Art Education at the Turn of the Tide: The Utility of Narrative in Curriculum-Making and Education Research

By Rolling, James Haywood | Art Education, May 2010 | Go to article overview

Art Education at the Turn of the Tide: The Utility of Narrative in Curriculum-Making and Education Research


Rolling, James Haywood, Art Education


Given current developments in contemporary art, learning theory and art education, Julia Marshall (2006) declares the timeliness for substantively new "ideas and models for art education" (p. 17). Clearly, the story of art education practice is ever evolving and has historically given place to new tellings (Hamblen, 1984). On the surface, relating our professional narratives is vital because unless an art educator tells the story of what s/he does and why s/he does it, someone else may tell the story and leave out something important. Collectively documenting and telling stories of our individual pedagogical practices helps educators argue against the notion that that arts learning is less relevant and more expendable than other subjects (Stankiewicz, 1997).

Looking deeper, narrative is a fundamental process of human research and development. Brent Wilson (1997) writes: "I like to think of research as re-search, to search again, to take a closer second look. Research implies finding evidence about the way things were in the past, how they are presently, and even about how they might be in the future" (p. 1 ). Narrative practices are re-searching methodologies giving rise to meaningful or useful stories that encapsulate "the entire research process from problem identification to data analysis" (Creswell, 1994, p. xvii). Analyzing and interpreting the data at hand, narrative processes tell a story that informs others of who we are, where we come from, where we are going, and what our purpose may be (Rolling, 2008). Oral storytelling, for example, is an ancient re-searching practice that identifies and examines problems of the human condition. Filmmaking is a contemporary methodology that can serve as narration of our experience of the world and the meaning we make of it (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006).

In the second installment of the popular Lord of the Rings1 film trilogy by Peter Jackson (2002), the tattered Fellowship of the Ring is confronted with the glowing form of their dear friend Gandalf the Grey, a wizard who perished while defending his friends against a powerful Balrog, a large creature able to shroud itself in fire, darkness, and shadow. Upon the occasion of this unexpected reunion, the resurrected wizard - now much stronger and wiser- casually explains that his name is no longer Gandalf the Grey, and is no longer the person they once grieved for, emphatically stating: "I am Gandalf the White. And I come back to you now-at the turn of the tide." The narrative turned and the sentimental story line of the affable Gandalf that once merely sheltered his friends from danger now shifted. Suddenly, he offered them redoubled strength and the real possibility of fulfilling their charge at the moment when the Fellowship was at its weakest. Likewise, the place of the arts in education has emergent qualities that, from time to time, need to be recalibrated (Hamblen, 1984; Pearse, 1992). If the arts in education now stand before us at the turn of the tide, how ought we to relate to it?

It is useful to note that contemporary art education practice overlaps a unique period of change in neighboring social science disciplines, a turn of the tide that involves the embrace of narrative methods to rewrite prevailing working models and paradigms of social science practice (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Riessman, 2008). The proliferation of narrative methodologies in social research emerges from what has been called the narrative turn in contemporary life, a clarion call to "look on traditional empirical research with new eyes that see the significance of stories at all stages in the research process" (Day Sclater, 2003, p. 622).

Over recent decades, there continues to be a nagging ill-fittedness about the place of the arts in modern education (Eisner, 1965; Johnson, 1971; Hoffa, 1979; Anderson, 1981; Sullivan, 1999; Stankiewicz, 2004). This article is a narrative of professional practice intended to evoke similar probative rewritings. …

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