Art Education, Innovation, and Social Reproduction
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Reinventing and Reproducing Art Education
Art educators strike a delicate equilibrium between innovation, through embracing creativity in art, and social reproduction, through advancing skills associated with art-related fields. With the revision of art education’s priorities related to current educational reforms within contemporary advanced economies, profound challenges to this long-standing balance are arising. This entry highlights neoliberal attempts to assimilate art education through thin approaches to innovation and creativity, while the entry also forwards art’s ability to disrupt the reproduction of the present through forms of disobedient innovation within art education.
Creativity Through Art Education
Art education encompasses the teaching and learning of visual arts and design across ages and contexts including formalized K-12 schooling, informal programming associated with art institutions, and art schools within higher education. In contemporary times, it is common to encounter the history of art education as alive and well in classrooms of art within schools embracing practices from bygone centuries such as classical mimetic drawing and painting skills along with formalist elements and principles of design associated with modernism of the last century. From an educational essentialism perspective, these are among the traditional, basic skills of art education that may be used to develop unique artworks by students. This tension between learning the sedimented proficiencies passed down through the previous generations and the inflection of creativity in the reworking of the foundations of art has been synonymous with art education for decades.
Rising after the postwar period in most of the western hemisphere, creativity has been embraced in formal art education as a mode to break from conformity, release emotions, and expression oneself so that society would not repeat the atrocities of war. Since then, creativity has been integral to art education toward a multitude of ends including social critique, design solutions, and cultural expression (Adams and Owens 2016). While the manifestation of creativity has been believed to be enhanced through the development of technique and skill associated with the various fields of visual arts, crafts, and design, the inherent tension in the field is that art educators have had to balance the reproduction of historical aesthetic and pedagogical objectives with an openness toward the uncertainty of the new that creativity may make out of social reproduction. This tension is also apparent in entrepreneurial innovation.
The conflation of creativity with innovation pervades educational discourses. Correspondingly, education systems are being rallied to enhance nations’ creative capabilities and serve the need for innovation through training students to contribute and adapt to creative economies (Kalin 2018). Unlike previous economic models principally dependent on natural resources or factory production lines, countries across the globe are bending their economies toward innovation-driven growth fueled by creative capital harnessed for commodification and profit. Creativity is used in the production of new ideas, aesthetic forms, scholarship, original works of art, and cultural products, as well as scientific inventions and technological innovations. All of these may yield economic benefits and fuel economic growth.
While one way to foster innovation may well be through creative practices associated with the arts, within market-driven education policies, creativity is no longer strictly under the purview of arts education as it is now considered an essential skill for most employers. At this moment of transformation, creativity in particular is being reshaped and captured in a narrowed focus on innovation for the market. If creativity once labored under an art bias, it is now experiencing a business bias in the service of innovation and the pursuit of profit placing other values associated with creativity in jeopardy (Harris 2014). With the rise of neoliberalism, art education has been under threat as a useless frill, eluding standardized measurement, and doing little to train students to be productive within the economy or fulfill the needs within STEM-related fields. In response the field has taken a defensive stance attempting to fit into the neoliberal mold by inventing STEAM out of STEM, embracing service learning and design thinking within K-12 schooling that forefront art’s ability to solve societal problems. As the neoliberal embrace of creativity for market motives is curtailing other versions of creativity, it also risks inhibiting the goals of innovation itself.
Innovation Through Art Education
It must be noted that innovation differs from creativity in its connection to capital through seeking greater adaptability, efficiency, accessibility, affordability, and salability in the marketplace. Moreover, innovation exists on a continuum encompassing, on one end, incremental or continuous innovation that aims for improvement, renewal, and enhancement of existing processes, products, and services. On the other end, it is more discontinuous and disruptive in its redefining and fundamentally transforming of what is currently available in order to disrupt existing markets.
As innovation has contracted in its definition, it has broadened in its influence in global educational reform movements. Training the next generation to disrupt and propose alternatives to social norms and incumbent products through thinking outside of the box to solve problems is being embraced in schooling contexts across the globe adopting educational reforms toward innovation for economic competitiveness. Art educators are not unfamiliar with innovation as the creation of unique (as opposed to copied or derivative) works of art within preset parameters is typically prized in the context of art classrooms. Yet, as creativity is embraced by economists, engineers, and scientists, artists and art educators alike may succumb to the need to catch up and grab a spot at the interdisciplinary table of innovation or lose any claims they once held over creativity. Correspondingly, contemporary art education has been undergoing a retooling to better align with the business colonization of creativity and innovation for economic ambitions. Approaches to art education such as STEAM, design thinking, phenomenon-based study, project-based learning, socially engaged art education (Helguera 2011), and service learning projects tend to channel interdisciplinarity in the generation of solutions to societal problems.
Innovation is often considered the application of creativity and critical thinking skills associated with problem solving in the production and implementation of novel and useful ideas toward solution-development in innovation-driven economic growth. Innovation needs creativity, but it also needs the skills associated with critique in order to thrive. Art education has long embraced art criticism, the art “crit,” and, to a lesser extent, critical art practices that point to injustice and inequity in proposals for social reconstruction. The atrophy of either critique or creativity limits the possibility to mere reproduction in regard to innovation and society at large, for to reach for change is to find our current circumstances less than ideal and to dissent from the status quo. Critical capacities are the counterforce potential of art, in particular, for an unknown future, and they are also innovation’s first flicker. Pragmatic criticism, constructive criticism, or critical thinking, narrowly applied in the enhancing of marketability, all constrict criticality to innovation for the market alone, thereby limiting newness.
Innovation as Social Reproduction
Beyond the tensions explored so far, there is an internal incongruity to reform movements aimed at innovation in art education. While we place critical, transgressive, and political forms of art in jeopardy at the hands of neoliberal mandates, compliant criticality and convivial creativity suffocate dissent and, therefore, discourage innovation. Schooling environments that demand obedient behavior and thought insulate themselves against unpredictability and engineer the unknown and risk out of innovation. Attempts to harness open-ended activity associated with creativity and innovation related to art education in the service of economic development funnel this activity into accessible, reproducible, controllable, and instrumentalized forms that curtail innovation. Nailing down the parameters of innovation and creativity in transgression-free versions that aim to feed the economy in prefixed ways keeps us recirculating within a governmentality (Foucault 1991) loop – recreating what is already a neoliberal common sense. Such accommodations amount to a safe form of innovation that aims to maintain present versions of the society, safe from harm and reinvention in any way beyond product innovation. As society is subjected to neoliberal governmentality, we reproduce and recycle the same forces of submission acting upon us onto our students, so that neoliberal values become our values and the values of the next generations that we educate. This is hardly innovation. In the end, innovation in a neoliberal vein is just another mode of social reproduction.
At the moment we can specify what innovation is, we risk deceiving its aberrant nature and getting stuck in a repetitive cycle reproducing the already known and verifiable as in the case of economic innovation laid out above. As schooling transmutes what is named as innovative through contorting it into assignments, objectives, and assessments, schooling sterilizes innovation through smoothing out innovation’s characteristic rough edges and disruptive capacities. The “new” is already anticipated and programmed for the purposes of standard-based teaching. Just as in backward design within curriculum, you need to know the destination in advance, and you are also required to determine what observable and demonstrable behavior is needed to meet your learning objectives before proceeding with a lesson. In this key, innovation is stifled from the bottom up, and, as a standard to be preplanned for and met through education, innovation is an oxymoron.
Innovation with preplanned ends, such as economically beneficial innovation, negates the unpredictability, situational grounding, and nonlinear logics of how an anomaly takes form. While training for innovation amounts to hyperbole, it hasn’t ceased efforts to boil down innovation and creativity to preset skills and objectives without being beholden to disciplinary content, contextual embeddedness, and innovation’s deviant nature. Disruptive forms of innovation escape the parameters of pre-programming as they are essentially unprogrammable. However, art and its education might yet play an essential role in this innovation/reproduction dichotomy.
The Art of Innovation
Versions of art education that place limits on innovation in prioritizing skill sets for the neoliberal economy situate art education in a reactive mode wherein art education bypasses other possibilities for innovation and art beyond the market. Art education’s impact on innovation in the economy does not have to be the sole rationale for its inclusion in schooling. Among innumerable effects, art education enhances understanding of the world in altered ways while fostering self-expression, discovery, and experimentation. In neutralizing art and its education to neoliberalism and its myriad other obligations and possibilities to question, resist, care, and reflect on the interaction between what currently “is” and what could be, art and its education are shirked. Art should be prized in education on its own terms. Stated differently, art education’s capitulation to retool creativity and innovation more and more toward economic advancement undermines art’s exception to stand outside of any common sense and governmentality toward limited futures such as neoliberalism. Instead of and/or in addition to innovating art education on neoliberal terms, art education might consider alternatives for social reproduction and innovation through asking what it wants to retain, recall, distrust, repurpose, and/or reoccupy within the palette of possibilities from art and its history on its own terms and not those of neoliberalism. This calls for an art education that is disobedient to neoliberal innovation.
Throughout the history of art, innovation in some form or another sparked vanguard pursuits that birthed alternative art movements. The avant-garde in art represents resistance to and distrust of mainstream culture and values through works that are radical, antagonizing, and unorthodox in their innovation. This experimental and disobedient activity expresses tensions in society that fall beyond the current norms and bounds of acceptable art or culture. Associated with modernism of the last century, avant-garde art is characteristically nonconformist in its quest for social, political, and economic reform. In particular, avant-garde artists resisted complicity with capitalism while forwarding radical social reforms.
Avant-garde art, critical art practices, art for social reconstruction, and political art forms that are highly creative could lead to innovations in society that don’t necessarily aim to contribute to economic growth. While art education may not be able retain a complete state of exception outside of societal ideology as preset ends, such as those associated with innovation for productivity and capitalism, it may still explore possibilities for its relative autonomy. As the cultural industries of neoliberalism are motivated to absorb and neutralize subversive, critical forms of creativity, art’s relative autonomy to neoliberal rationality might yet be flexed.
Any status quo system is plagued by tensioned fissures for radical and disobedient innovation and transformation. Art’s relative autonomy may be located in such fissures where it stands apart from circumstances while still existing in relation to them. This is where art education as disobedient innovation might exercise a relative autonomy in regard to neoliberalist versions of art and its education. Art education may claim and activate a form of this relative autonomy in the face of entrepreneurial mandates for innovation. Here, art educators might consider working within a system of reproduction while also attempting possible practices of resistance and disobedient innovation based on the struggle for relative autonomy within that system. Art’s autonomy, apart from preset ends such as entrepreneurialism, allows its processes and products to step outside of norms to name and reflect on the errors and limitations of our current world. This beckons art education as a possible mode of disobedient innovation to sound disputes against the given and the existent.
While innovation yields economic, social, and cultural benefits, innovation in its most potent forms tends to intensify dominant structures – such as the increased levels of risk, instability, and inequality synonymous with neoliberalism’s progress – through rendering something redundant and disrupting markets. Incessant innovation and the sacrificing of the old for the new position everything under threat of being replaced and destroyed due to inefficiency. Therefore, destruction of art education itself may be warranted under the profit and efficiency metrics deployed in free-market economies. This is the threat that neoliberal innovation holds over society and what we gamble in either reproducing the old ways of art education or reinventing art education as economic innovation education alone. Neither provides safe harbor.
Times of great struggle bring along with them opportunities to innovate as a mode of survival. As art education strips itself down to a neoliberal rationality in an effort to survive within schooling under economic innovation mandates, occasions for reinvention and reinvigoration abound. Ultimately, the dichotomy between social reproduction and innovation offers up tensioned avenues of possibility for art education – the two extremes need one another.
In the reclaiming of innovation as disobedient and unruly, art education that encompasses the relative autonomy of art toward critical practice, sociopolitical intervention, and problem posing (instead of exclusively focusing on problem-solving for economic advantages) pushes against its own stagnation under the autonomy of economic liberty alone. It defies the motivations of education as training for innovation related to economic competitiveness through its inclusion of vanguard art processes and products that evade easy transfer, predictability, programmability, or replicability. For example, engaging in art that does not yield products such as social practice art might offer participants experiences that facilitate questioning or distrust in norms. Another possibility would be to design glitch products that provide the worst possible solution to societal issues in order to highlight the causes behind the problems that are typically glossed over in a quest for economic innovation through solutions. While disobedient innovation amounts to an incommodiousness antithetical to neoliberalism’s predacious demands for creative innovation, it also re-centers the art in art education.
Art has always figured into the generation, maintenance, and resistance of any symbolic order within a society. Innovative, creative activity may be employed to all three ends, and art education needs to explore all three motivations in relation to our current neoliberal status quo. In the face of versions of newness that enjoy the comforts of (economic) common sense, art education might put this rationality at risk in order to consider social futures yet to be created or imagined. In order to blossom an innovation-to-come, the common sense order of today must be made strange and rejected. Art education offers a unique site for the distrust of any given order through exploring the current norms as contingent and open to disobedient innovations.
When the prevailing social norms announce that there are no other alternatives than to have art educational varieties of innovation become fully colonized by capitalistic motives, art educators have to be willing to seek and devise alternatives. This requires resistance and critique of norms without immediate resolution and the audacity for change beyond economic benefit. In schooling, educators and students need to work the edges of teaching and learning of the already known related to art as acts of restoring possibility to the given in its myriad forms. The exploration of emergent and critical forms related to innovation through art needs to be nurtured in both students and educators so that our common sense can be challenged on an ongoing basis. This reimagines art education innovation as encompassing both the economization of society and the problematizing of prevailing conditions at the same time.
Maintaining what we already know through an art education of innovation driven by neoliberal motivations and ends is not only perpetuating the reproduction of the status quo, but it also delivers a death nail to more expansive innovative possibility. Without prescribed messages or purpose, how might art and its education interrupt the common sense and facilitate the construction of new subjectivities against the overwhelming neoliberal current? What innovation remains unrecognizable, beyond perception, nonsensical to our current perceptions? Art provides avenues for a time out from current conditions so that we might stop making sense while transforming perception. Innovation starts with distrust and doubt of the status quo. Innovation through distrust offers a challenge, not just to solve existing problems for greater profit and self-sufficiency but as a state of exception to rest in and play with problems, thereby throwing innovation into a contingent condition. Skepticism about our common sense and status quo is fuel for innovation, but so is making intelligible that which was once unintelligible, again facilitated through a fundamental distrust of the given perceptual scheme. That which we are not yet able to comprehend or fully know is actually the site where innovation might arise.
To move away from the social reproduction of neoliberal governmentality poses art education as vulnerable, to not only failure in the market of the knowledge economy but vulnerability to sustain the unknowns of radical innovation that are always possible in art and its education. Trust in the unknown is essential to innovation. For innovation under market or any other fundamentalism to thrive in education, teachers need to be trusted as professionals with enough autonomy to take risks and experiment so that their students might do the same. In turn, art educators embracing a disobedient pedagogy also need to trust their students and the unknowns of creative practice.
In art education’s embrace of distrusting and disobedient pedagogies (Atkinson 2017), there is a root of distrust in any given order, as art educators and students are on a quest for something and someone they haven’t made sense of yet. Through this distrust, we reconnect art education knowledge and students’ artistic subjectivity to a contingent condition to be something other than what it already is. Related to innovation, this disobedience is only occasioned outside of hylomorphic forms that impose predetermined frameworks upon passive matter such as art students in ways that presuppose how one is to act, think, understand, create, and innovate. Disobedient pedagogies promote an exploratory and radical stance in challenging established and totalizing criteria through disobedient objects and practices in art learning that violate and reject norms. Instead of curbing such disobedience, art teachers might see where it leads. This is an imperative in regard to innovation in art education today, as governmental agendas across the globe are placing more emphasis on learning for economic rationales to sustain market fundamentalism at the cost of learning for an as yet possible world to come. This is the essence of innovation in art and its education to which no other domains outside of the arts aspire. It is also what is in serious jeopardy under the neoliberal instrumentalization and vocationalization of education as a whole following the compulsion of neoliberal innovative fundamentalism. Disobedient innovation through art and its education is mobilizing between innovation-to-come and the reproduction of an already known economically driven innovation. A praxis and pedagogy of dissensual innovation through art education require holding economic innovation and innovation-to-come in tension.
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