students who chose to participate in the research project, all nominated family influences ranging from encouragement, provision of materials, and an encouraging environment, as prior influences on their development. A number made reference to particular teachers who had inspired them. Significant aspects of their identity as drawers were evident in most responses. These included seeing art as an important part of life, taking time to draw regularly, struggling with perfectionism in their drawing, and visiting galleries regularly as an inspiration for their own drawing. Overall, these students showed a strong self concept of themselves as artistic, and those who were self critical showed evidence of a degree of confidence in their artistic ability.
In these two different undergraduate teaching units, opportunities to assess their practices, and to engage in reflective practice have introduced students to the practice of engaging in research as a form of enquiry in the arts.
Promoting Intergenerational Cultures of Creativity
There is a sense of momentum in the notion of an intergenerational culture of creativity. In the process of learners becoming educators, educators also continue as learners as they engage in dynamic and creative practices. When student teachers are encouraged to view themselves as learners in terms of their own artistic development, their awareness of the role of teachers within a cultural ecosystem is expanded. Their awareness of their own learning through the arts enables them to engage with children and students in the light of these experiences and, having confronted their own self doubts and uncertainty, they are able to appreciate and develop tolerance for divergent and different ways of learning.
When considering artistic growth, it is useful to draw parallels with language and mathematical development that require learning and practice over time. Unlike language development in particular, processes of artistic development are frequently misunderstood, deterring many students from engaging in the sustained work of building up satisfying levels of skill in particular art forms.
As the context of teacher education has changed in recent decades, in many courses, fewer opportunities are available for students to engage in art practices at an undergraduate level. The reasons for these changes are too complex to detail here. However, viewing the arts in education within a broader culture of creativity, and encouraging insight into intergenerational practices enables a richer conception of learning and situates the student teacher as an active participant in a cultural ecosystem. In this system, learning continues well beyond undergraduate study to embrace class-room research, participation in continuing education including arts practice, and postgraduate study that builds on teaching practice. Universities are now able to provide opportunities for participation in a virtual community of practice for their graduates through online discussion groups can that foster identification within an intergenerational culture of learning in the arts. Similarly, projects such as Drawing Australia that incorporates a public access program, the Big Draw, promote active participation in the arts and make the processes of artmaking visible within the wider community and, in the process, promotes intergenerational cultures of creativity.
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