Learning Through Doing and Experimenting
A couple of months ago I attended a one-day workshop which brought to life the collaborative learning environments of Tom Hudson. The workshop emphasised collaborative and investigative approaches to art making and was led by artist and educator Suzi Tibbetts. Suzi has answered some questions below to help us understand who Hudson was and what his teaching methods were.
Firstly, this is my thesis abstract, with some modifications, to summarise what I did…
Tom Hudson: A Study of his Vision for Art Education
My research project investigated the pedagogy of Tom Hudson and his vision for art education. This involved a critical overview of the relationship between Hudson’s pedagogical theory and practice, as well as a review of the influences and contexts that shaped the development of his ideas. Having played a significant role in the formation and progress of the Basic Design Movement, I considered and compared Hudson’s practice and ideas with respect to this period and the work of other protagonists, namely Harry Thubron, Victor Pasmore and Richard Hamilton. Hudson’s development of what essentially emerged from this was investigated, providing an extensive review of what became known as the Foundation course through to Hudson’s retirement in 1987.
Contemporary practices were also considered and observed in order to gain an understanding of current debates and the place of Hudson’s pedagogical views within these. Familiar elements in his writing show that his ideas have relevance to current concerns and practices. Twenty-five years later we are still working to prove that ‘creative activity is more than a mere cultural frill’ (Hudson, 1979, BH/TH/PL/196, p. 2).
The study included a consideration of the archive as a theoretical framework for the artist educator’s research. A substantial amount of primary material for this research was found within the National Arts Education Archive (NAEA@ysp), a valuable resource with much to offer the art and design educationalist, student or researcher.
So who was Tom Hudson?
Tom Hudson was born into a working class family in 1922 and brought up in Horden, a mining town in County Durham, England. He is known as having been part of the group of Basic Design pioneers which also included Victor Pasmore, Harry Thubron and Richard Hamilton. Of these men, it was only Tom Hudson who developed his pedagogy into the digital age, producing a number of television series such as Mark and Image (1988) and Material and Form (1991), as well as introducing courses in computer art. He developed his educational ideas at art colleges including Leeds College of Art, Leicester, Cardiff and Emily Carr in Vancouver, Canada. While Tom Hudson enjoyed some success as an artist, his natural medium was teaching. Hudson maintained a career in art education until his death in 1997.
What made Hudson’s pedagogy so radical at the time?
In the early part of the twentieth century there was a lot of change taking place in both art and education. The Basic Design Movement set out to challenge the traditional, academic methods practised in schools of art such as The Slade in the early and middle 20th century. Basic Design ideas gained prominence during the 1950s and 1960s as a model for the newly introduced pre-diploma courses, later known as foundation courses, which still exist in a similar format today. Basic Design ideas first became a topic of debate among art educationalists at the Society of Education through Art Conference held at Bretton Hall in 1956. Supporters of Marion Richardson’s influential Child Art philosophy, which promoted art as free expression, were angered by the group’s rationalist approach.
Acting as spokesperson for Basic Design, Harry Thubron argued that adolescents had ‘outgrown the emotive and expressionist forms’ that the Child Art Movement focused on, and insisted that education must be follow a more intellectual path. Thubron argued that it was only through a more rational and experimental framework that the role of intuition could be freed.
At the core of Hudson’s work was a desire to challenge the 19th century notions which still prevailed in art education in the post–war period. He believed it was a fundamental right for all members of society to gain an understanding of modern visual language and systems in order to take control of their aesthetic world. Challenging traditional notions of art making, Hudson believed art should go deeper than representation. A former student commented on Hudson’s ethos as he perceived it: to change society, not reflect it.
Part of his ethos was ‘learning through doing and experimenting. How important are collaborative and investigative approaches to art making & do you think ‘play’ is important aspect of learning?
I believe these approaches are vital. Playing, making mistakes, testing ideas and experimenting are ways we make sense of the world.
In what way do you input his ideas into your teaching?
I am a very different person to Tom Hudson, in many ways! But i believe in empowering students, and helping them to understand the principles which will allow them to develop their work. I believe in play and experimentation, and about pushing ideas as far as you can.
Do you think his work is still relevant today in Arts Education?
This is a very complicated question… I believe that an understanding of what came before us is essential, and the NAEA helps us to see how art education has developed. All the educators hold relevance if only to learn from their ideas, mistakes and a desire to stand up for what they believed in. We live in a very different world to that of most of the archive collections, and must always remember that. Our students are different, our experience of the world has developed.
Have you any tips on how students studying via distance learning can be inspired by Tom’s work?
Hudson ran a very successful distance learning course in Canada, believing that anyone should have access to art education. He encouraged everyone to engage, and feel empowered by the development of visual and plastic abilities.
Some of the things he advocated which should resonate with OCA students is the emphasis on student directed learning and a blurring of the boundaries between artistic disciplines and his deliberate limitation of equipment/facilities to show that anything was possible through experimentation and imagination. Some of the discussions that pop up on the student site are about the importance of play and risk taking. For me, I really enjoyed working collaboratively and uninhibited, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and interacted with the environment in a way I wouldn’t normally do. You learn through doing and experiencing and if you always stick with what you know your not going to happen upon that happy accident. It made me want to keep making, for me creativity is infectious.
Remember anyone can make an appointment to enter the National Arts Education Archive at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.