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Altermodern Art Education

Talita Groenendijk, Marike Hoekstra / 2014

“The Altermodern”, the 2009 exhibition in the Tate Gallery in London, showed the significance of globalisation for contemporary art. Artists, who are no longer limited by origin or culture, are investigating cultural landscapes like artistic migrants. The characteristics of our time, like migration and cultural hybridity are being expressed in subject and form of the works on display. Altermodern art no longer depends on the cultural origin of its maker but is inspired by a global intercultural context.
Altermodern art education starts from the idea that art education should relate to global developments, to contemporary art and to the lives of the young people. To meet these requirements art education has to be intercultural, student-based and process-oriented. That requires a change in the role of the art teacher. In this article it is explained what could be the possibilities of altermodern art education.1

Altermodern art
The French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud introduced the Altermodern in his essay “The Radicant”2. To illustrate the difference between modernism, postmodernism and the altermodern, Bourriaud elaborated on the root-comparison made by Gilles Deleuze. When a radical plant, like a tree, symbolises modernism, with its universalist ideals and western hegemony, and postmodernism is best symbolised by a rhizome, like root-grass, with its multiplicity and relativism, the altermodern must be compared with a radicant, like ivy or strawberry-plants. The radicant is multiple and constantly moving, rooted in different origins and forming new roots as it moves. Radicant art is intercultural and hybrid. Unlike postmodernism it is constructive and despite the lack of formal universal criteria, quality can be assessed by translating contexts.
In short: Bourriaud proclaims altermodern art to be art in the age of globalisation. It has a dynamic understanding of culture and it is the journey that matters, not the origin or the destination. Actual themes such as exiles, travel, borders, energy, archives, heterochronia and viatorisation frame the questions altermodern art relates to.3

From Altermodern art to altermodern art -education
Dutch art educators were inspired by Bourriaud to formulate ideas on altermodern or intercultural art education as his ideas on art were recognised as relevant for development in art education. According to Robert Klatser, art education is in need of change because of three mayor problems.4 The first problem is that art education in Holland does not correlate sufficiently with developments in contemporary art. The second problem is that art education today does not include actual themes like globalisation, migration, and hybrid culture and hybrid construction of identity. And finally art education has too little relation to the lives of the young people it involves.
Central concepts of altermodern art were translated to principles for art education. That implies that new ideas on culture ask for art education that is intercultural. Secondly Bourriaud’s focus on the journey can be understood as a need for process-oriented art education. And finally, the focus on multiplicity must be translated in student-based learning in art education.
There are several consequences the content of art education. Art history cannot be offered chronologically but is rather to be offered thematically and art is not to be introduced by a western canon, but preferably by including contemporary art. Students working in an altermodern classroom must be allowed and stimulated to express the world they live in and to experience processes without predetermined products in mind.
The central idea on didactics is that learning must be initiated by the student and must give room for the student to decide on subject, form, material and creative process. Teaching takes place through dialogue between student, teacher and work in progress and students are stimulated to collaborate and follow their own creative processes.
In altermodern art education the creative process can be unpredictable. A product cannot be prescribed and there must be room for experiment, investigation and coincidence. Techniques can be learnt “en passant” when the student or the work in progress requires this but the use of non-conventional and digital media and techniques can be stimulated.

Research project
The central question for the inquiry was: What will Altermodern Art Education, as art education for the 21st century, look like? Bourriaud’s ideas on contemporary art provided the three design principles: intercultural, process-oriented and student based.
These design principles were used as guidelines for the projects investigated in the empirical studies. The aim of the research was to find out how the design principles would be implemented in real life classroom situations so the possibilities of altermodern art education could be further developed. Teachers were sought to -develop their own projects based on the design principles described. Due to the freedom the teachers had in designing and conducting their own projects, a variety of possibilities for altermodern art education were described.
One of the teachers involved in the research project, designed an intervention where dialogue and reflection were placed at the heart of the learning process. In the project “What’s Next?”, she asked her students to respond to a given visual reference, by relating their own images of choice to the reference source. In the weeks that followed, the students created a database of associative, visual sources, which were all, in different ways, related to each other.
From the inspiration of this growing database, the students worked together in small groups to make short stop-motion films. The initial reference source was a series of photographs with miniature figures. This inspired a group of boys. “We’re going to work with the miniatures. Levy (one of the students) suggests that we use those little military figures and have them start a fight.” They developed backgrounds for the -soldiers, like little buildings, and, from another visual source (a picture of bottle on a beach), they developed the story of the lone soldier. For the final product, drawn characters replaced the miniature figures and the story was presented as a dreamt reality. Col-laboration and negotiation, which were central skills in this specific project, underline the importance of shared experience, which is essential for intercul-turality.
Another project involved a school with a majority of children from an immigrant background. Art lessons in this school usually follow a more or less traditional curriculum and are mainly teacher based. The teacher involved wanted to participate in the project because of the difficulties he experienced in motivating his students. He expected the students to be more involved when they were allowed more initiative. Cultural background had never before been explicit content, but the teacher saw a lot of possibilities because of the personal backgrounds of most of his students.
The project was called “Travel”. A product was not prescribed and all the students were given a personal sketchbook.
It was not easy for the students to begin with no clear criteria, no subject given and no materials prescribed. Uncertainty made the students awkward and it took some lessons before they were used to the increased responsibility. They explored several aspects of the central theme that they were familiar with, like holidays, the countries their parents come from (Morocco and Turkey) and the travels they dream of making when they are adults. They referred both to TV shows were models travel around the world and to traditional cultural values. They used images from popular media like manga and anime and popular photography websites. Some individual students took the theme to a more abstract level by analysing what travel means (“It could be anything”).
Halfway during the project the teacher took his class to visit two artists working in studios close to the school. The artists told about their motivation, about their subjects and background and their artistic process. None of the students had ever visited an artist studio before. In class the teacher introduced the work of various other process-oriented visual artists.
Since there was no product prescribed, everything the students produced was considered product. That consisted largely of sketches and notes in the dummies and collected material from the Internet. The students were assessed by a combination of self-assessment and assessment by the teacher, based on process criteria handed out in the introduction. The students were generally very realistic about their assessment; they were quite critical of their own processes.
Afterwards the teacher reflected positively on the project, although it had been quite intensive. Students who are not used to freedom do not take initiative easily and need a lot of individual encouragement and coaching. A lot had been achieved in the orientation on process, which was more clearly defined in advance. The introduction of a central theme had helped to allow students to include intercultural experiences and values and this affirmed the teacher in his expectations.

There are some general remarks to be made on the implementation of the design principles intercultural, process oriented and student based, which were concluded after completing the six single case studies.
Intercultural was by far the most difficult design principle to work with. It worked best in the projects where central themes were used like travel or beauty and identity. The implicit assumption that because these young people and their interests are integrated in a global, mixed society, the increased freedom for the students in the art classes would automatically lead to intercultural subjects, might have been too optimistic. Another explanation could be that the training program did offer examples of what not to do, but did not give sufficient guidelines on how to develop intercultural art -education. The relatively homogenous makeup of most classes could also have played a part in this. The wish to connect to the interests of the students collided with the introduction of intercultural themes. What if students want to investigate themes that had nothing to do with identity construction, because it didn’t relate to them or bore the risk of getting too personal? This reveals an intrinsic conflict of the design principles intercultural and student-based that has not yet been solved.
An advise for teachers who want to give room for intercultural art education would be to design explicit interventions to introduce intercultural themes in your class, to make clear to your students that these themes are allowed in art class.
When looking for inspiration, it is important that you use contemporary hybrid art works that work with intercultural themes. The use of a central theme that focuses on hybridity and gives room for personal experience is a good starting point for students to explore the intercultural from their own perspective.
Process oriented was successfully implemented in most of the projects. Although art education in secondary schools in Holland is claimed to give room for process, teachers in this project used criteria that come closer to (contemporary) artistic process than they are used to. The creative process can be supported in a number of ways. By modelling (altermodern) processes, teachers can give their students meaningful examples of the course of artistic processes. The teacher can model this, construct a lesson structure based on artistic processes, or invite an artist to illustrate this. Taking a lot of time for individual support and encouraging the student to indulge in both the content and form of his work is important. The documentation of work-in-progress will help teachers and students reflect on actual products as part of an on-going process.
Student based art education is understood by most teachers as more freedom for the students. Students in the project were free to choose subject, form and material, and make decisions on the course of their creative process. This was not always easy for students (and teachers) but as the students reported in open questionnaires at the end of the project, it was highly valuated. More freedom gave the students a sense of ownership, which increased their motivation.
Teachers in an altermodern art class will have to be flexible: give advice when necessary, but refrain from intervening now and then, without leaving the student on his own. Help students get used to increasing autonomy by using “enabling constraints” that balance support and freedom. Teachers can ask themselves if every student needs the same amount of freedom. Experience from the project has shown that an openly formulated central assignment or structure can be a framework for the students and enables them to experience a lot of freedom within the structure.

The research project has provided a lot of material and ideas. Notions on altermodern art education as art education for the 21st century have been described, implemented and analysed.
Of course we hope that our publication will inspire teachers to develop and implement their own ideas on altermodern as the basis for contemporary art education. We don’t claim that Altermodern Art Education is a totally new approach. But it may be an effort to combine relevant theoretical notions with today’s art education. And in the spirit of Bourriaud it is appropriate to say that the research project described in this article is not so much a final product as a step in the non-stop process to renew, improve and update art education.

1.) See also: Groenendijk, T., & Hoekstra, M. (2012). Altermoderne Kunsteducatie. Theorie en praktijk, Amsterdam: AHK. www.ahk.nl/fileadmin/download/ahk/Lectoraten/Kunst-_en_cultuureducatie/AHK_kunsteducatie_binnenwerk_DEF-3.pdf [9/24/2014]
2.) Nicolas Bourriaud, The radicant. New York 2009.
3.) Nicolas Bourriaud, Explore altermodern. S. l. 2009, www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/altermodern [9/1/2010]
4.) Robert Klatser, Flip & Flap and altermodernity: art education in an altermodern world, 2010, S. l, www.ahk.nl/fileadmin/download/ahk/Lectoraten/Kunst-_en_cultuureducatie/flip_en_flap_eng.pdf [1/24/2014]

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Talita Groenendijk

(*1979) studied education in art and anthropology. After teaching art in secondary education she started a PhD project about observational learning in art education which was finished in 2012. Subsequently, she has worked on research projects about media literacy, altermodern art education, assessment in art education and writing in secondary education. Currently she works as a researcher at the University of Amsterdam and as a teacher/researcher at the Amsterdam School of the Arts.


Marike Hoekstra

(*1966) is an artist-teacher-researcher. She holds MAs in Russian Literature and Art Education. She published on the artist teacher (2009, 2010) and on Altermodern Art Education (2012). She works as a lecturer at the Academy of Fine Art in Education at the Amsterdam School of the Arts and at Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam. Currently Marike studies for the degree of MPhil/PhD at the Faculty of Education & Children’s Services at Chester University. Her PhD research concerns the implications of the artist teacher on democratic pedagogical practice.


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Bourriaud, Nicolas  ·  Deleuze, Gilles  ·  Groenendijk, Talita  ·  Hoekstra, Marike  ·  Klatser, Robert