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Keeping up with Fast-Changing Times: Creative Approaches to the Art History Classroom

How is Art History being taught today, and what does that tell us about the future of the discipline? How do online learning and artificial intelligence reshape the ways in which we teach and assess? What roles can teaching for creativity (Beghetto, 2017) and experiential learning (Kolb, 1984) play in re-engaging students after remote learning? This session concentrates on educators’ constant reinvention of their teaching as we decolonise our curricula and move from teacher-centred to learner-centred pedagogies in rapidly changing times. We are especially interested in strategies that address diverse student needs, foster inclusion and a sense of community, disrupt monolithic narratives, embrace interdisciplinarity and cross-cultural connections, deal with the relationship between local and global or ‘planetary’ perspectives (Pollock, 2014), or consider Art History’s engagement with current social movements. The session explores how educators convey the relevance and aliveness of Art History to their students, the skills they prioritise and how they embed those into the learning process.

We invite papers that critically reflect on experimental, creative approaches to teaching Art History today. We welcome proposals on active learning strategies, in-class activities or assignments, collaborative projects, and dialogic, process-oriented, or experiential methods. Topics may also discuss object-centred learning, gallery teaching sessions, slow looking (Tishman, 2017), and innovative uses of technology. The session invites reflection on unconventional, inventive teaching practices and highlights the role of education in shaping paths into Art History’s future.

Session Convenors:

Natalia Sassu Suarez Ferri, University of St Andrews

Ana S. González Rueda, American College of Greece

Speakers:

Chrisoula Lionis, University of Manchester

Who is in? Who is out?: Displaced Pedagogies and Experimental Models of Training

For over a century, visual arts education has been defined by concepts such as the ‘radical’, the ‘critical’, the ‘progressive’ and ‘the experimental’, each connoting a profound break from past pedagogies (Diaz, 2023). Despite these efforts, stubborn inequalities remain – particularly in the field of art history. Indeed, the art historical education continues to be characterised by a lack of diversity and the dominance of conceptual models focused on terms such as ‘master narrative’, ‘peripheral’, ‘regional’ etc. (Elkins 2021). Whilst these models may germinate in art education, they inevitably flow on to curatorship and art criticism, creating artistic systems (particularly in post-migrant societies) which keep some in, and others out.

This paper addresses how this pedagogical landscape intersects with the issue of forced displacement. Focusing on pedagogies that blur the lines between art project and institutions of learning, this paper will draw analysis from case studies including the Artists for Artists (AfA) Masterclass programme, The Silent University, and the International Academy of Art Palestine. Framed by a focus on how these programmes operate both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ formal institutional structures, this paper will consider how these projects cater to specific challenges resulting from forced displacement – including fractured professional networks, restrictions on travel, access to funding, and mastery over language. Drawing together analysis of programme structures and their historical development, this paper will assess the potential, and the limitations of these models, offering recommendations for future pedagogical models.

María del Rocío Soto Delgado, University of Málaga

José Ignacio Mayorga-Chamorro, University of Málaga

Carmen González-Román, University of Málaga

Art Criticism and Cultural Communication: Practice and Learning from University and Museum

How can art critique be taught at the university without dedicated courses? And how can we communicate what we learn about art in classrooms and museums to the entire local community? Is it possible to bring the university closer to the museum as a new setting for mutual learning?

AP/Parte is a Permanent Group for Educational Innovation at the University of Malaga (Spain), bringing together students, professors, and cultural professionals in Malaga around art critique, exhibition curation, and cultural dissemination. We bring these disciplines to students across various university degrees, breaking the moulds and barriers of the classroom to engage in direct, fresh, and renewed dialogue with Malaga’s privileged exhibition ecosystem. In addition to offering theoretical and practical specialization seminars, we advocate for an active and participatory methodology focused on the student, where they become the protagonist and the steward of their own learning. Thus, collaborating students take on (not simulate) different functions, tasks, and responsibilities within the project, preparing them for potential future roles in the cultural sector.

Our main working tool is the digital art critique magazine ‘Apuntes de Arte’ (https://apuntesdearte.es/), overseen by the teaching team (editorial board) and some students who form the editorial board. Others undertake equally important roles, such as creating audio-visual content, social media outreach, or updating a cultural agenda. Their excellence has been nationally recognised, and this congress provides an opportunity to showcase their work to the international academic community.

Madeleine Newman, University of Leeds

Foundations for Analysing Art

On an interdisciplinary Arts and Humanities foundation year at Level 0, analysis of art and cultural works is a core strand of teaching and learning. Encounters with image-based works support students to develop essential critical analytical skills for future study in the Arts and Humanities, as well as prepare for progression into History of Art and related subjects. This paper explores the integration of Art History in an interdisciplinary curriculum as a preparation for critical thinking and building confidence as part of an extended undergraduate degree. It will consider how Art History is enacted in a widening participation foundation year using a case study from the Arts and Humanities Foundation Year in the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds. The paper explores ways in which analysis of art is encompassed within interdisciplinary level 0 learning, and its inclusive pedagogy and preparatory curriculum, to support standard age and mature learners from diverse routes into higher education.

The paper reflects on the integration of engagement with online museum and gallery collections in formative and summative assessment to consider how complex concepts can be communicated to audiences, and by educators and learners, when analysing art. The study of visual arts and its histories in an interdisciplinary foundation year curriculum context is another classroom space where Art History is located today. Here it has an important role as a foundation for facilitating the development of core and transferable academic skills for diverse groups of learners supporting their future success.

Kitty Brandon-James, University College London

Teaching for Creativity: Towards a Playful Multi-Sensory Art History Pedagogy

This paper evaluates the efficacy of student-led low-stakes hands-on collaborative tasks in developing a creative undergraduate art history seminar culture. Informed by three rounds of action research, it connects scholarship on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation with theories of creativity, to make a case for incorporating these tasks into art history seminars.

Seeking to teach ‘for’ creativity (Beghetto, 2017), the action research (completed 2023) explored a multi-sensory pedagogy, creating experiential tasks that could not be mimicked by generative AI. These were designed to be ‘real-world-oriented’, ‘open-ended’, fun, collaborative, and connected to an art historical debate. Peer-reviewed, but not formally marked, timings were short to preclude perfectionism and reward experimentation, decentring grades as the basis of course and student value. In the first research cycle, tasks were siloed, related only to that week’s lecture topic; later connected into a low-fi exhibition, attended by faculty and students’ peers.

The project took a social-constructivist pedagogical approach, situating creativity within a social field. It conceptualised a creative act as something ‘novel and appropriate’ (Torrance, 1966), and creativity as learnable, practicable, and improvable. Influenced by Amabile, 1983; Csikszentmihalyi, 1999; Nicholl, 2022, who negatively associate grade-based testing with creative and experimental thinking, the project sought teaching techniques that developed student intrinsic motivation and empowered students collectively to take conceptual risks.

This paper critically reflects on this action research. It proposes potential pedagogical futures for art history in alliance with a material turn, and asks how, if one needs to measure creativity, to do so, without undermining it.

Lenia Kouneni, University of St Andrews

Drawing in the Art History Classroom: Why Is It Not Enough to Listen and Look?

Inspired by the student-centred, experiential, affective and sensory approaches of recent art history, this paper will discuss the integration of drawing activities in the classroom as an important part of the multimodal art historical pedagogy. It will present as its case study an honours module on Raphael and his Reception, which incorporates a practice-based seminar entitled ‘Drawing like Raphael’. It will consider this pedagogical method in theory and practice and will reflect on its benefits, challenges and student feedback. Incorporating drawing in the classroom implies methods of learning-by-doing and facilitates slow, deep learning. The task prolongs the time needed for examining, encourages delving into and gives students the possibility to understand historical materials and processes first-hand. Studies have also shown that drawing is superior to activities such as reading or writing because it forces the person to process information in multiple ways: visually, kinaesthetically, and semantically. Drawing involves mental and bodily processes and invites an emotional, affective and sensory approach. It also develops students’ sensitivity to the variety of media, grounds, and their combinations, giving them an experiential understanding of the meaning of materiality. This paper will argue that drawing is a creative and fun way to build skills in visual expression and interpretation, but also one that brings affects and emotions to art historical inquiries and encourages students to bring their own thoughts and lived experiences to their art historical studies.

James Baggott-Brown, Bath Spa University

Learning… Like Artists: Innovation, Inclusion and Authentic Assignments

Historically, an ongoing, and often remarked upon difficulty in teaching Historical and Critical Studies to arts students has been the perception from students that the subject does not align to their concerns as artists. As Jenny Rintoul (2014) explains, ‘The “problem” of integrating theory and practice emerges from the framing of these two components as binaries with discrete languages and identities’. As artists, these students ‘contextualise and develop their practice and identities through researching and studying practitioners around them and before them’ (Rintoul, 2014, p346). What is needed in Art Historical and Critical Studies modules, then, are approaches to learning that allow art students to learn in similar ways to how they learn in the studio; like artists.

Just as more traditional ‘older’ academic approaches to assessment do not necessarily facilitate achievement amongst arts students, neither do traditional approaches to teaching. Chandler, Ward and Ward argue that ‘established approaches to art history pedagogy typically involve a primarily passive form of instruction… While such approaches can convey valuable information, they can also contribute to student disengagement and do not necessarily support deep learning’. (Chandler, Ward & Ward, 2021)

On the Fine Art undergraduate degrees at Bath Spa University, three new modules have been introduced for the academic year 2023/24. These modules combine innovative approaches to teaching and learning, with assessment items that ‘dethrone the essay’ in favour of authentic assessment items that prepare artists for the kinds of art historical and critical writing that will more likely form part of an artist’s portfolio of approaches to research.

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