Rebecca Heaton on Art and Design Education

Investigating cognition in the creative arts.


On this page I intend to provide a brief insight into cognition, the purpose of this is to enable you to engage with current research behind cognition in an attempt to make my blog more accessible. My thinking behind cognition is referred to throughout the blog as I attempt to track my own practice as an art educator. Elements of the discussion below also feature in my doctoral writing.

Multiple forms of cognition in art education exist (Efland, 2002). Cognition can be defined as the process of understanding how we think (Sternberg and Sternberg, 2012). It can also  refer to the processes through which one gains awareness of their surroundings or own consciousness (Eisner, 2002). In short Efland (2002) identifies that through art practice in education one generates cultural meaning. If an art educator can understand their own thinking and the process where they are generating those thoughts and understanding, they can begin to identify how they are learning, I attempt to identify my own learning on this blog. I believe an understanding of cognition is important for the artist teacher, not only to develop cultural meaning but because if one can understand their own learning they become better positioned to assist others to do the same.

Sullivan (2005) explains that cognition in art also occurs in different ways, it can be computational, referring to our brains human capacity to solve problems and use symbolism to generate our behaviors. Cognition can also occur through connectionism, where learning happens when ideas and thoughts are mapped in the mind. Sullivan also proposes a trans-cognitive approach to knowing where knowing is integrated between the process of art making, the artwork itself and the viewers mind. This could occur through 1. Thinking in a medium: artwork generated through a process of thoughtful making, recognising that the art created is an outcome of thought. 2. Thinking in a language: where language is used to engage with meaning both in the process of making and reflecting on art. 3. Thinking in a context: Where an acceptance of the changing environment, which could be our visual culture, influences the knowledge created. Trans-cognition attempts to ‘capture the movements of the artists mind’ (Sullivan, 2005, p. 130), occurrences of trans-cognition may be evident or highlighted on this blog. With every act of cognition, miscognition (Tavin, 2010) could also occur, miscognition refers to cognition which develops without an immediate conscious awareness of cognition occurring it happens subconsciously and we may only recognise it later.

With these forms of cognition in mind I begin to track how they occur within an art educators practice through reference to them on the blog posts shared. I also discuss my own expansions on cognitive forms in art education. By following this link you will also be able to see a visual representation of my thoughts on cognition.


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.

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

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

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