Appendix: Artistic Practice as a Framework for Learning
Over the past ten years the Andy Warhol Museum’s education department has experimented with and found effective ways to use an artist’s practice as a framework for learning. This body of educational practice introduces dynamic new ways of teaching and learning to the education field.
What do we mean by artistic practice?
An artist’s practice not only suggests the techniques or media an artist uses to create art, but also fundamentally the artist’s conceptual approach or method by which he or she goes about making art. Warhol’s art practice encompasses processes of reproducing, documenting, collecting, collaborating, and experimenting, as well as his use of diverse media, subject matter, and disciplines. These practices are effective frameworks to engage students with art and art making. Each provides clear direction, yet allows the individual learner creative ownership. For example:
Reproducing: uses compare and contrast techniques to help students discover history and culture through content and method. They explore both what and how artists have reproduced the world around them past and present—from nativity scenes to soup cans, from cave painting to silkscreening.
Documenting: focuses students’ attention, raises awareness of their environments, builds analytical skills, and creates awareness of the importance of choice in a creative process by using a framework of documenting. For example, students choose a media in which to document a day in their lives, and then analyze and edit material to tell a story of their choosing.
Collecting: promotes literacy, civic engagement, and critical thinking by engaging students in repeated and consistent actions to understand socio-cultural patterns and choices through collecting something focused, such as newspaper headlines around a particular topic over a specific time period.
In the above examples, an artist’s practice provides structured, yet open-ended, frameworks for learning where young people seeking a means of expression and a way to look at their own world can feel anchored, yet free to explore and discover their creative voices. Importantly, each practice combines concept with method or technique. It has been said of collecting, for example, that it cannot be explained—only depicted. In essence, collecting is understood only by what is collected. This practice enables students to effectively watch their own learning evolve with each object they collect.
Frameworks help students organize their worlds, giving them a means to absorb, understand, gather, and categorize sense data by drawing attention to specifics, but importantly, the specifics are of their own choosing. Frameworks are by their very nature structural and not content-specific, enabling the learner to tailor, personalize, and reflect what he or she experiences of the world. A simple analogy here is the framework as clothes hanger: each set of clothes is distinctly different and individual, yet easily—indeed, almost effortlessly—stored, accessed, and “shopped” for.
How does this practice reflect current educational and learning theory research?
What is most important in using artistic practice as a framework for learning is that the learning here is solidly rooted in the students’ own experiences, yet in the process, they also learn the creative process of making and are given tools by which to learn throughout their lives—documenting, collecting, etc. Psychological and neuroscientific research confirms learning is situated or rooted in the realities of the physical world. As leading learning researchers John Falk and Lynn Dierking note in Learning From Museums, “it turns out the need to make sense of the environment, to find pattern and make order out of chaos is an innate quality of mammalian brains … As our society is increasingly inundated with information each individual needs to learn qualitatively and quantitatively better strategies for dealing with information.”