Symposium Notes – Masters Degree – Draft Form

Delivered in front of an audience of peers and tutors, HSAD Lecture Theatre, 7th November, 2012.

“A Fork in the Road”

Gareth Sleightholme – MA Design

“In The Ego and the Id Freud argued that a cogent thought process, to say nothing of conscious intellectual work, could not exist amidst the unruliness of visual experience”.

 – R. Arnheim, Art and Visual Perception (A Psychology of the Creative Eye).

Over the last half century this notion has been challenged.

Rudolf Arnheim [the German born author, art/film theorist and perceptual psychologist] has not only shown us how erroneous this could be, but he has parsed “the grammar of form” with uncanny acuity and taught us how to read it.” (Fineburg 2010)

Historically, discussion and academic writing on the impact of alternate forms of contact perception (seeing, touching, smelling and any understanding based on the various human sensory stimuli), other treatise and ideas related to “visual thinking” and the role and relationships of images and imagery in cognition ( particularly in art and design education), including Visual Literacy, Picture Games, “Rich Pictures” and Field Dependency etc, has zig-zagged between a great number of root (and radical) concepts; morphing and evolving from elevated to disputed theory as the theorists that hold to them are confronted with the latest data.

Moving us from models in which Freud’s assumptions of image as the poor relation in cognition, through to constructivist concepts of the importance of “student as creator”, and by extension, the possible importance of learning through the act of design and visual creation.

Visualisation and the subsequent visuals being part of a richer model for learning.

“Visual literacy in the classroom has become increasingly important as more and more information is accessed through technology. Students must maintain the ability to think critically and visually about the images presented to them in today’s society.”

(Gangwer, T, 2009)

If only to navigate this “treachery of images” through which we are cajoled, duped and seduced into making choices about purchases, lifestyle choices and self-worth and identity.

One of the aspects of my practice as a tutor that spurred on my wish to investigate this particular area was the difficulty many students I have taught seemed to have in dealing with, that crucial initial interface with a creative project, the brief.

Many of which in contemporary institutions, despite their policies on on differentiation and accessibility, seemed to have their meaning obfuscated behind dense tracts of text, “mapping”, and educational speak, resulting in documents like this…

Now I understand that at the level that we are teaching at, here at HE and at FE level there must be a required level of reading, and that many briefs, especially for visual creatives stem from a literary root. But this (ie the document above) is not about reflecting that.

This is about trying to quantify the unquantifiable, or quantifying that which is fully synthesised by the “expert”, in order to be disseminated via the none expert; or in the worst case scenario, the offset of potential litigation or “funding-stream” endangering punitive measures from outside agencies.

But of course, we don’t talk about that.

So, how do we avoid the often depressing scene of a room littered with discarded project briefs following the session in which it has been delivered?

How can we make potential creatives engage with this (and other) useful text based documentation?

Could it be as simple as adding pictures?

Some of the professional, practical (non-academic I might add) publications on the same subject would seem to propose this.

Hence the broader title of my study.

So Why?

Why Visualise Educational Concepts* for Art School Students? And what do I mean by that…?

*By “educational concepts”, I need to restate that I do not mean the content of specific or subject related sessions per se*, but instead some of the various concepts related to the hidden curriculum such as:

  • What makes an Engaged Student?
  • What is Expected of a student? (Visualised Taxonomies)
  • Myths and Misconceptions related to Higher Education (and FE) study and Teaching (as perceived by the student).
  • Why Educate Your Self? …and What is Life Long Learning?
  • What is meant by Self-Motivated Learning?
  • Addressing fundamental skills issues**.
  • Why is the Critical and Theoretical side of the course important? And how does it fit in with your studio practice?

**Subject related issues may indeed occur, such as “optimising for creativity” and “drawing as an investigative tool” but only in relation to developing the ability in students to see the holistic overview of their core area of study and its relationships to areas beyond their immediate study (See Point 5).

2Why Art School Students? and what makes them such a unique user group?

Am I proposing or agreeing with the idea of fixed learning styles? And what do I mean by Learning Styles?

Well, current/recent buzzwords in education associated with pursuing “differentiation” and “individualised learning” have, as always, created a stir in parliament and so through and down to the educational bodies, and then into classrooms opening the gates, not just for efficacious teaching & learning techniques and other positive responses, but also for any snake-oil salesman touting tests claiming to diagnose and herd individuals into easier to manage and teach groups based on students’ individual needs, for example, their “learning styles” (sorry for the imagery but I’ve been watching Deadwood lately), with questions such as: Are you atheorist? A pragmatist? An activist or a reflector? Do you have more of a Visual learning style? Or are you (*looks over glasses*) a Reader?

Regardless of your answers,  according to new research, most of these processes, i.e those designed to pin-point the best (and single) way for an individual to learn, are deeply flawed, and for teachers to jump aboard with and then act on these diagnoses, could in the long term be as damaging for students as misdiagnosing dyslexia as stupidity (and handedness) was years ago.

Personally I am not an adherent of this (near astrological) belief in the star sign like learning styles put forward by certain educational theorists; even ones I admire for other elements of there writings.

Geoffrey Petty for example, a great believer it seems in some of the more holistic teaching and learning methods, offered up the following, and no doubt attractive (I adhere to many of the practices myself), advice to trainee teachers in his course book for trainee teachers:

Ideally a teacher should adopt both right-brain and left-brain approaches. Right brain approaches such as the following are often ignored; they are crucial for some students, but helpful to all: explaining by analogy or metaphor overviews, e.g. describing what you are about to explain summarising mind maps, and other visual representations. modelling, demonstrations, case studies, anecdotes, etc., which show the whole’ in context imaginative visualisations, e.g. imagine you are a water molecule passing through a body‘” Petty, 1998 p.124

via – Learning Styles: Are They Useful or Just a Way for Pseudo Experts to Make Money Online? – Chum Suet

Unfortunately some of the work feels like it can be misused, to short-cut and lower the commitment from the tutor, or the cerebral activity of the learner (I really do not think there is much efficacy in allowing students to just download images for presentations from the internet at the expense of written information – when the act of making the image not the appropriation of it is the efficacious element).

In particular the VARK tests I feel are flawed, and despite my own leanings and favour of visual information (at certain times) I would not go so far as to pigeon hole myself as a purely a Visual Learner.

Frank Coffield, professor of Education at the IOE, has in an article in the TES, and elsewhere made clear his belief that “tutors who use some popular learning models could be wasting their time”.The evidence to support the theories behind some of these educational models, says Frank Coffield, could be seen to be a little thin.

Frank Coffield suggests “.what young people need most [is to be taught or encouraged to develop] the ability to detect bullshit and the courage to expose it. Students of all ages need to develop a critical faculty to enable them to challenge the hype of advertisers, the excessive claims of experts/researchers, the pretentious promises of politicians or the latest educational buzzword” [The work of Frank Coffield. 1988 see Smith and Spurling 1999.]

In related areas (especially considering the quote above from Petty) there are several investigators who question research related to lateralization of brain function, and several current documents suggest that to simplify people into left and right brain, jack booted logicians or disorganised arty genius types is leaning a little too heavily on the lucrative pop-psychology mythology that has followed ongoing studies on lateralization and “handedness”.

Michael C. Corballis, in his article “Laterality and myth.” for American Psychologist, Vol 35(3), Mar 1980, 284-295. doi:  ( suggests that the:

“…fundamental duality in cognitive processing between the two sides of the brain or that locate consciousness in the left side only are probably modern manifestations of the age-old mythology of left and right. A more cautious framework is suggested for interpreting laterality, based on biological principles and on continuity between humans and other species.”

So, again, why Art School students if I don’t believe in “Visual Learners” per se?

Well, what I do believe in is that every person that volunteers to walk through the door of an art school, be they student teacher, client project coordinator or visiting guest, all of them have at some point in their lives CHOSEN to allow image, or found that image is something they can relate to on some level at some point in their CHOSEN activities. Be that work or entertainment.

These people having chosen to engage with imagery and visuals may indeed in that case have a higher response to Visual gateways into non-visual learning materials, and ultimately my study is based on looking at the efficacy of visuals as part of the teaching and learning process, in particular with those that have placed imagery and image at the core of their relationship to the world.


The academic discussions aside – Whether on – Structuralism, Post- structuralism, – Data Truth, and Cultural Shifts and Educational Theory.

3 – One of the first problematic areas I came upon was that of the confusion between:

  • message (and its social/educational value) >
  • delivery system/medium (and its stylistic/design value) >
  • the combination of both as object/artifact (and its innate and varied values as a culture/design artifact) – IE. A POSTER… OR DERIVATIONS THERE OF.
  • the practical efficacy of the whole as a visual gateway into non-visual learning material, and not an end in and of itself – This is is what I set out to look at, yet the other points seem to rise to the surface at every turn.

4 – the idea of holistic information delivery with an ability to explore from an advantaged and fully informed position – versus – micro-compartmentalisation of concepts and message for ease of delivery.

Maybe somthing visual that helps explain at the start why the details we are looking at are pertinent. (see below)

– But I’ll come back to that shortly.

5 – …finally, related to, and perhaps springing from, the above – New issues relating to the combinatorial approach to various educational theories and a more unified, holistic overview of education theory related to “creativity”.

For example, looking at the psychology based theory of flow and its related areas touching on the act of creativity.

… some sketch visuals of some thoughts I’ve been having on Creativity, “Gamification” of the Education Experience and Student Engagement.
In particular this was influenced by something Mihaly Csikszentmihaly commented on as an aside in his TED lecture on Flow.
Namely that the unconscious actions associated with the state of “Flow” is more likely to occur, or be evidenced in those who have spent time developing experience and skill in a given discipline.
“The process (the composers* hand moving byitself) that is happening can only happen to some one who is very well trainedand has developed Technique. …and it has become a kind of truism in thestudy of creativity that you can’t be creating anything with less than tenyears of technical knowledge, immersion in a particular field. *An un-named leading US composer active in the seventies. [the] composer describes those moments when his work is at its best… “You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that youfeel as though you almost don’t exist. I’ve experienced this time and again. Myhand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching in a state of awe and wonderment. And it just flows outby itself.”
..and even that the “ecstatic” or “out of oneself”/removed from reality state of Flow can be learned – see video interview.
So, this first image is a detail of a larger diagram, showing Csikszentmihaly’s diagramatic representation of flow, expanded to show its possible connection to Mazlow’s Peak Experience.
The section marked experience and hindsight may also include “other phenomena” but for lack of controversies sake I left it as is.
I also added my own personal thoughts on literacy and its positioning as a scale within the engagement spectrum of Csikszentmihaly’s Flow Theory, as it is during reading that I experience Flow most often.

I feel that this is not fully resolved, and a much more academically explored written piece supported by visuals from within the above image, looking further at ideas that have sprung from this particular avenue of investigation, such as:
The links between reading (including the reading of fiction), experience of wider social and cultural concerns, more diverse interpersonal relationships, and Synthesis…

Observation and Synthesis…

> and then Synthesis to Creativity.

eg. The Limited God scenario (where students create things in their own image) For example students trying to design characters when they have no real experience of “Other” people, beyond themselves, fantasy versions of themselves, and people similar to themselves from their immediate/”chosen” social circle.


(Synthesis being one of the things many outside the creative arts confuse with talent I’ve come to believe)

So that brings me up to more recent decisions to do with direction.

So this leaves me with two possible routes of study.
1 – A project that can act as a lens through which I can study and perhaps measure what I have proposed in a very direct form.

A project that visualises a single, or a set of, educational concept(s), such as “ENGAGING WITH THE PROCESS OF LEARNING TO DRAW”.

Thus returningto something I have touched on previously in the most basic terms, and is related to several areas of my actual creative practice as well as my teaching practice.

A – My teaching practice, where, like several other creatives (some who I admire, some whom I read because I don’t) might agree, I evangelise on the fundamental nature of drawing and its place at the heart of creative practice.

SAUL BASS: LEARN TO DRAW – 43seconds to crippling absence


B – My work as a production designer engaged by the leisure industry, in the creation of physical artifacts that engage and (occasionally) seek to educate, all destined for public spaces.


So the project!

I’m calling it: – “The Pathway to Improving Your Drawing” – which is to be a Visualisation of a Metaphor, as opposed to a Visual Metaphor (there is a difference, see some of my earlier posts).

I’m looking at creating two versions of the project:
The first which is to be a scale model of the second, and will be able to be used in the classroom, during my “101 on drawing for Games and Animation” sessions.

The second, proposals and schematics for a larger version of the work and how it might work as a casual interactive educational device/public space


2 – Research that looks at another area of interest that has manifested itself whilst researching the core areas of my study, i.e. the above mentioned hypothesis on the relationship between “Deep Reading” (including the reading of fiction), experience of wider social and cultural concerns (empathy), and more diverse interpersonal relationships, and Synthesis (the combinatorial processing of the above and subsequent expression of of those combinations through one or more mechanical acts related to creativity such as drawing).

img019…and how an understanding of this relationship might effect the learner, particularly those who shy away from the written and and non-visual research elements of their coursework.

~ by hesir on January 22, 2013.

2 Responses to “Symposium Notes – Masters Degree – Draft Form”

  1. […] Statement of Intent – previously completed as part of the opening sessions of this final module of study (see separate post) and as looked at in the Symposium. […]

  2. […] reflection upon an earlier transitional point in my research; (see “a fork in the road” – Symposium text – Nov 2012) in which I needed to establish a final direction, choosing between two possible, but related […]

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