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Creative Arts, Part 1: What do we mean by Interdisciplinary? - The Open College of the Arts
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Creative Arts, Part 1: What do we mean by Interdisciplinary?

The Creative Arts programme has developed the idea of interdisciplinary learning since I began leading the degree 7 years ago, but what do I mean by this, and how does it reflect on your studies? 

Interdisciplinarity – is the study of two or more disciplines alongside a critical engagement with subjects in the wider world, that aims to communicate connections through thinking and practice. So, why might we need to engage with the wider world as part of interdisciplinary thinking? As we look beyond the confines of a Western orientated art history towards ideas and influences that emerge from a context of globalisation and cross-cultural engagement, creative artists respond to this in a variety of ways and some common strategies emerge. 

Working with other disciplines to create something new, transforming and creating a new language out of this integrated approach to thinking and working is by its practical nature reaching out and therefore requires us to form connections with ideas from a broader cultural context. I should also clarify at this stage that I’m not talking about multidisciplinary, this only requires the disciplines to sit independent from each other but worked at the same time. Perhaps, there is flexibility in the programme now to work like this, but we are moving towards a more integrated mode of thinking as the world has moved forward too.

A useful quote from Roland Barthes book of collected essays ‘Image Music Text’, can help us here:

Interdisciplinarity is not the calm of an easy security; it begins effectively (as opposed to the mere expression of a pious wish) when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down … in the interests of a new object and a new language neither of which has a place in the field of the sciences that were to be brought peacefully together, this unease in classification being precisely the point from which it is possible to diagnose a certain mutation. (Barthes 1977: 155)

The new object and language that Barthes speaks of here is the mutation through the integration of disciplines and ideas that forms something new – in your studies a new creative language that is distinct and personal to your aspirations. There is also a sense that Barthes is signalling a political context to interdisciplinary thinking, there’s something underlyingly pointed about questioning the ‘solidarity of old disciplines’ that could be considered when breaking down barriers between methods of working and integrating practices. You are involved in developing your hybridised creative language, especially as you progress to later stages of the programme, something I will be encouraging you to discuss more.

So, perhaps now, I might bring in the artist Olafur Eliasson, someone whose engagement with the public is built on a desire to form a sensuous relationship between nature and humanity. He achieves this through bringing into his studio practice a variety of disciplines – working with architects, designers, scientists, engineers, to name a few of his breadth of connections. His synthesis of practice is totally interdisciplinary to form interaction and a conversation both within the aesthetic of the work and externally to ideas that affect us all.

Over the coming months, I will be launching group work projects to help you form connections between your discipline’s and concepts in the wider world, I hope that they will promote debate, discussion and energy to your thinking and making as you develop your studies on the Creative Arts programme. Please keep a lookout for these, they will be starting with an online lecture in the form of a webinar and accompanying padlet resource that I hope as many of you as possible will engage with to support your studies. The first of these will be a lecture titled ‘Global Perspectives in Contemporary Creative Arts’ that I will advertise on OCA Discuss, I hope to continue the conversation with you there.

Barthes, Roland (1977) Image Music Text. London: Fontana Press

Bukdahl, E.M. (2015) ‘Olafur Eliasson Interdisciplinary Approaches and their Interplay with his Art’ The Journal of Somaesthetics No. 1, 2015 PP. 8-18 

Image: Tate Modern, 2019, Turbine Hall part of Olafur Eliasson ‘In Real Life’, image courtesy Doug Burton

  • Globalisation – The act of connecting networks of production towards a worldwide scale
  • Cross-cultural – The relationship of different cultural perspectives to each other
  • Hybridised – The forming of something new from selected strands of knowledge
  • Discipline – An individual creative area such as Fine Art, Music, Creative Writing etc.
  • Interdisciplinary – Integrating the study of two or more disciplines with concepts from both the arts and broader global views
  • Multidisciplinary – Working with different areas of study at the same time and as separate entities.
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Posted by author: Doug Burton
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3 thoughts on “Creative Arts, Part 1: What do we mean by Interdisciplinary?

  • Thanks for this helpful and thought provoking article Doug. The move towards a more interdisciplinary approach in creative arts is exciting and welcome. I fully appreciate the point about the unease or disruption that this can create, both for the artist and established ways of looking at disciplines. The potential for new creative thinking, whilst often unsettling, is also full of potential for the development of new thoughts and ideas. I also recognize the points you make about political elements of interdisciplinary working – whether that’s human scale politics and the participation of groups and communities or wider scale geopolitics. One of the interesting problems this creates for a learning organization is to help students get the most out of the possibilities. Equally, challenging must be for a learning organization like the OCA to create new flexible ways of working that transcends traditional specialisms and ways of delivering units of learning that is more open ended. I look forward to engaging In interdisciplinary ways of working in my own learning.

  • I’m really pleased you have found this blog part 1 engaging, Annette. My aim is to keep producing opportunities to support and discuss with students expectations for working with more than one discipline. Part 2 of this blog will be coming soon where I hope to develop ideas around taking risks and how to broaden engagement with subjects in the wider world.

  • It seems to me that the most creative space is that between traditional disciplines, because that is where the space is. If we operate between disciplines we can draw on the richness of both or all whilst not being constrained by either or any.

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