Conference Report

PoT logoAn Interdisciplinary Conference on Aesthetics, Education and the Arts 

Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, 21-22 June 2013

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On 21st and 22nd June 2013, the University of Liverpool’s Department of Philosophy hosted the ‘Patterns of Thought Conference’ at the Bluecoat. The following is a report of this event. For further details of the conference programme, click here, and for a detailed report of the workshop session, click here.

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Conference Report

This two-day conference organised by the Department of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool in partnership with the Bluecoat—a well-established creative hub with long history in the promotion of the arts located in the centre of Liverpool—focused on the role pedagogical practices do and should play in gallery and museum spaces and the conceptual frameworks that underlie these educational models. Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou and Dr Daniel Whistler introduced the event by identifying three central concepts – creativity, reflection and wellbeing – which the conference would attempt to elucidate. Some of the questions pertaining to the elucidation of these concepts included: what forms of creativity and reflection should one be educating when confronted with art and museum objects? What is the role of the facilitator in this learning process? What benefit might such creativity and reflection have on participants? And how might this benefit be captured? What contribution could Philosophy, and in particular Aesthetics, make with respect to these issues? Through a series of plenary papers, short reports and workshops, this interdisciplinary conference, including many delegates from the cultural sector, hoped to explore such questions further.

The conference opened with a plenary talk by Morag Morrison (Education, University of Cambridge), Opening Windows to Possibilities: The Subversive Responsibility of the Teacher, which considered the task facing arts education in view of the general political climate and curricular pressures. Later that day, Sara Liptai from the Philosophy for Children agency, SAPERE, began to consider the philosophical stakes of arts education in a talk entitled, What’s the Point of it? Philosophical Enquiry in Art(s) Education.

In between, there was a series of short reports given by leading cultural institutions and arts organisations in the region and beyond—the Bluecoat, Tate Liverpool, National Museums Liverpool, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, The Conversation Agency—on the existing educational programmes they run, their strengths and weaknesses and the models they employ to capture the changes in wellbeing issuing from them. What particularly emerged from these reports was the wealth of exciting work being done by education and participation departments in cultural institutions that the academia is often ignorant of.

The organisers also gave a short presentation on their philosophically-geared methodology for stimulating aesthetic reflection in galleries, Patterns of Thought. They walked the delegates through the different types of reflection at play in aesthetic experience and the different ways of stimulating it, and concluded with a call for more rigorous case studies on the links between aesthetic reflection and wellbeing.

The first day ended with an extended workshop session with the aim to encourage constructive dialogue on the Conference’s three key concepts of creativity, reflection and wellbeing in the context of arts education.  A report on the findings of the workshop is available here.

The second day began with a plenary talk by Jeremy Newton of the Princes’ Foundation for Children and the Arts summarising the work done by the Foundation in developing skills and competencies in children as a supplement to their school-based learning. This was followed by a further exploration of the contribution of Philosophy for children-based methodologies for aesthetic reflection by Peter Worley of the Philosophy Foundation, and an inspiring report by Nicola Shaughnessy from the University of Kent of the work around dramatic immersion which she is currently researching with autistic children.

There followed a series of short papers in which the range of interdisciplinary perspectives was further broadened and enriched. Carolina Boehm from MMU spoke of an educational music project she has undertaken, Siobhan Barry from the Manchester School of Architecture of an architectural one. Lin Holland spoke from the perspective of an artist, Jane Sillis from a policy perspective and finally Sarah Hegenbart contextualised recent discussions of the benefits of participatory art projects in terms of the burgeoning discourse of aesthetic virtues.

Finally, to close the conference, Eileen John (Philosophy, University of Warwick) in a plenary paper entitled, Appreciating the Art One Doesn’t Like, explored the role of dislike in the formation of an aesthetically-competent subject. Through a series of case studies, John showed how disliking an artwork can develop taste in a way in which aesthetic pleasure and liking sometimes doesn’t.

One of the main virtues of this conference, noted by the organisers in their concluding remarks, was that it brought together scholars working on Aesthetics and Art Theory from different historical and theoretical perspectives with specialists from Education and the Arts, from Philosophy for Children organisations and, most importantly, practitioners and policy makers from the cultural sector. The papers, dialogue and, most of all, the workshop session allowed for interesting points of agreement and disagreement to be identified and shared by an audience of around 60 participants. Best practice as well as philosophical concepts and the merits of reflection were communicated between the academics and practitioners to the benefit of both. We believe that the conference overall successfully met its aim to bring philosophical aesthetics into a productive interdisciplinary conversation, and, in particular through the workshop, it contributed to the development of the evidence-based part of the research being undertaken under the ongoing Patterns of Thought project and its dissemination.

We are grateful to the British Society of Aesthetics, the AHRC and the School of Arts University of Liverpool, for their financial support. Resources emerging from the conference are to be archived at the project website: www.lyceumproject.com.

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Dr Panayiota Vassilopoulou, yiota@liv.ac.uk          Dr Daniel Whistler, daniel.whistler@liv.ac.uk

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Supported by the Arts and Humanities Research CouncilBritish Society of Aesthetics and the School of the Arts, University of Liverpool.

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Lyceum Project and Patterns of Thought logos © Drodney Tunstall