29 SES 08, Alternative Pedagogies and Questionings in Arts Education
This paper discusses and reflects on an ongoing collaborative project that has developed inventive methodologies in art and philosophy for working with children. It reflects on this experimental approach that brings together contemporary art practice (in terms of both making and responding) and philosophy. and argues for the importance of creating spaces for aesthetic, existential and material thinking encounters in education. This paper asks a series of philosophical questions about what matters in education, what is the matter of education, and what we are hoping for when we educate children. The project itself works on a number of levels: i. introducing children to visual and aesthetic inquiry and to content knowledge about contemporary art; ii. extending what is understood by contemporary art practice by developing tasks, instructions and exercises for children; and iii. shifting 'philosophy with/for children' from a primary focus on the discursive and textual to an approach that invites the aesthetic manifestation of ideas.
By creating the conditions for the exchange and invention of children's ideas and developing tasks and questions that are sufficiently open, and oftentimes humorous, the methodologies allow for children's philosophical presuppositions to be undone, inviting their ways of seeing the world, and provoking a sense of wonder, questioning, and curiosity. Through reflecting on this process, we develop a deeper understanding of what matters in education in terms of the transformation of subjectivities, the creation of collective modes of enquiry, the cultivation of sensibility, the opportunity for children's voice, and the possibility of experimentation within educational spaces.
In order to think through what is happening in this project, we take up the idea of thinking as material. This involves making some clear conceptual distinctions in order to underline the importance of ideas in contemporary art practice, and invite forms of aesthetic thinking that extend beyond those outlined by thinkers like Eisner or Greene. Material thinking is not simply non-representational thought or nor is it simply a matter of distinguishing between thinking something and thinking about something. Rather, the idea of thinking with something is a concept that can help to map qualitative and experiential differences between the different kinds of thinking in which one engages. For example, one thinks differently if one is writing philosophy, making an artwork, building a cabinet, studying the drosophila, or editing a film. Philosopher Gilles Deleuze elaborates on this specificity of ideas and the ways in which they are manifested differently depending on the expressive potential of the matter of thought.
In this respect, thinking is material not because it needs something to ‘think about’, but because as a practice it is responsive to the different expressive potentials of the matter at hand. Subject matters have different relational qualities that emerge in encounters of bodies, things, ideas and organisms and through such encounters different forms of material thinking and different kinds of ideas come to be worked through and manifested.
The methodological approach of ‘experimental philosophy’ is adopted in order to understand what it means to do art and philosophy with children, to show why open-ended, rigorous, immanent, and unpredictable approaches are significant, how they can be evaluated, and more fundamentally to ask what matters in education and how we can evaluate this. This project thus offers a number of challenges to the ways in which research design and methodologies are conceptualised, and it also takes up the challenge of developing models of evaluation that are appropriate to the project itself, rather than relying on those imported directly from the social sciences. We will discuss the way in which we can conceptualise and justify these modes of research inquiry.
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