Autoethnographic Identification of Realms of Learning for Art Education in a Post-Digital Age

Mel Alexenberg, Emuna College, Jerusalem, Israel

International Journal of Education Through Art, Vol. 4, No. 3, 2008


Realms of learning for art education in a post-digital world are identified through autoethnography, a qualitative research methodology congruent with an emerging paradigm shift beyond the digital culture of the Information Age to a post-digital Conceptual Age that honours the ability to create aesthetic significance, to discern patterns, to craft a meaningful narrative and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel creation.  Realms of learning are brought to light through a narrative that highlights episodes in the life of an artist/researcher/teacher that have special significance for art education.  This autoethnographic inquiry, at the intersections of art, science, technology, and culture, identifies interweaving realms that create a colourful fabric of lifelong learning: from awesome immersion, playful exploration, aesthetic creativity, morphological analysis, interdisciplinary imagination, cybersomatic (computer-body) interactivity, polycultural collaboration, to holistic integration  

Realms of learning significant for art education in the emerging post-digital age can be identified through autoethnography, a qualitative research methodology congruent with an emerging paradigm shift beyond the digital culture of the Information Age to a post-digital Conceptual Age that honours creating aesthetic significance, discerning patterns, crafting a meaningful narrative, and combining seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel creation.  Conceptual age art education integrates teaching with action research and art making.  It explores the borderlands between art, science, technology, and culture, integrating knowing, doing and making through aesthetic experiences that elegantly flow between intellect, feeling, and practice to create and convey meaning.

Daniel Pink (2006) in his widely acclaimed book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, provides extensive evident for the current emergence of a Conceptual Age beyond the earlier Information, Industrial, and Agricultural ages.   The Conceptual Age is an age of creators and empathizers who activate the right hemisphere of their brains to compliment the left-hemispheric dominance of the Information Age of knowledge workers and the Industrial Age of factory workers.  In the Conceptual Age, high tech knowledge is integrated with high concept and high touch creativity in all areas of human endeavour.

"High concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect  patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention.  High touch involves the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning." (Pink 2006: 51-52)

The Conceptual Age is a post-digital age in which well-developed high-tech abilities are no longer enough for succeeding in the realms of technology and art.  Stephen Wilson (2008) proposes that although the impact of digital technology is significant, it forms part of something much more momentous that is intertwined with the aesthetic, ethical, cultural, and socio-economic. Art is being redefined by a digital revolution linked to revolutions brewing in the realms of biology, neurophysiology, materials science, and cosmology that call for new directions in art education.

Roy Ascott (2008) also proposes that the digital moment has passed in the sense that interfaces are migrating from a cabled, box-bound environment to wireless multi-sensory, multi-modal, mobile, wearable forms, and eventually with biochips implanted in our bodies.  He coins the word moistmedia as the symbiosis between dry pixels and wet biomolecules (p. 47).  Art will be devoted to creating moistmedia artworks from which new metaphors, new language, and new methodologies will arise.  The dynamic interplay between digital, biological, and cultural systems calls for a syncretic approach to arts education realized through connectivity, immersion, interaction, transformation, and emergence. 

A research methodology for art education consistent with the paradigm shift wrought by the emerging Conceptual Age is a form of autoethnography in the life of an Artist/Researcher/Teacher known as a/r/tography, a hybrid form of action research creating its rigor through continuous reflexivity, discourse analysis, and hermeneutic inquiry. A/r/tographers search for new ways to understand realms of learning at the interface between their art making, research, and teaching through attention to memory, identity, reflection, meditation, storytelling, interpretation, and representation. (Irwin and de Cosson 2004).   “A/r/tography as practice-based research is situated in the in-between, where theory-as-practice-as-process-as-complication intentionally unsettles perception and knowing through living inquiry.” (Irwin and Springgay 2008: xix)

Eisner (1991) proposes the development of fresh approaches to the conduct of educational research that are rooted in the arts themselves.  When Gardner (1999) insisted that quantitative methodologies are an essential requirement for educational research in his debate with Eisner, Eisner challenged his assertion by reminding him that his own research on multiple intelligences does not only apply to children but to adults as well.  Eisner argued that researchers in the arts should not be expected to use methodologies for which their own distinctive intelligence is not well suited. 

Despite the prevailing demand that quantitative research should be required for research in education when I was professor of art and education at Columbia University more than three decades ago teaching the doctoral research methods course, Eisner’s argument for acknowledging the distinctive intelligence artists was honoured by my Columbia colleagues.  For example, art educator William Mahoney and anthropologist Margaret Mead joined with me as sponsors of a qualitative doctoral dissertation in art education in which our student presented her mystical ceramic sculptures supported by an autoethnographic narrative exploring her encounter with the mythologies of the indigenous people of Canada’s Northwest Territories whom she taught.          

My a/r/tographic inquiry in this paper employs a qualitative approach expressing the high concept and high touch character of the current Conceptual Age as defined above by Daniel Pink.  I identify realms of learning through a method of inquiry formed from a narrative that highlights episodes in my life as artist/researcher/teacher that have particular significance for art education. 

This a/r/tographic approach can be extended by inviting seasoned art teachers worldwide to identify realms of learning through writing narratives of their lives.  These multiple narratives will create a cross-cultural database that can reveal patterns of significance for art education in a networked world through applying quantitative methods of content analysis, thereby combining qualitative and quantitative methods.

Learning through Awesome Immersion

My art education had its origins in the summers of my childhood when I was set free among the sowbugs, salamanders, and swallows of the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.  My days were filled studying the behaviour of the creatures of the forests and ponds and making drawings and paintings of them interacting in their natural habitats as well as in imaginary worlds of my creation.  My intellectual curiosity and close observation coupled with my creative encounters and intimate friendships with these creatures made boundaries between art and science diaphanous.  I had no clue that art and science were not one integrated human endeavour. 

As I lifted a log beside a pond deep in the forest, I saw salamanders and centipedes scramble as sowbugs stopped in their tracks to roll up into compact balls.  A barn swallow swooped down over the pond with lightening speed skimming the water’s surface to snag a fly on wing.  With a swift manoeuvre of its slate grey wings, my avian friend flashed the splendour of his orange breast feathers as he soared up across the pond and lighted on my shoulder. 

I first saw this magnificent bird as a limp, featherless, bleeding swallow chick that had fallen from its nest in the eaves of my neighbour Ben’s barn.  I gently lifted it, cradled it in my palm, and took it home to live in a shoebox in my bedroom.  As I tended its wound, it opened its flat yellow beak chirping for food.  My sister Fran and I spent our days catching bugs to feed the insatiable appetite of our small friend as his wound healed. 

My drawings and paintings documented his down growing to cover his nakedness, the sprouting of feathers, his learning to fly, and his swift flight as a mature swallow.  Although I enjoyed making drawings and paintings, I sensed that my artwork of greater significance was the actual act of nurturing a swallow chick on the verge of death and participating in its transformation into a beautiful free-flying bird.  In his book on the blurring of art and life, Allan Kaprow (1993) contrasts art-like art to life-like art.  My life-like art was living with a swallow.  My art-like art was documenting my life with a swallow as well as imagining how it could be.  My life-like art seemed to reach a higher spiritual plane than my art-like art. 

This daily joy and amazement formed the core of my integral summer learning that was lost in my winter learning in the dreary grayness of the city. What my winter school forced into distinctly different disciplines had been an integral one in my summer learning in the Catskill Mountains. I found it very difficult to come to terms with the need to divide knowledge rather than experience it as a single entity.

The joy of my holistic summer learning that honoured my combination of spatial, naturalist, and spiritual intelligences was crushed by the fragmented learning of winter school that only valued those students endowed with linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences.  Although I was left with no choice but to develop linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, two of ten intelligences identified by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1999), it is my innate spatial, naturalist, and spiritual intelligences that I had developed though my soul-soaring summers immersed in art-science learning that I needed most in my adult work as biologist and artist. 

Learning through Playful Exploration

After earning degrees in biology and science education, I earned my living as a science educator while studying painting at the Art Students League and at New York University where art education department chairman Howard Conant was prepared to facilitate my earning an interdisciplinary doctorate in art education, science, and cognitive psychology, rare four decades ago. 

At that time I married and had children. My wife and I realized that opportunities for them to experience the awesome immersion that I had enjoyed in my childhood would come through their playful explorations.  I set up opportunities for them to play with everyday things around our house and these became equipment and materials for simple scientific experiments.  Seeing their enthusiasm and joy engaged in these playful explorations prompted me to share them with parents of other young children.  I wrote them up as my monthly “Science Fun” feature in Humpty Dumpty Magazine for Little Children that appeared for several years and led to the publication of my popular children’s books of hands-on science experiments for exploring the senses.

The intrinsic reward from being immersed in the open-ended process of playful exploration was beautifully expressed by the Water Rat in the classic children’s book, The Wind in the Willows.

“'Nice?  It’s the only thing,' said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leaned forward for his stroke.  'Believe me, my young friend; there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.  Simply messing,' he went on dreamily, 'messing – about – in – messing – about in boats – or with boats….  In or out of ‘em it doesn’t matter.  Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy and never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it there’s always      something else to do.'” (Grahame 2003: 2, first   published in1908)

My decade of work seeing children experience the sense of joy and excitement in the scientist’s ways of asking questions and seeking answers to them has coloured my subsequent work as an art educator.  In teaching aspiring young artists, I have continued to emphasize the Water Rat’s philosophy of playful exploration as a vital route to meaningful learning and creative expression.  Scientist Jacob Bronowski in his book, Science and Human Values, compares the creative activities of artists and scientists to the play of children and young animals.

In science and in the arts the sense of freedom which the creative man feels in his work derives from what I call the poetic element: the uninhibited activity of exploring the medium for its own sake, and discovering as if in play what can be done with it.  The word play is in place here, for the play of young animals is of this kind – an undirected adventure in which they nose into and fill out their own abilities, free from the later compulsions of need and environment.  Man plays and learns for a long time (he has a longer childhood) and he goes on playing into adult life: in this sense of free discovery, pure science is (like art) a form of play.  (Bronowski, 1965: 76)

Learning through Aesthetic Creativity

To understand creativity in art and science at its highest level, I interviewed 20 scientists identified as the most creative by their peers – Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences – and artists in Who’s Who in American Art having their artworks in the collections of major museums.  I found that the creative process in both art and science share a common aesthetic core.  Although it is obvious that art and aesthetics go together, my study revealed the significance of aesthetic joy in research into the physical and biological sciences as well.  My book, Aesthetic Experience in Creative Process (1981), contains the transcripts of my interviews, analyses of them, and a conceptual model of process integrating field theory in psychology and set theory in mathematics. 

I interviewed Richard Lippold, best known for his wire sculpture, The Sun (1956), in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and his monumental Orpheus and Apollo (1963) hovering over the entry lobby of Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall.  He explained to me how he dismisses things that are static and emphasizes how the constantly changing universe affects our lives and the artistic process.  “If I sit down to make a sketch one day, surely it will be different from one I make another day.  I feel different.  We never feel the same from moment to moment; we are changing every moment.  We are reshaping ourselves” (Alexenberg 1981: 104).  He wrote in the book Structure in Art and Science (Kepes 1965: 152) that “chance is an accident of order and order is an accident of chance.”  He described to me his making New Moonlight (1947), his first wire sculpture that became the ancestor of The Sun at the Met: 

The process involves the materials, the concepts, the feelings, and the physical making of the thing.  Then anything can happen.  It’s charged with possibilities, with excitement, and with involvement.  It’s a little like making love.  All the excitement is going on while it’s going on.  There is something comparable to an orgasm.  It doesn’t have quite this physical manifestation.  But there is a sudden moment when I know it has come.  I didn’t mean to say it that way; it’s the same word!  Actually, this is what it is.  You know that then everything has come together….  The first time I made a work in which this happened, it happened quite mysteriously because I wasn’t conscious of it.  When the finished work arrived, appeared, the material and the technique came together in what struck me as an exquisite balance.  The feeling didn’t dominate; the concept didn’t overwhelm; the form wasn’t a technical exercise.  Everything contributed to the meaning.  It was a total balance which transcended all its parts that together seemed a spiritual totality – an ecstatic event.  It impressed me so that I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days.  I thought, “What have I wrought?  I didn’t determine all this.  It happened through me; I was the medium for it.  I was surprised.  I was astonished, surprised and delighted.   (Alexenberg 1981: 109-110)

Learning through Morphological Analysis

After submitting my doctoral research on the psychology of aesthetic experience in art and science to my interdisciplinary doctoral committee at New York University, I went to live and work in Israel, to take up a teaching and research position at Tel Aviv University. 

We rented a cottage set in an orange grove in a small town north of Tel Aviv.  Our new neighbour’s young daughter, Zahava, came to our door welcoming us with two large pita-like breads, one in each hand.  They were still warm and surrounded by the welcoming aroma of fresh-baked bread.  Our neighbours were Yemenite Jews who had come to Israel from the tip of the Arabian Peninsula a decade earlier.  Having returned to what they considered to be their biblical homeland, they continued to bake flat round bread in a wood-burning, underground oven dug in their back yard as they had done in Yemen for two millennia. 

I was struck by the contrast between the whole, two-dimensional, circular breads that Zahava brought us and the supermarket bread that I had been used to buying in New York.  Supermarket bread is a three-dimensional, rectilinear, cold, white loaf fragmented into slices and kept at a distance from the consumer by a sealed plastic wrapper that cuts off olfactory and tactile contact.  This quick lesson in the morphological analysis of visual culture became the core of my research, curriculum development, and teaching at Tel Aviv University.   I came to the view that the morphology of pre-industrial, mythological cultures is shaped by two-dimensional, undifferentiated, circular space, and cyclical time as symbolized by pita-like breads.  On the other hand, three-dimensional, rectilinear space and linear time sliced into discrete units is symbolized by the supermarket bread of industrial logical culture. 

These two forms of bread symbolize the alternative perspectives of children in Israeli schools whose parents came from Islamic lands or from European and American backgrounds.  My research led to the proposal that the 2-D mythological perspective of the pre-industrial age and the 3-D logical perspective of the industrial age can be integrated in a 4-D ecological perspective of the post-industrial age in which space and time are unified, experienced through movement, and expressed through narratives.    

My research revealed that not only did both the mythological and logical Jews need to develop an ecological perspective to succeed in the electronic future together, but they also shared a past with a common deep structure of Jewish consciousness which is an ecological structure that creates an integral worldview that forms the core of my “From Science to Art” curriculum project described below.  The ecological structure of Jewish consciousness remained embedded as a deep structure during the Jews’ centuries in Islamic lands when a mythological perspective was plastered on. European Jews, too, had their ecological structure of consciousness and integral worldview distorted by the overpowering logical perspective of Industrial Age culture.

My research on the morphologies of mythological, logical, and ecological structures of consciousness that are revealed through space-time structures of visual culture formed the theoretical basis for my curriculum project, “From Science to Art” (Alexenberg 1974, 2006b).   Beyond the theoretic underpinnings of the project, morphological analysis of natural and cultural systems became the subject matter of the curriculum aimed at bridging the gap between mythological and logical youth by stimulating their interdisciplinary imagination and developing their ecological perspective.

Artists have always shaped worldview by their perspective inventions.  Renaissance artists renewed the Greek logical perspective by visually representing three-dimensional space from a single point of view and time as a cross-section of a one-way linear path.  Most people in the industrialized world continue to see the world through the eyes of these Renaissance artists. Artists today in a post-digital Conceptual Age can once again reshape humanity’s worldview by inventing art of ecological perspective and integral consciousness in a multi-dimensional space-time continuum experienced today in the rhizomatic and interactive character of Internet 2.0. 

Learning through Interdisciplinary Imagination

“From Science to Art” encouraged Israeli junior high school students to develop their interdisciplinary imagination, ecological perspective, and integral consciousness through morphological analysis of periodicity and rhythmic structures, threshold phenomena, bilateral and rotational symmetries, spiral and branching systems, and stochastic processes and asymmetries. (Alexenberg, 2005a) 

In the unit of study on periodicity and rhythmic patterns in nature and culture, students rolled out ink on a glass plate, pressed their fingers on it, and printed their fingerprints on uninflated white balloons and on tracing paper.  They enlarged their fingerprints by blowing up the balloons and by placing the tracing paper in 35 mm slide holders and projecting them.  They compared their fingerprints to each other’s to appreciate the uniqueness of each person.  They saw that no two people have the same fingerprint.  Students compared their own fingerprints to fingerprints of chimpanzees.  They learned that although there was a wide range of variation in human fingerprints, fingerprints from another species were outside that range.  After students had created classification systems for their classmates’ fingerprints, a police officer was invited to the classroom to explain the international system of fingerprint taxonomy.  Students taped paper to the wall and projected their fingerprints on it while they drew the lines.  They made paintings from their drawings.  They enlarged fingerprints on a copy machine and printed them out on acetate sheets that they placed on top of one another to create moiré patterns.   They discussed optical illusions and the psychology of human perception.

Students looked at reproductions of the “op art” of Bridget Riley and of Henry Pearson whose artwork was inspired by his drawing topographical maps in the army.  Students studied topographic maps of the Israeli landscape.   They observed the generation of rhythmic wave patterns in a ripple tank used in physics classes.   What were the connections between ripples in water, geologically formed topographies, and their own fingerprints?

They watched a National Geographic film on zebras that showed how a pregnant zebra removed herself from the herd so that the newborn would only see her pattern of stripes.  The baby zebra would memorize its mother’s unique pattern of stripes so that it could recognize her in the herd.  A zebra that could not find its mother for nursing would perish.  Does the supermarket laser recognize the bar code stripes on cans and cartons like a baby zebra recognizing its mother?  Bar codes are a secret language of a digital age of bits and bytes.  We are all illiterate before the stripes that supermarket lasers can read.

Students went out onto the school playground on a sunny day, unrolled paper on the ground, cut it into long pieces, one for each student, and taped them down.  Working in pairs, students drew around their classmate’s two feet and shadows.  They returned to their drawings and placed their feet in the same places every hour for the duration of the day having their shadow drawn each time.  The set of shadow drawings one on top of the other were visually linked to topographic maps and fingerprints.   They painted overlapping serial self-portraits on their shadow drawings that had documented Planet Earth’s rotation. “Conceptualizing the changing relationship of sun and earth, relating that dynamics to the form of one’s personal shadow, and communicating these relationships in a serial painting – his squat noontime body form to a late afternoon elongated body form – moves the students toward an integral structure of consciousness by unifying time-space, subject-object, man-environment, and science-art” (Alexenberg, 1974: 151).

Interdisciplinary imagination sees fresh relationships between disparate realms of experience.  In linear logical thinking, phenomena are trapped within narrowly defined boundaries.  “From Science to Art” invited questioning that leads to experiencing a diaphanous world in which boundaries lose their opacity.   How does one connect one’s own fingerprints with op art, topographical maps, ripple tanks, zebra stripes, supermarket bar codes, one’s shadows and the rotation of planet earth?   Interdisciplinary imagination couples the cognitive act of matching, of creating relationships/connections/congruencies, with a concomitant affective response of joy/amazement/elation so that “the energy of all one’s discordant impulses creates a single image connecting varieties of experience” (Bruner, 1963: 70).

Learning through Cybersomatic Interactivity

When I was Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I collaborated with its director Otto Piene and our MIT colleagues in creating the exhibition, LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age, for Yeshiva University Museum in New York. Rudolf Arnheim (1988) wrote the catalogue introduction. We created artworks using laser animation, holography, fibre optics, biofeedback-generated imagery, computer graphics, interactive electronic media, spectral projections, and digital music. 

My cybersomatic interactive system was born in my realization that the Hebrew words for face panim and for inside p’nim are written with the same four letters PNIM.  I knew that I needed to create portraits which create a dialogue between the outside face and inside feelings. I designed a system for creating digital self-generated portraits in which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in dialogue.  I constructed a console in which a participant seated in front of a monitor places her finger in a plethysmograph, which measures internal body states by monitoring blood flow, while under the gaze of a video camera.   Digitized information about her internal mind/body processes triggers changes in the image of herself that she sees on the monitor.  She sees her face changing colour, stretching, elongating, extending, rotating, or replicating in response to her feelings about seeing herself changing.  My artwork, Inside/Outside:P’nim/Panim, created a flowing digital feedback loop. (Alexenberg and Piene, 1988). 

Educating artists in a digital age should provide opportunities for learning to create artworks that are systems of cybersomatic interactivity that forge a vital dialogue between mind and body and between human consciousness and digital imagery.  Significant developments in future art will occur at the interface between cyberspace and real space, where virtual worlds interact with our bodies moving in our physical environments to shape consciousness.  New directions in aesthetic creativity are being realized through elegant cybersomatic feedback loops that flow between dry pixels and wet biomolecules, between silicon-based cybersystems and carbon-based biosystems to create what Ascott (2008: 47) calls “moist media artworks.”  

Learning through Polycultural Collaboration

I collaborated with my wife, ceramic artist Miriam Benjamin on an intergenerational art project Legacy Thrones (Alexenberg and Benjamin 2004a, 2004b). Elders from the three largest ethnic communities in Miami worked together with art students under our artistic direction to create three colossal thrones, each reaching twenty-feet high and weighing more than two tons.  We brought together African-American elders from the Greater Bethel AME Church, Hispanic elders from Southwest Social Services Program, and Jewish elders from the Miami Jewish Home for the Aged to work with New World School of the Arts students to create three Legacy Thrones facing Biscayne Bay in Miami.  Through aesthetic dialogue between these elders and young people, valued traditions of the past were transformed into artistic statements of enduring significance.  Together, young hands and old shaped wet clay into colourful ceramic relief elements collaged onto three monumental thrones, works of public art constructed from steel and concrete.  “For the ageing, participation in expressions of artistic form can be a welcome source of vital involvement and exhilaration…. When young people are also involved, the change in the mood of elders can be unmistakably vitalizing” (Erikson 1986: 318).

Working alongside each other and learning about each other’s cultures, they came to realize how much they shared in experiences and in values.  Lippard (1990: 4) describes kinds of the values we tried to promote through this art project: “I am interested in cultural dissimilarities and the light they shed on fundamental human similarities…in art that combines a pride in roots with an explorer’s view of the world as shared by others.”

The elders worked with clay to make relief sculptural statements of images from their personal and collective past.  They painted them with colourful glazes creating numerous collage elements that were cemented to the thrones until the sculptural surfaces were entirely clad in ceramics.  While the students facilitated the elders’ growth artistically, the young people’s lives were enriched through creative collaboration with partners blessed with a long life of fertile experiences.  We felt that by sharing their stories with the students, transforming them into artistic images and leaving a legacy for future generations, the elders added deeper layers of meaning to their lives.

Learning through Holistic Integration

I believe that holistic education nurtures a sense of wonder, of the wholeness of the universe, of intrinsic reverence for life, and of passionate love of learning.  Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to community, the natural world, and spiritual values. (Online Encyclopedia 2006)  In a special issue of Visual Arts Research devoted to holistic approaches to art education, its editor writes:

"Holism posits that at any moment in time we are the sum total of the prevailing states of our mind, body and spirit.  This is the dynamic phenomenon, the being who is actively engaged in creating their life moment by moment, and their art, project by project.  It is therefore addressing and ultimately integrating mind, body, and sprit, that holistic art education is after.” (London, 2006, p. 8). 

I have the opportunity to test holistic art education theory in a School of the Arts in Israel in which students attempt to redefine art in creative ways at the interdisciplinary interface where new technologies and scientific inquiry shape cultural values of a Jewish state in an era of globalization.  The educational model for the new college is derived from my nearly five decades of experience as artist, researcher and teacher, my research on higher education, and ancient kabbalistic beliefs, which I believe have special relevance for the future of higher education in Israel (Alexenberg 2006a).  

I have been disseminating my views and research into higher education through a conference presentation which formed the basis of my book Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture (Alexenberg 2008).

I have identified a confluence between certain directions in contemporary art and kabbalah, a choreography of the mind derived from Jewish consciousness. Kabbalah provides a symbolic language and conceptual schema that facilitates understanding the dynamics of the creative process (Alexenberg 2006a).   Based upon a biblical passage (Isaiah 43:7), the kabbalistic schema posits worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action, realms of spirit, mind, and body flowing from intentions, thoughts, and feelings to their realization creating something original.  The creative process aims “to liberate those who are blind though they have eyes and deaf though they have ears” (Isaiah 43:8).  Educating artists for the future requires a liberating curriculum to open the eyes and ears of students to their continually expanding range of learning options in these four worlds. 

Emanation is the precognitive realm of consciousness/spirituality/intention. 

Creation is the cognitive realm of insight/conceptualization/inquiry. 

Formation is the affective realm of emotions/aesthetic experience/artistic expression.  Action is the space-time realm of working with materials/technologies/media and the space-time realm of creating through one’s body/local community/global culture. 

Holistic integration is the vital flow between these worlds that weaves together multiple realms of learning in each individual learner.  These interweaving realms create a colourful fabric of lifelong learning that integrates awesome immersion, playful exploration, aesthetic creativity, morphological analysis, interdisciplinary imagination, cybersomatic interactivity, polycultural collaboration, and holistic integration explored above with morphodynamic beauty, semiotic communications, global connectivity, ecological perspective, responsive compassion, moral courage, and spiritual emergence (Alexenberg 2008).


Conceptual Age research in art education that points to fresh directions for practice and theory in a post-digital world requires alternative methodologies that extend those of the earlier Information Age.  A/r/tography, a qualitative research methodology congruent with an emerging paradigm shift from an Information Age to a Conceptual Age, is employed to identifying realms of learning through autoethnographic narrative.  This mode of inquiry revealed through the life experiences of one artist/researcher/teacher can serve as an exemplary model for others with long lives exploring along the dynamic interface between art and education.  This paper is an invitation for seasoned art teachers worldwide to identify realms of learning by writing and analyzing their own life stories.  A cross-cultural data base of multiple narratives can reveal patterns of greatest significance for art education in a networked world.


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About the Author


Mel Alexenberg is Head of the School of the Arts at Emuna College in Jerusalem, and former professor at Ariel University Center and Bar Ilan University in Israel.  In United States of America, he was Associate Professor of Art and Education at Columbia University, Dean of Visual Arts at New World School of the Arts in Miami, Chairman of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute, and Research Fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies.  His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide.




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