This book, like the rest of its author’s production, has been so welcomed by the Art Education community that translations in several languages are already in advanced stages of production.

It is my privilege to salute and recommend the genial work of Prof. Menachem Alexenberg.

Book review for Studies in Art Education

Educating Artists for the Future:

Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture.

Mel Alexenberg (Ed.). (2008). Bristol, UK: Intellect Books / Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 344 pages. ISBN 978-1-84150-191-8 (hard cover)

Reviewed by Dr. Rita L. Irwin

Professor of Art Education and Curriculum Studies and Associate Dean of Teacher Education, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture is a rare find. Editor Mel Alexenberg has done a remarkable job of bringing together outstanding artist/educators who are grappling with issues related to technology, ecology, creativity, agency, identity and community. Each individual author provides rich written descriptions of projects they have undertaken, the conceptual underpinnings that frame their work, and the implications of their practices for art education in informal and formal learning contexts. I am certain that readers reviewing this book will feel a profound sense of collectivity knowing we are at the edge of transforming the world in which we live.

The volume is divided into the following five sections book-ended with an introduction and epilogue by the editor: Beyond the Digital, Networked Times, Polycultural Perspectives, Reflective Inquiry, and Emergent Praxis. Each section has four chapters making this 22 chapter book an extensive array of ideas from authors representing Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, UK and USA. It’s international character alone makes this book a must read for educators wanting to understand the arts and education at a global level.

One of the most prominent threads running throughout the book (for me) is its’ references to complexity theory. A number of authors refer to complexity theory being an influential theory coming from the mathematical sciences while other authors may not refer to complexity theory, but the language of the chapter reiterates the characteristics of the theory. One of my colleagues, who coincidentally is a mathematics educator, has joined forces with two curriculum scholars to write several books on complexity theory in education (e.g., Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2007). I was delighted to see how artists, scientists, and educators have taken up this theory in such strong yet innovative ways and can hardly wait to introduce this book to the many complexity theorists I know working in education, and particularly art education. It is on this basis that I would highly recommend the book to undergraduate and graduate students, and instructors who want to re-imagine how we perceive and understand education, art, science, technology and culture now and in the future.

Why complexity theory? Everywhere we look today, we are networked in decentralized (and centralized) structures and through a variety of interactions (with lots of feedback loops) taking place within these structures, create self-organizing communities or projects. Complexity theory, as developed by several authors in this book, discusses four characteristics of complex systems: differentiation, interaction, self-organization and emergent behaviour. For artists and art educators, differentiation is about how we use materials in a variety of ways and how our connections with people can be accessed differently from what may have been expected. Interaction refers to the direct relationships viewers and audiences have with people and processes that in turn provide opportunities for participants to alter the artworks or what is learned. Self-organization applied to the arts would suggest that while artists may start an artistic project others would also participate in the development of the process and/or product and as such, the project would be attributed to all of the creators. Emergent behaviour is very exciting for artists and educators. Here is where a complex system naturally evolves and adapts into a number of possible structures, perhaps even simultaneously, knowing that the end product may look incredibly different from the original proposition. Using these characteristics, many authors described networked projects that can be understood using complexity theory. In some instances, the collectivity that was described had a profound impact on local communities. At other times, the collectivity went far beyond the local to have an impact globally. I mentioned the work of Davis, Sumara and Luce-Kapler earlier quite purposefully. These educational theorists detail other ways of understanding complexity theory that extend or revise the four characteristics described in this book. For instance, ‘enabling constraints’ (e.g., opening possibilities within select choices), and ‘redundancy and diversity within specialization’ (e.g. the need for disciplinary knowledge while setting the conditions for an expression of diverse interests and abilities), are two such characteristics that may help educators (and artists) understand how to set the conditions for learning in formal and informal learning contexts.

Understanding the intersections between art, science, technology and culture can certainly be understood through complexity theory but what is so compelling about this book is that the authors’ focus on narrating their networked practices first and analyzing theoretical underpinnings second. This means that the art projects stand out. This also means that readers wishing to be inspired will be able to take away clear understandings of how education is shifting from an information-age to a conceptual age, how creativity (as we have known it) is shifting from a focus on the individual to a focus on networks, and how intersections between and among art, science, technology and culture are richly laden with social, biological, spiritual, political, and aesthetic aspects that portray the in-between generative spaces for enhanced possibilities. Although Alexenberg describes his own journey in learning according to several themes, his ability to integrate high-concept (creating art that recognizes opportunities, narratives, and unrelated ideas into an original design) and high-touch abilities (using one’s abilities to understand the human condition while stretching one’s ability in the pursuit of meaning) in his own work, and throughout the entire book, brings his themes to the forefront. For instance, learning through awesome immersion, learning through interdisciplinary imagination, learning through cybersomatic interactivity, learning through polycultural collaboration, learning through ecological perspectives, learning through responsive compassion, and learning through holistic integration, to name a few, draw out his ability to inspire excitement for embracing our changing worlds. These themes are not limited to his experiences. Instead, they reflect the range of learning experiences portrayed by all of the authors.

I recently had the opportunity to review another book soon to be marketed internationally. Art, Community and Environment: Educational Perspectives edited by Glen Coutts and Timo Jokela (2008) would be an excellent companion volume to Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology and Culture. I mention this because while there are different foci between the books, there is a surprising amount of conceptual overlapping. Both books portray artists and educators who are grappling with ethical yet creative projects that are transforming cultures, locally and globally. There is something deeply enlightening about reading new books in our field that illustrate truly international responses to changes in contemporary art, educational practices, and indeed, research across the arts and education. I highly recommend both for teacher education and fine arts education classes in higher education.

References

Coutts, Glen & Jokela, Timo. (Eds.) (2008). Art, community and environment: Educational perspectives. Bristol, UK: Intellect.

Davis, Brent, Sumara, Dennis, & Luce-Kapler, Rebecca. (2007). Engaging Minds: Changing teaching in complex times (second edition). New York: Routledge.

Professor Mel Alexenberg
Author of The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press) and
Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass) in Hebrew
Editor of Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press)

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