The problem of authorship : considering the significance of interpretative approaches on the conditions for creativity in undergraduate fine art studio practice

Belluigi, Dina Zoe (2015) The problem of authorship : considering the significance of interpretative approaches on the conditions for creativity in undergraduate fine art studio practice. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


Varying approaches to interpretation, debated in aesthetic and literary criticism since the very beginnings of philosophy, favour the artist’s (author’s) intentionality, the viewer’s (reader’s) interpretation, and/or the artwork (text) itself. The merit of these approaches, in terms of what informs the artwork’s meaning or significance, is not at issue in this research project. Rather this project is concerned with how these different approaches play out within referential frameworks in teaching, learning and assessment interactions in higher education, and their significance for creativity in fine art studio practice. To comprehend the complex interplay of structure, culture and agency, the study draws from qualitative case studies of two art schools, in England and in South Africa, which differed in their espoused approach to assessment and interpretation. In addition, comparative case analysis of five studio practice teachers and their students considers agential approaches to interpretation and their significance for student engagement. Data was collected from course documentation and generated utilising a variety of hybrid methods. This included observations of assessments, questionnaires and interviews with staff; and to generate data from students, an image-based narrative method, focus group interviews and questionnaires. At various points during such researcher-participant interactions, possibilities for reciprocality, transgression and challenge of interpretations were enabled. Utilising critical discourse analysis, each case was analysed individually and then comparatively. Firstly, that which was espoused and practiced by staff was mapped to a framework constructed for the purpose of identifying approaches to interpretation: whether eucharistic, objective, or operative criticism, in relation to the author, text and reader. Secondly, insights from staff and student participants were related to the optimal conditions for creativity in this domain. Schema of the environment, relationships and curricula were then sketched, indicating the significance of interpretative approaches on students’ emotional, critical and reflective engagement with themselves as artist-students, their artmaking processes, and their artworks. This project contributes to research in assessment in fine art studio practice by providing a means to both identify the discipline’s embedded referential frameworks and consider their significance for creativity. The findings from this study revealed that whether or not the interpretative community of assessors were informed by educational development or quality assurances discourses, or utilised explicit criterion-referenced assessment, the more powerful and implicit discourses were those of their professional practice, informed by art criticism. As such, actual intentionality was not given prominence in either institution’s summative assessments. Despite this, its importance for the nominal authenticity of the artist-student emerged. As students’ reflective engagement of assessors’ readings of their artworks against their own meaning-making was unsupported, students evidenced underdeveloped skills of metacognition and critical judgment. However, the study found that those teachers with longer experience, of the particularity of institutional structures and cultures, had developed the capacity to better manage the effects on their students’ formative experiences. Such relationships emerged as having a strong formative influence. Those students, who believed their teacher was concerned with their actual intentionality, experienced less alienation and felt better supported to persevere with or problematize their desires, and to handle uncertainty. An argument is made for the negotiation of interpretation as discursive and inclusive of students’ actual intentionality in assessment practices in fine art studio practice. This turn, to situating the author within interpretation, is towards enabling possibilities of agency and the responsibility of ethics within teaching, learning and assessment of reflexive practitioners. In questioning the significance of interpretation on authorship and the conditions for creativity within the higher education context, of which there has been little in the way of empirical research, this research contributes to contemporary literary and aesthetic criticism.

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