Art-Based Teaching on Sustainable Development
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Art-based teaching for sustainable development encompass a range of philosophical stances and practices which are deployed intentionally for educational outcomes relevant to sustainability and sustainability development. Such teaching philosophies and practices are typically deployed because of the form of knowledge and knowing they promote, which can be described as experiential, integrative, holistic, complex, anticipatory, and passionate.
The connections between art, art-making, education, and responsibility in relation to the wider natural and social world have been given increasing attention over the last 30 years. For example, there have been a variety of journal special issues dedicated to art, education, and ecology (Krug 1997), social justice and social change (Bolin 1999), community and responsibility (Carpenter 2004), ecology and responsibility (Stout 2007), health and well-being (Haywood-Rolling 2017), and human rights (Kraehe 2017). Such a rise has been linked to trends in the human search for meaning and significance among (and resistance against) globalization, domination of market forces, and an increasingly complex and chaotic environment (Taylor and Ladkin 2009).
The connections between art, education, and sustainable development have also been recognized in various UNESCO initiatives such as the Road Map for Arts Education (UNESCO 2006) and The Seoul Agenda: Goals for the Development of Arts Education (UNESCO 2010). The Road Map, for example, asserted the role of arts education in (1) upholding the rights of individuals to participate in education and culture; (2) developing a wide range of capabilities including “creativity and initiative, a fertile imagination, emotional intelligence and a moral “compass,” a capacity for critical reflection, a sense of autonomy, and freedom of thought and action” (UNESCO 2006: 4); (3) enhancing systems of education; and (4) promoting cultural diversity.
Similarly, the Seoul Agenda echoed these sentiments but was perhaps more explicitly linked to sustainable development, articulating a commitment to “apply arts education principles and practices to contribute to resolving the social and cultural challenges facing today’s world” (UNESCO 2010 p. 8). UNESCO’s International Arts Education Week has since explicitly promoted the connectedness of art, education, and sustainable development through the themes of “Arts for Peace” and “Arts Education for Sustainable Development.” The role of art and art-based teaching methods in sustainable development is therefore increasingly recognized as significant and especially so in the influential spaces of higher education.
Within this wider landscape of context, this chapter therefore explores and exemplifies the role of art-based teaching in the context of sustainable development in higher education and maps out some suggested future developments. It does this by articulating the nature of art-based knowledge, knowing and outcomes in the context of higher education, and then exploring the ways in which these aspects manifest and are implemented in higher education practice across the globe.
Art-Based Knowledge, Knowing, and Outcomes
Art-based teaching does not draw solely on the epistemology of logic and rationality, the conceptualization of knowledge, and knowing which has dominated many forms of learning, teaching, and research in the twentieth century (Taylor and Ladkin 2009). Instead, art-based teaching draws from an epistemology where knowledge and knowing are derived from the senses or sensual knowing. This is the realm of aesthetics and aesthetic inquiry, a realm of inquiry attuned to the reconciliation of the sensual and rational dimensions of human experience (Schiller 1910) or the integration of thinking, feeling, and doing (Dewey 1934). Within this realm, art “provides a grasp of new affinities and contrasts, cuts across worn categories to yield new organization, new visions of the worlds we live in” (Goodman 1976: p. 5). Or, as Shrivastava et al. (2012, p 28) explain “art yields an opportunity for every individual human being to learn more about their intense emotional life… to create a harmonious and balanced life for people”. As such, it is intimately inclusive.
Understood in this way, and within the context of higher education, art – as a particular form of knowledge and knowing – is a highly relevant and generative space for complex, higher-order learning often characterizing sustainable development. Indeed, art has been understood as a counter-response to an overreliance on cognitive understanding, toward a more “holistic, physical and emotional engagement with sustainability issues” (Shrivastava 2010, p 443). As such, art-based teaching can be seen as a pathway to facilitate a reorientation from external spaces to internal spaces of the human mind and emotions (ibid). Specifically, such a reorientation has been described to evoke a more passionate (rather than dispassionate) relationship with nature, thereby framing any sustainable development (or broader) action-taking. In this way, “art offers an antidote to the mental and emotional pollution of commercialism, which eventually lead to the toxification of air, land, water, and the excessive consumption of carbon” (Shrivastava 2012: 32–33).
From this perspective, it is argued that art can evoke the “intense emotional and practical experiences” which are at the heart of “passion and emotion (and not cognitive understanding alone) that lies at the core of behavioural changes” (Shrivastava et al. 2012: 27). Drawing from such a perspective, art-based teaching engages a wide range of the factors linked to deeper forms of learning relevant to sustainable development. These include, for example, developing conceptual and metaphoric perspectives, visualizing connections within broader conceptual frameworks, and actively reflecting in contexts of experiential learning (Warburton 2003).
Similarly, art and art-making are recognized as having a particularly efficacious role in promoting affective learning outcomes, such as (1) generating personal awareness in relation to sustainable development, (2) promoting sets of values aligned to responsibility and sustainable development, and (3) initiating and mobilizing action in relation to sustainable development (Reid et al. 2006; Shephard 2008; Sauerwein et al. 2017). In this way, approaches to art-based teaching aspire to evoke more holistic and integrated understandings (such as people-planet-prosperity) which lead to action-taking. The next section identifies ways in which such underpinnings manifest in practice.
Art-Making Approaches and Processes
Art, outside of the context of sustainable development and higher education, has been integrated into educational settings in a diversity of ways, described by Bresler (1995) as four models: coequal (where art is part of the learning focus, e.g., learning how to draw landscapes as well as learning how to plot maps), subservient (where art is positioned as enabling the learning of other topics, e.g., learning drawing in order to plot maps), affective (where art enables learning and self-efficacy, e.g., learning how to draw to build confidence in learning how to plot maps), and social integration (where art facilitates the cultural celebration of communities, e.g., holding a community event where the community learn how to draw to map out the design of a new play area). There are subtle differences here, but they illustrate the intentions of the art activity. However, such subtleties are also evident in the context of art-based teaching for sustainable development in higher education, and each of these can be found in practice. To help exemplify such practices in higher education, Taylor and Ladkin’s (2009) more contemporary model provides a pragmatic framework to plot the variety of art-based processes which can be adopted in the context of higher education: skills transfer, projective technique, illustration of essence, and making. Each of these is now discussed.
Art-based teaching can facilitate the development of artistic skills which are useful in education for sustainability settings, as the competences developed through art-based teaching reflect future-oriented higher education competencies, including dealing with complexity and ambiguity, systemic thinking, holistic thinking, anticipatory thinking, and for engaging communication and participation (Sandri 2013). Examples of art-based teaching for skills transfer can include (1) the use of art exhibitions coupled with art appreciation to develop the emotional and spiritual skills important for the holistic and interrelated capabilities relevant to sustainable development and (2) the use of art training with medical students to develop their visualization and observational capacities to enhance diagnosis and physical examination processes (Shrivastava 2010). Similarly, van Boeckel (2017) explores “lines on the hand” practices, involving the imaginative task of connecting the wrinkles on one’s hands to personal histories of time, place, and people, to support a greater sense of connectedness, thereby enhancing sense of well-being. Such practices have been found to be efficacious in generating new skills, in addition to broader self-awareness and connectedness to land and its coinhabitants.
Approaches to art-based teaching which generate artful artefacts encourage and facilitate the accessing and sense-making of inner experience, thoughts, feelings, and actions. Examples of art-based teaching include (1) the use of painting to represent strategic thinking and new concepts in the context of integrated science, technology, and arts programs, (2) the use of painting in order to improve the health and well-being of patients in health and social care settings (Shrivastava et al. 2012), and (3) the use of clay sculptures to explore and represent “little me,” or internal representations of self in relation to wider landscapes, as a platform for insight and possibilities of other expressions (van Boeckel 2017). Although such practices may be familiar in some arts-based pedagogical practices, they are still uncommon across other disciplines and may well be interpreted and unorthodox in some disciplines.
The use of photography has also been used in education for sustainable development in higher education, as it offers an alternative way to access thoughts and feelings that might not be accessible through spoken or written word (Scott 2014). Lin and Li (2017), for example, used photography to help higher education students explicate their conceptions of oceanic sustainability. They identified (1) a continued preoccupation with environmental rather than integrated social, economic and environmental dimensions, (2) ambiguity around who should take responsibility for life-wide issues, and (3) that pedagogical approaches which integrated arts, science, and community, were linked to “a more balanced, action-motivated conception of sustainability” (Lin and Li 2017: 554). Such findings also highlighted the role of art-making practices, such as photography, in “revealing” the aspects of thoughts and feelings which are not necessarily socially desirable, such as own understandings about one’s own positioning or personal responsibility in the world.
Illustration of Essence
Art-based teaching can promote the drilling to the “core” of “a concept, situation, or tacit knowledge in a particular way, revealing depths and connections that more propositional and linear developmental orientations cannot” (Taylor and Ladkin 2009: 56). Examples include (1) the use of “paintings, drawings and metaphors that bring life to [participants’] vision of sustainability” (Ivanaj et al. 2014: 23) in personal and professional lives, and (2) the use of meaningful metaphors and images to capture the essence of new ways of working which promote health and wellness and how to achieve it (Wall et al. 2017). Such processes help develop new frames (Wall 2016a,b) to help clarify the personal and group vision for their sustainability action and facilitate the sharing of the vision with others, to then, in turn, refine and develop action within a wider community (Wall et al. 2017). Similarly, the use of striking imagery, such as the conditions of battery chickens, has been used to intentionally generate affective responses in higher education learning settings (Wall et al. 2018, forthcoming).
Disciplinary differences in pedagogical traditions may mean that some of these practices (such as museum visits) are not necessarily adopted widely beyond fields allied to the arts. However, other practices which illustrate an essence of some kind are likely to be much more widely adopted across the fields in higher education practice but may well appear as part of examples, anecdotes, stories, short case studies, dilemmas, or experiments, which are used as pedagogical devices. Such devices embody aesthetic qualities which amplify and highlight certain aspects and dimensions more than others and therefore embody particular perspectives or angles, have boundaries, evoke and provoke affective responses, and are intentionally packaged in ways to make a pedagogical point or series of them.
Bring greater awareness to personal observations – so when students engage in artful activity, such as illustrating land, they are able to notice fine details, for example, the specifics of how grass and rock interrelate in nature.
Generate greater sensitivity to live processes happening in nature (e.g., growth and decay) – so when students engage in artful activity, such as illustrating ladybirds on strands of grass, they are able to notice the finer details of how, for example, the ladybird rests, slides down, and inhabits a blade of grass.
Develop alternative ways of viewing the environment – finding new ideas and perspectives from becoming more aware of the minutiae in the environment and the associated patterns of interconnectedness in nature.
Test the scale of the environment and the limits of humans – where one becomes aware of one’s positions in relation to wider environments, such as a mountain or an ocean, and notices the impacts of that on the nuanced details around them, e.g., how the water touches and forcibly moves the sand, soil, and the blade of grass on which a lady bird sits.
Before: exposition – this stage is about setting of the scene, the context, and the characters, as understood in the learner’s ordinary world. For example, this might include framing the pedagogical activities in relation to the higher education program on which the students are engaged: in relation to a “business planning” course, a visit to the museum might be explained in terms of building appreciation of historical events and emotion. Then the task might be that students adopt a role of a character in one of the pieces of art which embody a conflict.
During: rising action/climax/falling action – this is the process of new awareness, conflicts, tension, and discomfort, as the learner (and facilitator) travels through the art-making process. In relation to imagining oneself as a character in a painting, the activity might involve appreciating and empathizing with the character in the piece (rising action), and noticing what happens when they become part of a conflict in the piece (climax), followed by a reflective period of noting and making sense of what was noticed (falling action).
After: resolution – this is the final stage where the learner has completed the art-making process and presents (in some way) the outcomes of their art-making, integrating some elements of closure. In the activity above, the final activity might be sharing one’s thoughts as another layer of sensemaking and then consolidating some insights in relation to what one might need to do, which may of course include spending more time in the museum as a source of provocation and insight.
Participative Art-Based Teaching Approaches and Processes
Within the context of higher education, art and art-making processes have been utilized with multi-stakeholder groupings for the dual political goals of education and change, across a diverse range of sustainable development goals such as promoting health and well-being, gender equality, and environmental impact (Kagan 2011). Such participatory approaches have developed a variety of features and outcomes including (1) prompting and facilitating the exchange of ideas, (2) prompting and facilitating dialogue amongst multiple stakeholders, (3) building awareness and understanding of information and issues, (4) generating dissonance and concern, and (5) building a sense of place (Marks et al. 2016; Rossetti and Wall 2017).
Photo-elicitation – to capture and then explore particular behaviors in community settings, in relation to identities, ethnicities, or in terms of memory and regaining sense of time and place. For example, the utilization of photographs with older persons or people experiencing dementia, to relocate a more familiar time and place.
Photo-novella – to “empower” members of the community to capture their own stories which enables them to explore the meaning and significance of their own stories. For example, enabling a deprived community to capture what it means and feels like to live in a particular place or space.
Photo-voice – where people (who may be considered vulnerable in some way) are given the equipment to record and reflect the day to day experiences, challenges, and tensions to a wider audience. For example, one practice is to give those who are experiencing poverty in some form a camera to capture their experiences from their own lived perspective. This might then be used in a wider setting where community stakeholders such as business owners and government officials respond to what is presented (e.g., The Poverty Commission in Scotland and England).
Participatory art-based practices can also be integrated into much larger-scale activities, linked to multiple political outcomes. For example, The Womanifesto Residency Programme in Thailand aimed to connect tradition and natural resources, utilizing art and artists to stimulate dialogue and debate. The program involved a range of art workshops and public art collaborations involving schools, colleges, universities, and a range of communities including farmers and artisans (ASEF 2012). Although the program developed art-making processes, it also tackled gender inequalities by positioning women as creators and collaborators (ibid). Similarly, the “Art Activism”-based initiative in Singapore brings together artists, activists, scholars, and students as a platform for art collaborations at the grassroots level in relation to sustainability. The format included exhibitions, public dialogue, and publications and involved professionals from various sectors including the arts, media, university, social entrepreneurs, environmentalists, and philanthropists (ibid).
“Discovery”: When did we work well together?
“Dreaming”: What would be the ideal of us working well together look like?
“Designing”: What do we need to prioritize to make this happen?
Conclusion and Future Directions
Though the relationship between art, responsibility, and education has developed over the last 30 years, there are still controversial undertones. For example, there are perspectives which want to keep the inherent value of art as sacred (i.e., art for art’s sake) and do not approve of the “subservient” role of art for other functionalities (e.g., “art for earth’s sake,” Reid et al. 2006; Smilan 2016). Similarly, there are ongoing tensions in educational contexts when art and artefacts are subject to any form of assessment (Haanstra and Schönau 2007). Yet it seems, according to the evidence outlined in this chapter, that such controversies are not necessarily stopping the pace at which art-based teaching is being utilizing in the context of sustainable development (Gunn 2016).
Future directions of art-based teaching practice and research will continue to emerge which will explicitly combine and integrate embodied understandings of sustainable development, especially in the context of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics higher education (STEM). There has been a move to integrate art into this STEM agenda, and the new acronym has expanded to include the A of Art, to create the STEAM agenda. These emerging trends will continue to amplify and expand the STEAM agenda in higher education and will thereby create new and innovative pedagogical forms with sustainable development, change, and transformation as driving principles (Payton et al. 2017).
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