Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Chris Port Blog #121. Example of interdisciplinary postmodernism and intertextuality

© Chris Port, 2010
Suppose you created a work of art in your discipline. How would you assess it? First, you would adopt a quantitative approach. Is it ‘technically correct’, does it ‘meet the assessment criteria’, does it ‘tick the boxes’?

But eventually you must address the question of quality. How ‘good’ is it? This is the aesthetic component of the creative arts faculty in schools (which does not seem, to me, to be coherent at the moment - I don’t understand how we can map learning initiatives when it is not clear exactly what the students are actually learning).

In addition, we also need to consider the social/moral/spiritual dimension implicit and often explicit in governmental initiatives and exam syllabi, current and future.

Suppose Janine paints a painting. In order to embed a quality of ‘goodness’, let us suppose that it is a technically perfect copy of an accepted masterpiece. Is it then ‘good’? Technically, arguably, but it lacks creativity. It is not enough. Suppose she then adds a little touch of her own. This must change the overall quality of the piece. For better or worse, a new meaning is created. Whether Janine decides to destroy the painting in embarrassment at its pretentiousness (merely standing on the shoulders of giants), or whether she keeps it with pride as an interesting personal conceit, depends upon the depth of the new meaning created. So, what do we mean by ‘depth’?

The problem with postmodernism is that it renders all art as artifice, clever ways of saying very little since everything important has already been said. Admittedly, it could also be argued that a great deal can be said with very little if it connects deeply at the personal level (reference Doctor Who, Moulin Rouge).

Janine will keep the painting if she feels that it says something deep (to her, at least). But will she keep it if it says something trite? Or, will she keep it with pride for a while then dispense with it as her aesthetics evolve and change?

Take another hypothetical example. Suppose Victoria choreographs a dance. To give it ‘quality’, she makes it a technically perfect copy of another accepted masterpiece. Then she experiments with her students, each contributing variations, giving it that ‘personal conceit’ which gives the piece new meanings and a sense of ownership.

Or suppose Kelly composes a piece in the style of a composer she admires by simply copying the notation. Suppose she then turns it into a pastiche by introducing variations and stylistic influences from other composers. The first piece would probably fail most reasonable assessment criteria. The more complex, informed, coherent and evocative the variations, the better the quality, the higher the grade.

In Film and Media, artefacts, texts, are studied, analysed, bastardised and acknowledged with reference to a wide range of both technical skills and socio-cultural understandings.

In Drama, everything is very different (although probably closest to Dance in the co-operative physical performance aspect). For most students, the learning of technical skills (‘acting’ in place of artifice or artefact) is of limited appeal or accessibility for the simple reason that, far more than any other subject, drama demands the greatest emotional engagement from its participants, the willingness to suspend disbelief.

The trade off is that, while putting one foot in the imaginary world of fantasy and keeping the other firmly planted in reality, the participants are protected by the distance of role play. They are playing a role, not being it. The main critical thinking skill is in being able to understand the rules of these ‘language games’ and then switch from one world to the other. Create conflict then evaluate performance skill and meaning. No other subject makes this demand upon its participants.

For this reason, as students move more and more into a quantitative assessment environment, it is hardly surprising that they lose confidence in role play and seek comfort in comic play. Many are nervous of being serious in Drama and lack the basic social co-operation skills necessary to create dramatic atmosphere. Poor rooming provision also plays a large part in undermining the essence of the subject here.

Intertextuality is the deciding factor. To what extent are all of our respective disciplines referencing different texts (in the widest meaning of the term) not only between different levels but also different disciplines? What is our current
zeitgeist and what are we doing about it? Where is our intellectual discussion? Hence the need to continuously evolve schemes of work to identify and locate the students’ ZPD (zone of proximal development).

Two observations here: i) This is, in itself, a full-time job and ii) I don’t think we're currently doing it.

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