Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture

Editor(s) Mel Alexenberg
Publisher Intellect Books
Published 2008
Pages 344
Price £29.95
ISBN 9781841501918
Reviewed by Ms Olivia Sagan
University of the Arts, London
Review published 12 December 2008

On first opening this book one is hit by a torrent of words. Not just words but terms, titles, subtitles and phrases which made this reader, not usually one to shrink from the weight of words or words of weight, think: ‘Whoah...slow down there...let’s establish what we mean by ‘X’ before we juxtapose it immediately with ‘Y’ and ‘Z’. Maybe I’m being pedantic here, but particularly when one is running loose and wild with terms which are in some cases fraught (syncretism) and/or politically contested (globalization) both clarification and ideological positioning are important at the outset. I had the disempowering sense, at first, that the book is aimed at cognoscenti which are having a party that I am crashing.

That said, some parties you crash can end up being unexpectedly good, and inspire you to get to know a different group of people. The sheer scale of this international undertaking, for example, with contributions from Brazil, India, South Korea and Israel amongst others, added to the complexity of what they are attempting to map, suggest some extra tolerance and acquaintance time on the part of the reader is due. As I have told my students many a time when they complain about not knowing about certain things they are introduced to, that’s exactly when you need to meet them. I also tell them, when they feel ‘word-weary’ that there is a difference between jargon and complex terminology to explain complex ideas. And this book is struggling with nothing if not a number of super complex ideas, sometimes involving difficult terminology, both of which are being introduced often for the first time.

So what is Educating Artists for the Future about? Because it is about a lot of things (my main criticism being it is about too many things) the book is thankfully divided into sections, six in all, plus the introduction, which certainly could have done a better job of whetting the appetite for the main meal. The sections have titles such as: ‘beyond the digital’ and ‘networked times’, which give a cyber-flavour - but we also have ‘polycultural perspectives’ and ‘reflective inquiry’ which allude to a more socio-cultural interest. Within, there are essays which deal with a wide range of concerns in the field of art practice and education. Some of these essays are cutting-edge and will clearly be of interest to curriculum designers and practitioners working across the creative arts, who have a view on the future which is knocking persistently at the doors of our sometimes rather archaic institutions. A resounding theme is that interdisciplinarity is a hallmark of our networked, cyber times, with information, knowledge and practice leaking sometimes uncontrollably across boundaries, sometimes wonderfully and creatively: ‘It is apparent that new ways for educating artists for the future will be found in a global fabric woven with colourful threads from all fields of human endeavour’ (p12). Important words for those concerned that our Higher Arts Education institutions may sometimes reflect preciousness about disciplines and their boundaries, not to mention an ethnocentricity regarding creative endeavour.

A further, urgent viewpoint expressed by Giglotti, and one which can too easily be overlooked and marginalised, is that of sustaining a social and environmental conscience in our creative work, and the sheer shock of learning about global impacts of our use and abuse of resources. Giglotti cautions us on ‘the suppression and destruction of non-human creativity – organic, ecological and biological – and the corrosive effects of that destruction on sustained human activity.’ (p 63). Once more, intense questions and complex reasoning, which, once the reader is into the sometimes less than smooth flow of the book, begin to feel mind-broadening and powerful.

This is a creative book for creative thinkers – particularly those with a passion for technological advances: ‘What should education in a networked age look like?’ (p95) – including their use, non-use or abuse in the field of creative arts. But it is also a book which rather elegantly, at times, attempts to show how creative endeavour can, could, and should, wise up to the beauty, creativity and shared impulses of, for example, maths and physics. As Sonvilla-Weiss asks: Can both art and science learn from each other, and, if so, at what and for what?’ (p104).

This book embodies a perhaps very human urge to learn across disciplines, and explore the border conflicts of their interface. Inevitably, this is difficult. Inevitably, the language reflects this. But persevere, because like all learning of value, it’s worth the occasional or even regular discomfort… in the end.