Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Reflections over morning tea

I am very glad I have come to Curtin University for my exchange year.  Jim and I were sitting in bed this morning discussing my course.  When I applied last year, I was told to drop one unit I had applied for, and take Historical Issues in Art and Design.  I have never studied history of art, so was quite happy to do this, even though my Contemporary Applied Art degree only focuses on postmodernism and does not look at anything before 1920. 

Studying HIAD has been such an eye opener.  Last year I did an essay on Lucienne Day, a top 1950s textile designer.  Throughout my reading research, I was seeking critical reviews of her work, but could find nothing uncomplimentary or anything that explained why she used floral/plant motifs so much, when her work was attributed to be influenced by the abstract painters.  One of the first things we learned about in HIAD was art in Islam and how they used flowers in repeat patterns and calligraphy.  Now I look at Lucienne Day's work and see how her art was not so modern as she would have people believe, and that her influences were actually much more historical.  Some of her wallpaper used calligraphic motifs which is another feature of Islamic art.

Postmodernism has a principle that states nothing is original in art, but what makes it appealing it that its themes constantly change, the message behind the work, and how different materials/issues are combined.  So if postmodernism is about electicism - the best from a variety of sources - why does my UK course not study History of Art in order to give us a wider vocabulary of artistic styles to choose from?  (Probably because we do self-directed learning and would be told to go to a wide range of exhibitions and read widely, and find out ourselves).   And as my tutor here said "this course is not History of Art, it is Historical Issues in Art - you need to identify the issues/themes the artists of the day were dealing with, and track them to their application in the modern day".  This is what makes it interesting.

And I think I will use Lucienne Day for my class presentation.  The class won't know I did an essay on her last year, but I will be able to rewrite my argument, to explain why she used floral motifs so much, on the basis of my own analysis to my own satisfaction.  This will really please me to wrap up some unfinished business from last year's essay.

As readers can probably tell, the difference between self directed learning and taught courses is something that exercises my mind quite a lot.  I think each style has benefits and disbenefits.  A taught course has a much higher defined workload and the ground you need to cover is much more clearly structured. I very much enjoy what I am doing here and probably would not have identified the ground to be covered unless it had been done for me.  It bothers me that I had not thought about doing history of art from my own initiative, because I am getting so much from it.  This seems to indicate I have restricted thinking and analysis.

I think self directed learning is a much more adult learning style where it is your own motivation and curiosity that drives you to define what you want to know, then investigate and draw conclusions.  I find this much more difficult - although I think I am better at it than many of my peers.  I think that self directed learning needs to be clearly understood, practised and feedback received on what goes well/badly before anyone stands a chance of being good at it.  And a large part of being good at self-directed learning, in order to get a good degree by this route, is being able to define the breadth and depth of what you need to know, in order to have well rounded knowledge at the end. 

I worked very hard last year, developing my printing skills.  I had a wonderful time and developed a lot of practical skills.  But I did not do much (any?) theory.  I did not read widely about print. So I gained more depth in print skills than my peers, but I did not gain breadth.  And this is where a taught course wins.  A good taught course has had this part of the thinking done for you, because you are given a clear structure.  So once again, I draw the conclusion that I am intellectually lazy and like a lot of the thinking done for me. Hmmm. 

Basic learning theory talks about the learning cycle going round activist-pragmatist-theorist-reflector.  I know I have a strong preference for the activist-pragmatist part of the cycle (I like doing things, and having a practical application for what I do).  I find this blog helps a lot for the reflecting on what I have done, so my reflector role is getting there.  But I still don't instinctively do the theory part.  This is where I benefit from the taught style of teaching, because it is given to me and is compulsory.

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