Elke stap is een volgende: een narratief-biografisch onderzoek naar levenslang en levensbreed leren in de gevorderde beroepspraktijk van beeldend kunstenaars

Leo Delfgaauw

    Research output: Ph.D. ThesisPhD Research internal, graduation external

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    This research is the result of my interest for the professional practice of older artists. Can this professional practice be considered a form of lifelong and lifewide learning? Regarding the fact that in the artistic practice and the learning process of the artist the ‘self’ plays a prominent part, I wondered how this ‘self’ finds expression in an advanced professional practice. In this context I adhere to what George Herbert Mead said about the social character of the ‘self’: ‘When a self does appear it always involves an experience of another; there could not be an experience of a self simply by itself.’ Related questions concern the relationship between learning in the artistic practice and the social context in which artists operate, and the meaning of insights into the learning practice and the learning experiences of advanced artists for art education. In order to answer these questions I opted for a narrative-biographical research based on interviews with eighteen artists in the Netherlands.
    Age and ageing in the visual arts have been studied especially in the light of iconographical traditions. This also applies to the advanced artist himself. The depiction of ‘the older person’ has specific stereotypes which partly still exist today. For example, the ‘stairs of life’ is a popular image of the various stages of life and people of differing ages were linked to specific social functions or positions. In the first chapter I will go deeper into these iconographical traditions, based on a number of examples. Next I will chart the problems that many older artists are dealing with in their professional practices today. An advanced age has problems entirely its own where it concerns the production and presentation of the work. Although sometimes there is still appreciation for the mature oeuvre of the older artist, what holds sway in the art world is ‘young and new’. I will discuss the relationship between the learning process and the artists’ life story and the relevance of studies of old age for this research. Finally, I will describe the learning environment of the artistic practice and art education as important aspects in the process of lifelong and lifewide learning.
    In the second chapter I will further develop the conceptual framework of the research. I will distinguish four focal areas: the biography, the life story, the learning processes and the environment. After a concise discussion of the meaning of biographical research in art history I will go deeper into the meaning of the ‘self’ for the awareness of identity and unicity. I will deal with this term based on George Herbert Mead’s dissertation in Mind, Self and Society (1934). Mead was a prominent pragmatist and a leading man in the ‘Chicago School of Sociology’. In his analysis of the self he distinguished the active role of ‘I’ and the reflective role of ‘me’. He emphasized the social nature of the self and the permanently present role of ‘the other’ in the experience of the self. Mead’s analysis of the ‘self’ is important for the interpretation of the autobiographical narrative in which the individual places itself in a social context. For this reason I consider Mead’s insights to remain of great importance for the understanding of artistry and of the artistic practice as a social development.
    The artist’s life story, with its phases, forms a structure of events and experiences in which individuality takes shape. The ‘self’ passes through a temporal development and this finds expression in the life story. I will go deeper into the set phrases that can be traced within this artist’s life story. Ernst Kris and Otto Kurz conducted groundbreaking research in this subject, which is reported in their famous study Die Legende vom Künstler: Ein geschichtlicher Versuch (1934) . Various fixed expressions discussed by them, we also recognize today in the creation of images concerning artistry. ‘Youthful talent’ and ‘genius greybeards’ are two of these clichés often used to interpret an artist’s career. A life story is not only a chronicle of events; it is also the interpretation of this process. It recounts personal experiences, usually while making use of stereotypes.
    Learning processes are part of the essence of the biography and are a sign of individual development and growth. Taking various theories as a starting point, researchers have tried to map these processes – both in their intrinsic course and in the context of the social environment. Based on the insights of a number of prominent theoreticians, such as Knud Illeris, Peter Jarvis, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger I link the learning theories to the life story. In this context the concept of ‘biographical learning’, as formulated and developed by Peter Alheit, Bettina Dausien and Pierre Dominicé, is especially important for my research object. From the work of these authors I derive the notion that lifelong and lifewide learning are forms of biographical learning.
    Mead emphatically places the ‘self’ in a social context and both artistry and the learning process take shape in the exchange with a social environment. Art sciences provide the terms with which the social positon of the artists can be described. Pierre Bourdieu talks about a ‘field of cultural production’ in which younger and older artists take up their specific positions. Howard Becker defines the ‘art world’ as a network of collaboration and relationships. And Pascal Gielen talks about an artistic biotope consisting of various social domains in which artistry takes shape. In this way the sociology of art allows me to make a topography of the artistic practice in which lifelong and lifewide learning takes place.
    In the third chapter I explain the (interdisciplinary) method I used in the empirical part of my research. I will go deeper into the narrative-biographical method as a form of qualitative research. Conducting interviews and using the life stories of artists require a specific way of working and underpinning. Sociological insights, learning theories and art historical notions supplement each other in this. What is relevant in this context as well is the ethical consideration towards the data. The selection of artists is part of the methodological justification. Concerning the analysis of the narrative biographies I use Fritz Schütze’s ‘theory about process structures of the life story’ (1981) as a starting point. Schütze distinguishes, based on the analysis of his autobiographical life story, four process structures: acting on ambition and motivation; institutional frameworks and social patterns; dealing with grief and setbacks and personal change and development.
    The analyses of the interviews with eighteen artists are the fourth chapter, which has been organized according to the four process structures of the life story. These structures show similarities with elements which together form the narrative structure of a story: the character; the circumstances; the plot and the development. The question of continual importance is how the learning process of the advanced artist relates to the specific process structure of the life story. The first part focusses on the presentation of the artists’ ‘self’: the stories about their childhood, background, choice to become an artist and their education. The second part concerns the institutional environment of the artistic practice: the network and the contacts, such as those with galleries and museums. The third goes deeper into the consequences of setbacks and other life-changing events. Finally, the fourth part deals with how artists have learned from these experiences and what meaning the events have had for their further development. Numerous quotes and selections from interviews will make clear how ageing, learning and the artistic practice are interwoven and how this is experienced by the artists involved.
    Finally, in chapter five I will formulate conclusions and recommendations. The research demonstrates to which extent learning is part of a progressive artistic practice and what meaning this has for the profiling of the artist’s ‘self’. Also the question about learning as a social process can be answered based on the analysis of the interviews. Advanced artistry represents a potential educational capital and can serve as an example for young artists. The artistic practice should not only be appreciated based on the results of what has been accomplished, but also for the wealth of the process. This does more justice to the special experiences, the expertise and the profound unicity of the ageing artist. George Herbert Mead argued that the ‘self’ is a social identity in an eternal exchange with the environment. The ‘self’ of the ageing artist is active and reflexive as well; it continues to learn, develop and is always taking new steps…inescapably.
    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    • Van Heusden, Barend, Supervisor, External person
    • Smilde, Rineke, Supervisor
    Place of PublicationGroningen
    Print ISBNs978-94-034-0045-7
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-034-0044-0
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2017

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