Artful Dynamics: How a Visual Arts Distance Learning Environment Might Matter for Notions of Artist-self

Fitchett, Dale
Braddock, Chris
Douglas, Andrew
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This research explores how notions of artist-self are enacted in a postgraduate visual arts learning and teaching environment that relies substantially on an online platform and distance delivery. Tertiary institutions increasingly offer education via distance learning as a response to fiscal constraints and a globalised and digital world. This shift offers challenges to pedagogical models such as those associated with studio-based visual arts education. Since this ontological learning approach can be seen to privilege the physical presence of participants and a shared engagement with the physicality and materiality of art practices and art objects, distance delivery of a visual arts programme is likely to call into question seemingly inherent characteristics such as notions of proximity and presence. Similarly, and of significance for this research, the studio-model is a means of enabling and perpetuating practices, behaviours, and subjectivities in relation to a specific discipline, and so it becomes important to explore how notions of artist-selves might be performed for participants in distance learning.

This investigation interweaves experiential cases with reflexive theoretical engagement to explore dynamics at play in performances of notions of artist-selves in relation to a postgraduate visual arts distance learning and teaching environment. The research is underpinned by a notion of subjectivity as relationally performed, and accordingly, one that is fluid, contingent and ontologically multiple. Foucault and actor-network theory’s relational approach to understanding social phenomena, and their reflexive practices and modes of analysis, provide perspectives for both the conceptual approach to this research and its empirical engagement. They afford a means to explore postgraduate visual art students’ experiences of distance delivery, and subsequently to question how particular subjectivities might be performed in those experiences, with a view to making the interplay of distance and performances of notions of artist-self visible. The research manifested not only performances of simultaneously multiple and fragile notions of artist-selves but also different and multiple notions of distance. It then sought to explore how these were performed in an interplay between their relationally complex material networks, and to account for other spatial, temporal, and conceptual relations and practices made visible in these enactments. Since various entities were enacted to perform notions of artist-self and distance through differing means, the research suggests that any lack of notions such as proximity and presence, presumed by some as fundamental to visual art education, do not, on their own, matter. Therefore, the research proposes that the differences that might define distance delivery are not the differences that matter in performances of notions of artist-self or in visual arts education. Accordingly, as visual arts educators, we need to acknowledge the power of relational networks as a means of questioning and understanding how our pedagogical practices, such as studio-based models and distance delivery, are relationally enacted and perform. By eschewing an understanding of our pedagogical practices as cause and effect relationships between entities and embracing a relational understanding, we can better comprehend, and realise and expand the potential of our learning and teaching practices.

Actor-network theory , Artist , Distance learning , Foucault , Online learning , Subjectivity , Visual arts postgraduate education
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