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. 

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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.


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.



Roman Textile Art: A partnership between Croughton All Saints Primary School and The University of Northampton

Pupils from Croughton Primary School worked with first year non art specialist BA Primary Trainees to develop their printing skills in a collaborative workshop Northampton University trainees designed. The experience was designed to give first year trainees the opportunity to try out their printing skills with children in a scaffolded environment, whilst enriching school pupils with textile skills they may not otherwise have access to. The dual learning experience was successful in developing pupil, student, teacher and lecturer cognition.

Pupil cognition developed in different ways, the school children were able to make connections with their topic work on Roman life developed in school and apply this knowledge to the print work they were completing, many discussions were heard relating these experiences during the practical workshop. The finished artefact above models the children’s thoughtful making, the collaborative print shares a contribution by each child sharing their learning surrounding Roman design and the printmaking process.

The trainee teachers involved in the workshop also drew connections in their own learning, students had to articulate their awareness of the pedagogy behind print making to the children in order to assist them with creating their own print designs. The trainees had to think through both visual and verbal languages in order to model to the children how to create a successful print.

The class teacher accompanying the children commented that “the stimulating university environment and the one to one teaching was inspiring for the children and engendered their aspirations.” The teacher recognised his own cognition had developed because planning provision of this type was highly beneficial for learners to be able to embed and enhance their understanding of artistic processes and historical developments.

As the lecturer who organised this experience I experienced cognitive development by thinking in a medium, I was tasked with mounting the finished canvas print on a felt background. Whilst using the sewing machine to complete the task I became aware of how I was problem solving through the making process, I was estimating sizes and designing the background whilst making. It was a task that I had to complete quickly and was required to think in action, a continual process of reflection occurred. The making experience was capturing the movements of my mind as an artist and I was transitioning between identities of artist, lecturer and teacher.




On 25th June 2016 Cambridge University EdD students collaborated to participate in the annual Education Doctoral conference. This years theme resonated around the concept of reflexivity. The thinglink below shares a research community contribution from participants in the Well-being and Creativity Research Group. I had the role of collating the groups contributions into this thinglink design to share our contributions during a presentation. In this post I will summarise the conference experience and will discuss how aspects of the conference resonate with my own research on cognition. 

Using the thinglink above I hoped to generate an artefact that would fuel aesthetic discourse around our groups key contributions. The artwork which hosts the groups content is a visual metaphor for our evolving EdD experience. All members of our group are on individual and collaborative research journeys, these journeys can be turbulent and frequently change direction, as a result of reflexivity the map like structure articulates this. Maps can be read or interpreted in different ways, you can take different routes to reach similar destinations and you can be influenced by people or experiences en route, this parallels with a doctorate. Different themes and events hold significance for each group member and these are shared through hotspots on the multimedia thinglink.

Conference Key Themes:

Word cloud

A few of the key concepts that were explored at the conference include: a) The meaning of reflexivity in a modern world, b) Reflexivity of the self, practice and professions and c) Physical and digital writing strategies. The word cloud above also depicts other themes discussed.

Professor Pat Thompson started the conference with a keynote concerning reflexive strategies in the contemporary world, a significant statement made was that we are all reflexive beings in todays life. Her presentation focused on how to deal with this in relation to research and how research can assist us in making informed choices about educational practice. The three images below further illuminate the messages touched upon.

Image one illuminates different forms of reflexivity, to contribute to this I am aware that reflexivity has been defined as a cause and effect process (Scott and Morrison, 2005) which can affect both the researcher and researched. When writing reflexively, through an artistic, poetic or as I believe technologic self, fluidity in research stories can be articulated (Reed-Danahay, 1997; Spry, 2001). This blog for example acts as an element of my personal reflexive self, in which as Pat Thompson suggests different modes of reflexivity may emerge. It would be interesting to analyse blog content in relation to reflexive forms to identify how I use this within my own research practice, an area in which the conference has evoked my thinking.

Image two moves the keynote story forward to consider how blogging the doctoral self contributes to the reflexive process. Suggestions made included scholary presence, knowledge sharing, the valuable nature of slow thought and pleasure. I can empathise with these ideas, blogging has enabled me to explore who I am as an art educator, this identity is still emerging. It  provides a platform to share thinking as it develops, enables a step back, self reflection and brings pleasure, if I’m honest tension also emerges-mainly in relation to what content or how much to share. But the ability to blog is proving so valuable to me as a multi-media tool to engage all components of myself: artist, teacher, researcher, learner, writer etc. in my doctoral story. To contribute to the consideration of how blogs can be used and analysed in higher education myself and colleague Helen Caldwell have recently published an article exploring this domain. Caldwell, H. and Heaton, R. (2016). The interdisciplinary use of blogs and communities in teacher education. The International Journal of Information and Learning Technology. 33.3, 142-158. 

Image three determines a selection of the different categories doctoral blogs can come under, this led to discussions about how social media and a digital presence in general influences and impacts upon the doctoral self. Grushka (2007) discusses how exhibitions provide glimpses into artists’ worlds, enabling interpretations and reflections on the self and society whilst providing validation of self knowledge. As an artist and blogger, I feel this transcends across to my own discipline, if Joseph Beuys is correct stating we are all artists, then we are all able to exhibit our reflexive self, it is how we do this which becomes influential.

The messages shared in Professor Thompson’s keynote were revisited, revised and remodelled throughout the conference. EdD community groups presented, as identified in the thing link above, posters were shared and student presentations made. The conference became a web of connectivity and reinforced the value of reflexive collaboration in EdD journeys.

Conference Cognition:

In relation to how my own cognition developed through this experience I can honestly say that I am beginning to understand some of the ways in which I think (Sternberg and Sternberg, 2012), I am gaining awareness of my own consciousness as an art educator (Eisner, 2002). For example the narrative of this blog is helping me to make cognitive connections between my ideas whilst helping me to build an identity and awareness of my own culture and position in it. Learning connections are being made by writing and sharing digital content, this is fuelled by the reflexive process (Sullivan, 2005), I am capturing the movements of my mind in a two fold reflexive process by reflecting on experiences then reflecting upon these reflections. This strategy, which I have only just become aware of (an example of miscognition (Tavin, 2010) perhaps) is the entity which is helping me to understand how I am learning and engaging actively with my own transcognition (Sullivan, 2010).


Caldwell, H. and Heaton, R. (2016). The interdisciplinary use of blogs and communities in teacher education. The International Journal of Information and Learning Technology. 33.3, 142-158. 

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

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

Reed-Danahay, D. (ed) (1997). Auto/ethnography: Rewriting the self and the social. Oxford: Berg.

Scott, D. and Morrison, M. (2006). Key ideas in educational research. London: Continuum.

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

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.



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.



Specificity in doctoral writing

Transcognition and miscognition exist when art educators curate thought

The headline above intends to be specific about the focus of my doctoral study. Capturing the essence of a 5 year study in one headline is not an easy endeavour. Yet to be specific in your doctoral writing is essential to keep the reader focused, to show your own academic confidence and to add specificity to your writing. These were key messages that hit home after attending Karen Littleton’s and Pam Burnard’s session on writing tools and practices at Cambridge University on 2nd June 2016.

Why is academic confidence important in doctoral writing?

When writing a doctorate you are narrating a story, you have experienced this piece of research whole heartedly so it needs to be told in this manner. You choose elements of the story to share so it is necessary to be confident when retelling this, obviously stories can be told in multiple ways, so adding justification to your choice can help to articulate why you told this particular story. Retelling it through different lenses, for example the theoretical, cultural or personal, can also help to identify your confidence showing how you understand multiple perspectives on your own research.

Other ways you can show confidence include providing specific signposts in your work, writing with authority, explaining choices, being specific about which concepts to foreground and background and expressing confidence in your own knowledge exchange. With all of these components to think about it is no wonder writing can seem like a daunting process. However this particular writing session led me to realise that we all narrate in our own way, that ‘writing’ or ‘narrating’ research comes in many forms and what is most important is confident expression of voice, particularly important in autoethnography, my own form of research.

Which voice will narrate your story?

Along with lenses the expression of different voices can also help demonstrate confidence, it can show your ability as a researcher to address your research from different perspectives, make connections between your findings and increase accessibility. Again though, you need to be specific about why these particular voices were chosen to articulate your understanding. When you establish a writing position readers are more able to reflect on personal experiences in relation to yours (Sparkes, 1996).

I see the role of art educators as multifaceted, I could therefore have a voice as an artist, teacher and researcher and could articulate my research journey from each of these standpoints. Voicing autoethnographic research from these perspectives enables my experiences to be related to the cultural context of the art educator (Richardson, 2000), other ways I attempt to achieve this is by telling my story in relation to that of other art educators using participatory research and by using art as a medium to articulate. The gallery below demonstrates some examples of how I have been using visuals and journalling to express a research voice, to act as an artist and to identify myself as a learner.

Another way of considering voice is to think about at which point in time you are articulating your research, are you responding to scenario’s and experiences that occur? or are you are looking back? One could suggest you are being reflexive if adopting these practices creating cause and effect scenarios (Scott and Morrison, 2006). Reflexivity is powerful because it can also engender action (Suillivan, 2005) changing the direction of research.

The role of specificity: 

With research outputs judged on originality, significance and rigour, being specific is essential to make claims and valuable contributions. It is easy as a doctoral researcher to go off tangent, there are always interesting avenues to explore. But writing in relation to your own focus and defending this is key to tightening research stories and demonstrating confidence, Karen Littleton explained. In my own research I attempt to achieve this by mobilising theory around cognition in an art educators practice. For example if I reflect on this post I have mentioned the notion of reflexivity in my artwork helping the articulation of my own learning and thinking, I could be exemplifying here how I am utilising the symptoms and sinthomes of miscognition (Tavin, 2010) because the artwork and blog narration I have created has unconsciously enabled me to create new knowledge about my own research experiences in an unconscious way. I could also suggest this post is enabling me to think about my own writing practices as a doctoral researcher by exemplifying how I am using the transcognitive processes of thinking through a medium, language and context (Suillivan, 2005) because the multi-media blog is enabling me to share the mediums of my practice to model thinking. I am using written and visual languages to articulate and the blog itself is a cultural context for other art educators to interact with. I exemplify here the importance of specificity to make research relevant, focused and rigourous. This leads me back to my opening headline for this post, I have attempted to exemplify here some small ways that transcognition and miscognition exist when I, the art educator, curate thought.


Richardson, L. (2000). Writing: A method of Inquiry. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research. (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Scott, D. and Morrison, M. (2006). Key ideas in educational research. London: Continuum.

Sparkes, A. (1996). The fatal flaw: A narrative of the fragile body-self. Qualitative Inquiry, 2.4, 463-494.

Sullivan, G. (2005). 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.


A theoretical web

The metaphor of a web has been used by many artists. Roman Ondak used it to document those involved in performance art; each name offering a new story, Tomas Saraceno’s elastic rope installation, Galaxies Forming, intends to model how environmental, social and mental spaces collide and Jim Campbell created a web of lights at the Hayward Light Show to document exploding views of moving images (See examples below). What interests me here is the use of the same metaphor to interpret diverse artistic disciplines. When attending an EdD session at Cambridge University, hosted by Karen Littleton, yesterday evening concerning the use of theory in academic writing visualising a web enabled me to make connections in my own thinking. I felt like this was the moment I accessed my own cognition, if I related this to Suillivan’s (2005) notion of connectionism I was using the metaphor of a web to make links in my thinking. Whilst engaging in the session I also quickly began sketching ideas for installation based artwork portraying a web like structure, on reflection what I believe I was doing here was using Suillivan’s (2005) transcognitive notion of thinking in a medium to embed my own thoughts around theory in my doctoral study within my own cognition.


Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplads along the Strands of a Spider’s Web. 2009 Installation, elastic ropes Tomas Saraceno


Jim Campbell Exploded View (Commuters), 2011 (detail); © the artist. Image courtesy Sarah Christianson.









So what was it about the session that led me to this epiphany? Karen Littleton discussed how when writing research we need to think about how we mobilise theory, what comes to the foreground and what sits in the background? This resonated, with my thoughts around art, what does the artist choose to showcase? Why? With academic writing judged on ones contribution to knowledge it is important to identify where your theory is addressed and how this links throughout your writing, is this the same in arts based research? In writing, ways to achieve this could be through the exemplification of ideas, or by creating a golden thread of theory throughout.

Karen also identified the importance of using a theoretical lens to articulate ideas, this statement encouraged me to think about the different lenses and voices I would use to tell the research stories I am generating both artistically and in writing. Due to having a range of stories to tell the cognitive web I was visually creating in my mind and on paper began to grow. Not only are there different stories in my research there are different voices in which they can be told, creating another three dimensional component to the theoretical, cognitive and visual web I began formulating. Even within first person narrative and the pronoun (I) there can be emotional or academic responses which would portray thoughts from different lights (Davies, 2012). Within voices, as with theory being shared in research, a reader writer relationship becomes apparent. Just as an artist audience relationship is created when an artwork is interacted with, like with the artist’s works above. The web becomes an emotional, social and theoretical entity, something I would like to depict in my next artistic creation to help articulate further the cognitive connections between voices, stories and theories being shared in my academic practice.

From this theory in research session I take away a number of new thoughts to progress my academic studies:

  1. It is important to step back from your research, look at it from different angles and use different lenses to interpret the theories within it.
  2. To keep your research tight, use theory to connect it together, but keep it focused, remember the golden thread.
  3. That there can be different theoretical systems that may be illuminated as the work evolves.
  4. Most importantly to construct a theoretical dialogue.

In terms of my own cognition, I feel this session has been prolific in aiding the organisation of my own thought both for artistic and articulative purposes. I hope through this reflection I have articulated how I became aware of my own cognitive connections when thinking about theory use in academic research.


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

Davies, P. (2012). ‘Me’, ‘Me’, ‘Me’: The Use of the First Person in Academic Writing and Some Reflections on Subjective Analyses of Personal Experiences. Sociology 46(4) 744–752. 





Collaborative Cognition #NSEAD AD 2016

23rd April 2016 an exciting day, the post arrived and the new NSEAD AD 2016 Issue 16 magazine publication arrived sharing articles by University of Northampton art education students and myself as their lecturer. What was special about this particular publishing opportunity was its outcome as what I believe to be a result of collaborative cognition. To explain collaborative cognition I mean the process by which a group of people fuel each others thought process to achieve over a specific period of time and around a particular theme. The outcomes of which at the start could be seemingly unknown.

In this case the AD magazine shares two articles, ‘Our iJADE Conference’ (2016) by students Steph Morris and Alice Crumpler page 19 and my own article ‘Theory versus practice in art and design education’ pages 26-27. We were also fortunate to have an example of one students artwork on the front cover, well done Ellie Pask. So, how was collaborative cognition generated?


The two articles have been the end result of a project comprising two avenues, the first a third year art specialism module for the trainee art teachers which involved the students exploring an area of art of their choosing and investigating current concerns in the realm of primary art education. The second avenue an awareness of change maker principles, an ethos which has underpinned the creation of the students art specialism course and which is at the heart of study at Northampton university, in short making positive changes in society to improve our world. When the students and myself embarked on these projects we were not aware of how much we would influence the direction of each others thought, practice and cognition. I was learning from the students as much as they were learning from me. A key example was the publication of the articles, as a fairly new academic and researcher I was guiding students through the publication process, offering advice on editing their work whilst also learning about this process myself. The work the students wanted to share stretched my own thinking, I was learning not only new content about the topics they were exploring but also how to offer critical feedback as a publisher would. Just changing the students audience stretched theirs and my cognition.


Within my own research I also interviewed students about their understanding of changemaker principles on our course, my intention to share the research at iJADE2015, I did not envisage taking two students with me to present the findings and them being asked to review the conference for the AD Magazine or to extend this even further, writing a collaborative journal article. We are in the throws of producing it. In this example collaborative cognition occurred through social interactions with the students, with individuals at the conference and through the creation of articles. What became apparent was how spontaneous situations led to new directions in thinking, we had to take risks and be open to following new thought paths. The outcomes of which have been fruitful and now our ideas will hopefully inspire other art educators through shared viewing in AD and via this blog. One aim of the change maker ethos is to create positive impact, I hope this will be achieved to an extent by sharing cognition through these outcomes.




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: