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Research in Art & Design Education

Date posted: 13/02/2009

Aidan Rowe, Assistant Professor in Visual Communication / Interactive New Media at the University of Alberta, Canada, reviews:

Book: Research in Art & Design Education: Issues and Exemplars

Editor: Richard Hickman

Publisher: Intellect

Publication Date: 2008

ISBN: 9781841501994

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Research in Art & Design Education

Richard Hickman sets out to do two specific things in Research in Art & Design Education: Issues and Exemplars; first, to identify and compose a list of issues unique to research in art and design; and secondly to collect a range of examples and models of art and design research. This book is aimed at students, educators and researchers (and combinations of all three) in the art and design fields, and by bringing together an anthology of samples he attempts to map out the state of current research in the field. 

The book is broken into 15 chapters and these contributions cover a wide range of practices, subjects, locations and education levels. We are introduced to ethnographic studies that document the use of visual methods and how they relate to young people; a study that focuses upon and documents the teaching practices of an art educator mentor; a survey of English drawing manuals spanning the 19th century. The book ends with a handy glossary of key terms that relate to research in art and design.

The majority of contributions in the book originally come from the International Journal of Art & Design Education (iJADE), and these contributions are supplemented by commissioned pieces that help to bring specific focus to needed areas.

The anthology begins with Hickman’s contribution, where he attempts to set out the current state of affairs in relation to art and design research. He begins by considering the approaches developed by art and design educators and researchers, defining terms related to the field and highlighting key examples. He then makes an “argument for the use of arts-based methodology within educational research, underpinned by the notion that the arts can provide a particular way of understanding the world.” (Hickman, p.15) This chapter is useful for both the scope of territory covered and for promoting the recognition of the unique nature of art and design research methods, and importantly making the case for these methods to be of use to fields outside of art and design.

The book collects and presents a variety of intriguing and interesting writings on art and design research. In ‘When is Yesterday Coming Again?’ The Impact of Arts-rich Partnerships in Early Years’ Education, Anne Bamford chronicles the first part of a large study entitled Creativity Matters that looks at integrating artists, children, parents and the community to foster and establish richer and more creative learning experiences. The study is a fascinating account of how to approach the role of arts within the community from a holistic point of view with the end goal of “promoting children’s cultural citizenship.” (Bamford, p.68) For John Hockey’s contribution, Practice-based Research Degree Students in Art and Design: Identity and Adaption, he interviewed 50 art and design research students from 25 UK Higher Education Institutions. From these interviews he categorizes three types of student and tracks their progression through their degrees. He finds reoccurring themes related to how the students define their academic practice, specifically in how research either facilitates or limits their creative practice. Another key finding is the “level of shock” most students feel in relation to having to write up their research – the shock comes from both the act of writing (which many art and design students had little experience of) and from the reflective cycle where the creative (i.e. art or design work) process is stopped in order to write. (Hockey, pp.109-119) In A Dual Inheritance: The Politics of Educational Reform and PhDs in Art and Design, Fiona Candlin documents the history of practice-based PhDs in art and design in the UK, beginning with the Coldstream report in the 1960s up to the changes in the 1990s that created a political and financial environment that fostered the growth and possibility of practice-based PhDs. (Candlin, p.99) This chapter serves as a useful primer helping both students and supervisors better understand the nature, history and politics of these degrees.

This book is relevant for anyone interested in research methods specific to art and design, from students considering a research degree, to those in the process of one, to supervisors, and ultimately, to those conducting research in art and design. Additionally the variety of topics and views ensure that, at a minimum, individual chapters will be useful to almost anyone exploring the subject area of art and design research. Specific chapters are valuable as overviews addressing unique issues related to research in art and design and the collection of research projects is inspiring in both scope and methods. As an anthology of essays it is useful and valuable, but I also found myself noting specific contributions to recommend to students and colleagues. 

In conclusion, Research in Art & Design Education: Issues and Exemplars succeeds by identifying many of the key issues at play in art and design research and by providing a range of examples and exemplars to articulate individual activities. It is useful as a snapshot of where we are today but also in helping to add to a general body of knowledge allowing us to build upon.