Rebecca Heaton on Art and Design Education

Investigating cognition in the creative arts.


To curate

What does it mean to curate? Can art, thought, cognition, concepts, learning and lived experiences all be curated? Is it the curation of these facets, in ones experience as an artist teacher, that leads to knowledge generation? I ask myself these questions after a day exploring the concept of curation with Katie Boyce from the Alfred East Gallery and artist teachers from Northampton University. img_0026

From a theoretical perspective curating means to organise concepts and actively take on the role of curator (Macdonald, 2009), I contextualise this as an artist teacher to mean the designer of your own thoughts and outputs. The role of the curator involves researching, exhibition design, selection and a responsibility to communicate thought (Haas, 2003). The curator makes links between thoughts, concepts, art and cultural contexts (Acord, 2010). So as I see it, we are all curators and creators of our own cognition, as a creator we generate thought and knowledge . As a curator we design and own the paths we formulate. I offer insight into how I managed the role of curator and creator today. 

Curating: I formulated thought today through the exposure to new and unexpected experiences whilst making connections to prior experiences I had encountered. Whilst listening to Katie and the artist teachers discussing how exhibitions were organised at the Alfred East Gallery in Kettering, I began to connect threads of thought from a number of recent experiences I have had myself as an artist teacher. These threads interconnected to help me build knowledge.

For example, Katie shared how the recent exhibition, hosted by the Alfred East Gallery, Collection Connections (see images below) used links between the range of artists on show to map out relationships, histories and personal stories. The links were portrayed visually using colours to generate maps, in a similar way to the London tube map, it was this notion of mapping that connected with me. I reflected that I had recently posted on this blog about cognitive links and theoretical webs and theorised through my doctoral writing that experiencing and reflecting on intercultural, interdisciplinary (Bresler, 2016) and multi-directional (Stanley, 2015) pathways was one strategy which led artist teachers to generate knowledge. The value of interdisciplinary and intercultural arts based research was also reinforced in a seminar by Professor Pam Burnard @Pam Burnard I attended at Homerton College Cambridge University on Tuesday 22nd November 2016. This experience again connected with the metaphorical web of cognitive curation I was generating in my own mind to connect, consolidate and curate my own learning to ultimately build knowledge. Through the  process of connecting I had been actively curating cognition because I had been making links, as Acord (2010) stated between thoughts, concepts, art experiences and cultural contexts. 

screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-21-40-30 img_0022

Creating: As creators artist teachers can take responsibility for generating thought and knowledge. In todays experience I did this in a number of ways, I was open to the art experience I encountered influencing my own and students learning, I took a risk to invite another to assist in the pedagogical structure of the course I had designed and was willing to reflect on the experience and apply reflexivity (Grushka, 2005) to this reflection, through this blog, to identify how the learning pathways I generated led to the creation of thought. As a result todays experience impacted my own development as an artist, teacher and researcher because I learnt more about the process of curation, questioned my own pedagogy and have identified how as a researcher I curate cognition within the lived artist teacher experience I encountered today. After all “The arts move us to see what is hidden or tacit to ourselves” (Burnard et al, 2014, p.101). 


Acord, S. (2010). Beyond the head: The practical work of curating contemporary art. Journal of Qualitative Sociology, 33, 447-467.

Bresler, L. (2016). Interdisciplinary, intercultural travels: mapping a spectrum of research(er) experiences. In Burnard, P. Mackinlay, E. and Powell, K. (eds) The Routledge International Handbook of Intercultural Arts Research. Chapter 29. Abingdon: Routledge.

Burnard, P. Holliday, C. Jasilek, S. Nikolova, A. (2014). Artists and higher education partnerships: A living enquiry. Education Journal, 4.3, 98-105. 

Grushka, K. (2005). Artists as reflective self‐learners and cultural communicators: an exploration of the qualitative aesthetic dimension of knowing self through reflective practice in art‐making. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 6.3, 353-366. doi: 10.1080/14623940500220111

Haas, J. (2003). The changing role of the curator. Anthropology, New Series, No. 36, Curators, Collections, and Contexts: Anthropology at the Field Museum, 1893-2002, 237-242. Retrieved from:

MacDonald. C. (2009). Issues in curating contemporary art and performance. Contemporary Theatre Review, 19.2, 242-243. Retrieved from:

Stanley, P. (2015). Writing the PhD Journey(s): An Autoethnography of Zine-Writing, Angst, Embodiment, and Backpacker travels. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. 44.2, 143-168.


@Tate Modern

How did experiencing Phillippe Parreno’s Turbine Hall exhibit @Tate Modern develop artist teacher cognition? 

Third year artist teachers and I engaged with the Turbine Hall exhibit at the Tate Modern yesterday. We focused on how the work on show was accessible for vulnerable learners of art (Aged 5-11). We know that active art experiences, such as engaging with exhibitions first hand, enable learners, in this case university based artist teachers, to learn, solve problems and map cognitive meaning (Cuncliffe, 1999; Smilan et al 2006). But how did this exhibit specifically aid this learning to occur? The clip below provides an insight into Parrano’s ‘Anywhen’ exhibit the artist teachers and I experienced.

As you can see from the images below Parreno’s work uses the audience as part of the exhibit, the viewer, or in this case inter-actor, is experiencing the art but is also contributing to others experience of it. The artist teachers theorised a number of ways to engage young and vulnerable children with this concept. A couple of examples included 1) allowing children to experience the exhibit in different ways, such as with blind folds on, 2) drawing from different positions, recording sounds and 3) following different pathways through the work. The work is influenced by the concept of perception, the artist teachers made the connection that we all perceive in different ways, children would too.img_0018

One of the strengths of this exhibit is that due to the range of multimedia components used, evolving nature of the work and value of audience presence or lack of it, it naturally suggests accessibility to at least one sensory component. However, the university based artist teachers felt that the work may be far removed from what some children may perceive as art, this is of course dependent on their prior experiences and knowledge, so to make the piece accessible they identified a need to make links to the everyday world of specific children. The artist teachers trialled a number of strategies to achieve this, they included 1) Getting the children to draw their expectations of the piece before experiencing it so that relationships could be created between the two works  2) using a familiar object, such as a toy, household item etc. for the children to add into the exhibit as if they were the artist and 3) exploring the work with a focus on a particular sense, e.g. touch to feel the vibrations, and texture of the materials. By theorising these strategies the artist teachers were able to think about how to break down accessibility barriers for different groups of vulnerable learners such as those with Social, Emotional, Needs or Disabilities (SEND) or those with English as an additional Language (EAL), Traveller Children or children from different socio-economic groups or those with vulnerabilities such as feeling ill on the day of a visit or experiencing a bereavement. 

A personal reflection:

To document a more personal response to Parreno’s exhibit and gallery experience I shared with the university based artist teachers a poetic reflection I created:


Each capitalised word represents a response to my experience, whilst the word string on each line intends to create visual imagery. I used the digital app Visual Poetry, to provide another metaphorical representation of my response and experience, suggesting that it is the connections involved in the experience, collaboration and reflection that have led to my creation of knowledge. By writing this blog post, generating poetry and creating the image below I have been able to identify how myself and learners are building their cognitive knowledge due to finding space to reflect. Through experience and reflection we built an understanding of self and other (Henry and Verica, 2015). We questioned contemporary culture through art experience, engaged with identities and generated knowledge in a collaborative capacity  to develop our cognition. 



Cuncliffe, L. (1999) Learning how to learn, art education and the ‘background’. Journal of Art and Design Education, 18.1, 115-121.

Smilan, C. Kakourou-Chroni, G. and Ricardo, R. (2006). Art Education at the intersection of creativity: Integrating art to develop multiple perspectives for identifying and solving social dilemmas in the 21st century. Worlds Arts Alliance.

Henry, S.E. and Verica, J. M. (2015) (Re)visioning the Self Through ArtEducational Studies, 51.2, 153-167.


How does art speak to enable cognition?

Whilst writing and researching towards my doctoral project I have been thinking about the different lenses in which we share data from. In this post I provide an insight into a number of recent experiences I have had as an art educator and attempt to address them from three specific lenses to show how art can speak, whilst enabling one to question their cognition. I will discuss each event from a theoretical position, a cultural one and a personal one. Theoretically I will address how the event demonstrated cognition, culturally how the event represented the practice of art educators and personally how the event impacted me.

Event 1: A workshop questioning the meaning of aesthetic discourse with third year undergraduate artist teachers.

As a component of my doctoral research I asked a group of artistic teachers about their opinions on the definition of aesthetic discourse and what it meant to them in order to arrive at a shared meaning of the term. The image below highlights some of the thoughts these artist teachers had.


Theoretical lens: The image above models how the artist teachers engaged in a discussion about the meaning of aesthetic discourse, through this image we can see the artist teachers engaging in the act of transcognition, this term is defined on this blog post, the participants created the mind map to generate ideas, using the visual as a tool for thoughtful making, they use language to explore the notion of aesthetic discourse. The environment around them influenced the knowledge created, one way this happened was through engagement with others. The visual shown, or aesthetic discourse, captures as Suillivan (2005) recognised the transcognitive movements of the artists mind. Tavin (2007, p.40) determines aesthetic discourse to mean ‘thinking about, discussing and experiencing art in art education’ The artist teachers’ ideas resonate.

Cultural lens: I also consider this image from a cultural position, that of art educators. It is clear from comments made on the image, such as “Discussion is art” and “assessing understanding” that this group of art educators believe that aesthetic discourse is more than just a visual or aesthetic form. They identify it as a form of understanding where a relationship is formed between viewer and creator, this is interesting because in relation to the theory of transcognition these artist teachers show an awareness already that they may recognise thinking in a medium as  a component of aesthetic discourse, although this awareness of transcognition has not been made in a direct statement it can be deduced from analysing the visual. The comment, “explore, experiment explain” also suggests recognition of thinking in a language, a second component of transcognition and the use of terms “discussion,” “self-reflection” and “artist v’s viewer” points to the participants awareness that aesthetic discourse involves thinking in an individual and social context, the participants show this themselves visually by making arrows and line connections between different statements on the image. The image enables myself as a researcher to understand the cultural position of the art educators I am working with, this is useful information to possess when analysing data gathered because I can determine to what extent the art educators are using or already understand the terminology or practice of cognition. The image highlights the artist teachers may be aware of cognition, through statements such as “artistic cognition…”  “or cognition?” but that they do not necessarily understand how it is moving their thinking forward or that they can break cognition down into smaller components.

Personal lens: Thinking about writing from a personal lens is proving interesting, I can articulate my own interpretation of the workshop experience and image above sharing one angle. Personal experience also comes through in the theoretical and cultural viewpoints I have already shared because I am both writer and analyst, this reveals two more possible components to the artist teacher and researchers identity. When conducting the aesthetic discourse workshop with the doctoral research participants I believe I became more analytical of my own cognitive development. As I watched the participants creating their mind map about aesthetic discourse I drew connections between forms of cognition and the actions the participants undertook. For example, in relation to transcognition I could see that the participants were beginning to recognise the mind map they were creating as an outcome of aesthetic discourse, the visual was a thought generator it enabled language and discussion to be refocused and thoughts to be revisited, it facilitated the development of shared ideas, a key component of transcognition. This also revealed insights into how art can enable us to think in a language, beyond just seeing words on a page; art generates discussion and reflection a second component of transcognition. Participants through their discussions made references to their own contexts as artists and teachers using the visual as a springboard, the visual helped to illuminate contextual data about cognition, a third aspect of transcognition. This affirmed to me that there was a clear connection between cognition and aesthetic discourse, a component I wish to explore further in my doctoral study.

In this scenario, by using three lenses I model how visuals and the process of making them can portray voice. By using different lenses different discourses and stories can be created. Here they highlight the relationship between aesthetic discourse and cognition.

Event 2: Visiting a public installation.

As an art enthusiast I enjoy visiting contemporary art exhibitions, in particular I find public installations interesting because I find the decisions an artist makes to aid accessibility to their work fascinating, this artists’ act portrays part of the message being shared. I was lucky enough to experience the temporary exhibition commemorating The Battle of the Somme in Northern Hay Gardens in Exeter by artist Rob Heard recently and will express, again through multiple lenses how this experience influenced cognitive understanding.

Shrouds of the Somme, 2016, Rob Heard

Shrouds of the Somme, 2016, Rob Heard

Theoretical lens: The Battle of the Somme installation resonated with Eisner’s (2002) thoughts surrounding cognition in which he suggested that cognition is where one gains awareness of their surroundings or own consciousness. By experiencing the exhibit one begins to draw parallels with the experiences and surroundings of World War One soldiers, this is achieved physically through the expanse of figurative representations and emotionally through the realisation of the number of deaths. Through engagement with this exhibit, and art practice generally, one can increase their cultural meaning a definition of cognition shared by Efland (2002). In this exhibit this may occur through the impact and realisation of the number of victims involved in one of the bloodiest wars in history or through audience interaction in a modern day context. By thinking about this exhibit in relation to these theories of cognition, I am beginning to understand how I am learning, the activity itself is enabling me to interact with the exhibit on a deeper and more challenging level.

Cultural lens: As an art educator this could be a useful piece of artwork to engage with in relation to aesthetic discourse for a number of reasons, firstly because the artwork speaks through different mediums. The work has an auditory component, you can hear the voices of viewers interacting with the work whilst experiencing live performance sharing the names of soldiers who died on the first day of the Somme battle. Through this you can begin to understand how public installation can itself contain different forms of art to create one piece. In a kinaesthetic way the artwork comes alive through audience interaction, their is a sense of watching the devastation in front of you, this hints in a small way at the emotional shock many soldiers may have faced on the battlefield. Visually the expanse of white shared by the replica corpses in this piece creates impact by covering a vast expanse of land, this again becomes suggestive of the impact of one day of this war. Duncum (2007) identified that aesthetic discourse gains validity when it relates to contemporary life, this installation evokes questions about the wars and disputes we see in our contemporary world such as terrorism, this component of the work would be useful to share with other learners as it could be a way in to address both historical and modern day social, cultural and political constructs. There are other ways in which this artwork could be utilised by art educators which are not shared here, but I hope to demonstrate through this paragraph how this installation can provide a discourse for art educators to engage their students in thinking about art.

Personal lens: On a personal level this artwork evoked emotions around loss, as a new mother I began to interact with the work in relation to my own personal circumstance envisaging what it must have been like, in an empathetic way, for the families of the soldiers involved in this conflict. I gained realisation here that my own awareness of cognition has changed not only because of my academic awareness of cognition but also because of changes in my own personal circumstances, I read the artwork in a different way as a new mother. Before this life event my interpretation would probably have been different.This led me to think that every individual interacts with art in a different way, we all create our own aesthetic discourse with the art we interact with, the experiences we encounter in our lives shape the aesthetic discourse we have with artworks. Through writing this narrative and experiencing this installation I believe I have engaged in miscognition (Tavin, 2010), I did not recognise my own cognitive development in the moment of experiencing the work of art but on reflection later, through writing this narrative I have begun to articulate and understand that my awareness of aesthetic discourse has moved forward.

Event 3: External Examining for a UK University.

Whilst engaging in a different art educator’s role I was lucky enough to observe trainee primary teachers on their final placement, this experience influenced cognitive thoughts about my own practice as an artist teacher.


Theoretical lens: When observing one teacher she had cleverly used a washing line to display her pupil’s research into a range of artists, instantly this resonated with the concept of transcognition (Sullivan, 2005), this research was capturing the movements of the young artists minds, the essence of transcognition. The next lesson then allowed the pupils to use this work as a stimuli for future art practice, the pupils could develop their own cognition through connectionism and this would be evident to the teacher through the extent to which the children could use or articulate their prior research. Observing this scenaio, modelled how having an awareness of cognitive development could translate back into the classroom.

Cultural lens: By walking into the classrooms of different artist teachers I became aware cognition can develop through the visual entities you encounter and your understanding of what constitutes an aesthetic discourse can grow. Whilst external examining I saw a number of ideas that will act as stimuli to develop practice. For example, a washing line displaying children’s research into a range of artists made me draw parallels with my own learning experiences for trainee teachers. A number of ways art educators could use the seemingly simple technique of a washing line could be to display aesthetic discourse: as a working wall, a research line, or a gallery space to name a few ideas. This experience, a small entity in the external examiners role, has impacted my own cognition as an art educator and will now be shared with other art teachers. The experience modelled new ways that learning could occur and cognitive connections could be made.

Personal lens: I was consciously aware when external examining that my own cognition was developing, the experience was sparking new ideas for my own classroom practice, it was enabling me to be reflective, share thoughts and ideas with others and encounter new environments. I was consciously aware I was making connections in artistic ideas, enabling my own learning, yet the most prolific catalyst to this was social interaction with others. Discussion enabled the articulation of aesthetic discourse, artistic ideas had a position to be vocalised and questioned. The aesthetic discourse was not always about a physical artwork, but a conversation or action. Lim’s (2004) research also recognises aesthetic discourse occurs in action. In Sullivan’s  trans-cognitive approach to knowing he identifies knowing can be integrated between the process of art making, the artwork itself and the viewers mind, I agree with this sentiment as this is what occurred during the external examining experience. But for this transcognitive approach to be realised by the learner social interaction may be required. Of course Sullivan could be suggesting social interaction occurs through the process of art making, this was observed when children were using artist research displayed on a washing line to draw links and build cognitive connections with their most recent art practice. But because of the significance social interaction appears to make in cognitive development and aesthetic discourse its position requires elevation.

Conclusion: By writing about art educator experiences from different lenses a range of ways art can speak have been modelled. Aesthetic discourse appears to move beyond the visual, it can occur consciously and unconsciously and can be realised most powerfully when shared socially. Engaging in an aesthetic discourse can highlight how cognition can occur and develop in art education, as in this blog post. By writing through multiple lenses one can begin to understand how cognitive development is a complex process which involves creating a web of connections between experiences in order to move thinking and learning on.


Duncum, P. (2007). Nine Reasons for the Continuing Use of an Aesthetic Discourse in Art Education, Art Education, 60:2, 46-51

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

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

Lim, B. (2004). Aesthetic discourses in early childhood settings: Dewey, Steiner, and Vygotsky, Early Child Development and Care, 174.5, 473-486, DOI:10.1080/0300443032000153633

Sullivan, G. (2005, 2010). Art practice as research. (1st and 2nd eds.). London: SAGE

Tavin, K. (2007.) Eyes Wide Shut: The Use and Uselessness of the Discourse of Aesthetics in Art Education, Art Education, 60:2, 40-45.

Tavin, K. (2010). Six acts of mis-cognition: Implications for art education. Studies in Art Education,52.1, 55-68.



Tate Modern: Language, Learning and Litchenstein

Sometimes we can underestimate the power of art to promote dialogue and language development. After a thought provoking day at the Tate Modern Art and Language Workshop, working with the enthusiastic multimedia artist Emma Hart my understanding of the power of art to provoke words has spiralled. The relationship between thought, words, art and interpretation is compelling; without a doubt exploring contemporary art with children could influence literary development and fuel enthusiasm and creativity.

Here are some great activities experienced on the day that you could use to engage children with works of art: the value being to make the work encountered accessible for all and to give pupils a voice!

Before and After Thoughts…

Observe the work encountered. What piece of work did the artist make prior to this one? How? Why?

What came next? Can you draw it, act it, explain it?

Word Worm…

As a group create a line encompassing the work. Each person says one word to create a sentence about the work… what meaning is evoked? Word play and power evoke your imagination.

Verb or Verbalising…

Explore how the artwork makes you feel on viewing. In pairs observe the artwork, one person writes down the verbs the other partner is vocalising to describe how they are feeling in the space. Remember to vocalise verbs that you are feeling/ encountering- trembling, questioning, sweating rather than those about the artwork. Look inwards- art may have the ability to evoke a response in us. Explore language: adjectives, similes, metaphors  and have fun!

Emma Hart and the Tate team really inspired the way that I will approach my own teaching uniting art and language highlighting how important social collaboration is in this process; so thank you also to all participants who took part and have changed my thinking.

Whaam! 1963 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997

Another highlight was the Roy Litchenstein exhibition, a must see! I was blown away by the diversity and quantity of the work he created, famed for his pop art the exhibition really brought to light the vast influences from advertising (again showcasing the power of word play), movements such as Art Deco and the work of a whole range of influential artists- was Litchenstein inspired or making a statement about their testimonials? The viewer can decide….



Hayward Gallery Light Show Review

Audience perceptions were challenged by the complexity of experiences on offer. Toying with all senses the exhibition evoked mixed reactions. Enthralled by the intuitive nature of one child’s comments on the work of Jim Campbell; in which it was noted that light replicated the moving image, I further consolidated my opinion of the value of listening to pupil voice when exposed to art in a gallery context. Galleries can allow children to access a platform of expression, which is equal to that of any other individual, enabling them to question and extend their knowledge and understanding of the world.

This was a truly breathtaking exhibition uniting exploration into capitalism, consumerism and the relationship between human interaction and light in our unquantifiable world!