Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Second Advisor

Dr Geoff Lummis

Third Advisor

Dr Lyndall Adams

Abstract

This thesis, comprising of a written exegesis, solo exhibition and an artist book, emerged from research undertaken by an artist-researcher-teacher. For that reason, a/r/tography was the overarching methodology used, incorporating a bricolage of methods to address a multifaceted study undertaken in two settings: a primary school classroom and an artist’s studio. A/r/tography is a multilayered interdisciplinary Arts education research methodology that correlates well with my expertise as a primary Visual Arts specialist. The methodology allowed me to immerse myself in both teaching and the artmaking process, as ways of gaining a deeper understanding of Visual Arts pedagogy. The purpose of the study was to examine what the impact of making art with discarded materials had on raising environmental consciousness, from the viewpoint of an artist-researcher-teacher. Additionally, this research was positioned within the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014) and Sustainability, a cross-curriculum priority in the Australian Curriculum. The aim of this research was to show that Visual Arts is an effective way to embed Sustainability in the curriculum.

In a two-phase study, the role of artmaking to facilitate shifts towards sustainability was investigated among 12-year-olds and myself in my creative praxis. In Phase One, 20 primary school students, from an area of high socio-economic advantage, participated in a 10-session Visual Arts program, using discarded materials to make and exhibit artworks with an environmental focus. Then, as an artist, I followed the same brief as the students, resulting in an exegesis and two creative components: an artist book incorporated into the exegetical writing and a solo exhibition at Edith Cowan University’s Spectrum Project Space in October 2014.

This study showed that the creative reuse of discarded materials promoted reflexivity and raised sustainable awareness, leading to positive attitudinal and behavioural shifts in both the students and myself. The outcome of my creative component was a catalyst for shifts in the way I made art and the way I taught Visual Arts. By immersing myself in the artmaking process, I questioned unsustainable artmaking processes and moved towards reducing my own environmental footprint. The symbiotic nature of a/r/tography meant that new knowledge gained in the studio could be transferred to the classroom. The results of the research are presented through this exegetical writing and an exhibition, which included: returning to techniques that promoted reflexivity; exploring the ephemeral through photography; and demystifying the artmaking process through an artist book. The most significant finding of this study was that the physical act of artmaking enabled the students and me to re-examine our behaviours and to reconsider the value of discarded materials, which in turn triggered shifts in our awareness towards sustainability.

Self-initiated behavioural shifts in the students included reusing materials and reducing consumption. Further, the students were able to make personal connections between their behaviours and their environmental footprints. This has implications for teachers integrating Sustainability. Arts-led education provides an alternative approach to teaching Sustainability across the curriculum. A set of recommendations arising from the research include: to provide support mechanisms to assist in-service teachers to implement Visual Arts-led Sustainability programs in primary schools; to introduce a/r/tography into pre-service teacher training; and for REmida WA to provide professional learning to support innovative, low-cost, multimodal in-service teacher training for Visual Arts-led Sustainability programs.

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