Lighting fires on the beach : learning in art galleries in New Zealand.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This national study examined New Zealand art gallery educators’ views on how they facilitate children’s thinking through interaction with visual arts during school trips. It was comprised of a comprehensive overview by survey and six practitioner case studies providing in-depth understandings. These were followed by two focus groups which helped to make sense of the findings. The purpose of the study was to demonstrate the special character of the field. As insider research, the researcher was also a gallery educator, and this reinforced her connection with the participants. Through this collaborative approach New Zealand art gallery educators were able to ask themselves what the important things are that they add to student learning.
The main purpose of the research design was as a tool to enable this investigation, however a secondary consideration in its development was the enhancement of bonds within the research population. Its socio-constructivist approach enabled knowledge development within this community of practice, counteracting cited isolation and lack of professional development. The research was intended to indicate possible future directions for the group.
Four main influences were seen to give art gallery education in New Zealand a distinct flavour: firstly, Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) governmental funding, with its particular performance criteria; secondly, the fact that New Zealand art galleries are cultural institutions which operate within a constitutionally bi-cultural nation; thirdly, New Zealand art galleries are often situated in small, regional cities, and fourthly, that students are generally taught by professional educators rather than docents.
Despite many participants citing isolation, a coherent praxis was demonstrated across New Zealand. This occurred within public art galleries, which are cultural institutions of local communities. These often memorable settings themselves were seen to activate students’ learning. The results demonstrate a specific national pedagogy, where student-centred learning using authentic artworks in the gallery context inspires thinking and creating, particularly around cultural identity and other significant themes. In particular nine recurring themes of art gallery education in New Zealand emerged which flowed throughout the study: Developing Ideas in Art; Engagement: The Senses, Motivation, Emotions and Prior Experience; Artmaking; Flexibility; Collaboration; Communication; Mediation; Belonging, Ownership and Community; and Professionalism.
Compared to in-school education, gallery educators believed they were freer to use flexible approaches, and to cover significant subject matter relating to society, communities and the individual students themselves. In particular they stressed democratic learning and believed empowerment to be beneficial for their students, essentially creating engaged citizens able to actively express themselves. This research shows how art education can have a role in developing collective understandings which are of ultimate benefit to society.