Critical Place-Based Art Education and Eco-Art Education
(Com)postmodernity: Cultivating a Lust for Mortality
In recent years, scholars have increasingly recognized the value of the arts for furthering the aims of environmental education (EE). Likewise, art education scholars have noted the affinity between visual art and EE. Despite a long-standing environmentally oriented thread in art education literature, the extent to which United States K-12 art educators have embraced these pedagogies is unclear. We conducted survey research to examine how K-12 art educators in the US engage in environmental integration, including the extent, forms, importance of and preparedness for integration. While art educators’ overall levels of environmental integration were fair, their valuing of environmental art pedagogies was moderate, suggesting a need for additional resources and professional development. Given K-12 art teachers’ interest in environmental art pedagogies and acknowledged dearth of knowledge, we argue EE capacity-building efforts might target this field, aiming for comprehensive art teacher education experiences to sustained professional development opportunities.
In the midst of the profound geological and ecological change of the Anthropocene, scholars in the field of art education have proposed modes of art education responsive to ecological concerns. This study examined how art teacher education programs in the United States prepare art teachers to engage with ecological issues and implement ecological pedagogies. It utilized a descriptive survey design that involved large-scale surveys of art teacher education faculty and preservice art teachers. These data provide opportunities to acknowledge the general state of art teacher education while also recognizing what is pedagogically possible. We conclude that while the discipline has demonstrated growth in ecological integration, it could go much further in orienting itself ecologically. We expect this research to contribute to debates on the role of art education in responding to global concerns and the discipline’s ability to evolve in the midst of sweeping change.
Augé defined non-place as space lacking meaningful relations with other spaces, historical presence, or concern with identity—space divorced from anthropological place. Rather than space as historically-centered, marked and fashioned by social bonds, Augé’s non-place represents a de-centering of space, a movement away from cities, dwelling places and dwelling-in-places, and even embodied experiences, into capitalist, often technologically-mediated, spaces of “circulation, consumption, and communication.” Non-place presents fundamental and existential challenges to the field of place-based education, an educational approach dedicated to instilling place-consciousness and, correspondingly, pro-ecological attitudes and behaviors, by rooting education within the local environment. But how can education become “rooted” in place when place itself is increasingly ephemeral, non-existent, or untethered to a geolocation? This question is a defining ontological and epistemological question for place-based education in supermodernity.
Research on the impact of place-based education (PBE), in which educational experiences are situated in the local environment (Smith, 2002), consistently suggests academic, social, and affective benefits across demographics. Traditionally, professional development supporting PBE has been designed to support large-scale initiatives. In this study, a bottom-up approach for expanding the reach of place-based art education (PBAE) was implemented with teachers (n=11) from a school district in the southeastern United States through two sequential professional development workshops. We examined the extent to which this minimal intervention impacted teachers’ understanding, buy-in, and creation of PBAE curricula. Results suggest that this organic approach, with teachers positioned as agents of change, can build upon pre-existing teacher interest and equip teachers to expand PBAE into their teaching contexts.
This longitudinal case study explored one rural elementary art teacher’s praxis for two years after she participated in professional development sessions on place-based education (PBE). These sessions focused specifically on PBE within the discipline of art for K-12 art educators in a geographically-large southeastern school district. Through questionnaires, observations, interviews, and document analysis of curricular materials, the researchers investigated the teacher’s experiences with PBE as she taught art in a rural area of the district. Her curricular decisions transitioned from a focus on art reflecting her personal knowledge base to art that built on students’ expressions of, experiences in, and knowledge of, their rural setting. Implications for teacher professional development focused on rural education include strategies for promoting the contextualization of content and communicating the benefits of transitioning from place-neutral to place-based instruction.
Bowers (2001) described how our ecological crisis is marked by metaphors of difference and separation. By adopting an ecological paradigm, students have the opportunity to move past harmful distinctions that have characterized relations with the earth. Instead, students can move to a deep recognition of the interconnectedness of living things. Empathy, particularly with the environment, is deeply tied to such a paradigm. To help students develop this paradigm, a critical place-based art curriculum designed and implemented in a middle school classroom. The curriculum was informed by the ecological imagination, a call for education that embraces the arts as a way to conceive of new ecological perspectives and dialogues. Drawing exercises, interviews, surveys, journals reviews, observations, and focus groups were used to investigate student experiences. Data revealed that students’ ecological paradigms increased as a result of their participation. Throughout the program, students exhibited empathy with the environment as they cared for nature, developed awareness, and accepted responsibility.
The ecological realities of many of our communities are desperate but not determined. As we inevitably encounter these realities in our communities, we can respond by activating students’ imaginations to conceive of better alternatives. Greene (1995) outlined how the imagination has the power to envision alternative realities and better states of affairs. Through these visions, we are alerted to the severity of our current situations, awakened to other possibilities, and inspired to begin the process of working toward a better world. While Greene focused on the imagination’s power applied within the social realm, through her conception of the social imagination, we should not neglect the imagination’s potential within an ecological context where new ecological realities desperately need to be constructed. An ecological imagination is needed. Through the ecological imagination, students can envision different ecological realities—different ways of being in relation to the natural world. In this article, I will present one approach to cultivating middle school students’ ecological imaginations to envision different ecological realities as they participate in a critical place-based art education program.
This mixed methods case study examined middle school students’ empathy with the environment within a critical place-based art classroom. The curriculum was informed by the ecological imagination, which calls for a new mode of education: education that embraces the arts as a way to conceive of pro-ecological perspectives, other ways of being in relation to the earth, better ecological alternatives, and new dialogues about our role in the world. Empathy with the environment was examined since empathy has close ties to aesthetic experience and, much like place-based education, is able to facilitate connections between students and living things. Operating in the pragmatic paradigm, I asked the following questions: How do middle school students demonstrate empathy with the environment throughout a critical place-based art program? How does participation in a critical place-based art education program affect students’ pro-environmental orientations (ecological paradigm)? Which aspects of a critical place-based art education program, if any, contribute to students’ empathy with the environment? Why? Drawing exercises, interviews, pre and post surveys, reviews of visual/verbal journals, observations, and focus groups were used to answer these questions. Data revealed that students experienced increased levels of empathy with the environment and increased pro-environmental orientations as a result of their participation in the curriculum. Students exhibited empathy with the environment as they cared for nature, developed an awareness of the environment, and began to accept responsibility for the state of the environment. Curricular components that contributed to students’ experiences of empathy included opportunities to experience the world directly, to care for nature, to affect change, and to make curricular choices. In addition, the social dynamics of the class and the teacher’s investment were able to facilitate these experiences. Overall, this study demonstrates that a critical place-based art curriculum is capable of increasing students’ empathy with the environment and pro-environmental orientations.
Arts-Based Research and Teacher Education
Dewey (1934) defined reflection as “the kind of thinking that consists in turning a subject over in the mind and giving it serious and consecutive consideration” (p. 3) and argued that reflective thought should be an educational aim. Today, we recognize the importance of reflective thought for students, teachers, and teacher candidates. Within the discipline of art education, visual reflection has emerged, particularly in the form of visual journals, as a valuable technique for engaging students in reflecting on ideas, techniques, processes, and products (Willcox, 2017).
As practitioner inquiry is now established as a widely-recognized research tradition and flourishing movement for educational change, we might consider ways that practitioner inquiry could be conceptualized and executed to broaden implementation, deepen understanding, and sustain inquiry within teacher education. Arts-based research may be an ideal methodology for the extension and sustainment of such inquiry as its visual, performative orientation lends itself to participant engagement and provides access in the representation and dissemination of results. This article will put forth models for advancing arts-based practitioner inquiry within the field of teacher education, by drawing from multiple cycles of a dual-layered, ABER study. This vision of arts-based practitioner inquiry is that of inclusion, increasing the number of those who conduct and interact with research; collaboration, blurring boundaries between the inquiries of teacher educators and pre-service teachers; accessibility, tapping into the power of the arts to engage and communicate in ways that scientific language cannot; and continued engagement, using learning from one cycle to inform inquiry in the next.
Art teacher candidates, recently beginning their internships/student teaching experiences, engaged in a form of arts-based educational research (ABER) to examine their larger teaching contexts–the communities surrounding their placement schools–through a performance-based, map-based approach. Much like the Situationists’ psychogeographies of the 1950s and 1960s, where artist geographers wandered the urban landscapes in attempts to construct interpretive readings of well-known European cities, interns began by playfully ‘drifting’ through the geographic environments of their school zones. Through the act of drifting, interns conducted enquiries into their own sense of place. ‘Maps’ of place embodied these explorations and discoveries. Such explorations of place are vital as educators seek to construct rich understandings of their students’ lived worlds and to provide appropriate, relevant learning experiences. This visual essay explores the value and possibilities of one ABER approach for teacher education.
As place is intimately tied to students’ lived experiences, investigations into place can illuminate knowledge of students, schools, and communities and serve as inspiration for future place-based curricular endeavors. This study, through a dual-layered, arts-based educational research (ABER) design, offered student teachers the opportunity to conduct firsthand, sensory investigations into place, the spaces of their larger teaching context, and allowed their instructor to examine their learning of place and consider implications for the practice of teacher education. Through psychogeographically wandering and mapping their school zones, student teachers developed understandings of the physical landscape, mental conceptions of place, and fledgling critical geographies. These critical geographies represented mergers of place, student lived experience, and critical pedagogy as student teachers began to reconceptualize their teaching practice in terms of place. Through the act of sculpturally and metaphorically mapping student teachers’ explorations, the instructor identified levels of student teachers’ sense of place, noted the vital role of their critical geographies, and considered how her future teaching practice might support further development of these critical geographies. This study suggests a second layer of ABER can be generative as it has the potential to stimulate critical reflections on pre-service teachers’ learning and offer insight into the process of engaging pre-service teachers in research.
The Case for Data Visualization in the Art Classroom
Competency in interpreting data is incredibly important: it prepares citizens for democratic participation in society and as statistically-literate consumers. Citizens today need to be able to perceive, comprehend, and communicate trends in data sets in order to advance their own lives and the lives of the humans and nonhumans in their communities. Attempts to interpret or communicate data trends must focus on the meaningful connections between the numbers of data and their real-world origins. Data visualizations allow the real-world connections of data to become visible and the stories inherent in data to become apparent so the public can feel the weight of these numbers. This empathetic, human element of data literacy is within the purview of the arts. In this article, we make the case for the inclusion of data visualization in K-12 art curricula and illustrate an elementary, STEAM curriculum focused on data visualization concepts and processes.
Data visualization represents the study and visual representation of data in order to uncover and understand patterns. Through data visualization, designers, scientists, and artists have explored the power of visual and material forms for communicating trends in data sets and contextualizing those trends—effectively “humanizing” the data. Over the past few decades, eco-visualizations have emerged as a strand of data visualizations that engage with ecological and sustainability issues. This instructional resource presents several eco-visualization artists, whose work disrupts prevailing cultural assumptions and anthropocentric modes of being in the world, renders ecological relationships visible, and encourages involvement in ecological restoration. Curricular applications for art education are framed within the context of a critical place-based art curriculum, or eco-art pedagogy, with an emphasis on art education that can facilitate positive student relationships with the more-than-human world and empower students to work for environmental change.