Learning with Others: Contemporary Issues in Art and Design Education

Irina Shapiro and I will be teaching a seminar together at the Piet Zwart Institute, Master Education in Arts. (2020) 

Trying to make the physical restraints of Covid-19 more tangible, I have prepared ribbons of 1.5 meters that read: The distance between you and me cannot be measured by the string between us.

Learning with Others: Contemporary Issues in Art and Design Education

We find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic, a climate crisis, a migration crisis, and a crisis related to cultural and ecological urgencies. In the whirlwind of these larger forces, this seminar Learning with Others invites you to look at your pedagogical practice from the perspective of post-humanism and new materialism. We are interested in how educational practices might think through the limits of the human and imagine possible perspectives from others, both human and non-human. How might educational practices in art academies, primary schools, museums, and communities relate to multiscale, multispecies environments, and contexts? While this question might sound far-off, if not speculatively theoretical, it is actually closer and more grounded than you think. For educators, this question might mean challenging learning spaces, such as classroom settings, workshops, and studios. It could entail addressing disciplinary divisions in education (thinking through more connected interdisciplinary, project-based learning). Perhaps it involves promoting embodied, artistic and experiential methods of knowing instead of the conventional academic canon (think of maker education, STEAM education, et cetera). It could also involve critically examining assessment procedures in education and other factors that condition and precondition learning processes.

The complexities of the post-human theoretical framework might sound intimidating and difficult to apply in a practical sense, as it is almost impossible for us as humans to imagine a world through the eyes of non-humans. However, we will proceed by exploring it step-by-step. Starting with the modest but fundamental gesture of examining how we engage in meaning-making processes, we will look at how we register, acknowledge, describe, and remember the world around us. Putting these observations into words, we will build relational structures, transforming them into a new sort of language. Eventually, we aim to create a glossary as a modest attempt to challenge and inform our sense-making capacities through the acts of observing, naming, and finally, (dis)ordering.

As the seminar evolves, you will make a collective compilation of the emerging words to accomplish the above. The term glossary in this context is unorthodox in its interpretation and is intended as a reflective process. As we work individually and collectively, we will question how words emerge, are selected, and relate to each other. As a medium, the glossary is a means of disturbing our expectations, heightening our awareness of language as a non-neutral form of articulation and meaning sharing. Language, and especially any professional lexicon, tends to create a ‘rational’ direction of reading which can be a barrier to stepping aside from conventional paradigms of doing research. Through a more subjective approach to words, the group is invited to experience language as a connector to possible new knowledge

In several wording exercises that function as one of the seminar’s central threads, words will be presented as carriers of open meaning. Whether it is offered by a student, a guest speaker, or the seminar’s guests, each term can be newly defined, synthesized through the process, and embodied through our collective discussions. Regardless of how long the initial list is, the group will strive to conclude the seminar with a glossary of a limited number of redefined, synthesized, and experienced words. The glossary presentation might include readings, performative gestures, small workshops, and narratives that next to experience within education, rely on different professional backgrounds and curiosities of the group.

The promise of subjectivity rests in acknowledging the incompleteness of an individual, story, argument, discipline, or tradition, while at the same time making room for others unknown or yet-to-be. Phrased differently, as Donna Haraway writes in Situated Knowledgesthe knowing self is partial in all its guises, never finished, whole, simply there and original; it is always constructed and stitched together imperfectly, and therefore able to join with another, to see together without claiming to be another (Haraway 1988). Next to this, the wording exercises are intended to bring into focus matters which are essential to each individual’s practice, while simultaneously highlighting and fostering rituals, habits, and tactics of listening, reading, remembering, speaking, and sensing and producing meaning.