In current curriculum theory terms, this research based art practice combines aspects of inquiry based learning, project based learning, and experiential learning; that is, the learning is through concrete and personal experiences, open-ended exploration and experimentation arising from the formulation of questions, and conceptualization of ideas after critical reflection.
Just as each individual is unique, so is the research based art process. Each artist, with experience, will develop their own unique creative process. But where does the emerging artist start? One way is to consider some of the elements or behaviours of practice that many artists have in common:
- Artists record personal experiences and observations
- Artists formulate questions for investigation
- Artists hypothesize using their experiences/observations and imagination.
- Artist research ideas and make unique and original connections between them.
- Artists learn from other artists, their ideas and ways of working
- Artists experiment with ideas and materials - bending, breaking, blending
- Artists reflect critically on their work and develop their meta-cognition or ability to think about thinking and feeling.
- Artists learn to understand and deal with these thoughts and emotions that arise from reflection, and they make connection with, but also challenge their prior knowledge and ways of looking at the world.
- Artists synthesize or combine their research in material forms - embodiments of the ideas they wish to share with the world - concrete artifacts of the process that can be felt or experienced.
What does a visual art classroom look like where students are learning about research based art? Perhaps the first thing you will notice is student artists working very independently, motivated by their interests. The teacher artist will be there, acting as a guide and provocateur; the teacher artist promotes artistic thinking, the creative process, and research skills, whilst facilitating the development of technical art-making skills. The teacher artist encourages and supports critical thinking, and meta-cognition. The teacher artist does not provide answers and solutions, but through continuous questioning scaffolds the student artist to develop their own knowledge. Students will be sharing ideas with their classmates, and there will be a spirit of dialogue and collaboration. To be more specific, the inquiry based art classroom will often exhibit the following features:
1 Time, space, and materials for students to research and make art independently. The Internet and devices will be available for research and documentation of work. Most senior high students have smart phones that can take photographs, record videos, access YouTube videos, access art websites, take notes, use mind mapping apps, use apps for creating (bending, breaking, and blending their experimental imagery), recording their work, ideas, and reflections in online journals, and watching peer modelling videos. Almost all high school students have a smartphone capable of these many research based art practice tasks. Those that do not can usually borrow an ipad from the school. Old smartphones that have been disconnected from mobile phone plans can also be used by students as video/photography devices.
2 Regular teacher-student tutorials where current and future work is considered. The dialogue is rich with teacher questioning, and student reflection; it also is an opportunity for the teacher and student to share knowledge of other artists, techniques, and materials. Students are helped to prepare for these tutorials by reviewing their journal reflections. Similarly, they are helped to move their work forward by reflecting on the tutorials in their journals. It is very important that the student reflects on these teacher-student conversations; so, it can be useful if the student makes an audio recording of the conversation, rather than try and take notes, which can hinder the flow of dialogue and distract from more profound thinking. There are many free apps for audio recording, and chrome extensions (see below).
3 The journal is an essential tool for the artist practicing inquiry based art. It is the space for recording observations, recording visual experiments, collecting ideas, analyzing and interpreting information, and critically reflecting on these. These enable creative exploration. It is particularly effective if this journal can be easily shared with the teacher, who can then get a continuous insight into the student artists’ practice, and think more profoundly about ways to support their work. An online journal, perhaps using a blog platform, is a very powerful tool. It allows the student to easily record documentation of work, with photographs, with video, with audio notes, as well text. It enables the easy recording of hyperlinks to other artists' work, video and research. The blogging tools have useful archiving tools, that enable very very effective categorizing and organizing of work. This reduces the cognitive load of the reflective process, and so allows for more creative energy.
4 Researching skills will be demonstrated, and the use of research tools modelled. For example, students will learn what kinds of questions or series of key words can be used to pursue a line of inquiry; which websites are likely to produce quality sources of information; how can students use article references to explore a subject; how can ideas be mind-mapped or brain stormed to help make connections and stimulate further ideas.
5 Peer modelling will be recognized, encouraged, and supported - within a cohort, and in other cohorts across time and space. The Art Practice Archive is designed for this purpose: to share peer modelling of good research based art practice to students in other classes and schools. Quality videos can be made with most smartphones made in the last few years. It is best to record in 1080p (HD) so that the video will be of sufficiently high resolution for viewers to clearly see the art work. Audio commentary can be made at the same time as the video is being recorded, or added to the video later. There are several advantages to adding a separate audio commentary later:
- It is usually easier for the artist to concentrate on their art making when they are not also trying to explain what they are doing in real time.
- The student has more time to reflect on their whole process, and highlight the important aspects of their work, including the key curriculum outcomes that are evidenced.
- If the student is not used to speaking publicly and with fluency, it allows for them to script their commentary, or at least bullet point what they wish to talk about. One method that students have tried with some success is to write a script and read it several times, and then for the actual recording narrate the commentary without reading from the script. Of course, every student is different, one may feel the need for a fixed script, and another will want to talk extemporaneously.
Whatever methods are used, it is usually a good idea that the video has some sort of introduction, middle, and end; without this it is very for the viewer to lose track of the material. Even titles can be added to guide the viewer.
It is important that the student keep in mind the key curriculum outcomes when shooting the video. This will make the video more useful to the viewer later, but will also help the video maker continuously reflect on the process and thus help them in their making. The key elements that should be evidenced in the video:
- Independent planning of artistic inquiry
- Working with and assessing different materials and techniques
- Developing work from personal observation, experience, and imagination
- Creating work informed by other artists
- Creating work of personal importance
- Critiquing and reflecting on personal work
At the heart of the Art Practice Archive is the peer modelling videos. However, as can be seen from the list above, these are just one element in a classroom that supports research based art practice, which should also feature access to Internet connected devices, teacher-student tutorials, online journals,
All the technology you need to have a really successful research based art practice is available free online. Here is a selection of free apps that have been found to be useful and reliable (some have additional premium features, but these are unnecessary to be successful) :
Online Journal (blog) platforms:
Or, the student could simply share a journal with the teacher using a Google Doc. This is particularly good with younger students who may not fully understand issues of cyber-safety. However, with older students, it is good that they learn about the online journaling methods of practicing artists. Some students continue to maintain these journals after graduation.
Mind Mapping platforms:
Voice recorder apps (for taking tutorial notes, or recording ideas for journal):
iOS: Voice Memos
Chrome extension: Mic Note
Audio editing apps:
Or, edit audio in a video editing app: DaVinci Resolve (this has a professional audio app, 'Fairlight', included)
Video editing apps:
Windows/Mac: DaVinci Resolve (Highly recommended, but only if your computer has a graphics card 2Gb+)
Windows 10: Inside the 'Photos App' that comes with Windows 10, there is a video editing app. Older systems still have 'Windows Moviemaker'
MacOS/ iOS: iMovie comes with these operating systems.
Alternative 'video makers':
Online: Adobe Spark (allows you to make a video with just stills photography, and recording your voice within the app)
Online Chrome Extension: Screencastify (allows you to record your screen and audio synchronously)
Windows/Mac: OBS (screen recording software)
Creative photography apps:
Android/iOS: Snapseed (Double Exposure took particularly useful for layering images)
iOS: ADOBE LIGHTROOM
Experimental imaging apps (for playing with visual ideas quickly and easily):
Windows/Mac: GIMP (free alternative to Photoshop)
Windows: STERLING FRACTAL
EXPERIMENTS WITH GOOGLE
Music making apps with samples and loops (some students like to add music to their videos, and this can be done with freely available creative commons licensed music; however, this is also an opportunity for them to get musically creative too!):