As clearly articulated in the introductory chapter, the main goal of this research is to contribute to the planning and the realization of public art courses in higher art education. In this very chapter the goals, circumstances, and overall data of the interviews and the results of the analysis of the interviews will be presented. This chapter is very much connected to the survey part (see previous chapter) and to the collection of the documentation of realized Public Art courses and projects at art HEIs (see it hyperlinked below).
At the preparatory phase of the research, the key principles of this interview were the following:
- Mapping pedagogical methodologies in Public Art
- Gaining concrete contents, information on practices, running courses, projects
- Collecting course materials and methods
There are some considerations about these three principles, especially the third one. Namely, it was challenging to collect and edit the undertaken course materials due to the different languages, structures and lack of sharing and broadcasting permissions. Based on the reasons mentioned above it was not possible to provide a comprehensive systematic presentation of existing course material, so the publication of partial results turned out not to be justified and relevant for an overview of the whole research process and results.
The following analysis will focus on the first two goals: on pedagogical methods and real experience of PA courses. The focus will be on the teachers’ perspective. The students’ perspective will be seen in some cases when the students’ needs, or behaviours are in conflict with those of the teachers.
During the interview process we faced challenges and had to make decisions. The biggest challenge was that the recording of the interviews was planned for the first half of 2020. The interview phase was therefore harder to run since it was during the first outbreak of Covid-19. Most of the colleagues around Europe had to manage changes in everyday life, online teaching etc. Accordingly, the interviews needed extra effort.
The other question to consider was about the interviewers. Who should do the interviews? In order to have valid and variable data which fits scientific standards we should have asked scientific staff to be the interviewers. On the other hand, we needed interviewers who really knew the world of higher art education and had some experience with PA themselves. Since we had comparable data from the survey, we decided to use the interviews to reach the level of honest and fluent professional conversation on the shared topic, and let the participants articulate their thoughts more freely. So, we asked our colleagues who participated in the PARTGO project to conduct the interviews with their fellow colleagues in their own country and all over Europe.
After the survey, and proceeding in this way, we were able to go deeper into the meaning of public art for our research participants and understand their attitudes, beliefs, experiences, and so on, about PA education.
Describing the interviews
Ultimately, there were 19 interviews mainly in Northern and Western Europe. The 10 interviewers were mostly artists/teachers and researchers/teachers, all of them were working for art universities and were aware of the phenomenon of PA.
The interviews were planned as semi-structured interviews. The interviewee was asked to follow a frame based on the questions which all the participants of the research team agreed on (follow link after paragraph). Finalizing this frame of the interview was a long and multistep process. We wanted to gain sophisticated content for the above-mentioned key principles without pressing the interviewer, taking up too much of their time, or influencing them into perceiving PA in a particular manner.
The interviews were planned to be 50–60 minutes long, and the average duration of the recordings was about 70 minutes (the shortest was 26:16, the longest 1:32:19). The recordings sometimes contained the introduction of the project, sometimes not, because in some cases it had already been expressed, or the interviewer was part of the PARTGO team and already had information on the purpose of the project.
As readable in the linked document, in this part the interviewer introduced the interviewee to the aims of the project and what purpose the interview serves. All the interviewees were informed that we would like to record the conversations. We gave our word that we will use the recordings for research on our own, only on this project, and would not make the recordings available to any third parties. If we use some parts literally and with their names, we will seek their permission. Ultimately, when processing the research, some details of the conversations are cited anonymously to support the statements and conclusions. All of them agreed to the recording of the interview.
The interviews were run and recorded on ZOOM or MEET. The interviewees were artists who teach at art HEIs.
The location of the interviewees (where their working place is): Turku, Helsinki (Finland), Budapest (Hungary), Dublin, Cork, Limerick (Ireland), Tallinn (Estonia), Vienna (Austria), Wrexham, Shetland (UK), Vilnius (Lithuania), Gothenburg (Sweden), Cologne (Germany), Zagreb (Croatia), Barcelona (Spain)
Figure 24: The location of the interviewers marked with red dots
In the previous chapter, which is about the research questionnaire, it is clearly demonstrated that a quantitative and representative survey of PA education in HEIs is more than challenging.
As we will see, in most of the cases, the teacher who gave the interview was not aware of whether there is another PA course at their university or not. Consequently, we were not able to get information on the whole institute and collect a representative sample, since the teachers themselves, who do participate in PA courses, do not have an insight into the whole process since these people usually work encapsulated in their own department.
On the other hand, we found extra outcomes from the interviews on other interesting topics and reached theoretical and societal issues as well as surprising data on the general state of pedagogical awareness at art HEIs.
Therefore, we declare our research is a descriptive and exploratory study and not an accurate survey. Furthermore, the research part of the project was parallel to the workshop and in this way all the participants could reflect on PA education. This is the reason we also call our research pedagogical action research. The joint definition of the concept of PA, the planning and conducting of the research, as well as learning about the results and, based on this, the planning and conducting of the second phase, the interview, shaped our team's thinking about the concept of contemporary public art and its teaching.
Analysis of the most common and interesting topics
The hypothesis we were about to examine in our study was that public art education in higher education is a relatively new field, and there are many aspects to explore. Our interviewees agree that PA is the place where art can have the biggest impact (expressing an opinion, raising questions, creating dialogue, etc.). So, the importance and relevance of the topic is confirmed.
PA education must have some characteristics and probably has not reached its final state to form a systematic and sophisticated curriculum.
In accordance with our experiences – what we gained during the preparatory phase of our research – there were many kinds of ways teachers work with and think about PA projects. The differences were obvious. There are many kinds of ways of organizing the workshops or courses in most of the institutes. It is obvious that PA education is very sporadic. There is a mixture of different levels (BA and/or MA) or other education programmes where they practice PA education. The differences seemed greater than the similarities, especially considering what social engagement and public can mean regarding art.
Therefore, at first glance, the researchers were quite sceptical about finding similarities. Although the similarities were also clear from the beginning in terms of, for example, ‘meeting the real project and real life’ as a crucial part of becoming an artist. The field also looks the same in almost every institute – that there is not any real curriculum or particular method, the colleagues work with a method case by case.
Furthermore, since there is no particular curriculum, PA is present in the practice of art education as a ‘meta-curriculum’ as it reasonably could be and as some interviewees mentioned. By this, they probably mostly meant that the goals and content of PA are 'hidden' as an integrated curriculum, and together they provide the knowledge and skills that artists may need to implement PA projects.
In order to understand more deeply what happens (or go after our first impressions) we selected the most obviously articulated topics from the interviews. As written above, one of the most important issues is the curriculum.
Without defining the concept of curriculum, we would like to mention its core features. The curriculum contains the pedagogical goals, including methods of working with the students (what kinds of students) and includes the evaluation or assessment method, as well as the target content and tools.
Every educational programme in higher education must have a curriculum. This curriculum needs to fit the key prescriptions of ESCO (European Skills, Competences, Qualifications and Occupations). This document regulates the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and autonomy needed in an educational programme at a particular level (8 levels, where 6 and 7 are BA and MA).
In this curriculum, all the courses serve the ultimate goal, which is the output of the learning: students become artists.
When the interviewers asked the interviewees about the curriculum they could hardly answer or name a curriculum where we could find a description of PA. So, it is not unfounded to say that PA education is not rooted in HEIs and a PA education curriculum is sporadic and far from systematic. The above result can be understood based on the structure of art HEIs. It is incidental that the department meets a civil partner and initiates a programme together. Based on what has been said in the interviews, it seems that these departments work encapsulated in many places and usually they do not know about each other’s public projects.
Some answers to the question about the curriculum question stated there is no need to have a special public art course defined in the curriculum. There should rather be elements of it, mostly an attitude to it, across the educational programme.
But if we have PA in the curriculum, where should it be?
Some of the practicing teachers declared that it must be in the MA (and doctoral) level because the students need to be practising artists already and have some experience in the field of art.
Some of them said that it would be better at BA level because the students need to see this type of artistic expression/way of doing art as soon as possible. One teacher even mentioned it would make sense at secondary school level. And of course, there are some who said it would be better in the middle of the BA level because if they start it too early ‘it scares the shit out of them’.
Some of the teachers do not even understand the concept of pedagogical method. The lack of knowledge or training is obvious. They sometimes had problems understanding the questions on method – the interviewers had to explain the question. Therefore, it was obvious that the teachers are not trained as teachers.
So, there is a general lack of pedagogical skills and method in higher education in art since the professors are mostly artists themselves. This might work well in the field of more traditional individual artist education, but with a complex issue like public art, which has so many factors and aspects to consider, such a lack of pedagogy can cause even more pressure – as one of the teachers mentioned, ‘this can be one of the reasons why we are doing this PARTGO project’.
How is it possible that in most cases the teachers are unable to provide a particular method? They rather speak about one course and its syllabus. They can vividly speak about it and give us colourful interpretations of the whole process of running a particular PA course. We can sum up their work case by case.
The considerations are sporadic. Several interviews contain notes on the specific nature of PA, which distinguishes it from general art education, and this is group work. Dealing with groups of students is challenging for the teachers. Since the students must work in groups, the roles are different. One teacher said that a PA course is the best example of how to work in democracy: ‘we are the same in the course’.
They highlighted the importance of learning by failure (it is okay if the result is not satisfactory). In addition, they also mentioned that running the course is rather a managerial challenge than a pedagogical one. We will discuss this issue further below.
In PA, the greatest pedagogical challenge for the teacher is assessment. We will continue now with this issue.
Assessment and evaluation
In terms of pedagogical methods, there is one issue which is definitely challenging and divides our teachers – the process of assessing group activities.
It is not a problem for a practicing teacher to see which group process is satisfactory or which final product is better or good enough. (Little colourful piece: a teacher mentioned that once his students surprised him with a poster apologizing that ‘they couldn’t get out with a better idea’.) On the other hand, they need to evaluate their students one by one. And students also feel the need for that.
The challenge is whether to let them work as they want; for example, to share the tasks between the group members or not. In the first case, the developmental outcomes are bigger (students learn more), but the work done by each student is hardly visible. Consequently, the assessment of the group work is different in each course.
The teachers have no tools to rely on in this issue. They should decide what they want to evaluate. A process versus a product type of evaluation helps the teacher’s job in different ways. If they want the latter, what is the product? When there is a lack of time, sometimes the result is just a draft or half-ready object or a concept for a performance. If the former (process), how can they evaluate the process without intervening?
We must also mention the question of who the author is. And this is really meaningful for the students.
The digital space, like the place for publicity, has become more important when considering PA, especially since the pandemic. There are many advantages, such as sustainability, wider options, the potential for cooperation, and so on.
Other articulations of this idea: ‘immaterial art and PA became more obvious after Covid’. The next quote confirms this statement: ‘a little bit of our whole life becomes public due to the mediatized environment’.
Digitization and moving to the net are well described and understandable. But we can also think about the digital as a material.
The artworks used to be grouped and organized by material or technology and how they were fabricated.
Regarding public art, the material becomes an increasingly less important feature of an artwork. In public art, contextualizing specific content seems more relevant than the material.
The topic of material and context in our dialogues is a two-way street. First, the goal is to ‘get the students out of their digital world’. It looks like PA is a perfect field to do that. Students literally must walk out and have interpersonal relationships. Second, the goal is to shift the concept of public art from bronze sculpture and statues to include immaterial artworks/performances. The artistic expression can be more abstract, use more ephemeral material or can be immaterial as well.
This was often confirmed in the interviews, ‘there is always a scene’. The site specificity, the temporality are basic characteristics of PA projects. In other words, these activities can be interpreted as monuments of the present.
If the material is less important, then how do we know where to find it in an art college? The first department which came to mind when thinking about PA is the sculpture department. And the sculpture department is straightforward as the basis of PA at an HEI, but a whole college can be involved. It is possible to have a ‘series of practices that can emerge from all kinds of disciplines’.
Inter-, trans-, and multidisciplinary
PA projects include many types of knowledge and many types of professional practitioners as we have seen above. Apart from the management (finance, project management etc.), even the experts have different backgrounds.
There were many experts cited in the interviews, and they can be listed as follows: historian, journalist, philosopher, legal expert, architect, sculptor, painter, media artist, etc. It was interesting to see that the different art forms are not compatible with each other. For example, it was not unique to hear complaints about an architect’s arrogance in explicit or implicit ways. Namely, for example, that planning an artwork for a new construction the artists must experience that the architects declare that the site is ready. They do not consider a possible site-specific art action, even though it is implied in the budget according to the 1% system. There are certainly good experiences with architects, for example, when they work together with media art experts and create something special.
The disciplinary diversity is also manifested in the theoretical background. Traditional art history, art theory, and contemporary theories of art and design are applied. And as quite new in the field of art (according to an interviewee: ‘in the last 25 years’) new aspects reached the field, therefore new disciplines are integrated. First, social sciences, political theories, environmental and cultural studies. Second, rather applied sciences as practicing social workers, urbanists, etc.
Consequently, the concept and vocabulary of PA go through continuous change. This flow of change must be followed by the art teachers.
Preparation and running the course
Even though the teachers can hardly articulate the proper method for teaching PA, they can name some of their issues which require effort. One is the preparation and running of the course. Preparing and running a PA project requires many considerations. For example, in some cases a course is the end phase of a long-term cooperative partnership.
First, the civil partner and the higher educational institute must know each other. This can take time, and the process must include contextual knowledge in terms of time, space, society, art theory, PA vocabulary, social context, information on the stakeholders (public, artist, commissionaire, curator, art organizations at the national and European level). In addition, it requires cooperation skills, knowledge, and the skills of project management: applying grants, running projects, safety, health, sustainability…). In general, the teacher attempting to take a PA course must be a good leader, able to work with all involved. As one interviewee said: ‘it needs to be a well led project’.
Sometimes the first step, namely, how to apply, is a big challenge, and how to run a project from initiating to finishing is always different in each project. Speaking about grants, in some countries the law obliges the contractor to spend 1% of the overall budget on contemporary art. This seems a great opportunity for PA projects (and for PA courses), but according to our interviewees, ‘1% sometimes works, sometimes not [for the] public in the sense of [being] socially engaged’. This means that an artwork that is financially supported by the contractor is not for the public or with the public. It is often a sculpture for the public to see. And the other problem can be that it is not site or context specific. This does not strictly belong to our study, but one of our teacher states critically: ‘and this 1% gentrifies the city’.
Following on from the above, there are many factors shaping the PA course, it is almost impossible to create a general PA course. PA is society-specific, so PA education must also be.
Additional questions and issues further complicate PA education. One is time. A single course is too little time to take the students through a typical PA project. Other issues concern staffing. Usually, the university needs someone who has created PA themselves but is also a manager, a communications expert, a financial expert, civil contact, and so on. It is not always given in an art college (some of them are separate small colleges, this fact relevant for them, not for art schools belonging to big universities).
One more problem can be that the students do not always like this type of project (see later). And the success of the project demands continuity. On colleague stated: ‘You need a group of them, none of them is quitting during the process’ – they cannot be ‘helicopter artists’.
Having all these skills and people (staff and students) in one school cannot be guaranteed. Initiating joint courses in order to have all the skills, connections and enough students is recommended to overcome these issues.
College life is usually safe, predictable, and balanced, and students can develop their skills, knowledge, and so on, in a safe and comfortable environment. This situation has many advantages. On the other hand, they cannot face the real world. As one stated, ‘university is a closed and comfortable box’.
Many of our interviewees thought that it is crucial for the students to meet the ‘real world’. PA courses are run with other partners, and they have real deadlines and circumstances. All these things need to be learned. Collaboration, as we note in the next paragraph, is about group work.
In order to manage it successfully: ‘the teacher has to create a secure, comfortable area so the students can meet reality’.
Group work and individual fame
Working in a group is essential in PA education. As we noted before, the teachers must face a completely new situation: working with multiple students at the same time. But this issue is far beyond the pedagogical tools available to them during the course (how to organize classes etc.). It also means that this is challenging for the students, so it is ‘unusual for everyone’. And to tell the truth, students do not always like this (except the students, who already think in the frame of socially engaged and participative art). It is quite strange for them to go to an art school to be trained as an individual artist, and suddenly they find themselves in a situation where they need to work together with other students. They must generate ideas, make decisions, and develop the project together. It is pretty much against the idea of individual artistic identity. As another respondent clearly stated: ‘No students would call themselves a public artist.’
But why is that? Why does collaboration seem terrifying? Some teachers think that the ‘art bubble’ of student life between the walls of the college is comfortable. Working on a PA project: ‘they feel uncomfortable, lost’.
‘(PA education) is against individual art’. The classical master-pupil relationship is over; there is a need to find a democratic and more cooperative way of learning. The good old master methods no longer work in this context. In other words, this means ‘group work instead of studio-based learning’. This is not comfortable for the students; they become afraid because it is out of their comfort zone. ‘This is a reason the students don’t like it, they cannot shine’.
Engagement and Participation - Political, social, societal
The level and type of collaboration with the public (audiences/public) varies in terms of the depth of the PA projects and the teaching practices mentioned by the interviewees, as already revealed in the survey phase. Some clearly define PA among the 'new genres of PA' (community-based art, participatory public art, socially engaged public art – with forerunners such as Claire Bishop and Suzanne Lacy). They see cooperation with the public as a reflection of real social issues, probably because participation is the very basis of their approach to public art. Others, as the survey indicated, place the interaction with the audience more at the stage of interpretation: ‘More emphasis on provoking questioning rather than celebrating…’
Therefore, the linguistic and practical interpretation of cooperation among the interviewed artists also ranges over a wide spectrum. Some of the interviewees mentioned that the development and acquisition of PA language is itself part of the change.
Several interviewees said that the direct social relevance of PA can really grow if artists receive continuous and systematic support for the implementation of such projects: ‘It is very important that the decision-makers and politicians understand the role and the value of art better.’
Over a longer period of time, this also causes people to demand that art play an active role in public spaces, similarly, to design, also for the sake of social change and attitude formation. In the words of one interviewee, if they understand how ‘…art can push forward democracy’, then the bottom-up demand for PA in public spaces will also increase. That would be the real change.
For PA with a truly participatory approach, the development of needs is very important. PA can have a real social impact if it becomes available to everyone. ‘Thus, it is important to demystify and democratize art.’ – said another interviewee.
Interpretations of collaboration/engagement often do not apply to the audience, but to the co-creators or, at most, the commissioner. Due to the short duration of the university courses (or a one-year course), it is still difficult to implement many projects, which increases the pressure on the cooperation. The duration of an entire PA project, from research to application to collaborative implementation, cannot really fit into one training phase. The skills required for PA can really only be developed in practice. It is a problem if there is no way to guarantee life projects due to time and financial constraints.
As already underlined in the survey analysis phase, the understanding of public and social engagement and participation, just like participatory art, varies in almost every case, not to mention the emerging role of social responsibility among artists. Literal participatory processes are hard to detect in the framework of this research, meaning when the public (or a representative community) is engaged in the creation of the public artwork. Social engagement is more likely to be perceived as the public’s relationship (sometimes even transactional) with the artwork, with the artist while creating the art piece, or through reaction to or interaction with the intervention happening and appearing on a common or public space. PA by default seeks to generate a public response although public can be tricky to define. A contemplative question was raised by one of the interviewees: ‘What is public? the experts? everyone? a special group in the neighbourhood?’ How can PA processes be participatory without the risk of becoming exclusive? And how can artists revisit the means of their authorship if there is, ‘social engagement: literally not from the point of view of the artists.’ Conclusions or revelations neither in the survey nor in the interviews are provided for PA since it is ‘not fine art itself, not an individual act’ but still a form of (self)-expression and artistic reaction on something surrounding us, be it a dysfunctionality in a public space, a wicked problem, a societal realm.
There are two other ways to interpret participation and engagement in light of PA. One is as having an educative role; more precisely the format and genre can help the soon-to-be artists to leave the white box and embrace societal challenges traced or symbolized in a public place. As one of the interviewees says: ‘They need to see that they have to do something’ and ‘it is not possible any more by pushing paint around in the studio. This approach can also mean social engagement, the students can experience their role and responsibility as future artists and how to use the tools of art and design to reflect on social issues and broadcast them to catalyse public awareness. The other way to legitimise participation and engagement is much more simple, meaning: ‘We go out (they are not used to) we look around at what the public place is.’ By looking around and perceiving a public place (where humans and non-humans are indispensable factors), a connection and interaction can happen. Tangible interactions, such as speaking to people or observing interactions (immersing in the patterns or the behavioural characteristics of humans) or sensual interactions with non-human elements. These gestures can be the first steps towards more in-depth forms of participation.
Art used to be meant as the materialization of mere beauty. Today, contemporary art is pretty much engaged socially and dedicated to critical things, democracy, etc. (see previous paragraphs). What should be done with this changing concept of beauty and aesthetics. Contemporary art theory deals with these questions. The appearance of these questions in PA education is relevant too. First, aesthetics as a viewpoint ‘has the lowest importance, and criticality and participation are the most important’. Second, the PA course sometimes has to deal with a lack of time, and this emerges in half-ready works. So, aesthetic judgment is not possible in these cases. On the other hand, it is also not always necessary because the work and the process is more relevant. The following short comment can help console those readers who worry about beauty, as one of the teachers said: ‘If it’s beautiful, it is not a problem’.
Teachers in higher education in general can meet the confidence of students regarding what they should learn. It is an everyday experience that they realise later that some skills are pretty necessary in the ‘real world’. In the case of art education, these skills can be social skills, such as communication, empathy, cooperativeness … and so on. They need to learn about responsibility and trust, too.
Since ‘they (the students) don’t understand the necessity of these skills’ it is often a fight to make them understand that working in groups on a PA course is not a waste of time.
Social skills are very important and one of our teachers said: ‘you cannot learn, but you can develop’. Maybe this is the reason why some teachers say that it is better to develop these things in many courses in the curriculum. ‘Social skills should be hidden everywhere’.
Other skills apart from social skills are like ‘continuous self-reflection’ and critical thinking. PA courses also rely quite heavily on these two things. There is one more skill connected here. Students can learn to follow the demands of real projects, such as deadlines etc. PA courses are a perfect way to develop these skills.
The impact of participating in a PA course on the students
What can students do with the skills and knowledge gained in PA courses? According to one of our interviewees: ‘they may become activists’. This sentence implies that the attitude that students develop during these courses can change their professional way of seeing the world.
Since they learn the whole process (from application to evaluation) in a PA project, they will be able to initiate, finance and run projects themselves. So, these skills and knowledge can help them financially. ‘It can make a living’, help them ‘be able to survive’ (to live on art).
In addition, during PA courses students encounter multiple topics and themes. The PA phenomenon is great in this way for teaching future artists to find things for themselves. To find their topic.
Skills, knowledge, attitudes, and responsibility as declared by ESCO for higher education, such as social responsibility, cooperation, and so on, can be taught through PA
Skills, knowledge, attitudes, and responsibility as ESCO declares it for higher education such as social responsibility, cooperation etc. can be taught through PA.