Learning Strategies in Fine Art

Download Learning Strategies in Fine Art

Post on 15-Jul-2016




2 download


  • S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    J O U ~ U L of Art & Design Educution

    Vol 3, No 2, 1984

    This paper develops and illustrates an approach to the study of fine art at degree level already described in this journal (Cornock, 1983), where the central concern was to help the student to organise his or her own pattern of learning experience. The qualitative method of enquiry used in this study will be discussed briefly, with particular reference to illuminative evaluation; the body of this paper is devoted to an interpretation of aspects of fine art study in a particular learning situation, including an illus- trated examination of the working processes developed by two recent graduates. It is concluded, first, that there is a place for an extension to the traditional approach to the tutorial through methodological guidance; and, second, that the utility of one or other of the forms of tutorial guidance is conditioned by the phase of development reached by the student.

    P L A T E Stacked Piece (This Isnt It), 1981. Wood, brass, knitted fabric, photographs, and other assorted media. (See Case Study 1)



  • S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art


    The tremendous power of scientific method in providing general explanations of the physical world has encouraged its vigorous application to the study of man. In particular, behavioural studies tend to involve the reduction of human action (whose motives and consequences are at once complex and ambivalent) to the factually observable. In the educational field the behav- ioural researcher will observe the factual details of the learning situation; and, most importantly, he will be careful to record the incidence with which students exhibit certain specified behav- iours. His aim will be to provide a quantitative analysis of aspects of that learning situation which will support an explana- tory account of it on the basis of which predictions can be made. The danger accompanying such efforts is that the researcher will be obliged to treat his subjects not as individuals, each possessed of a free will, but as the aggregated components of (say) an educational system: hence he must consider them as being:

    . . . logically merely media for the play and expression of the forces or mechanisms of the system itself; one turns to such forces or mechanisms to account for what takes place. (Blumer, 1969, pp. 57f.)

    The aim of the present study was to be useful rather than explanatory. Its method qualitative rather than quantitative. It began by examining the activities of a small group of under- graduate students of fine art with the specific objective of identifying a set of strategy rules which might assist both lecturer and student in this subject area (for a summary of the reports given by the participants in the preliminary enquiry see Cornock, 1983, pp. 84-90). So the preliminary study rested not upon the observation of student behaviour, but instead used the method of participant observation to record the pattern of student activities (see Filstead, 1970). The aim was to achieve Verstehen-understanding of the students learning experience. It should be emphasised that learning experience was taken to include all of the activities which a participant might consider relevant, but excluded consideration of subjective judgements of aesthetic merit, whether ascribed by participants to their own artistic products or to those of others. Analysis of the reports showed some activities to be associated with positive learning experiences (i.e. to a successful pattern of development), and others to be associated with a failure to make progress. The results were interpreted as forming patterns of activity reflecting the categories of description used by the students themselves; patterns which were tested by asking the participants whether they recognised aspects of the picture as represented to them by the researcher (cf. Parlett and Dearden, 1981, pp. 39f).

    The outcome of the preliminary study was a systematic de- scription of a cycle of activities which, our enquiry had sug- gested, could be considered necessary to the achievement of the central requirements of a degree course in fine art. What was


  • described could then be treated as a guide to action: a set or strategy rules, or methodology. The methodology is described in Cornock (1983), pp. 93-97, and a diagrammatic summary is reproduced here as Figure 1.

    A second phase of study, which centred on the use of the emerging methodology to interpret a number of further cases also embodied a phenomenological approach to educational re- search.

    In the field of educational research (as in sociological and management studies) the attention of some researchers has been shifting away from a nomothetic and towards an idiographic approach. What is emerging is an aspect of qualitative methodo- logy termed illuminative evaluation (Parlett and Dearden, 1981). Introductions to illuminative evaluation are given by Parlett and Dearden ( ib id) , Gibbs, Morgan and Taylor (1982), and Morgan, Gibbs and Taylor (1980). Among the character- istics of this approach are that it: 1 is designed to describe the quality of the learning experience (Marton and Svensson, 1979, pp. 475ff; Marton, 1981, pp. 195ff); 2 has as its aim to understand the act of learning, i.e. not merely to provide an observers description of it, and not to provide a causal explanation of it (Marton and Svensson, 1979, pp. 472-475); 3 causes attention to be directed towards problems arising in context-in a particular learning milieu (Elton and Laurillard, 1979, p. 94; Parlett and Dearden, 1981; pp. 14ff); and 4 the primary objective is to share understandings with (to emancipate) those engaged in the situation being studied- though it may be that results are also found to be relevant to the interpretation of similar situations (Baumann, 1976; Marton and Svensson, 1979, pp. 481f; Parlett and Dearden, 1981, pp. 32-36; Elton and Laurillard, 1979, p. 100).

    A further distinguishing feature of qualitative research is the need to resist the temptation to identify problems and objectives too clearly at the outset. In the field of human interactions we are dealing with a number of perspectives on a given situation, each of which is associated with a particular sense of the nature of the problem. Each problem has, in effect, an owner; so that it will often be the case that one mans solution will serve to create another mans problem. Thus we are properly concerned with a concatenation of problems, with complex and changing problem situations (Cornock, 1980, pp. 53-57 and 170f). It is for this reason that a piece of qualitative research will be marked by the unfolding of a problem situation in a process which leads to what Parlett and Hamilton have called progressive focussing onto specific research topics (1976), and places the researchers understanding of them in the context of the wider aspects of the situation under review.

    The task of evaluating both the emerging methodology and aspects of the learning milieu was tackled by interpreting evi-

    S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies

    in Fine Art


  • 1. Manipulation of raw materials and elements of form and image in the studio

    : SELECTION 2 . Significant elements of form and image identi- fied whilst engaged in

    \ \ \ \ \ I I \ I I I I I I I I I I I i I I I


    Presentation of products of ( 3 ) and ( 4 ) so as to attract

    J /


    4 . Articulation of I 1 I nature and continuity

    3 . Conception and reali- I of concerns arising I I


    out of generative zation of who work out of ( 2 )




    F I G U R E 1. A diagrammatic summary of the methodology described in the text, i.e. a pattern of activities in which a student of fine art might be expected to engage. (From Cornock, 1983, p. 97.)

    dence of the latter in the light of the former. A number of undergraduate students on the same fine art course as that attended by the original group were asked to provide informa- tion of two sorts: factual information concerning the routine activities in which they engaged; and subjective judgements concerning the significance of their learning experiences. It was found that the only practical way in which to gather factual information was to invite the participants to maintain a diary over a three-month period. Judgements were elicited both in the form of written statements and through unstructured interviews.


  • Interpreting the situation The strength of a tutorial system staffed by practitioners lies in the tutors ability rapidly to interpret a very wide range of tutorial situations, and to tender aesthetic criticism, technical advice, or guidance on practice-guidance and criticism of a kind and at a level appropriate to the diversity of personal development patterns customarily found in an art school. But the tutorial system does depend on there being items of work available for the tutor to criticise; on there being some studio practice to guide. Thus it is precisely where activity ceases in confusion that criticism and guidance may be difficult to pro- vide, or may be perceived by the student as merely a statement of the tutors subjective preference and (when tendered by several tutors) contradictory.

    Yet in the period before the establishment of a working process the cessation of activity in confusion is by no means uncommon, and is not displayed only by weak students. Looking back on earlier experience a final year student suggested that:

    When you have had a wonderful idea and have failed to realise it to match your intention then the next wonderful idea is approached less confidently.

    So, during a crucial period during which the student is in serious need of tutorial guidance in the development of a working process, it seems that he may be less likely to produce artefacts and, in consequence, less likely to attract tutorial guidance. Hence it has been observed that a reluctance on the part of tutorial staff to influence:

    . . . the floundering/suggestible student during his/her for a personal identity and foundation of a style, which frequently occurs during the first two years of the course, results in neglect, often leads to misunderstanding and bad feeling at a time when moral support is desperately needed.

    A month after writing the letter from which that paragraph is taken the student in question graduated with first class honours; five months later, as a postgraduate student in painting, he declared in a further letter that: That neglected feeling as experienced in the first two years of the BA has returned with a vengeance.. .

    An obvious source of difficulty for the personal development tutor is that his task is apparently to evaluate the product of the students efforts (i.e. to discuss the aesthetic, technical and other properties of the paintings, sculptures, films, etc. produced). Where these points of reference are of such a kind as to offer the tutor only a limited justification for encouraging the student in what he is doing then the temptation must be to postpone comment; we avoid discouraging the student by effectively deny- ing him guidance at a crucial stage of development. The metho- dological approach promises to remove the tutors dilemma by suggesting that, in the circumstances described, attention should

    S T R O U D CORNOCK Learning Strategies

    in Fine Art


  • S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    shift away from the students products and towards the effective- ness of his learning strategies.

    During the academic year following the preliminary study an individual (PK), embarking on his second year of study, was observed by his tutor to have become desperate (or so it seemed) in his anxiousness to know what to do, how to act, how to make use of (mostly adverse) criticism, and how to develop a sense of purpose. How, above all, to escape the frustrating cycle of self- criticism: i.e. abandonment of current work; conception of new work; efforts to plunge into the realisation of the newly-con- ceived work in a spirit of bold and instinctual enterprise; rejec- tion of the new endeavour because of its perceived failure to meet the students own or staff standards; searching around for yet another new conception; and so on.

    The situation was interpreted as indicating that PK had made premature efforts to engage in two tasks: first, to conceive and to execute complete artefacts (i.e. out of an impoverished reservoir of selected forms and images); and, second, to make critical judgements about the results (without having produced an articulate description of them). Despite the small amount and poor quality of the artefacts which had recently been produced by PK it was possible to observe his inappropriate cycle of actions (described above), and to elicit the students own ac- count of them. The situation was further interpreted as indicat- ing the need to engage in what have been described as Stages 1 and 2 of the methodology (and not in Stages 3 or 4 until progress had been made). A set of specific instructions was given on the basis of a mutal recognition of the character of the situation rather than on the basis of judgements about the amount or the quality of the students artefacts. Those instruc- tions were to suspend self-criticism and to plunge instead into an exploration of physical materials, forms and images extant in such work as was ongoing. Both PK and a second student (PL, who had been experiencing and discussing with PK parallel difficulties, and who had overheard the discussion) acted swiftly on the instructions. At the end of the first term of the academic year in question PK and PL had jointly produced some twenty large works which they arranged to present as a basis for a critical discussion of the issues which had arisen during the course of that work. The central problem of the low quality of the work being produced had not been evaded, but had been approached indirectly, via the learning strategies seen to influ- ence learning outcomes in this milieu.

    We have seen that during the early stages of personal develop- ment the student of fine art may experience difficulties of a particular kind and that in this situation the traditional tutorial might usefully be supplemented with a methodological approach - o n e which is diagnostic and prescriptive. We may ask whether there are, in addition, circumstances in which the traditional tutorial approach is damaging, and should be withdrawn in favour of a methodological approach? In one of the few illumina-


  • tive studies to have been published on this subject Madge and Weinberger (1973) provide evidence suggesting that there are flaws in the assumptions on which aspects of the traditional system is based. However, among more than forty case studies and numerous observations assembled in the course of the present enquiry only one appears to indicate that an aesthetic judgement passed by a tutor had a marked and perhaps delete- rious effect upon a students progress. It concerns a student whose progress was perceived by some members of a tutorial staff as one of marked inconsistency and lost opportunity; not because the student lacked in effort or ability, but rather because those efforts were periodically redirected, earlier lines of work being abandoned, and tutorial staff would feel it necessary to make fresh efforts to discover and appreciate the new line of work before re-establishing a critical dialogue with the student. After graduation the person concerned revealed that the deve- loping working process had been roundly condemned by a member of the tutorial staff, causing the student to cease work altogether for four months (the unwitting support given to the condemned line of work by two other tutors only adding to the students confusion). What we see here is that the traditional tutorial relationship between the student of and lecturer in fine art reflects differing conceptions of what it is that the student should be doing. Those conceptions are themselves rooted in differing Weltanschauungen: that is, in fundamentally different world-views. There is no neutral aesthetic standard against which work or ideas can be judged; rather we find ourselves trying to clarify opposing conceptions of life which yield concep- tions of art which often (as in this case) present themselves as deadly enemies.

    Thus what happens is that a critical discussion of the nature of the ideas, forms and images constituting the results of a working process leads to a situation in which the student is confronted with appreciations of his work which are not merely contradic- tory, but which challenge him to make choices between Weltan- schauungen .

    However, our evaluation of this setting suggests that, where students are to be faced with such challenges, it would be prudent to ensure that all of the parties to such a tutorial debate should agree, before such a challenge is offered to a particular student, that that student has already achieved a working process.

    Another important aspect of the learning situation is provision made to monitor student progress, regulate progress from year to year and (most importantly) to provide him with guidance as to the way in which his performance and achievement are per- ceived. These are the objectives of the termly assessment proce- dure, which involves a critical review of the artefacts produced over an approximately three-month period, and some discussion. In the case of a student whom we shall call Black there was a period during which he decided to reappraise his working

    S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies

    in Fine Art


  • S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    processes. This took him two months. During that time Black was exploring certain physical materials and processes away from his studio, and the reappraisal also involved periods of physical inactivity, as earlier work was examined, ideas were rendered articulate so that they could be critically examined, and those ideas were then being rejected or developed further. Black found this one of the most important and fruitful periods during his studies, yet found it particularly difficult to represent the quality and intensity of that learning experience in the context of the termly assessment. The result of that assessment was a set of D, E and F grades; this stung Black (It caused unnecessary anxiety), and could have had a deleterious effect. Fortunately, the learning oucome was recognised, a year or so later, when he exhibited and participated in a critical discussion of a body of his artefacts. The question raised by this and similar experiences is: what is the mechanism by which an assessment system might monitor, and where appropriate, guide or encourage the develop- ment of a working process as distinct from the successful production of artefacts?

    Two further case studies are considered in some detail below as they reveal the differing ways in which individual working processes can be said to have been established by students, and the extent to which they can be compared with and interpreted via the methodology described above.

    Case Study I This mature student, William Morton, approached the course more confidently than the typical 19 year old 1 ] . His manifest skill and confidence attracted early attention. The work was characterised by a mixture of craftsmanship and improvisation, and during his second year of study it became clear that Mortons concern was to present the viewer with manifestations of the processes in which he was engaged rather than with a body of finished artefacts. During the third year of the course Morton was (as all students on the course in question) to present his work for formal critical discussion, and in doing so chose rapidly to improvise a number of forms, i.e. stressing the evanescent, and deliberately eschewing earlier artefacts which he had produced. (The ensuing critical discussion reflected some disappointment on the part of tutors, partly at what was per- ceived as a failure to achieve full potential, and partly. at a failure to establish a productive exchange of ideas. This apparent failure may reflect special difficulties mentioned earlier as being associ- ated with the representation of those aspects of development not embedded in artefacts.)

    Later, in mid-February 1981, Morton decided to embark on a project (the building of a number of wood and paper struc- tures). A diary records progress on that project from mid-March to Mortons degree exhibition in mid-June.

    Mortons aim in tackling the project was to achieve a synthesis of the following activities and concerns (drastically simplified) :


  • P L A T E 1 K . William Morton: Stacked Piece (This Isnt I t) alternative view. (See Case Study 1 )


  • S T K O U D C O K N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine A r t

    1 the practice of craft skills-in for example the fabrication of a model boat as an element of one structure; 2 the application of paint to canvas and paper; 3 engagement of the viewer in active participation; 4 Mortons philosophy of change-his emphasis on the liberat- ing effects of the creative process [ 2 ] . During interview Morton spoke of the need to take an organ- ised approach to his efforts to achieve this synthesis.

    Of the eleven diaries contributed to this research during 1981 that produced by Morton is one of the most thorough and pertinent: whereas some diaries identify activities only in general terms, Morton is specific, e.g. Try out various wood-stains on sample pieces of wood . . . (28.3.1981); also, specific activities are related to specific works, e.g. Try out various wood-stains on sample pieces of wood to find best colour for support system for 1st stacked piece. . . (28.3.1981). The record can, therefore, be analysed in terms of the methodology [3 ] .

    Generation (Figure 1, stage 1 ) is artificially isolated during the early period of fine art studies as students are introduced to the possibilities of tools, materials and colour relationships, and are made sensitive to shapes left, etc. Thereafter, it becomes increasingly difficult to isolate this formal play. However, it is reasonable to regard watchful play with materials and forms as a necessary element in more complex activities oriented toward some works in hand. Morton writes: Drive, long walk in country, photograph trees, wickerwork fences collect armful of small branches.. . The entry continues:

    Decide finally to paint small stacked piece black. Buy tin Ripolin black emulsion-it turns out much greyer that I want. Wander around studio looking for different black emulsions. Into town to see if I can get a better black. At home experiment with tins of black paint-which is best black-no decision. (Diary, 6.5.1981).

    The manipulation of materials and forms leads logically to the Selection (stage 2) of elements of form and pattern which strike the student of fine art as likeable, exciting, meaningful, stimulating, intriguing. Again, as studies proceed this activity falls into context: certain forms are recognised as being relevant to some work or works in hand. Quickly made decision about which paint to use paint small stacked piece. (6.5.1981). Again: . . . find a piece of wood which immediately shows itself as basis for small stacked piece. (27.3.1981). Here is another and parti- cularly revealing entry during March:

    On way home find childs shoe in gutter-pick it up-while watching TV decide to write a short poem, place it inside shoe, then wrap it in string. (Almost 2 years ago also found kids shoe and wrapped it.) Rummage around, find previous shoes, place both wrapped shoes on floor-long time looking thinking about them-decide to carry them around in coat pocket. Something is beginning to happen I feel. (24.3.1981).


  • -and some days later: P L A T E 2. William Morton: A Game for Survivors, 1981. Balsa, string, photographs, shoes, dried flowers, etc. (See Case Study 1 )

    On way to college find another small childs shoe. Such pathos! Pick it up and immediately decide to make a series of small boxes in which to place the found wrapped shoes. (3.4.198 1 ) .

    The resulting work is illustrated in Plates 2, and 3. The culmination of the generative cycle of activity is a sense of

    readiness: attention shifts from the elements of form and pattern to the synthesis of elements into organised wholes. The new activity is closely bound up with the other generative activities 4 f t e n too closely (as in the cases of PK and PL). Although a piece of work-a painting or some other artefact-is planned, the Synthesis (stage 3) of elements to form that work is a tacit activily. A sense of readiness may thus lead to planning without immediately achieving a synthesis, e.g. Make mock-up of full- scale piece, sellotape the wood together. No final decision. (21.3.1981). But: All day spent painting. Towards the end of day suddenly decide to stack paintings in shelved piece of wood Ive had around the studio for a long time. It works well. (30.4.198 1). On another occasion: Place sea-scape on small stacked piece. I consider the piece complete. (8.5.1981).

    It is clear from this case study that Morton had successfully


  • S T R O U D CORNOCK Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    thematised his learning: what he learned in the course of his work was not taken for granted, and he engaged in a continuing struggle to make the essentially tacit experiences of the studio into Something which can be discussed. (Cf. Saljo, 1979; Marton and Svensson, 1979, p. 482.) Whilst an undergraduate Morton recorded his thoughts in a journal, and for these reasons it seems reasonable to accept at face value his observation that: Over the period that Ive been at college I believe that I have developed a critical and focussed awareness of my particular work practice. . . (written statement, 24.6.1981).

    Articulation (stage 4) means, in this context, the attempt to describe in words that which has been conceived in images; in other words, to produce a verbal model of ones artistic concerns and practices. At a higher level the methodology suggests that the student will review the characteristic forms and ideas in his work as it embodies a continuity of concerns and studio activi- ties. The following are relevant indications drawn from Mortons diary: Evening-decide to write down aims and strategy for work also start to think about degree show.. . (26.3.1981). Friends visit-long discussion argument about theoretical basis for stacked pieces. My thoughts and confidence in the work clarified and strengthened. (29.3.1981). At home begin first draft of Notes on the Stacked Piece. (1.5.1981). A secondary aspect of Articulation is the consideration of knowledge and

    P L A T E 3. William Morton: A Game for Survivors (detail), 1981. (The bound Childs shoe containing a poem described in Case Study 1 )

    theory of art (Figure 1) . This aspect of student activity as it bears on personal development: Rauschenberg exhibition [ 41 . Evening-make sketch and technical notes of Rs mechanised assemblage/painting. (3.5.1981 ) . . . . decide to make box for scatter piece make note to read Carl Andre. [5 ] (There is no reference by Morton to Other Knowledge and Theory.)


  • An essential stage in the working process is Presentation (stage 5), through which the viewer is enabled to explore issues vital to the student: the viewer must be led into an examination of relevant artefacts, preparatory materials and relevant concepts. Clear wall and floor of stuff set up 1st stacked piece, small unfinished stacked piece, and stock of paintings as if for exhibi- tion-most of day looking, thinking, arranging, rearranging them. (1.5.1981). Decide to make series of drawings based on stacked piecedesigned to be exhibited beside stacked piece in degree show-as explanation. (29.5.1981). Day spent trying to organise material (photos, drawings, etc.) in prep. for degree show. (2.6.1981).

    (No reference is made in the papers assembled for this case study to Critical Debate (stage 6) in the presence of exhibited work. This may reflect Mortons awareness of our concern to discuss working processes rather than the content or quality of the output of individual students. Routine critical discussions do take place throughout the fine art degree course referred to here.)

    A salient activity reported by Morton but not included in the methodology is the deliberate destruction of artefacts by Morton during the period covered by the diary. Make series drawings for landscape assemblage-destroy many. (3 1.3.198 1 ) . Assess work done to date, today studio-destroy certain work. . . (23.4.1981). Again look through work done during holiday-it doesnt stand up-destroy (after photographing) two paintings. (29.4.1981). Destroy 4th Stacked Piece. (27.5.1981).

    Case Study 2 This student, Malcolm Ellis, managed, like Morton, to thema- tise his learning. Morton had successfully resisted tutorial pressure to adopt a lapidary approach, instead developing and claiming serious attention for an improvisatory working process. Ellis also showed considerable tenacity as he developed an improbable synthesis of technique, improvisation and philosophy into a working process. Ellis was openly critical of those mem- bers of his peer group whom he regarded as having relied upon gratuitous effects in their work, and critical also of a preoccupa- tion with the production of artefacts. (This is apparent in views expressed by Ellis during some nine hours of tutorial discussion recorded by him over a two-year period on audio cassettes.)

    As a schoolboy Ellis had been interested in the composition of visual material in a manner parallel to musical composition. As a student on the first year of the fine art degree course he was introduced to the mixing and unmixing of colour in the form of transmitted light, and this rekindled interest, leading to experi- ments with projected images and bands of colour in various figure-ground relationships. Ellis was not as clear as to what it was he was trying to say; he did not have a basis upon which to make his choices-between one colour or image and another, as might have been the case had he set out to describe a scene. So

    STROUD C O R N O C K Learning Strategies

    in Fine Art


  • S T R O U D C O K N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    his strategy became one of making a systematic and conscious series of decisions (e.g. regarding the overlaying of areas of projected colour and image).

    At that time Ellis came under the pressure of a routine termly assessment deadline and believed (wrongly) that he was in danger of losing his place on the course; in these circumstances and despite the apparently arbitrary nature of available choices open to him (i.e. in the selection of colours and images at Stage 2 ) he became actively engaged in his work. That is, he re- sponded to pressure by taking quite arbitrary decisions, but in a systematic way, and hence allowing the results to follow as a consequence of those decisions. This would seem to match the principle of method on the basis of which PK and PL had acted, and similarly proved to be beneficial.

    Ellis later had occasion to observe the way in which a knowing audience of film intelligensia put various elaborate constructions on the meaning of film, and his reaction was to conceive a major project: to confront just such an audience with a sense of the way in which a film can emerge out of the consciousness and actions of the film maker. The project, ostensibly about Ellis himself, would reflect his sense of a gulf existing between film theory and film-making practice. Elliss method was to examine

    P L A T E 4. Malcolm Ellis: still from OV colour, sound, 23 minutes. (This still is from the sequence shown in Figure 2; the genesis of the film is discussed in Case Study 2 )

    1981. Super 87


  • his concerns and ways of working by recording in sound and on film many hours of discussion with lecturers and fellow students. He declared that:

    . . . the initial idea is to examine myself, with the practical consideration that I want to distil from the conversations a useful series of verbal statements related to the process of making films and the process of constructing and structuring meaning.. . (Notes, November 1979)

    Despite the fact that Ellis and his associates travelled regularly to see and to discuss presentations of the work of film-makers, and despite the considerable amount of analytical discussion involved in Elliss work, his approach can properly be described as both existential and phenomenological, in the sense that the work emerged from and constantly directed attention back into the conditions in which the film maker and his audience engage in the construction of meaning. The technical and organisational complexity of his work ( v i z . Figure 2 ) was contradicted by his declared intention not to (inability to) plan or script his films. Elliss work is paradigmatic in that his highly idiosyncratic approach-using non-traditional media in an unorthodox way-nevertheless shows very clearly a determination to harness all of the elements of his work (visual effects, glimpses of meaning, film technique, the critical discussion of film) in the service of his own development as a student of fine art. In short, his determination to find a working process.

    Discussion What has been presented in this and the preliminary report (Cornock, 1983) is a qualitative description of aspects of a particular learning milieu. It has been suggested by Parlett and Dearden that, in attempting such a description:

    The effort, and the difficulty . . . is in trying to capture the immediacy and the vividness of the participants experiences, to do them justice, to summarise and select in a way that does not seriously degrade them. (1981, p. 145.)

    The resulting word picture may preserve enough of the original experience to make it recognisable not only to the participants, but to those engaged in similar situations as well. But, as Donald Schon has observed in another field of existential enquiry (1971) there is a limit to the effectiveness of any attempt to pass on in an impersonal written report the lessons of such experience. Schon implies that the attempt to apply that experience in succeeding cases must entail the presence of the learning agent so as to maintain continuity and to span the period between gaining experience of one problem situation and its application in a further instance. Even the learning agent . . .is always somewhat in the position of observing his own responses to situations in order to determine what his principles of action are. (Ibid).

    S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies

    in Fine Art


  • S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    In addition to the qualitative description we can abstract and present some of the conclusions which have been drawn from our study of this learning milieu.

    The tutorial We have distinguished two forms of tutorial guidance: 1 the traditional form of guidance (i.e. one mediated by the artefacts; based on critical evaluation; and rooted in values-an acknowledgement of the competing perspectives held by various individuals and groups on the nature of art); and 2 a form of tutorial which has been characterised here as methodological (i.e. one which is mediated by discussion of specific learning strategies and based on close observation of practice). These traditional and methodological approaches to guidance on personal development are complementary. Thus, in many cases there are periods during the personal development of a student during which a discussion of aesthetic and technical matters can obscure or even exacerbate difficulties. By the same token, good practice and personal development should not be treated as ends in themselves: a critical evaluation of the students artefacts will form a vital and, as the course proceeds, progressively more central topic of the tutorial dialogue. At root the two tutorial approaches differ in that one has evolved so as to reveal the differing Welstanschauungen of artists, lecturers and students, while the other is designed to enable a student temporarily to suspend consideration of the quality of what is being produced so as to concentrate his attention upon actions which will increase the likelihood that personal development will proceed.

    Words and pictures An important aim of methodology is to encourage learning strategies which will help the undergraduate student of fine art to avoid suffering what can be, in certain describable circum- stances, a destructive interaction between the tacit and verbal modes of thinking (i.e. modes of thinking associated with generative and with analytical and reflective activities). The importance of methodology in this connection stems from the fact that a destructive interaction between tacit and articulate modes of thinking tends to lead to a situation in which there is a withdrawal of traditional support. That is, to well-intentioned neglect precisely at that stage of personal development at which guidance is most needed. (Cf. Cornock, 1982; 1984.)

    Methodological guidance A model set of learning strategies has been described to which parties to methodological tutorial discussion might refer in inter- preting the activities of the student of fine art. It identifies the aim of an effective learning strategy in this field as being the development of an individual working process and proposes a


  • F I G U R E 2. Sound stage for a sequence in a film made by the student whose development is the subject of Case Study 2. (A still from this sequence is reproduced in Plate 4.)


  • S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies in Fine Art

    pattern of constituent activities which are necessary (though not perhaps sufficient) to it:

    the generation of forms and images; the selection of forms and images for synthesis into whole works; the articulation of an explicit sense of continuing concerns and practices; and the presentation of artefacts for critical debate in the context of relevant ideas.

    In extreme cases diagnostic discussion can usefully give way to prescriptive advice so as to propel the student out of a vicious cycle of unrewarding activities.

    Traditional (aesthetic) guidance and assessment There is a need to evaluate teaching practices for their effective- ness in encouraging the development of relevant activities in their appropriate sequence.

    It seems, for example, important to help the individual to gain an articulate grasp of his concerns and practices before helping to test the product of his efforts in the cut-and-thrust of critical debate. Again, the methodology draws attention to the likeli- hood that, to the undergraduate student of fine art, knowledge and theory will be neither interesting nor relevant until articula- tion has become established as a constituent part of his work (his working process).

    In addition it should be mentioned that regular deadlines for the formal presentation of work have been shown to provide a valuable mechanism for prompting students to press on with development prior to the emergence of any sense of meaning that the student feels able to defend. This is merely to confirm that what is observed in other fields of educational endeavour applies equally in this context (cf. Parlett and Dearden, 1981, p. 152).

    Finally, those engaged in the assessment of personal develop- ment in the study fine art face the need to acknowledge that kind of progress which is not directly reflected in the quality of artefacts produced by a student during a particular period. In tackling this and other problems illuminative evaluation offers an approach which facilitates sensitive and constructive attention to the particular nature of fine art studies in the H.E. sector. Specifically, it offers a means of bringing educational research to bear on the ways in which those concerned go about their work in this learning milieu.

    This article is based on a monograph Learning Strategies in the Study of Fine Art: Leicester Polytechnic, England, April 1982.

    The author is most grateful to the many student without whose participation the research could not have proceeded, and the assis- tance of Mr Malcolm Ellis, M r William Morton and M r Terry Phinn is particularly appreciated. Valuable comments were received from Dr Elizabeth Taylor of the Open University.


  • Notes and references In the United Kingdom degree-level art and design courses recruit mainly from one-year art and design Foundation Courses. The works by Morton illustrated in Plates 1, 2 and 3 have all been extensively modified since their first exhibition in June 1981. Entries are all quoted directly, with punctuation as found in the diaries. Exhibition of the works of the artist Robert Rauschenberg, Tate Gallery, London, 198 1 . American sculptor Carl Andre, who achieved notoriety in Britain following a controversy over the purchase by the Tate Gallery in 1976 of a part of a piece of work originally exhibited by Andre in New York in 1966 (comprising 960 bricks).

    BAUMANN, ZYGMUNT (1976) Towards a Critical Sociology: An Essay in Commonsense and Emancipation. London: Routledge Direct.

    BLUMER, HERBERT ( 1969) Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

    CORNOCK, STROUD (1980) The concept of system as a paradigm in the domain of the artist. Thesis, University of Lancaster.

    CORNOCK, STROUD (1982) Forms of Knowing in the Study of Fine Art. Leicester Polytechnic monograph.

    CORNOCK, STROUD (1983) Towards a Methodology for Students of Fine Art, Journal of Art and Design Education, 2, 1, pp. 81-99.

    CORNOCK, STROUD (1984) Implications of Lateralisation of Brain Function for Art Education: A Critical Review, Educational Psycho- logv, (in press).

    ELTON, L.R.B. & LAURILLARD, D.M. (March 1979) Trends in Research on Student Learning, Studies in Higher Education, 4, 1, pp. 87-102.

    FILSTEAD, WILLIAM J. (ed.) (1970) Qualitative Methodology: Firsthand Involvement with the Social World. Chicago: Markham.

    GIBBS, G., MORGAN, A. & TAYLOR, E. (1982) A Review of the Research of Ference Marton and the Goteborg Group: A Phenomenological Research Perspective on Learning, Higher Education, 11, pp. 123-145.

    MADGE, CHARLES, & WEINBERGER, BARBARA (1973) Art Students Ob- served. London: Faber and Faber.

    MARTON, FERENCE ( 198 1 ) Phenomenography: Describing Conceptions of the World Around Us, Instructional Science, 10, pp. 177-200.

    MARTON, FERENCE, & SVENSSON, LENART (1979) Conceptions of Re- search in Student Learning, Higher Education, 8, pp. 471-486.

    MORGAN, A., GIBBS, G. & TAYLOR, E. (1980) The Work of the Study Methods Group. Open University: Institute of Educational Techno- logy Monograph.

    PARLETT, MALCOLM, & DEARDEN, GARY (eds.) (1981) Introduction to Illuminative Evaluation: Studies in Higher Education. Guildford: Society for Research into Higher Education.

    PARLETT, M., & HAMILTON, D. (1976) Evaluation as Illumination. See Parlett and Dearden, op cit, pp. 9-29.

    SALJO, ROGER (1979) Learning About Learning, Higher Education, 8,

    SCHON, DONALD (1971) Beyond the Stable State. London: Temple pp. 443-451.


    S T R O U D C O R N O C K Learning Strategies

    in Fine Art