Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Visual Culture Learning Communities: How and What Students Come to Know in Informal Art Groups

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Visual Culture Learning Communities: How and What Students Come to Know in Informal Art Groups

Article excerpt

Adolescents and young adults learn more through their social interactions around favourite forms of visual culture than adults may realize. For example, many adolescents and young adults form their own visual culture networks outside of school that act as learning communities (Freedman, 2003; 2006). The influence of students' visual culture interests motivates the establishment of art-related social practices in these groups that result in an informal type of education.

This article is an account of an international study of these visual culture learning communities (VCLCs) of adolescents and young adults. The article reports on the data collected concerning learning about artistic creation in and around a visual culture form.

Contemporary learning theorists have conceptualized learning as a process of participation in meaningful group practices "where moments of understanding and new forms of knowledge emerge from social contexts. Knowledge in this sense is not so much an object to possess, but an activity to engage" (Sefton-Green & Soep, 2007, p. 847). From this perspective, knowledge is not a static possession but, rather, is continually and actively obtained, shared, and renewed. Researchers and theorists have argued that we have entered a new era in which cultural production is no longer the domain of professional experts; rather, it is a shared province in which experts and amateurs build cultural knowledge together, using digital technology to produce, publish, share, and remix content (Lessig, 2008; Mason, 2008; Shirky, 2010).

Examples of research exist regarding informal learning communities from the perspective of social learning psychology (Lave and Wenger's communities of practice) and from the perspective of informal art and media production (Jenkins's participatory culture). The phrase, communities of practice, was introduced by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1 991 ) as part of their theory of situated learning. They argued that learning is always an integral part of social practice situated in specific contexts. Lave and Wenger posited that the study of informal learning is important because people are all members of various formal and informal communities of practice in which learning builds.

Jenkins (2007) saw the activities of fan communities as exemplars of a broad cultural change in which the borders between producers and consumers, creators and audiences are blurred. This participatory culture is "a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices" (p. 3).

Based on an earlier study of communities formed around types of visual art or design that involve art learning and production, Freedman (2003) emphasized the importance of situated learning and participation connected to student interests in art and art education. Freedman (2006) argued that some distinction should be made between two types of overlapping groups that function as visual culture communities. The first type is heritage communities, "groups of people who have long established forms of visual culture that represent them.... [in these groups] images and objects are used to enhance established social life. In a sense, visual culture becomes a superstructure of the community" (p. 27). Heritage communities are long-lived, heavily influenced by older adults, including family and mentors, and embedded in daily life, as in the case of ethnic culture, religious, or gender groups.

The second type is interest communities that grow up around a form of visual culture per se, which tend to marginalize commonalities of daily life. For students in these groups, visual culture is often a means to enhance or escape daily life. These communities tend to be temporal in character in that their membership is limited by time constraints in students' lives and their members may move in and out of a group at will. …

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