Alienation and educational inclusion : a mixed methods study of teaching and learning with contemporary art in the Level 1 university curriculum

Perryman, Leigh-Anne (2011). Alienation and educational inclusion : a mixed methods study of teaching and learning with contemporary art in the Level 1 university curriculum. PhD thesis The Open University.



UNESCO (2006b) proclaims that' Arts Education is a universal human right'. However, art educators have observed that Western visual arts education is still dominated by a culturally exclusive canon of artworks which some students find alienating and irrelevant. Calls to abandon the canon in the name of inclusion have been made by school arts educators and research in secondary schools has shown that including contemporary art in the curriculum can empower and engage learners. However, inclusive visual arts curriculum development in higher education is infrequently explored.

This thesis is intended to address such imbalance. It reports the findings of a mixed methods study exploring the impact of adults' affective and cognitive responses to art on their learning. A questionnaire and interviews were used to gather information about Open University undergraduates' responses to contemporary and non-contemporary artworks and their experiences of studying a visual arts module featuring meta-cognitive scaffolding and guided reflection. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data indicated that while the Western canon has the power to exclude, replacing canonical works with contemporary art is not a 'one size fits all' solution to achieving educational inclusion. Rather, it appears there is an age and experience-related divide in adults' affective and cognitive responses to art. Younger, and art-trained adults often relish studying provocative, emotionally potent and offensive contemporary artworks, especially works addressing topics they feel are personally relevant. In contrast, some older adults' cynical preconceptions about contemporary art's unworthiness for serious study, and preferences for visually pleasing, inoffensive artworks, can prevent productive engagement with contemporary art. However, the study findings suggest that meta-cognitive scaffolding can offer a structure within which students can reflect on and make sense of their responses to contemporary art, while also developing the skills to interpret works with unstable and controversial meanings.

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