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Contentious Subjects: Constructionism and the Project of Higher Arts Education (Keynote)

Conference paper
Authors Mick Wilson
Published in Constructionism 2020
ISBN 978-1-911566-09-0
Publisher The University of Dublin Trinity College Dublin
Place of publication Dublin, Ireland
Publication year 2020
Published at HDK­-Valand - Academy of Art and Design
Language en
Keywords Constructionism, higher arts education, the project method, individualism, subject formation, race, social ontology
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Visual Arts, Rhetoric


Based on an analysis of the ways in which constructionism is both implicitly and explicitly operational within contemporary higher arts education, this paper proposes a re-reading of the political stakes of constructionism. Through elaborating the analogy between constructionism as a way of talking and activating educational practice, and the typical strategies of higher arts education, it is proposed that something of the political stakes in constructionism and other educational 'covering' theories become visible. The focus that emerges is on the way in which higher art education individuates the artist-learner, requiring the artist-learner to give account of their decision-making with respect to both the art practice and the learning process. This individuation is then identified as a point of critique in terms of the figure of the hyper-individualized artist. At this point, Gert Biesta’s intervention into the debate on art education is drawn into the discussion. His thesis on subjectification is brought into view as an exemplary instance of the attempt to describe education in terms of a process of individuation that is oriented to a horizon of coming into the world conditioned by intersubjectivity and dialogue with the world - being in the world but not at the centre of the world. The possibility that this account of subjectification might be caught within a limitation of the universalizing tendency of a particular type of critique is adduced by drawing upon the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva. The cursory treatment of Ferreira da Silva’s analysis of the 'transparent' subject and its prior constitution via racial difference serves as a means of evidencing the importance of different ontological commitments for founding very different accounts of education; and for signaling the unclear apprehension of the limits of the critique produced in the text. This culminates in a series of propositions for a non-totalizing invocation of constructionism: Constructionism does not need to become a theory of everything, neither a way of speaking of "all" educations nor a way of speaking "all of" education.

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