The Art of Teaching and Learning. A School for Creators.
Many artists, be they former art students or autodidacts, teachers or art school workshop leaders, have pondered the issue of artistic training. They have often questioned the role of art schools and have devised alternative forms of education with the broader aim of rethinking learning in general.
Artistic training has thus become a utopian search for an art of education, inspired by great educators like Maria Montessori, C lestin Freinet and Paulo Freire. The anti-academic, libertarian and radical visions put forward by artists are above all nonconformist. They help us in our quest for transformation and emancipation by proposing new artistic forms, which are also new educational and social forms: participatory, cooperative, critical, considerate and inclusive.
‘The Art of Learning’ explores the non-schools, anti-universities, talking circles, educational walks and video universities that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when performance became a model for learning, new technology promised global networks, feminist demands proliferated and environmental battles began to take shape. These ventures are highly relevant today and demand re-examination.
The French word for training, formation, is derived from forma, which means ‘mould’ or ‘moulded object’ in Latin. Linked to the casting process, this connotation colours the word with a sculptural dimension. The term also describes a reciprocal action: that of forming and being formed. More commonly, ‘formation’ refers to the education of people, which is also imbued with this dual movement: that of both transmitting and acquiring knowledge or skills.
In his collaborative book Enseigner et apprendre. Arts vivants (1967–1970), Robert Filliou asserted that teaching and learning are forms of art in themselves, the practice of which is performative. ‘Happenings, events, action poetry, visual poetry, films, street performances, non-instrumental music, games, correspondence’ lead viewers to become aware, participate and create. The artist advocated a profoundly non-conformist pedagogy, in which indiscipline, ‘laziness’, spontaneity, improvisation and the creative use of leisure activities were central. The brilliant promoter of ‘permanent creation’, he advocated a kind of creativity that was not only recreational but which could also be a veritable art of living: ‘the significance of life to man,’ he said, ‘is the opportunity (and obligation) to create oneself.’
Numerous artists (John Cage, Allan Kaprow and Joseph Beuys) gravitated towards Filliou. Through their teaching, they questioned what the art of education could be in the broadest sense. This issue was part of a desire to transform society, leavened with elements inherited from Marxism and anarchism. They dreamt of the birth of a new humanity that would triumph over the society of consumerism and spectacle. These artists rejected the commercialisation of art and knowledge and countered the requirement to specialise with an inter-disciplinary approach and a complete education. Inspired by the writings of Alexander Sutherland Neill (A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, 1960), Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society, 1970) and Paulo Freire (Pedagogia do Oprimido, 1969), this generation, contemporary with May' 68, saw education first and foremost in terms of liberation and deconditioning: ‘deculturation’ for Jean Dubuffet, ‘non-teaching’ for John Cage.
The rich years of the 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of issues that have only intensified during our current period of urgent transitions, issues that are explored in The Art of Teaching and Learning. A School for Creators. These major cognitive, linguistic, media, epistemological and environmental changes feed into the exhibition’s different thematic branches.
In France, the focus on nature, inherited from Rousseau and the Romantics, was revived at the beginning of the 20th century with the ‘New Education’ and its desire for the outdoors, and again in the 1970s with the rise of environmentalism. The issue of the environment emerged at a time when two relationships to natural resources were pitted against each other: one calculating, the other empathetic. The current proliferation of third places and zones requiring protection is bound up with the history of alternative communities, whose projects based on autonomy (self-governing, selfbuild, alternative schools, etc.) have fascinated artists.
The question of the use of ‘resources’ – be it raw materials or human resources – is bound up with the geopolitical history of extraction and exploitation. Numerous artists whose work combines archaeology, anthropology, natural sciences, history and geography have also embarked on a critical study of colonial history, revealing the omissions and distortions that have marred certain accounts. Their works have helped make it possible to unlearn obsolete forms of knowledge, to unblock paralysed imaginations and redistribute capacities to act.
For Nam June Paik, video paved the way for the creation in 1970 of the ‘global instant university’, ‘making it possible to teach individual lessons on numerous subjects from anywhere to anywhere’, creating the prospect of a marvellous utopia of popular education. Today, online courses have become commonplace, with the interface of the screen increasingly replacing physical presence. And now that the internet is awash with content of varying degrees of accuracy and with ‘poor’ images, which deteriorate as they circulate, we are experiencing a form of overload. Film’s historic contribution to education through images – from cinema to slides and from television to video – has been boosted by the digital revolution, which has reprogrammed every form of writing. In this chaos channelling new regimes of concentration, the thinker Yves Citton recommends the creation of an ‘ecology of attention’, capable of freeing our minds from media hypnosis.
Since the implementation, in the early 2000s, of the Bologna accords, aimed in the view of some, at making ‘Europe the world’s most competitive knowledge economy’, there has been a proliferation of exhibitions, study days and publications exploring the convergence of art and teaching. In 2010, the controversial notion of an ‘educational turn’ in art appeared, with an increase both in works dealing with pedagogical issues and museum programmes incorporating educational resources into their approach. The Art of Teaching and Learning. A School for Creators builds on these reflections to address the issue: alternative, libertarian, radical and critical forms of teaching have focused on how to educate citizens in the wake of the collapse of ideologies; today, how can we thwart industrial and capitalist deregulation through the exercise of autonomy and the practice of the common, in the sense of both the community and daily life?
Finally, a dedicated space covering 120 square metres will house an experimental classroom, created in the middle of the exhibition by the smarin design studio (St phanie Marin) for the benefit of various resident classes and educational programmes.