At the Heart of Art and Earth: An Exploration of Practices in Arts-Based Environmental Education

Onderzoeksoutput: BookAcademic


In today’s technological world, human intertwinement with the rest of nature hasbeen severely diminished. In our digital culture, many people hardly have any direct experience of and sense of connection with “the real” of the natural world. The author assumes that when we want to find ways to mend this gap, arts-based environmental education (AEE) can play a meaningful role. In AEE, artmaking is regarded as itself a way of potentially gaining new understandings about our natural environment. As a reflective practitioner, the author facilitated three different AEE activities, at several times and at diverse locations. On basis of his observations, memories, written notes, audio-visual recordings and interviews with participants, teachers and informed outsiders, he interpreted the experiences both of participants and himself. To this end he employed interpretative phenomenological analysis paired with autoethnography.
The artmaking activities researched here aimed to bring about a shift in focus. Participants were encouraged to approach natural phenomena not head-on, but in an indirect way. Moreover, the artmaking process aspired to heighten their awareness to the presence of their embodied self at a certain place. The research questions that the author poses in this study are: (1) What is distinctive in the process of the AEE activities that I facilitate?; (2) Which specific competencies can be identified for a facilitator of AEE activities?; and (3) Does participating in the AEE activities that I facilitate enhance the ability of participants to have a direct experience of feeling connected to the natural world?
In this explorative study, the author identifies facilitated estrangement through participating in AEE as an important catalyst when aiming to evoke such instances of transformative learning. In undergoing such moments, participants grope their way in a new liminal space. Artmaking can create favorable conditions for this to happen through its defamiliarizing effect which takes participants away from merely acting according to habit (on “autopilot”). The open-ended structure of the artmaking activities contributed to the creation of a learning arena in which emergent properties could become manifest. Thus, participants could potentially experience a sense of wonder and begin to acquire new understandings – a form of knowing that the author calls “rudimentary cognition.” The research further suggests that a facilitator should be able to bear witness to and hold the space for whatever enfolds in this encounter with artistic process in AEE. He or she must walk the tightrope between control and non-interfering.
The analysis of the impacts of the AEE activities that were facilitated leads the author to conclude that it is doubtful whether these in and of themselves caused participants to experience the natural environment in demonstrable new and deep ways. He asserts that most of their awareness was focused on the internal level of their own embodied presence; engagement with place, the location where the AEE activity was performed, seemed secondary. The findings show that AEE activities first and foremost help bring about the ignition and augmentation of the participants’ fascination and curiosity, centered in an increased awareness of their own body and its interactions with the natural world. The present study can be seen as a contribution to efforts of envisaging innovative forms of sustainable education that challenge the way we have distanced ourselves from the more-than-human world.
Originele taal-2English
Plaats van productieHelsinki
Uitgeverij Aalto Publications
Aantal pagina's420
ISBN van elektronische versie978-952-60-5146-8
ISBN van geprinte versie978-952-60-5145-1
StatusPublished - 2013

Publicatie series

ReeksDoctoral Dissertations


  • planeet
  • kunst
  • educatie


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