Rebecca Heaton on Art and Design Education

Investigating cognition in the creative arts.


@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.


A cognitive turning point…

As a doctoral researcher exploring cognition in art education I am constantly searching for occurrences, large or small, which alter the direction of my thinking or practice. Yesterday’s Thinking Allowed episode: The BSA Thinking Allowed and Ethnography Award Shortlist on Radio Four provided an interesting opportunity for me to reevaluate my own ethnographic practice. Listening to the show reminded me of the importance of portraying a honest and truthful experience through ethnography which is accessible to people from all walks of life. As an academic sometimes it can be easy to get lost in complex terminology, or entangled in a web of continually shifting thoughts, but the show made me realise the importance of just sharing your story.

Through ethnography one is usually trying to portray a real life insight to a particular culture, personally I am researching the culture of artist teachers. Dr Ruben Andersson provides a brief introduction into ethnography here. For most artist teachers art is their go to form of expression and with it being a universal language I have chosen to use it as a communicative tool in my own ethnographic research. I believe art forms can offer something special in communicating a researchers findings to a wider audience, the Radio Four show reinforced why I was using this tool and sparked my imagination to create a number of art pieces within my research, these included the use of billboards as an art form to share parts of my story I wish to advertise and three dimensional maps of my practice. What the show did here was spark my cognition, I made connections between thoughts and generated new ideas straddling art practice and ethnography, I hope to unpick this further in my study. Ethnographers are renowned for using a vast array of creative disciplines to express themselves to add value to personal narratives and research experiences (Coffey, 1999; Davies, 2008). To provide an example the image below demonstrates my own sketchbook exploration into the term autoethnography, a feature of my own artist teacher narrative.


Figure 1: Sketchbook entry, 2.6.15, Seeking meaning.

Mixed media. 30cm x45cm. Rebecca Heaton.

Art in particular can make us question ourselves and the world in new ways (McNiff, 2008) this can add value to ethnographies because it can help show emotionality or report new concepts in a meaningful way (Spry, 2001; Davies, 2008) equally though it can complicate access.

As the authors do in the shortlisted ethnographies presented in the BSA awardI I need to make my intentions clear to others, clarifying what I hope to achieve in my ethnography whilst highlighting which themes are going to be my focus for discussion. A challenge for many ethnographers is the quantity of data that is gained through lived experiences, so reviewing my focus areas may act as a filtering tool to make this process manageable. Currently within my ethnography into the practice of art educators, I intend to draw on the artist teachers understanding of cognition and its influence on learning whilst broadly thinking about the areas of social justice art education and the influence of digital culture on cognitive process.

On a more personal level listening to the radio show has reignited a desire to read, as a lecturer I read for research regularly but hearing about the shortlisted ethnographies generated an inquisitiveness to read in a different way.  It reminded me of the importance to make space and time to read for pleasure and to learn about the lives of others. So one radio show listened to on the way home from a break in Norfolk has proved provocative in reshaping my doctoral study. I look forward to reading some of the shortlisted ethnographies in depth over the coming months…


Coffey, A. (1999). The Ethnographic Self. London: SAGE.

Davies, C. (2008). Reflexive Ethnography. (2nd ed.). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge

McNiff, S. (2008). Art-based research. In Knowles, G. and Cole, A. (eds) (2008). Handbook of the arts in qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE.

Spry, T. (2001). Performing auto-ethnography: An embodied methodological praxis. Qualitative Inquiry, 7, 706-732. Retrieved from:


VOCES8 Perform at the Stahl Theatre, Oundle.

An evening of exquisite a cappella was experienced by many at the Stahl theatre in Oundle last night. As a new appreciator of VOCES8 I was astounded by the groups ability to create artistic mastery through vocal exploration. Each number evoked a diverse emotional and cognitive  response, leaving the audience to contemplate their own imagination inspired by sound. Drawing on a range of musical genres VOCES8 demonstrated the power of the human voice to create exquisite works of art;  this heightened my awareness of valuing the importance of sound experimentation as a necessary aspect of art education with the students and pupils which I teach. I am sure this ethos is shared by VOCES8 themselves who collaborated with students from Oundle School to create musical innovations. May I invite people to comment on their participation in any musical collaborations uniting practice in the arts and education to enable practitioners of the future to understand the benefits of this process for all participants.

Many thanks VOCES8 for opening my eyes to a range of musical possibilities.