Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Supporting education for 'digitally enfranchised' visual arts students?

Written for visual arts policy makers, educators and those visually creative who just may be interested...

As a genre closely aligned with the Modern take on aesthetic distinction, the visual arts school genre is very distant from postmodern approaches, let alone meta-modern ones. There are large gaps between school art and what occurs in contemporary art (Faucher, 2016), creative industry and screen-based visual culture. The national syllabus' emphasis on the institutional artist (as mostly an observational drawer and painter) ignore many other roles that young people might pursue for becoming successful visual creatives. Likewise, the visual arts syllabus does not explicitly address the existence of multiple visual creative hierarchies (i.e. observational drawing versus Manga illustrations) whose genres may compete in prioritising very different aesthetic and creative values (e.g. detailed realism versus imaginative graphic abstraction) for their creative communities. There is an opportunity for visual arts policy makers and educators to consider how visual arts teaching might address such competition and support young peoples' exploration of contemporary visual creative roles outside the traditional gallery path.

Within this opportunity lies the challenge of considering how the visual arts syllabus might respond to the growing role of digital media in contemporary life and art? In particular, what new academic and technical cultural capital should aspirant visual creatives be taught for supporting their
development of artistic identities and access to opportunities, whether in art worlds, creative industry or elsewhere... Here arts educators and policy-makers can turn to media studies educators and researchers who have explored young adults' creative digital productions and associated development of new media literacies (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, and Leu, 2014; Ito et al. 2009, 2010; Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins and Ito, 2015; Gauntlett, 2000, 2007, 2011; Lankshear and Knobel, 2006).

Young people who develop new media literacies arguably enjoy a form of digital enfranchisement through developing a level of visibility through personal presences in digital environments through which they exercise their voices. This may feature roles that range from prosumption (i.e. liking, commenting on and re-sharing YouTube videos) to produsage (editing and sharing videos via videos on a YouTube channel) (Bruns, 2008). By contrast, individuals and groups who choose not to participate or cannot surmount gatekeepers are disenfranchised through being invisible in digital environments. As the online and offline environments become increasingly interlinked, individuals who enjoy high visibility online are potentially advantaged. Their digital symbolic capital serves to generate further interest and opportunities versus the proverbial 'people of no account/sans digital personas'.

Case studies for South African aspirant design students (Venter, 2018), visual arts students (Noakes, 2018) and media studies students (Brown, Czerniewicz and Noakes, 2016) suggest that young creatives are deriving benefits similar to those identified in the global North's media studies research. That said, there are large contrasts between the affluent research contexts of the Global North (in which most media studies research with teens is done) and under-served ones in the Global South. Educational ideas and media studies research from the Global North may translate very poorly for educators in South African classrooms who typically have minimal, if any, digital infrastructure, and may have to teach large class sizes. It is important to use educational sociology for scoping the many challenges involved when creatively appropriating digital literacies into the South African visual arts syllabus, as well as who benefits from such changes, or not.

It also important to understand how the digital media repertoires of young content producers mark new forms of social distinction (Noakes, 2018) or have even shifted to become commonplace. As part of 'Generation C'(ontent), elite groups of creatives in varied communities (Brake, 2013) enjoy the rare privilege (Schradie, 2011) of assuming roles with digital media that distinguish them from their peers. For example, presenting a qualified self (Humphreys, 2018) as a visual creative with an overall online identity spanning varied digital portfolios serves to mark social distinction (Noakes, 2018). In schools, art students' digital repertoires may signify distinction for both schools and students through requiring extraordinary development of technical cultural capital and access to resources for the development of digital personas and aesthetics. By contrast, such repertoires may seem unremarkable in creative industries where communicating via digital imagery is an everyday part of professionals' work in ephemeral screen culture (Grainge, 2011). At some tertiary institutions in Cape Town, digital portfolios are now required for evaluation before admission is granted (Noakes, 2018). This points to the changing status and use of digital repertoires over time {from rare to commonplace and expected for aspirant arts students after they leave school} in different fields {tertiary fine arts and design education} by particular groups. Assessment was not a key focus of my research, but it would be interesting for researchers to describe whether academic institutions have also shifted to screening students' overall online presences in evaluating admissions!

As introduced in my opening paragraph, the doxa of a highbrow Modernist taste in South African visual arts education contributes to its many blindspots. Foregrounding the institutionalised artist as its (only?) hero distances the school art genre from many learning opportunities. These span artistic media and genres (i.e. mobile phone photography for self-portraiture and perspective), creative processes (e.g. not handmade and crafted by others) and approaches to contemporary art (i.e pseudonyms) and creative industry (e.g. writing creative briefs). Educators could support students with considering decolonisation and its arguments against implicitly foregrounding only highbrow/high status cultural capital as "the legitimate one". Educators could also draw on indigenous repertoires {beadwork and other patterns} and the energy of African artists' identities as exemplified via the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and Norval Foundation's Art Museum's collections. Multiple platform, creative entrepreneurs could also be positioned as heroes by visual art educators who choose to address the fields of creative industry, fandoms and craft. 

How new content on this blogsite might help young visual creatives and their educators
Describing concerns related to cultural stratification and infrastructural resourcing (in that order!) are important in my role as a scholar. Challenges in these two areas suggest how difficult it would be for secondary school visual arts curricular advisers to promote systematic change. It is simply impossible that South Africa's visual arts syllabus and educators could support all visual arts students with becoming digitally enfranchised. For the foreseeable future, three major obstacles will remain in place: arts education will continue to be under-served with poor digital infrastructure (1); there will be a dearth of support for arts educators to develop their own digital media literacies, let alone teach them (2), the Modern aesthetic hierarchy will continue to be reproduced in art history lessons and via arts studio practices (3).

In my roles as design steward and techné mentor, I am interested in an ongoing contribution towards digital enfranchisement for emergent/young artists beyond the e-portfolio syllabus. I would like to support their informal andragogical /  heutagogical experiences via this blogsite by continuing to develop its links to educational content. Below is a table that lists potential lessons that could support digital enfranchisement. Its content is ordered from closest links to the established literacies in the visual arts. Such content will be written for students and arts educators may repurpose the content with appropriate attribution.

Digital enfranchisement lesson ideas
Table 1. Lesson ideas that may be close to existing literacies in the visual arts syllabus
#
SUBJECT
INSPIRATION
1   Folksonomies through social bookmarking Independent school syllabus
2   Search engine syntax for arts' research(See this Google cheat sheet)
3   Using artists' blogs, portfolios and digital affinity space for visual creative learningOnline portfolios such as DeviantArt and Behance, online art galleries
4   How to curate your inspirationDr Potter and Ass Prof Gilje who propose digital curation to be a new literacy
5   Developing digital portfoliosBaron on developing a digital portfolio
 E-portfolio: digital curation and self-presentationVisual arts showase e-portfolio syllabus
 Becoming an artist Dr Hansson's research into university art students' online portfolios
 Emojis II Trollz (designing pixel art)Emojipedia and online trolls
9   Medias and mediums: expressive potentialities of modalities and mediaSocial semiotic researchers using multimodal an analysis for studying transduction 
10  The creative briefWriting numerous briefs as a brand manager
11  Protecting your work's copyright and selling your work onlinProf Haupt on creative copyright and Prof Gauntlett on Making is Connecting
12  Prosumption practices for online audience engagementLankshear and Knobel on New Literacies

Developing these lessons should provide helpful content that creatives can use for developing new media literacies. Hopefully visual arts and design educators can explore how such lessons might be integrated into their syllabi. In developing these lessons, I will also be learning as I use different combinations of platforms (perhaps Slideshare for a local Trolls II Emojis syllabus, but wikiversity for a global version).

If you can suggest further inspiration, please make a comment, ta. Or to collaborate, get in touch.

References
Brake, D. R. (2013). Are We All Online Content Creators Now? Web 2.0 and Digital Divides. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 19(3), 609.
Brown, C., Czerniewicz, L., & Noakes, T. (2016). Online content creation: looking at students’ social media practices through a Connected Learning lens. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(1), 140-159. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1107097
Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and beyond: From production to produsage (1st ed.). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang.
Coiro, J., Knobel, M., Lankshear, C., & Leu, D. J. (2014). Handbook of research on new literacies (1st ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Cronin, B., & Shaw, D. (2002). Banking (on) different forms of symbolic capital. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53(14), 1267-1270.
Faucher, C. (2016). Informal youth cultural practices: Blurring the distinction between high and low. Visual Arts Research, 42(1), 56-70.
Gauntlett, D. (2000). Web. studies: Rewiring media studies for the digital age. London, England, UK: Arnold, Edward.
Gauntlett, D. (2007). Creative Explorations: New approaches to identities and audiences. Oxon, England, UK: Routledge.
Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is Connecting. The social meaning of creativity, from DIY and knitting to YouTube and Web 2.0. Cambridge, England, UK: Polity.
Grainge, P. (2011). Ephemeral media: Transitory screen culture from television to YouTube (1st ed.). London, England, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
Humphreys, L. (2018). The Qualified Self: Social Media and the Accounting of Everyday Life (1st ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Ito et al. (2009). Living and Learning with New Media. Massachusettes, USA: Massachusettes Institute of Technology.
Ito et al. (2010). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. Massachusettes, USA: Massachusettes Institute of Technology.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide (1st ed.). New York, NY: NYU press.
Jenkins, H., & Ito, M. (2015). Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics John Wiley & Sons.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006a). New literacies : changing knowledge and classroom learning (1st ed.). Berkshire, England, UK: Open University Press, McGraw-Hill Education.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006b). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning (2nd ed.). Berkshire, England, UK: Open University Press.
Noakes, T. (2018). Inequality in Digital Personas- e-portfolio curricula, cultural repertoires and social media, (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Cape Town, Cape Town, RSA.
Venter, M. A. (2018). Patchworked creative practice and mobile ecologies. (Doctoral dissertation). University of Cape Town, Cape Town, RSA. Retrieved from https://open.uct.ac.za/bitstream/handle/11427/28365/Venter_Patchworked_creative_2018.pdf?sequence=1.

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