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Lum, Chee Hoo
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Contemporary Art (CA) and the ideas that surround them are of our time, so they hold the possibility of informing us, more than artworks of the past, about our contemporary lives (Wilson, 2003). Teaching CA in the classroom can aid in opening up conversations relevant to concerns surrounding students, and as such, encourage higher-order thinking, problem solving and deep reflection (Cox, 2000). Since CA practices and approaches are diverse and wide-ranging, it has been shown that traditional skills-based instruction in the studio limits the complexity, independent learning, pupil autonomy and the promotion of new learning methods that is present in CA practices (Adams, 2010; Kotin et al., 2013; Page et al., 2006). There is a “growing sense that conventional modes of learning must adapt and change” (Guy, 2020, p. 19) amidst mounting social, political, economic, health and environmental issues on a local as well as global scale. When CA practices are led by the interest of the students within formal education settings, it offers a mode of interrogating these issues and instigating change beyond the classroom (Guy, 2020). CA should be part and parcel of any effective art education curriculum as it is able to offer a unique set of strategies for the development of 21st Century Competencies such as Civic Literacy, Global Awareness and Cross-Cultural Skills, Critical and Inventive Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Information Skills (MOE, 2015) necessary for a globalized world. Despite these benefits, CA is often shunned in the primary classroom as teachers are either not prepared to take on topics that they are not familiar with or they think CA is too difficult for young students to understand (Thulson, 2013).

The purpose of this research study is to address the research gap in the Professional Development (PD) of art teachers in teaching/making/researching CA in Singapore, so teachers are equipped with a deeper understanding of CA practices, pedagogies and approaches that are supportive of student learning. These research gaps include: the relevance and implications of CA to the teaching and learning of visual art in primary schools; means and ways of improving the effectiveness of teacher PD in the area of CA education; and strategies and methods through which teachers can apply CA practices in their primary art classrooms.

There are three parts to this research study. Part One of this research study involved interviews with three Singapore contemporary artists to examine through their lens what constitutes CA, how it is defined in the local context and what are the relevance and implications of CA to the teaching and learning of visual art in primary schools. Part Two of this research study examined through the participants of the 3D Art Module1 where I was the researcher and lecturer, their learning of CA and any shifts in mindset or pedagogic reasoning in art teaching that occurred. Part Three of this research study, examined through six case studies candidates’2 applications of CA concepts and practices in the classroom and the impact of its application three months after the 3D Art Module. The following are some key findings and original contributions from this research study:

Promotion of Local Contemporary Art/Artists: This study interviewed local contemporary artists on their views and experiences of CA in Singapore and sought advice from them regarding the teaching of CA in primary schools. According to these Singapore artists, CA engages in the here and now, is involved in current discourse, is relevant to where one lives, and reflects one’s experience and time in history. These artists think that students should be exposed to CA at a young age and that more local contemporary art/artists should be introduced as they would be more relevant to students’ present lives and struggles. This increased exposure can inspire confidence within students to pursue creative endeavours and raise the perceived value of local art. Therefore, a more inclusive and culturally relevant selection of artists/artworks can be introduced to the art syllabus in order to represent the multicultural society that makes up Singapore.

Artistic Immersion: Immersing students in the world of art and artists through museum visits, visiting artists’ studios or inviting artists into the classroom exposes students to local art through interactions with actual artists and artworks. This authentic learning experience provides a more personal and in-depth engagement into the artist’s work and life. Seeing artists at work can inspire students to be artists themselves and exude the same confidence and enjoyment in coming up with ideas, experimenting with materials and making art. It might also work to encourage students to talk about their own lives and experiences in the art making process instead of making art to look like someone else’s.

The Promotion of Material and Thematic Exploration: This study found that when students are introduced to the diversity of CA practices and approaches, encouraged to venture out of their comfort zones and given the freedom to explore a variety of unconventional materials, media and themes of their choice, it heightens curiosity and a sense of adventure resulting in the development of new ideas, new resource possibilities, divergent thinking and personal artistic voice. This finding can hopefully impact syllabus and curriculum writers, school leaders and art educators to adopt more CA practices and approaches in the classroom.

The Importance of Student-Led Exhibitions: When students are given the opportunity to organize their own exhibitions and to decide on which artworks to exhibit, it increases their sense of ownership and belonging in the classroom/gallery space. Students also gain independent and collaborative learning strategies and necessary skills in exhibition curation, organization and installation.

Harnessing Cross-Disciplinary Opportunities: The issue-based nature of CA often traverses the confines of subject based learning, offering cross-curricula opportunities across a range of subjects (Page et al., 2006). From environmental awareness to identity issues, new-media expertise to research skills, when CA practices were introduced in the classroom, this study found that the emphasis on experimenting with unconventional material and approaches led students to explore and learn from multiple disciplines.

Challenging Social Norms and Dealing with Sensitive Topics: This study revealed that the often non-conventional nature of CA presented unique opportunities for teachers to engage students in open-ended dialogue and reflective inquiry into otherwise controversial or difficult topics and offered advice on dealing with sensitive topics specific to the local context. Challenging outdated social norms or confronting relevant personal, social, political and cultural issues that shape students’ lives in our contemporary society can help develop important 21st Century Competencies such as Global and Cross-Cultural Awareness, Critical and Inventive Thinking, as well as Communication and Collaboration Skills (MOE, 2015), resulting in personal and/or social change.

Negotiating the Teacher’s Position in the CA Classroom: CA interrogates conventional social structures and when applied to education, older conceptions of learner and teacher hierarchies are challenged (Page et al., 2006). Participants in this study showed hesitance to relinquish complete control over the class, citing the lack of relevance of this approach to the local context or fear of ensuing chaos, however, they were eager to prioritize the student’s artistic voice. This led to an exploration of how they can increase the possibilities for students to practice decision making and autonomy in order to encourage their voice and ideas to fuel their artworks without compromising classroom management and safety issues. Participants found that when they take on a guiding role, encourage and assure students of their capabilities instead of judging the artworks based on their own biases, it gave students confidence in their own skills and achievements.

Fostering Multiple Readings and Using Inquiry-Based Approaches: The strength of CA is that it invites active engagement and multiple readings (Kemperl, 2013). Teachers should not predetermine the meanings of artworks in advance but should instead practice inquiry-based approaches and embrace ambiguity to allow for shifting interpretations of artworks by students, thereby allowing students to practice problem solving and hone their abilities in offering diverse solutions to our current predicaments. Several inquiry-based approaches detailed in this study were explored with participants to show participants’ thoughts on the applicability of these approaches.

Continuous PD for Teachers and School Management for Paradigm Shift: Exposure to CA encourages teachers to be less judgmental towards unconventional artworks and be more open to trying out CA pedagogies. As advised from local contemporary artists, in order for teachers to be effective in teaching CA, they should be exposed to and engaged in the making of CA. Teachers also need to be open to the idea of teaching CA and not see it as being too challenging for students or unnecessary to their development. By introducing both traditional art forms and CA practices, after which free exploration of materials and approaches are encouraged, gives learners the opportunity to be both grounded in hands-on making skills and expressive in more experimental forms of art. This mix of the traditional and contemporary has helped participants in this study to see the importance of both and decide on their own how to balance them in their own classrooms.
Continued emphasis on the end product rather than the process of learning discourages creativity and experimentation. As such, schools need to learn about respecting the student’s voice and not touch up their artworks to serve the school’s decorative needs. Principals and school management play a big role in setting the whole school culture, therefore, there is a need to engage them in the conversation of art teaching pedagogies so they understand that CA practices and approaches albeit experimental and unconventional, can function as forms of inquiry that is beneficial to student learning (PE, Art and Music [PAM] research report, 2016). As such, continued PDs for art and non-art trained teachers as well as school management are essential in ensuring continued support and necessary paradigm shifts.

Findings from this study aim to inform policy makers, syllabus/curriculum writers, art educators and researchers keen to study and implement CA practices and approaches in the primary classroom anywhere in the world.
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N88.5.S55 Chi
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Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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