Learning to educate (ourselves)

November 3, 2014

In contemporary art, education has been the new black for quite some time as a well-intentioned restlessness pervades our continual re-conceptualization of the relationship between art and life, art and social action.

A belief in the formative and transformative value of art is at the core of the multi-faceted ‘educational turn’[1] in contemporary art of the last decades: from artists’ appropriation of pedagogical theories, methodologies and formats, to ongoing efforts to reform art education curricula at all stages of the education ladder alongside calls for art to “infiltrate” other fields and disciplines of knowledge.

The debate on art and education is also key to a broader discussion on the purpose, value and social worth of art that often underpins the need to assert the pertinence of continued public and private funding for forms of practice not easily accommodated by the market. This externality (or instrumentalisation) of art is a recurrent battle-horse in struggles over the orientation of cultural policy. It makes an odd bedfellow with libertarian and utopic views of art as the perfect embodiment of emancipatory learning.

One should not fail to notice the shift from education to learning as the keyword in our conversations and in institutional discourse. This might signal a richer understanding and valorization of the complex flow of information, knowledge and affection between people, things and places deemed necessary to make sense of and transform our word. Education—in contrast—might evoke one-directional vectors, such as the authority of the teacher, the passivity of the student and the entrenched hierarchies of epistemologies and disciplinary fields. 

The continued capitalist appropriation of progressive language and practices must have taught us at least to be attentive to the changing choices of terms to describe our intentions.[2] Education was an important word for our forebears. We might want to pause to remember the political traditions that understood clearly that education (self-education, peer-education) was not an end in itself, and that it was worthless if uncoupled with organizing and agitating.[3] This belief continues to guide my action as an artist and as an educator.


[1] Rogoff, I. (November 2008) Turning. e-flux journal #0. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/18. Accessed: 25/09/2014
Beech, D., Gillick, L., O’Neill, P., Philips, A., Pierce, S., Wilson, M., org. (2008) Salon Discussion: You Talkin’ to me? Why is art turning to education. London: Institute of Contemporary Art 14 July 2008.
Podesva, K.L. (Summer 2007) A Pedagogical Turn: Brief Notes on Education as Art. Vancouver: Fillip 6, Projectile Publishing Society   http://fillip.ca/content/a-pedagogical-turn. Accessed: 25/09/2014

[2] Guillermo Gomez Peña, G & Mendieta, E (2001) A Latino Philosopher Interviews a Chicano Performance Artist. Nepantla: Views from the South, Duke University Press.

[3] “Educate yourselves because we’ll need all your intelligence. Agitate because we’ll need all your enthusiasm. Organise yourselves because we’ll need all your strength.” Slogan of the Italian newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo, organised by Antonio Gramsci.