By Dr Stacey Salazar
What do students of art need to know and be able to do today in order to flourish tomorrow? For the past ten years I have been exploring this question within the context of US art schools (Salazar, 2013a, 2013b, 2014, 2016). Reflecting on this body of research, three strategies stand out by which we, as educators, can better prepare art students to meet future challenges. We need to prompt inquiry, nurture entrepreneurial dispositions, and facilitate creative communities of practice.
In art and design education, inquiry might be thought of as investigation into processes, concepts, and questions that are meaningful to the learner and critical to contemporary practice. In particular, tasks that stimulate inquiry into art, self, and world seem especially fruitful. For example, in my recent research (Salazar, 2016), an art school alumna shared that her foundation drawing professor showed images of one hundred contemporary artworks, challenging the class to consider each as they co-constructed a description of what ‘counts’ as drawing in the twenty-first century. Another student recalled an influential professor who assigned big ideas – such as identity, place, and ritual – to which students would respond through making as they pondered their connections to the themes. The finished works elicited discussion about processes, personal experiences, and cultural references — engaging students in sharing emerging understandings of art, self, and world. The fact that such inquiry is identified as significant years later implies its substantial impact on the learner.
A recent report about the challenges confronting US artists (The Center for Cultural Innovation, 2016) indicates that entrepreneurial dispositions such as risk-taking, persevering, collaborating, leading, managing, and initiating, are central to negotiating the greater income inequality and the expanding ‘gig economy’ that professional artists face today. These dispositions are echoed by art students and alumni, who told me that college taught them to take risks, persevere, cultivate ideas, work independently, and engage with communities (Salazar, 2014, 2016). For instance, independent studio coursework was noted as critical to developing the devotion, passion, and energy necessary to maintain a post-graduate studio practice, and professors were cited as helping students understand that “you can have another career while maintaining an independent art practice” (Salazar, 2016, p. 354).
Finally, art college alumni said the most valuable facet of their education was the community of artists (Salazar, 2016). Community was also the aspect of their education that alumni most wanted to re-create in their post-graduate years (2016). This suggests art school is a creative community of practice: a group of artistic individuals “who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger-Trayner, 2011). It follows that being part of a creative community of practice in school would be conducive to creating such communities later.
In considering the ways in which art college instruction might engage inquiry, entrepreneurship, and community, technological change over the past ten years provides both challenges and opportunities.
When I initiated this research a decade ago, my participants did not have smart phones. After all, at that time the first smartphone had just been released; Twitter, a small venture, was in its second year; and Facebook was newly available to anyone 13 years of age or older anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. These tools did not yet saturate art school students’ daily lives. By contrast, today smartphones are omnipresent prostheses through which art students (and most everyone else) interact everyday; and Instagram, launched in 2010, reports that more than 90% of their 600 million active users around the globe are under the age of 35. Many of those are college students.
Our current moment is one in which civilized dialogue is often drowned in a sea of tweets, trolls, shrill voices, and ‘alternative facts,’ and in which we find ourselves habitually absorbed in individual, digitally-mediated experiences such that we are alone even when together (Turkel, 2012). In that environment, renewed focus on inquiry can help students make meaning and discern trustworthiness; harnessing entrepreneurial dispositions in real and online worlds may assist our students in handling multiple creative projects in a rapidly evolving society; and providing our students with opportunities to thrive in college-based creative communities of practice means that our graduates will be more likely to build productive creative communities that sustain our shared future. By encouraging inquiry, entrepreneurship, and creative communities of practice, art schools can prepare graduates to be critical inquirers, thoughtful leaders, engaged community members, and humane creators – in a world that desperately needs all of these.
Salazar, S. (2017). Art schools and the creative entrepreneur, In “The artist as entrepreneur: On creating a creative life in the twenty-first century.” Full Bleed: A Journal of Art & Design, 1(1). Retrieved July 31, 2017 at https://www.full-bleed.org/features/2017/5/4/the-artist-as-entrepreneur
Salazar, S. (2016). A portrait of the artists as young adults: A longitudinal study of art college graduates. Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education, 15(2), 145 - 159.
Salazar, S. M. (2014). Educating artists: Theory and practice in college studio art. Art Education, 67(5), 32 - 38.
Salazar, S. M. (2013b). Studio Interior: Investigating undergraduate studio art teaching and learning. Studies in Art Education, 55(1), 64 - 78.
Salazar, S. M. (2013a). Laying a foundation for artmaking in the 21st century: A description and some dilemmas. Studies in Art Education, 54(3), 246 – 259.
The Center for Cultural Innovation. (2016). Creativity Connects: Trends and conditions affecting U.S. artists. Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Arts.
Turkel, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.
Wenger-Trayner, E. (December 28, 2011). What is a community of practice? Retrieved July 31, 2017, from http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/what-is-a-community-of-practice/
Stacey Salazar directs the Master of Arts in Art Education at the Maryland Institute College of Art (USA). Her research appears in Studies in Art Education, Visual Arts Research, and Art Education Journal, and she is the 2015 recipient of the NAEA Manuel Barkan Memorial Award for research.
She received a 2016 MSAC Individual Artist Award and a 2013 MICA Trustee Fellowship for Excellence in Teaching. Stacey holds a Doctorate of Education in Art and Art Education from Columbia University Teachers College, an MAT from MICA, an MFA from Towson University, and a BA in Art & Art History from Randolph-Macon College.