Artful Empiricism and Improvising with the Unforeseen: Two approaches in seeking understandings of nature through art

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Arts-based environmental education (AEE) denotes an emerging field of pedagogy wherein facilitated art practice intersects with and informs learning about our natural and cultural environments. In it, artmaking is appreciated as a form of coming to knowledge, of making meaning, in its own right, on par with other approaches such as inquiry-based learning in the science classroom. In this article, the author, himself a practitioner, foregrounds two different orientations in learning about nature through art that he considers both as being expressive of AEE. The first one, here called “artful empiricism”, is more established and has its footings in “the Goethean approach”. Participants investigate natural phenomena through direct observation and experience of the world. This is then complemented by intuitive perception. Yet, for the most part, they are absorbed in what Dewey would call a receptive sense of “undergoing”. Aesthetic sensibility is foregrounded, encouraging participants to fine-tune their senses in order to perceive the phenomenon in nature with “fresh eyes”. The second orientation is hardly articulated as an epistemology yet. Here it is called “improvising with emerging properties” and it features an element of working with unforeseen properties that emerge in and through an artmaking process that thematises natural phenomena. It is intrinsically open-ended and an active “acting upon” the world takes centre stage. Through artmaking, participants explore the relationships between themselves and their environs. In his discussion, the author analyses these approaches as two modalities both expressive of a Deweyan cycle of alternating between a receptive undergoing of and active acting upon the world, in different phases of a reflective experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCULTURE IN SUSTAINABILITY
Subtitle of host publicationTowards a Transdisciplinary Approach
Place of PublicationFinland
PublisherSoPhi, University of Jyväskylä, Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)ISBN 978-951-39-7267-7
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • art
  • nature
  • sustainability


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