An open access e-book of selected articles from ‘BIBAC2016’ International Conference‘
“This e-book, written by international scholars and arts practitioners, is an engaging volume comprising twenty-six views on topics ranging across three fields: intercultural arts theories, research approaches and innovative practices. The diversity of topics should provide a chapter of interest for everyone involved in arts education. The book may be accessed via the link at the end of this review.”
The publisher, BIBACC (Building Interdisciplinary Bridges Across Cultures & Creativities), describes itself as an interdisciplinary network that draws on diverse disciplines and fields of inquiry melding scientific, scholarly and artistic experience. Emanating from the University of Cambridge, BIBACC supports researchers and practitioners who aim to break new ground in areas of creative research and inquiry on issues that have been largely unexplored. It also supports programs that aim to develop innovative practices that can contribute to education and industry research more generally.
The foreword, written by Pamela Burnard and Valerie Ross, contains an overview of the separate sections of theory, research and practice. This is useful for those wishing to ‘dip into’ this comprehensive volume for sheer interest as well as those seeking an introduction into the enormous field of arts practice to be found world-wide. Further, the variety of arts-based research projects shows the breadth that this discipline has attained in the first decades of the 21st century.
With over 230 pages, this review cannot possibly do justice to the many interesting topics discussed in the twenty four chapters (plus a foreword and postlude). With such a variety of topics and approaches, the choice of which to feature, therefore, became a matter of personal interest.
Section 1 – Theory. In their overview of this section, Burnard and Ross state that the area questions and challenges the meaning of ‘‘interdisciplinarity’ and ‘interculturality’ through exploring a range of theoretical frameworks. This is immediately tackled in the opening chapter, titled ‘Visions for Intercultural Teacher Identity in C21st Super Diverse Societies’, by the Finnish academic, Heidi Westerlund, who argues that education as a profession needs to reflect how current changes in society challenge our understanding of diversity. The profession of education has overemphasised knowledge of the past, she claims, and has failed to acknowledge how education can “create shared futures” in societies that are becoming increasingly diverse.
Using music teacher education to argue her points, Westerlund describes the multicultural music teacher as one who is aware of a variety of musical practices and is keen to develop skills that lead toward diversity. That teacher can play a variety of instruments and teach many musical genres “in a culturally responsive way at a hands-on level”.
A chapter, titled ‘Reading Migrant Women: Combining Story-telling and Story-making in an Intercultural ‘Narrative of Practice’’, connects two projects based on the experiences of
Australian migrant women from India and Iran. The authors, Rashida Murphy and Kylie Stevenson, identify themselves as the Insider (Murphy) and the Outsider (Stevenson) based on an interconnection through their initially separate PhD investigations. As an immigrant woman from India, who has lived in Australia for 30 years, Murphy was interested in both migrant women’s personal stories as well as fictional texts they might read that aimed to represent “our bicultural belongings”. The result was both her exegesis, titled ‘Monsters and Memory’, and a novel titled ‘The Historian’s Daughter’.
Kylie Stevenson, the Outsider, used her PhD to develop a project with a group of artist-researchers enrolled in a higher education degree at Edith Cowan University, WA, that included Murphy, then a PhD candidate in creative writing. The project titled ‘The Creative River Journey’ used the participants’ reflections to document critical moments in the production of their own creative practice. The result showed how reflective practice can serve as a new way of modelling knowledge in practice-led research.
Other chapters in the Theory section include a discussion of public policy in Ecuador and one on intercultural learning in Balinese Hindu culture, using the theories of Jacques Lacan.
Section 2, Research, contains nine chapters, again on a vast range of subjects, including ‘Photoyarn: Developing a New Arts-Based Method’. Written by Jessa Rogers, an Australian Aboriginal arts educator, she describes a project where three groups of Indigenous students attending boarding schools use a combination of yarning and photography to relate their experiences away from home. Yarning is an important conversational process in Aboriginal culture involving the telling and sharing of stories and information. It is used in this study to allow the voices of the students to be heard in discussing their experiences of boarding through both their own photographic images and informal conversation.
Through yarning, the students discussed a variety of topics that gave them an understanding of, in the author’s words, “the painful history of Australia’s indigenous peoples that in some ways was being experienced in the present”. Through Photoyarn, the project allowed students from all backgrounds and education levels to talk to those who hold power, including teachers, principals and parents.
My choice of another Research chapter for discussion was the result of reading the first line of an article by Spanish academics Carlos Lage Gómez and Roberto Cremades Andreu. “We hate theory-based learning, it’s boring”, declares a 15 year-old student, a statement that regrettably might be heard in many Australian schools today. (Why is it that, despite the availability of stimulating texts and the provision of workshops that promote creativity as central to arts-based learning, are so many students subjected to boring theory lessons?)
Titled ‘The Creation of Music inspired by Visual Aids: A Collaborative Action Research Study of Student Motivation in Music Lessons’, the chapter describes a project conducted at three secondary schools in the Madrid region of Spain. Some 267 students aged 14-15 took part in a study in their schools’ music departments with collaboration of artists including a professional painter and a composer. A series of projects were designed where the students were asked to use film posters, paintings or short films to compose music using free improvisation or in collaborative groups.
A major aspect of the study was to analyse the students’ motivation in order to gain a better understanding of creative processes and what this knowledge implies for teaching creative music at the secondary level. It is hardly surprising, therefore, to read that the students enjoyed the process immensely, some of their comments reflecting the value of an arts activity where they were central, rather than being recipients of information of which they had little interest. Comments included “I didn’t know I had that much imagination”, “Now when I see a painting, I hear music” and “it was something new, it drew our attention”.
Motivation to learn was expressed as “What we liked best was to be part of a group”, “I liked many things, but…the collective activities were the best”. These comments as well as “it was an unforgettable experience” should surely convince the most didactic of teachers to allow students to have a ‘voice’ in their own learning.
Video clips of some of the activities can be viewed: a group of students displaying the ‘wrestling’ typical of young composers working on a segment of a composition is available at https://vimeo.com/198475862
Another chapter describes the development of a model for higher education students in Kenya that aims to foster meaningful music learning through digital technologies. Written by Apudo-Achola Malachi, the model emphasizes the importance of using students’ own ideas for knowledge sharing as well as accreditation. It should be clear from this review, thus far, that there is an emphasis in the book on students having input into their own learning, a most welcome sign in today’s society where learners are too often bombarded with information that has little relation to them.
Confirming this emphasis is a chapter from a Belgian piano teacher, Johanna Maria Roels. Titled ‘Children on Wings and ‘Visual Composing’: Dimensions of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Learning’, Roel discusses a method she developed to assist her students to compose music based on their own drawings. Not unexpectedly, the author discovered that, through their composing, her students were able to express an intrinsic physical, intellectual and emotional involvement far removed from that which could be gained from reproducing the music of others.
Practice (Section 3) continues to offer engaging reading with eight chapters that address issues including artistic works and practices, performance theory and artistic conventions. Even without reading the content, many of the titles suggest intriguing content such as ”Beyond Limits’: Using Participatory Arts Practices to Explore the World of Astronomy at Armagh Observatory’. This chapter was written by Sally Walmsley, a writer and composer who was the Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence at Armagh Observatory, Northern Ireland, 2015-2016. Working with astronomers and musicians engaged with research on asteroids and comets at the Observatory, clips of her work can be heard at https://soundcloud.com/sally-walmsley
Another chapter, titled ‘Creating Maths Picture books and Animated Films as Interdisciplinary Practice’, describes a Croatian project that combines maths, literacy and art in an educational context. Pre-primary and primary student teachers produced material for young children to facilitate their learning of basic maths concepts as well as enhancing their literary skills, both visual and media literacy. Written by Antonija Balić Šimrak, Smiljana Narančić Kovač, Kristina Horvat Blažinović and Dubravka Glasnović Gracin, the chapter illustrates how widespread throughout the world are studies of practice and research into the arts.
A particularly interesting chapter is that of a project by Turkish academic, Ayse Güler, titled ‘Exploring A/r/tography in an Interdisciplinary Way: Touching Music in Visual Art Practices’. A/r/tography, as a research method, has become more common since the beginning of the 21st century and is inherently about the self as artist/researcher/teacher. Inquiry occurs through the processes of art making in any form with writing that interconnects the different artforms to create additional and/or enhanced meanings.
As described by Güler, her research aimed to “see the effect of knowledge on one’s capacity of intuitional hearing”. To undertake this, she used George Gershwin’s ‘Cuban Overture’ to produce two paintings, the first without any knowledge of the composer or his works and the second after comprehensive research into Gershwin’s life.
The chapter contains reproductions of the abstract works Güler painted in response to the music. In the first phase (without knowledge of Gershwin), she produced two paintings in different sizes in order to investigate new concepts in the dimensions of a painting “in expressing a piece of music on canvas”. By listening to the Cuban Overture hundreds of times, she began to understand the language of the music, noting that “it takes time for one person not to hear with her ear but with her soul”. However, she also noted that hearing the music without any understanding of the composer meant that ‘it was “not possible to find answers…because all I had was his music”.
After investigating Gershwin’s life, including his travels to Cuba, Güler produced the painting of the second phase of her research. When she compared her work of the two different phases, she was surprised at the significant differences in the colour, style and composition. The colours of the first painting were pale, “as if they were dead”, whereas in the second painting they “came to life”. The forms of the first phase paintings “gathered in the centre” whereas in the second, she used the ABA form of the Overture to divide the canvas vertically into three sections. This resulted in a painting she described as having greater clarity than the first.
Güler’s artistic endeavours showed her how important historical context is in appreciating artworks. She also found that the study had changed both her life and paintings, finding that there are many ways of “knowing” oneself and that the a/r/tographic experience had enhanced her own teaching and learning.
This e-book makes a profound contribution to arts theory, research and practice and I recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone interested in any of these subjects.