Arts Learning – Synthesis of Readings, Week 6

Week 6 – Out of School Time

The readings this week have in common putting youth interests and abilities at the center of the arts learning experience. All three readings, say that the best programs are ones in which the adults are generally following the youth and creating effective structures for young people to work together around what they want to do. Brice-Heath and Roach in particular argue for the social and development gains that come with after-school arts programs, as opposed to service or sports programs. They see this in the type of language that students use in the process of organizing arts projects. The McLaughlin piece is about after-school youth programs generally and does not have to do specifically with the arts. The Jenkins and Bertozzi argue that rather than trying to get youth to consume pre-package high art, institutions should facilitate young people creating art through the new and diverse media channels that are now available.

Having worked in a number of out-of-school educational settings, I feel know this world fairly well. I think there is something to Brice-Heath and Roach’s assertion that arts-programs can spur higher order cognitive development. But many of their outcomes and language tags occur as students plan community service projects as well. If these projects are approach as creative projects, I think you would get many of the same outcomes. I found their comments on specific parts of the process, such as what presenting to an audience does for young people, are really interesting. I want a more in-depth look at what happens when planning an arts project as opposed to something else, and I want it controlled across leaders and programs. So much depends on the adult’s approach and talent for facilitation.

The best practices that McLaughlin cites are consistent with my experience, but since he doesn’t break out arts learning, it’s hard to know what this says about the arts learning sector. Perhaps the better question is looking at these practices and thinking about which qualities will come out naturally as part of an arts project and which will need more attention in the context of an arts approach. For example, providing feedback and encouraging self-reflection is an important practice that seems well-suited to an art experience. But the other best practices don’t really jump out and say “arts” and so thinking about how to organize an arts learning experience to align with these practices would be helpful. Perhaps this is what the rubric assignment will help us sort out.

The Jenkins and Bertozzi raise many questions for me. I want more of a deconstruction of the power relationships that exist in this participatory culture. I’m not convinced that young people’s creative experience isn’t being orchestrated by corporate media corporations. Yes, young people are being creative with the material. But to what degree? The material that is their reference point that is their jumping off point for all this creative activity is a commercial product. It isn’t their experience in their community or school or out in nature. The example of girl who created autobiographical comic books would be the exception. Are young people making up a game to play in the backyard or the backwoods more creative than young people re-mixing a video game platform? The video game can be shared across digital networks. But the kids in the backyard are starting from scratch in terms of invention.

I think the dichotomy that the authors pose in terms of out-of-touch art institutions is too extreme, and then at the end of the article, they advocate for museums to open their doors and be a place where young people can be creative offline. This undercuts the whole thrust of their chapter. Many, perhaps most, museums are already doing this.

Two more points deserve mentioning:

  • The Zacaras and Howell piece from week 2 argued for more exposure to art history in terms of arts learning, not less. Jenkins and Bertozzi seem to equate arts learning with creating art rather than the broader educational goal of “aesthetic experience.”
  • I need a more precise argument for why working with media in the examples given here qualifies as art. Their acceptance that something is art if it inspires, provokes thought, and has meaning is not convincing. They say media is integrating art into daily life so it doesn’t require a special event or sacred building. But making something “special” is arguably what art is all about (see What Art is For? By Ellen Dissanayake). I wish the authors addresses the intersection of media and the arts head on.


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