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Informal peer learning between contemporary artists in Bristol and selected UK cities outside London. How do contemporary artists learn from their peers outside of formal education and what motivates them to do so?

Wakefield, Megan L


Megan L Wakefield


This research has been carried out as part of a collaborative doctoral award with partners Spike Island Art and Design Centre and University of the West of England. It employs a mixed methods approach, including participatory action research, reflexive practice and semi-structured interviews to explore artists’ peer learning in the context of literature from education theory, network theory, philosophy, art theory and sociology.
It takes as research participants, artists from the Spike Associates Group, Spike Island, Bristol, and artists from self-organised groups and organisationally facilitated membership groups in several UK cities outside London.
It found that peer interactions between artists are particularly significant in times of transition when peer learning pivots on mutual recognition, countering isolation, nurturing self-determination and accessing resources. The construction and reconstruction of practitioner subjectivities and practice identities is a significant peer learning process, often incorporating the initiation of spaces where practice identities can be temporarily suspended.
Artists engage with artist-led groups in subtly different ways to organisationally facilitated membership groups. Participation in the former enables experimentation with roles and competencies in a fluid environment where a sense of shared purpose and ownership prevails. The latter are utilised less as ‘communities’ and more as resources to be exploited and graduated through.
Informal conversation is a vital site of learning and a catalyst for practice and peer critique, although an important staging post against which to measure practice trajectories, is often problematic due to tensions arising from the need for challenge as well as support. Aspiration towards reciprocity, hospitality and generosity represents a common ethics of entanglement. However, this breaks down where there are conflicting beliefs about what constitutes exchanges of equivalent value.
Visibility is a highly valued commodity amongst artists and they look to their peers for strategies to make practice visible to appropriate parties and to gain a clearer overview of regional and national artistic networks and communities.
Much previous research on informal learning has been conducted in the fields of work-based learning or community education. This thesis provides a much-needed microanalysis of learning processes that occur in temporary communities that are at the same time social and professional spaces. It makes valuable tacit processes visible in these situations, and the research findings can be used to initiate, adapt and inform learning programmes in arts centres, self-organised groups and other informal settings.


How do contemporary artists learn from their peers outside of formal education and what motivates them to do so?. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis
Publication Date Feb 1, 2013
Keywords contemporary artists, Bristol, UK, London, cities, learn, formal education, informal peer


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