Merging Methods: Some Thoughts on Art Education

Graphic: Emily Wren
Developing projects in Austria since 2007 (as well as nearby European countries) and having 'trained' so to speak in UK, every project is a process. Working with many different people, I recognise there are some very different ways of understanding the projects that are being implemented.

Training specifically in Media Performance and Art History as well as Visual Anthropology (focusing specifically on ethnicity, integration, gender and post-colonialism) and finally Arts Management (or chaos management as some people came to call it); the methods that have been developing over many years in collaboration with artists, educators, social workers and cultural producers have proven time and time again be enriching.  Not only for the participants own learning strategies in that they make their own cross-curricular links with the subjects they learn in school or university, but also so that they can fuse this with their own creativity, ideas and understanding of the world.
    The methods that are developed in collaboration with artists are quite different from social work.  It means developing an artistic and educational concept in collaboration with participants.  Often developing a concept like this can take many months of research, dialogue and discussion with artists, educators and contact to the participants.  This is so that collaboratively pedagogical methods can be developed and the themes that are important to the participants can be fused with creative concepts.  From this materials can be bought and prepared, locations identified and set up all this takes preparation for the creative process to begin.
Photo: Tobias Ham
   Often these kinds of projects have been misunderstood and instead put in a social work rubric. When this happens, then it is expected that artists are brought into a situation, often with short notice and youth often expected to be creatively spontaneous.  This is difficult if half of the concept has already been developed under an art education rubric.  If participants that concept has been developed for and with  don`t show up, artist educators are left standing, with their concepts in hand, but with the essential component missing.  The participants-who are often youth-then miss out, because artists are not necessarily available for the next slot due to having to work on other professional projects.
   Social work is extremely valuable and necessary, I have a great deal of respect for this profession.  However, I think to put art education projects within the rubric of social work, not only confuses the artists educators, but also the participants, who are confused as to what is expected of them.  There is not one that is more valuable than the other, they are different and I think there needs to be an awareness of this difference in order for these art education projects to function.  The ideal of course is a merging of methods.  Art education projects can learn a lot from social work projects and visa versa.  It would be too the benefit of all to find the middle ground.  
  If the participants, location and time-frame change-because the most important thing is to have contact with the participants-then artist educators have to be adaptable.  It is possible and this is often a strength of artist educators, but this does mean extra work on often squeezed budgets.  It sometimes leaves artists educators having to scramble last minute to change concepts, structure and material because of the importance of getting contact to the participants, which means working overtime for the same pay.
Photo: Tobias Ham
    In order for art education to work--and this is necessary, so many people have commented on the need for this kind of creative education to enhance students` learning--then there needs to be more of a structure in place for these kinds of projects to develop.  This would mean a real respect for this kind of education that is unique because of working with professional artists, and in this sense having suitable links between the participants and the courses that are provided.  At present there is a gap.  Highly developed courses and not enough of a link to the participants.  Or (perhaps this is the case with social work and school/university) lots of contact to youth, but not necessarily the means or resources to develop highly sensitized and artistic courses or projects.
    It is a puzzle, but it can be pieced together, I do have faith, no matter how hard it becomes.  However, it is clear that things need to change.  In order for art education to be delivered on a professional basis, there needs to be more of a consideration for the time it takes for these projects to have been developed.  The learning methods with complex artistic development are no less valuable than social work or the actual school curriculum itself.  They are just as important and need to be treated as such.  Furthermore, there needs to be an awareness that when a structure with a concept is set, to then move this often then changes the whole concept.  If participants can be aware of this then perhaps they would be more inclined to join and have a deeper interest, knowing that they are an essential component in this whole process, rather than just thinking that their role doesn`t matter.  Their role in the art education process is absolutely essential.  Without them, the process cannot happen.  For this awareness there needs to be support people that are close to participants, these could be friends, parents, teachers, social worker, or mentors, so they can really understand how important they really are.  Often the participants don`t see themselves as an essential part of the whole.  They are key.
   Starting something afresh always takes time to build and integrate with current modes of thinking.  With greater awareness of the different working practices of artists, educators and social workers and also with the support of parents, friends and teachers, there could be such a wonderful mélange that could take participants, who are often youth, to an fully enriching learning experience. That means taking the courage to step outside our comfort zone and perhaps seeing that indeed there is no right or wrong way of doing things, just different, and perhaps if we can understand each other's way of working and respect that we may come to a place that is of benefit for the next generation, but also, for ourselves.