Day Two: Dr. Anne Bamford: What is Art Education? Symposium Kulturvermittlung/ Art education

(c) Renata Behncke//

      Dr. Anne Bamford from the education commission opened the second day of the symposium by addressing the importance of emotional intelligence in Art Education.  Most people working within this field are already aware this is an essential element.  However,  she took an interesting approach to this well covered topic.
   Dr. Bamford illustrated how children are already extremely emotionally intelligent by reading an actual dialogue of school children bringing their own real life experiences to a painting by 16th century Italian old master, Titian.  Focusing on this aspect, she led onto how testing, which is particularly high in UK, and increasingly so in other parts of Europe, is stifling the children`s capacity to relate what they learn within class or in extra curricular time back to their own experiences.  This is potentially dangerous.
    Children need to internalise their own questions so that they can feel comfortable with critical thinking.   Furthermore, there needs to be space for children to integrate what is taught, with what they already know. This is so that learning can become a much deeper and more enriching experience.  If children are encouraged to disregard what they know, copy or memorise what they are fed, this can led to disengagement, isolation and a constant regurgitation of power and societal structures as they are.
    Times change and we must change with them.  How are we going to find solutions to critical issues we are facing in our time, if we stifle these facets? By giving our children the opportunity to recognise that art, like society is constructed through a series of power relations that are not static, but rather ever fluid, changing and open to interpretation, we have a hope of dissipating outworn dogmatic views and bringing about a more inclusive, participatory society. 
(c) Renata Behncke//
     Dr. Bamford went on to elaborate how test scores are taken in isolation and used as not only the main way to prove someone`s intelligence but also what place they receive in society.  This is likely to have adverse consequences.  Her research has shown that testing is not a good indication of where the child is at and that often a child who does very well in a test, does not necessarily go on to be a success in their career and contribute to society.  Rather her research has told quite a different story.  The majority of children that score average in tests, go on to achieve in both their professional and personal lives as well as finding time to give back to communities at large.  Dr. Bamford`s research showed that the best way to understand where the child is placed is to talk with them and interview them to find out their needs.  At this point, I´m reminded instantly of Paolo Freire`s dialogue, praxis and education  that encourages this as being the central part of the participatory learning process.
    Dr. Bamford`s research has found that many who are under forty tend to learn by doing, rather than reading the manual.  She went on to to elaborate how a 16 year old boy who developed an iphone app is paving his own successful means of making a living.  He discovered his success by trial and error.
        Increasingly this generation is used to and has the ability to cope with parallel processing.  Often with more than 10 tabs open on their computer at any one time, they are playing music whilst writing an  essay and editing their photos for Facebook.  Multitasking is easy and the norm to get through daily tasks.  This kind of processing has led to a different way of digesting information.  Instead of taking the information as a whole and complete piece, rather this generation is mixing together bits that they like and skipping the things that they don`t like in order to share and get comments or reactions of their peers and public through social platforms.  There is already a focus on collaborative learning as being of central importance to their own development. 
    Dr. Bamford saw that I was agreeing with her.  She stopped and pointed towards my open laptop screen: "You look young and have your screen up, I bet you have 10 tabs open" I quickly stopped taking notes and checked my browser, counting many more "It`s actually more like 16", I responded.  Laughter rippled through the room.  Everyone got the point.  90% of collaborative learning that children and young adults are taking into their own hands is taking place outside of school settings.
      However, there are aspects that are lacking to this seemingly wonderful way of learning. It is these weak points where we need to focus our attention in education, in combination with this new multi-sensory way of learning that seems to be at the forefront of the current youth generation.
     There is less time and inclination for deeper critical thinking about content, so content itself has become bite-sized, easily digestible and yet often the thoroughness of critical thinking has been eliminated.  Unfortunately this leads to quick conclusions that tell only half the story.   Self-management and memory retention is often lacking, as more of this outsourced to apps that do it for you.  There are many short cuts with the written word leading again to half or wrong information that is easily shared, circulated and copied.   Loyalty is often very weak, leading to precarious social, emotional and economic circumstances and situations increasing feelings of anxiety in social and professional communities.
    These pertinent issues can be addressed through art education. If you have something that is external from yourself, such as art and culture then you are more likely to interact with abstract themes.  To give an example to this, Anne Bamford asked us to gather some coins from our purse, turn to the person next to us and exchange these coins with that person, looking them in the eye.  Subsequently, with the mixture of coins from our partner and ourselves, we were asked to clasp hands once more and feel for our own coins before releasing our hands again.  Surprisingly, I now had exactly the coins that I had started with.  We were able to talk about abstract themes such as sharing, exchange, integration through an external object in this case: coins.  This applies in the same way to art education.  These deeper abstract themes, need a material point of reference that is emotive to be able to engage with these themes.  Through photography, dance, painting, sculpture, writing, music, to name a few we can explore complex abstract themes that are so often hidden increasingly rapid and superficial daily interactions.
      UN convention of Human Rights states that: Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community to enjoy the arts.   It is not just something on the side, it is a human right.  Once stating this, Dr. Bamford outlined how we can begin to measure the quality of art education:

Ten Aspects of Quality
Levels of risk taking
Flexible of organisational structures
Permeable personal and organisational structures
Permeable personal and organisational boundaries
Shared and collaborative planning
Detailed relection and evaluation practices
Utilization of local contexts
Opportunities for presentation/publication
Professional development
(c) Renata Behncke/

 Fusing these essential bench-markers with a reminder for us to try new approaches, Dr. Bamford gave us a task to draw a movement symbol.  Once we had drawn enough, we stood up and one by one, in numerical order that they ha been drawn, we were asked make a body movement for each symbols that such as a coiled arrow for turning around.  Challenged, like our students, to transpose one form of expression into another, the whole room was up on their feet, joyfully expressing diverse expressions of our own symbolic depictions of movement.