Rebecca Heaton on Art and Design Education

Investigating cognition in the creative arts.


Cognition in a digital artefact

In response to the workshop discussed in the recent post How does art speak to enable cognition? in which a group of trainee teachers discussed the meaning of aesthetic discourse in art education, I have created a Sway to respond to it. The Sway, which is a digital artefact, draws together fundamental thoughts from my own, students and academics perspectives on the term. In this post I will attempt to discuss how creating this digital artefact has engendered thinking around cognition. Aesthetic Discourse Sway

Digital artefacts as art forms:

As an art teacher what constitutes an art form can be a controversial issue, What is art? is an age old question which many educators have deliberated (Duncum and Bracey, 2001; Hickman, 2005; Fleming, 2012; Edwards 2014). In short the academics referred to here summarise art as a concept generated in the minds of people, that adapts over time and communicates meaning or expresses creative skill. If I relate this to the Sway created here one could suggest it is a creative form of expression in which I have shared the opinions of others, it is generated through the compilation of others ideas critically addressed in relation to my own. It is a tool of the present time, capturing multi-media content and expresses creative licence through the presentation of visual and textual forms. However, is it really art?

As Hickman and I address in The Sage Handbook of Curriculum Pedagogy and Assessment (2016), in our Chapter on Visual Art (Pages 343-358) the benefits of digital art tools are that creators can experience the cultures of others, generate new knowledge relevant to the time and diversify their practice building interdisciplinary bridges. These comments still resonate with my own practice, the digital tool Sway has enabled me to develop my own learning through engagement with a new tool, the beauty being that the tool is relevant to me as artist, teacher and researcher. I can visually present content with aesthetic control, as a teacher I can use the artefact as an interactive presentation device and as a researcher I have been able to gain feedback from those I share the outcomes of the work with. Of course this can also be achieved through more traditional artistic forms but digital artefacts can be edited multiple times with ease, shared socially in a quick time frame and can capture global commentary from others on the same platform within the same program.

Cognitive development through the creation of a digital artefact:

This particular digital artefact developed my cognition in the following ways, firstly it encouraged risk taking, I was reluctant albeit a little excited to create a piece of art on a digital program I had not encountered before. However, it was not without its small frustrations, although intuitive in terms of colour schemes I initially felt frustrated that I could not move objects around the screen with ease to reposition them in what I deemed to be more aesthetically pleasing way to the artist eye. This dilemma, enabled me to further understand how I think when engaging in art making (Sternberg and Sternberg, 2012). I intuitively expect to be able to maintain control over my own aesthetic output and when restricted build frustration. I became more consciously aware here of my own practice (Eisner, 2002) as an artist and a learner. In terms of cultural meaning (Efland, 2002) my awareness of digital presentation tools grew. I became equipped with a new tool to use in my own teaching, I like how the digital facility can bring in social media of our time, although I did not use the facility to embed tweets I can appreciate how this could be useful when presenting to my own students in future. I could generate discussion and set tasks that are relevant to live discussions taking place on social platforms, a new direction for university based academia, this tool alone will transform the way I teach. The tool also captures the movements of my mind (Sullivan 2005) particularly in relation to the format of the artwork, it utilises a scrolling technique similar to that on a blog page, allowing my thoughts to be organised and edited as they develop using multiple formats of transcognitive expression.


Duncum, P. and Bracey, P. (2001). On Knowing: Art and Visual Culture. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press.

Edwards, J. (2014). Teaching Primary Art. Harlow: Pearson.

Eisner, E. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Efland, A. (2002). Art and cognition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Fleming, M. (2012). The Arts in Education. Abington: Routledge.

Hickman, R. (2005). What is art? Bristol: Intellect.

Hickman, R. and Heaton, R. (2016). Visual Art. The SAGE Handbook of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment. London: SAGE

Sternberg, R. Sternberg, K. (2012) Cognition. (6th ed.) Canada: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.


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