Masters Degree (Evaluation) – Module 5 – “A Brief Look Back”.
Writing a evaluation before the true end of any project, and so without the true distance of hindsight, will have its problems. So this text will tend to focus more on the overarching themes that instigated the study as well as a the influences upon those primary changes in attitude and practice that have come about through my studies.
Year One Overview
Here I focussed on a wider exploration of visualisation of information, and the development of in-action ( Schon) responses to the need (on my part) to visualise ideas and thoughts in order to convey complex information to Art and Design Students (and colleagues and peers) in my studio and beyond.
Year Two Overview
This final year was spent finalising examples of the responses to year ones research and survey data evaluation as well as a branching of those responses into another distinct area for investigation, i.e. the links between Deep Reading, Evolutionary Empathy, The Will to Experience and Imagination and Creativity.
MA – Design
Hull School of Art and Design
Leeds Metropolitan University
MA – Critical Reflection
Fig.1: G. Sleightholme (after Bloom et al), Bloom’s Taxonomies regarding Value and Creativity Reexamined, (20131), Digital, various.
Fig.2: G. Sleightholme, An Overview of Interconnected Theories linked to the Creative Act, (2011-12), Traditional, pencils, ink, through to digital (Photoshop), 700mm x 800mm (approx).
Fig.3: G. Sleightholme, Potential Links between Empathy and Creativity, (2011-2013), Digital/Traditional, 297mm x 700mm (approx).
Fig.4: G.Sleightholme, Survey Results on Reading Habits in Art School Students as Infographic, (2013), Digital, 400mm x 1040.
Fig.5: G. Sleightholme, A Visual Mnemonic for Three Years of Games Design, (2013), Traditional, pencils, ink, through to digital (SketchUp, Illustrator, Photoshop), 800mm x 1700mm.
Fig.6: G. Sleightholme, GameHacker (an Educational Game with no Rules), (2012-2013), Pencil, Ink, 3D, Digital, N/A.
MA Proposal and Project: Inspirations and Theoretical Underpinnings
The original intention of this extended investigation and study was twofold. One, to put to the test theories and discussions that sprang from my practice as a University and College lecturer dealing with those students who seemed to have issues related to the aspects of their studies related to research in particular reading and writing, through the development of studio resources to counter or at least alleviate some of the issues that stem from cognitive dissonance on the part of the students, in the form of visuals and imagery that show optimised scenarios for the development of creative acts; and two, the development of my own practice regarding visualisation and image making, in particular relating to my growing interest in infographics and contemporary communication graphics, whilst building on my existing practice as a multi-disciplined creative consultant and illustrator for over twenty years.
The investigation of the thinking and issues related to part one would start by a reinvestigation of principles and theory related to education inspired by my studies for my recent teaching qualification. In particular a recurring reexamination of Bloom’s Taxonomies (Fig 1) in particular those related to assigning of value to elements of the teaching and learning experience, creativity and research, and more conventional ideas related to Mazlow and other educational theorists and the optimal circumstances for openness to learning.
…and that’s one of the things about creativity, you know, getting stovepiped. Having too narrow a field of view really stifles creativity (Dr R. Jung, 2012).
I had always struggled with the over-compartmentalisation (or “stovepiping” as Rex Jung calls it) of educational theory and other studies into teaching and learning, and sought to develop as part of my investigation a more holistic approach that drew some of these theories together into a unified whole. The resulting investigation in the first half of my MA saw me develop a large graphic (Fig 2) that not only included Bloom and Mazlow et al, but drew upon thinkers like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his theories on play, in particular his Theory of Flow, as well as discussion amongst respected creatives such as Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Ira Glass, Dan Pink, and Shaun Tan on the act of creativity, teaching creativity in schools, and how to inspire personal exploration of those theories in our students. From there it was a short leap to uncover others that were also looking at these issues relating to the understanding of the underlying combinatorial approach to “creativity”. Amongst those Maria Popova, Paula Scher, Debbie Millman, Charlie Rose, Richard Serra, Chuck Close, William Gibson, neurologist Oliver Sacks, Ann Temkin, Eric Kandel, Susan Cain and the excellent Austin Kleon, whose recent book Steal Like An Artist (Kleon, 2012) on being creative appeared to channel not only my position but to echo other discussions from past educational theory such as David Kolb and his four pillars of Experiential Learning (Concrete Experience, Abstract Conceptualisation, Reflective Observation, Active Experimentation), which in turn leaned on Piaget, Lewin and of course Dewey, but also reflected the thoughts of even earlier creatives such as Da Vinci and his seven step program for the artist:
- Curiosita (be curious, investigate, ask good questions and cultivate an open mind, and keep a journal).
- Dimostrazione (test your knowledge through experience, be willing to learn from mistakes).
- Sensazione (Develop your senses, in particular “saper vedere”, learn how to see! Draw from observation).
- Arte/Scienza (finding the balance between science, art, logic and imagination).
- Corporalita (the cultivation of a physical regime that allows the body to carry the mind as it may need, including grace, fitness, ambidexterity and poise – Something Rex Jung associates with the accessing of transient hypofrontality).
- Connessione (an appreciation of patterns and the interconnectedness of all things, and the ability to create new patterns of your own).
- Cryptic (the ability to accept ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty, develop the ability to hold more than one concept/argument in your head at once and not necessarily agree with any of them over the other).
Those last two in their turn reflecting the work of contemporary neuro-scientists and neuropsychologists such as Dr Rex Jung who points out that the calming/slowing of activity of the pre-frontal cortex during creativite acts allows for new neural pathways to be accessed, calculated risk taking is accessed/allowed. i.e. Insight, divergent thinking and Improvisation (Horizon, The Creative Brain, 2013).
Several other psychologists and neuroscientists also appear to be coming to similar conclusions, many agreeing that a high IQ alone does not guarantee or indeed augment creativity, while people with personalities that readily access a “divergent thinking” model can indeed expect that augmentation.
“Divergent Thinking”, though clearly of evolutionary value, can again be labeled aberrant, and as a social trait, often is, as it is found predominantly as a characteristic of those who value nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence. (Carole & Carol, 2008); something Edward de Bono commented on some four decades earlier (de Bono, 1967) while discussing Lateral Thinking, an area he saw as separate to Creative Thinking (the only difference being, it seems, is again, the value – or lack of – placed on of craft in the latter).
Simone Ritter et al believe that surprising or “unusual experience” (Ritter et al, 2012) invites the brain and ones personal thinking to be “more open” to new ways of solving or approaching problems, i.e. “cognitive flexibility”. She has examined the sidestepping of “functional fixedness” through exposure to unusual experience in her virtual reality lab (related directly to my thoughts on experience/mirror neurones/vicarious experience/evolutionary empathy etc.).
This is also the case with simpler “Schema Violation”, something that even crops up in mundane (self-help-esque) aphoristic lists for boosting creativity (for example, the act of walking a different way into work to promote new cognitive responses).
This is to be an area I wish to continue to investigate, it would be useful for instance to discuss some of my visual representations with someone with a background in neuroscience to see what should be kept and what might be stretching the visual metaphor if you will.
I am very interested in the idea that creativity, in opposition to its usual and public reception as a “talent” – in which all the language associated with it, it becomes “an addition”; an extra ability, “given” to people (hence the term “gifted” etc) – might just in point of fact be the opposite, and as with morbid psychological tendencies such as apophenia (something I have always felt might have links to the creative process – I named my blog after the phenomena), that this is actually aberrant brain behaviour, the brain, if not exactly in error of normal function, at least behaving against typical function; and that this is where creativity and invention or insight manifests.
I discuss this further in my Precis to the exhibited work associated with models for engendering creative action partly through exposure to “change” and “new experience” (clearly craft is of value in many instances, and that involves another form of will, and again relates to Bloom – Fig 3).
Other cultural influences explored but worth further investigation looked at expressions of psychological concepts related to play and imagination such as Vygotsky’s notion of the “Pivot” (Vygotsky, 1978) at the point of conceptual simulacra acceptance, and noting a related conceptual leap involved at the point of projection of experienced and “synthesised”, constructivist experience in order to model that nebulous, ephemeral precursor to creativity, the idea of “imagination” (an asset often mythologised by, and about, creatives).
Section 2: MA Project: Development and Modification
The work developed over the final part of my Masters study, in particular Module 5 predominantly looks at the above relationships between Creativity (something all art school students want to find the “quick patch” for) and those areas which students often see as belonging to a set of priorities that are “other” or unrelated to their practical art & design studio work, again compartmentalising the whole of there given areas for study in a curious reversal of the values applied to terms describing a gnostic heresy of medieval theology.
Our students and even the institutions that deliver to them see their studies divided into two distinct areas, which in the classical Greek might be rendered gnostikos and praktikos. The intellectual and the practical. With students very much favouring the practical in the majority of cases (something I explored in two surveys which can be found on my research blog).
My counter to this issue attempts to resolve this apparent dichotomy by focusing not on sub-sets, but by stepping back and looking at holistically considered links and teaching strategies to show them.
However, this (if not mythical, then certainly over emphasised) dichotomy that has become fixed in the mind of our students may well be simply symptoms of another issue.
Other areas of investigation I explored included “fluent” versus “practical” literacy, an issue which typically manifests itself as cognitive dissonance (or in entrenched cases the Dunning-Kruger effect), with students convincing themselves that research and theory is indeed a separate and unrelated subject, to be sidelined in favour of the practical concerns of the studio by dedicated designers; and hence the associated issues with all the related cultural accessories to the creative practitioner (see Fig 4), reading for pleasure, general knowledge, some understanding of the value of fiction, a grasp of geography & and the related experiential value of travel, a little bit of general science, history (global and local).
In a practical sense I have been attempting to counter these issues through the development of holistic “Visual Gateways” (Fig 5) through which students might access an understanding of the integral connection between, creativity, subject focused Art School studies and the above seemingly peripheral literacy and reading based subject areas.
To achieve this I have looked at the assignment of conceptual values to visual and tactile imagery and tools (Fig 6), visualising metaphor and aphorism (Fig 5), and of course research into the preferences of this particular demographic of students, particularly with regard to reading, and cultural activity that might develop wider contexts for students own studies (Fig 4).
Section 3: Summative Evaluation
In terms of visual and media based influences I have over the two years explored and written about the lineage of educational and informative infographics, from the illuminated map through to the contemporary work of practitioners such as Olly Moss, David McCandless, Jason Munn, Jay Ryan, scale text as art (Paula Scher, Gordon Young/Why Not Associates – “The Comedy Carpet“ – etc.) and theorists in the field of data visualisation such as Edward Tufte, much of which has definitely influenced my on going practice, particularly the work of Tufte on Chart-Junk and Data Decoration (Tufte, 1997), including the bias that can be given to data through misrepresentations of scale in infographic imagery, while stylistically some of the aesthetic decisions I have made clearly have begun to have an influence on my current consultative work from commercial illustration to theatre graphics.
The content of this this last module, though abridged and polished for exhibition, should not necessarily be seen as the culmination of the research and practice undertaken as part of my Masters Degree, it remains far from concluded. The show itself shows only part of the overall investigation and outcomes, but highlights some of the main focus of my research and subsequent design and visualisation work which it has expanded upon, looking at developing an understanding of, and devising the aforementioned countering mechanisms for the disenfranchisement with “deeper reading” and an avoidance of “change” as part of students Art School student’s studies; and further an exploration of the impact that this might have on their studio work.
I will continue to add to the work produced here as part of my personal practice, both as a creative and as an educationalist, but instead a point at which an exhibition of the work can act as a “proof of concept” that the work may well have value in the fields explored. A portfolio, if you will, for showing possible future research collaborators the possibilities and potential outcomes in a neatly packaged form, showing (I feel) in a highly visual, and in some examples, a tactile way, the links between the the core intelectual issues of my study, i.e. the Will to Experience/Change, Deep Reading, Evolutionary Empathy (as opposed to compassion) and Imagination and Creativity and the visualisation of the above, which addresses to some degree my original intent, if in an somewhat evolved way.
Tufte E. R., Visual Explanations (Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative), 1997, Graphic Press LLC, USA.
Gibson, W. Distrust That Particular Flavour, 2012, Putnam.
Hodson et al, published in Psychological Science, Jan 5th 2012
Ritter, S M, Damian, R I, Derks J, Dijksterhuis A. et al. 2012, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 48, Issue 4, p. 961-964
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Curtis H. Paula Scher – Artist Series – via http://brainpickings.org/index.php/2010/11/19paula-scher-on-combinatorial-creativity/
BrainPickings – http://www.brainpickings.org/