Pedagogy and Practice in the Long 1960s

Session Convenor

Briley Rasmussen, University of Florida

Session Abstract

While art histories have increasingly taken account of the dynamics of play and participation in art of the 1960s, the impact of pedagogical thought and theory on the artistic production and reception of this period remains less explored and often historically decontextualised. Against the backdrop of Cold War politics, anxieties about citizenship and agency, and shifting conceptions of the role of institutions, the session will explore the many ways in which artistic practice, display, and reception were both underpinned and informed by teaching and learning. In doing so, this session seeks to narrow the gap between the histories of art education, art history, and museum studies.

A central aim will be to develop a more robust understanding of pedagogical thought in the 1960s, a period often described as instigating a shift in emphasis from product to process, a rise in collective and collaborative production, and the move towards art as social practice. This was paralleled by the emergence in art museum education of innovative and often radical practices that aimed to democratise the reception of art, moving it from a cerebral practice to an experiential one.

The session aims to address questions such as: How and why did the aims of art education and museum education shift during the 1960s? How did these ideas intersect with approaches to the production, display, and reception of art? In what ways does the relationship between art and pedagogy during this period reflect contemporaneous political, social, and artistic concerns? How can a more rigorous definition and historic contextualising of pedagogy during this period further our understanding of artistic methodologies, collaborative practice, and collective social action?

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Speakers and Abstracts

The Art of Art Therapy

Suzanne Hudson (University of Southern California)

For this talk I will briefly outline the historical and theoretical roots of art therapy (in art education and psychoanalysis) in progressive-era America before focusing on the field’s institutionalisation in the 1960s. Here I will take as my case study the example of Judy Rubin, the ‘art lady’ on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (from 1966 to 1969, when she used her segments to convey the therapeutic value of art, and more specifically, art making), and one of the most important figures in the field of art therapy as it became professionalised. Her emphasis on process above product exemplifies this work, but it also – and to the point of this panel – shares much with contemporary notions of the primacy of experience and the salience of materials that were being formulated in advanced art. Thus do I pose: How did these ideas shape the development of art therapy and how did the privileging of process as exemplified within art therapy contribute to the American visual modernism of the same period?


Ferdinand Kriwet’s Instructional Environments and the Search for the Collective Agent of Historical Change circa 1968

Anna-Maria Kanta (University College London)

In 1968, West German artist Ferdinand Kriwet presented at the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle his first in a series of so-called ‘mixed-media’ shows: large-scale installations that enveloped the audience in a bewildering and intoxicating web of visual, textual and acoustic information, including gigantic projections of newspaper covers, snatches of televisual debates, and the artist’s own text-based works. These were described by Kriwet as an ‘intellectual and sensory training’, geared to the sharpening of cognitive faculties and to the collective re-orientation of perception. This paper examines the under-theorised pedagogical and conceptual strategies that underpinned Kriwet’s mixed-media environments. His practice, it will be shown, emerged alongside attempts, particularly within the art history of the New Left, to critically revise the exclusionary mechanisms of the West German media-dominated public sphere, and the role of art institutions in imposing dominant modes of cultural consumption. At the same time, his instructional environments, in encouraging relational ways of seeing and thinking, drew upon the rigid functionalism and the semiotic and cybernetic theories of visual communication promoted by the Ulm School of Design. Aspects of the school’s curriculum were now becoming the subject of critical re-evaluation for a new wave of West German socialist scholarship that advanced dialectical-materialist readings of perception, and working-class-based models of aesthetic education. This paper takes seriously the pedagogical antinomies that marked Kriwet’s work, examining how its disputed reception hinged on the vexed definition of and search for the collective agent of historical change in the late 1960s.


When Pedagogies Become Form

Claire Robins (University College London – Institute of Education)

The 1960s was an auspicious decade for both student and staff disruption in art education. On the one hand this manifested in protest and revolt, such as the well-documented student take-over at Hornsey College of Art, London. On the other, forms of disquiet were signalled through reconfigured pedagogies, which drew together closer the domains of educational and artistic practices. Examples include Yoko Ono’s Instruction Paintings, Joseph Beuys’ unorthodox proposal that language and teaching were forms of sculpture, Peter Kardia’s pedagogic experiment ‘The Locked Room’, in which speaking was eschewed, and John Latham’s irreverent performance work with students in which art literature was masticated rather than revered.

Although precedents for close interrelationships between art practice and teaching practice form the backbone of art education’s histories, it was in the long 1960s that they appear together, mobilised against institutional orthodoxy. Moreover, at this moment the de-materialisation of the art object allowed such experimental pedagogies to border-cross into the museum, in the form of residual artefacts, performances, documents and recordings.

This paper examines the intersection of art, curatorial and pedagogic forms against the backdrop of political and social upheaval. It acknowledges the current nostalgia for what appeared, or are presented as, coherent communities of practice and calls for greater vigilance to pedagogical specificity and diverse contexts. Further, it argues that whilst 21st-century art education has much to learn from the past, it must also be alert to the very different conditions at play within today’s neoliberal university.


A New Kind of Art School

Melanie Stephenson and Harriet Sutcliffe (Newcastle University)

Newcastle University’s Fine Art Department has played a significant role in modern art history and art education. During the 1950s and 1960s, its staff included some of the most respected names in British Art: Victor Pasmore was one of Britain’s leading abstract artists and Richard Hamilton became known as the ‘Father of Pop Art’. What also made the department one of the most advanced and progressive in the country was the Basic Course, which emerged as a radical form of art training.

The person who appointed these innovative artists to the department was Professor Lawrence Gowing, who had, meanwhile, laid the foundation of a collection of art works dating from the 14th to the 20th centuries for the Hatton Gallery. Gowing was an artist and writer on art, and in an interview in the Tatler in 1965 he explained that, during his time as Professor, he had ‘attempted to organise a new sort of art school in which practice and history would receive equal prominence’.

In this presentation we will explore how Gowing’s, Hamilton’s and Pasmore’s art practices and ideas, combined with the environment offered by the Hatton Gallery and the University, helped inform and develop the art pedagogy of the Fine Art Department, which in turn significantly shaped the course of art education through the 1960s and beyond. We will also describe how this knowledge has been formulated through collaboration between Sutcliffe’s contemporary art-practice-led and Stephenson’s more traditional thesis-based research.

Melanie Stephenson and Harriet Sutcliffe are PhD students based in Fine Art at Newcastle University. They are part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award in partnership with the Hatton Gallery, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, researching ‘Art Education and Culture in the North East, 1930s to 1970s’.


The Underground Education of Genesis P-Orridge
Andrew Cappetta (Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester; The Graduate Center, CUNY)

The terrain of art education and what qualified as such shifted dramatically in the UK in the 1960s. While the Coldstream Report had a two-fold effect inside official institutions of art education, simultaneously creating the impetus for curricular experimentation and introducing restrictions on who could study art, the network of alternative institutions (entrepreneurial ventures such as newspapers, bookshops, and music venues) emerged as a pedagogical force, forming what Alexander Trocchi termed a ‘spontaneous university’ with an aim to re-educate society. Even though the underground spawned initiatives like the London Free School and the Antiuniversity, the collaborative, interactive, and intermedia happening became the most effective means of re-education, given that it could re-train participants by transforming sensory experience and perception, and re-fashion social life itself by shifting relationships between consumers and commodities.

To argue for the pedagogical function of underground culture, this paper will focus on musician and artist Genesis P-Orridge’s formative educational experience with the performance collective Transmedia Exploration. In addition to fostering P-Orridge’s musical and design sensibilities, the group’s happening-as-living ethos inspired the young artist to rethink identity, daily-life rituals, and language. The lessons P-Orridge learned at Transmedia would prove to be crucial to h/er future collective projects, the performance art group COUM Transmissions and the underground musical project Throbbing Gristle, extending the impact of 1960s underground culture far beyond the decade.

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