Fun, challenging and relevant
– the benefits of interdisciplinary learning
As any student with experience of the OCA’s Creative Arts Today course will know, exploring how different creative disciplines interact and promote exciting points of discussion and debate is really important.
Adopting an interdisciplinary approach to learning helps you to develop new (and more flexible) methods, new lines of questioning, new specialist and transferable skills, and new strategies for resolving some of the challenges that may face you in your practice.
All OCA students are encouraged to stretch the boundaries of their discipline through meaningful and creative engagement with materials and concepts. However, sometimes it can be difficult to know how to apply different perspectives in an integrated or inclusive, rather than ad hoc, way within the context of your own learning.
I want to use fashion as the thematic ‘hub’ or centre to show you how each discipline (whether it be textiles, photography or creative writing) can act as a ‘spoke’ in an interdisciplinary wheel.
There is a plethora of fashion-focused exhibitions in the UK this year, including Missoni, Art Colour at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum, the V&A’s Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, Fashion & Freedom at Manchester Art Gallery, Fashion Cities Africa at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and forthcoming shows at Somerset House, the ICA and the Barbican Art Gallery. So, it is worth taking advantage of this glut to test out your interdisciplinary skills in exploring fashion as object, image, text, practice and theory.
Beginning with the ‘hub’, think about how we are able to use clothing to construct ourselves in particular ways, and try to examine the idea of ‘perfect beauty’ or how we become victims of ‘image bullying’.
Turning to the first ‘spoke’, moving image students might like to consider the impact of short films such as the 2013 Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer directed by Alain Gsponer for Pro Infirmis, a Swiss organisation for people with disabilities. (This charts the creation of a series of mannequins for a store window display in Zurich’s main shopping street, which reflect the bodies of real people with physical disabilities.)
The second spoke in our wheel could give creative writing students a chance to respond to our culture’s unhealthy obsession with ‘ideal’ beauty standards. A useful starting point is Louise O’Neill’s prize-winning young adult novel Only Ever Yours (frequently described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls), which imagines a dystopian society where ‘eves’ are created to please men and are ranked in order of beauty and slenderness.
Spoke number three is about getting all those on visual communications (and especially illustration) courses to assess the role of the fashion illustrator. Do you agree with Laird Borelli, who argues that the power of their work has given the artists a new authority, to the extent that “today’s illustrators don’t just depict trends: they set them”? If the ‘fashionable body’ today is long and lean, should we be surprised when fashion illustrators underline the zeitgeist and render silhouettes ever taller and thinner?
Spoke four concentrates on photography. How do students feel when they see fashion photographs that seem intent on depicting models as thin and vulnerable? How should we judge the ubiquitous ‘retouching’ or manipulation of imagery during the post-production process that is used to ‘perfect’ most photographs in the media?
Spokes five and six encourage textiles and art history students to investigate (via practice or theory) some of the following: the ethical and social impact of textile design; cultural practices relating to the making, marketing and wearing of clothing in different communities; the potential value of new technologies; the representation of textiles and fashion in art (i.e. how artists ‘stage’ the materials, cut and fit of clothing).
The key step is connecting all the spokes. You need to recognise how varied processes and techniques, from many disciplines, can combine and complement one another to offer you opportunities for development and innovation. If you are aiming to pursue a hybrid artistic practice, foster collaborations, or you just want to discover an alternative way of acquiring knowledge, the interdisciplinary wheel is for you!