process and outcome

I have been working in the field of heritage for the last six years with quarto, building on theory picked up during postgraduate studies and learning a lot from Gemma. The Heritage as Reconciliation Winter School at Corrymeela offered great stimulus to my thinking about heritage and the underlying aim of all our work: deepening our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the place in which we live.

Gemma having dealt very ably with the content of the Winter School in our last blog, I am going to pick up on some brief comments made by Ross Velure Roholt. Considering evaluation, he talked about how we orientate towards the world as a question during childhood, and how that orientation disappears as we grow older. He said that it becomes hard for us to formulate good questions, or the right questions, and asked, how do we change our frame of reference from expecting outcome to being in process?

This question is one that has been on my mind lately as I progress with action research on Virtually There, Kids’ Own’s artists-in-schools project. For a decade now, Virtually There has placed artists in classrooms through the interactive whiteboard, in close collaboration with teacher-partners. Each partnership delivers 14 half-day (and sometimes full-day) sessions with children across the school year. I have been reading relevant literature, observing Virtually There sessions and talking to the artists, teachers and children involved. One of the stand-out features of the work is its privileging of process over outcome.

I went to art college and practise as an artist, and know that artists are trained to pay close attention to process. Artists value process in itself and not as a means to an end. Artists tend to embrace exploration, experimentation and uncertainty. Outcomes may not measure up to intention, may fail to engage an audience or may be ephemeral, but that does not negate the importance of the process that led to them. Teachers, so they have been telling me, are not trained to value process. In the education system within which they work, outcome is king, and outcomes are defined and specific. I hear from teacher participants in Virtually There, therefore, that it has been both challenging and exciting to follow the lead of professional artists and let go of the desire for outcome. Rather than hurrying children along a well-trodden path with a fixed destination, they have been allowing an open-ended process to take its course, shaped by artist, teacher and children together. When I was asked recently whether I thought teachers had become more creative through Virtually There, it pinned down for me a thought that had been hovering.

By their own accounts the teachers I have spoken to have become more creative, I think. But that creativity is not, or not only, in the form of making, or drawing, or painting; rather, it is in the form of being comfortable with uncertainty and trusting fluid process to enrich and nourish and educate regardless of outcome. Teachers and artists and children all attest to the benefits of this way of working. It gives children agency, encourages self-reflexiveness and critical thinking, grows confidence and dissipates fear of failure. This is an aspect of artists’ training and practice that has been to a great extent invisible and unvalued in the wider world. When I heard Ross voice that question, I thought that artists might have some answers.