Sub Navigation

John Reid receives Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning

1. Citation

For an innovative field research program that engages student artists with landscape, communities and environmental agencies to inspire creative works for environmental sustainability strategies.

2. Overview

I am responsible for the inception and ongoing development of the School of Art Field Studies program at the Australian National University (ANU), which is now in its eleventh year. The Field Studies program contributes to student teaching and learning in the visual arts at advanced undergraduate and postgraduate level. The program takes place beyond the artist studio where sustained research opportunities combine with quality sensory, emotive and reflective experiences to inspire the production of fine art. The multi-disciplinary program commits to a specific field location and combines repeated field trips with studio art production. Artwork generated by the program is integral to the students’ overall course requirements and benefits from School-wide critical dialogue. The program’s full creative cycle extends over two semesters and culminates in a public exhibition of artwork.

The Field Studies program also locates me as the teacher (the Field Co-ordinator) in the field where curiosity is stimulated and high-level communication can occur. The essential critical discourse between my students and myself arises from the shared process of creative inquiry and resides in the artwork that we each produce.

I conducted the first Field Studies program in 1996 following collegial support for the program’s impact on a committed School timetable. Field Studies claimed time for students to inquire and reflect in the world outside the institution. By the year’s end, the program’s bold and innovative procedures were profiled to the ANU community as part of an ANU Centre for Educational Development and Academic Method (CEDAM) Distributed Conference on Best Teaching Practice. Since then as Field Studies Convenor, I have instigated more than thirty programs in wilderness, rural and urban locations. I have led twenty of these programs in the field as Field Co-ordinator.

The program’s process of field inquiry, and the artwork that emanates from it, has attracted outside agencies with field resources such as educational expertise and logistic capabilities. Collaborating organisations have included:

• NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (Field Studies, 2001; Monga National Park, NSW. Artists, with musicians from the ANU School of Music, produced non-conventual glass musical instruments for an impromptu ensemble performance at a National Environmental Education Council Eco-Summit. Performance also broadcast on ABC Radio National The Science Show);

• Snowy Mountains Authority (Field Studies, 1999; Snowy Mountains, NSW. 26 students exhibit in Cabramurra for the Snowy Mountains Scheme 50th Anniversary); and the

• Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (GBCMA) (Field Studies, in-progress 2006; Goulburn and Broken Rivers, Shepparton, Vic. Visual artists to exhibit in Shepparton Art Gallery as part of the Authority’s River Connect Project and National Water Week, October, 2006).

Field Studies participants have also benefited substantially from a funded partnership that I secured in 2001 with the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) as part of its integrated catchment program to improve the environment of the Murray Darling Basin (MDB). This initiative was founded on Field Studies programs that took place in river catchments in the Basin between 1997 and 2000 that profoundly influenced, motivated and inspired many student participants to address environmental issues. Responding to this experience, I wrote to the Commission’s Education Program Manager requesting support for the Field Studies program:

… it is hoped that the production of aesthetically powerful visual images of catchments might be useful to catchment committees in their work by articulating to their communities new and different ways of perceiving the familiar; by capturing the imagination; and by creating meaningful cultural links between people and the land. … Social, political and cultural issues are major factors in resource degradation and sustainability. Artists can bolster community morale and a community sense of belonging, both of which are necessary to provide the confidence to deal with change.

The MDBC was receptive and the ensuing MDBC partnered Field Studies became environmentally focused programs that engaged student artists more purposely with MDB catchment communities and their sustainability strategies. The programs were conducted in 2001-2002 in Corowa, Dubbo, and Quambone; 2003 in Grenfell; 2004 in Gunnedah; and 2005 in Wentworth. A MDBC Field Studies program is in progress in Shepparton this year together with the GBCMA.

Within the University, Field Studies students have worked with:-

• Contemporary Music Ensemble students from the School of Music (Field Studies, Monga in Concert, 2001: Wentworth, 2005),

• Landscape Ecology and Honours Independent Research Project students from the School of Resource and Environmental Sciences (Field Study, Monga, 1996-7; artist book, Slow Ground, 2003);

• Corporate managers from ANUgreen, Facilities and Services, (ANU Environmental Management Plan briefings for the exhibition A Thousand Colours. Visual Art for A Green ANU 2000); and with

• Scientists from ANU Institute for Environment (ANUIE) (briefings / collaborations for exhibitions Factor of Ten. A Future Worth Having, 2002 and Ceremonial Vessels for the Drinking of Water, 2003).

The latter Field Studies exhibitions were unifying cultural components in thematic ANUIE events around which conferences, seminars, public lectures and gallery floor talks revolved. Through the combined aesthetic power of the artwork on exhibition, motivation and inspiration were transferred back to the attending scientific community. Gallery floor talks were especially effective with student artist and eminent scientist standing in front of artwork mixing knowledge and passion for the gallery crowd.

In addition to significant community recognition of my work and that of the students, I won an ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1998 and have been nominated for that award twice since. In 2003 I won the ANU Environmental Achievement Award for the Field Studies program.

3. Criterion 1: Approaches to teaching that influence, motivate and inspire students to learn.

* followed by italic font indicates student evaluation comments

I devised the Field Studies program in 1995 to enable students to engage with me in practice-based research. At its inception, the Field Studies program responded to two propositions that I saw as related to student inspiration and motivation to learn.

Firstly, students needed time and place, acknowledged in the curriculum, to formulate concepts from a primary sensory encounter with the world as an authentic and relevant foundation for a visual art creative process (as opposed to making art based on highly processed information appropriated from visual mass media and the Internet). *Invaluable…drawing students together to experience…real issues.

Secondly, students – especially young undergraduates – needed an opportunity, supported by School resources, to undertake sustained field research (as opposed to short, one-off field research schedules). *(Best feature is) access to remote areas that would otherwise be inaccessible as a student.

I devised the Field Studies program to meet these needs by providing a resourced opportunity as part of the formal course timetable for students and teachers to undertake sustained field research that value-adds to studies in a student’s major discipline. *This was the first time (for) anyone from Textiles to go into the field as part of the curriculum. We have benefited to the extent that our work is entirely based on information gathered in the field.

To help students gain a more substantial outcome from field research, the Field Studies program commits to a field location and schedules 3 five-day trips throughout a semester (2 eight-day trips for longer distances) to allow for a mix of field experience and studio development. *These trips have been of great benefit to my development as an artist [and] prove to be inspiring and refreshing in making work on return to the studio. Students begin with notional ideas and complete the program in the following semester with resolved artwork that is publicly exhibited in the field location and at the School. *The exposure and experience in exhibiting… has been a great experience and learning curve that I will take with me after graduating.

To help students interpret the field location and to gain a deeper understanding of prospective subject matter, the program starts with a group orientation phase. At this formative stage, it is possible to inform and shape a range of creative agendas with knowledge from readily available field experts such as scientists, historians, indigenous leaders, land-holders, shire officials and local artists. *Relationships with other artists, writers and scientists enables better articulation of your own work.

To help students develop a sense of professional purpose, Field Studies programs have strong outreach objectives. For example, student artists participating in MDBC partnered programs are challenged to aesthetically visualise, as affirmatory or transformatory propositions, the sense of place, forms of life and environmental issues pertaining to Basin catchment communities. In conjunction with me as the Field Co-ordinator, artwork is curated for exhibition in catchment town centres (venues range from vacant shops in main streets to regional galleries) and to coincide whenever possible with local festivals. The provocative cultural material that the students produce contributes to catchment community sustainability debates about shared environmental values and a desirable future. (Grenfell exhibition – 900 visitors, 3 days, Henry Lawson Festival; Gunnedah exhibition – 500 visitors, 4 days, Two Rivers Festival; Wentworth exhibition – 400 visitors, 5 days, MDBC International Youth River Health Conference). Students may attend for the duration of the exhibition and become active agents in the dissemination of their work.

As the Field Studies Program developed and evaluations were undertaken, pedagogic aspects of the program emerged for both students and myself, which have been incorporated to further enhance the program’s effectiveness. Such developments have included those that follow.

My enthusiasm accelerated as a teacher and an artist within the Field Studies Program. In my vocation as an educator I try to teach as creatively as I make art. In this respect, the Field Studies program emerged as my best effort in synthesising my teaching and artistic practice. In turn, the pedagogic processes of the program shaped my art research. The focus of Field Studies programs is now my personal focus more than ever. I am concerned about the situation of indigenous people post-invasion, the environmental impacts of agricultural and pastoral development and a feeling of empathy with people under stress from the forces for change in rural Australia. These are concerns I share with many of my students. I am motivated by science-based conservation and draw inspiration from Field Studies programs founded upon it.

Field Studies students are also exposed to the creative inspiration that comes from scientific research (as distinct from creative play with scientific technology). This occurred with lasting consequences in a Field Studies program in 2000, A Thousand Colours. Visual Art for a Green ANU, that addressed ‘concepts and abstract ideas pertaining to the maintenance of a quality living environment’ with an aim to ‘embody the intentions of the ANU Environmental Management Plan in works of visual fine art’. I invited ANU scientists to brief the students. The response and results were impressive. I convened 3 successive programs that specifically brought student visual artists together with scientists to aesthetically visualise topical issues about which scientific research had much to say:

(i) 2002, Factor of Ten. A Future Worth Having, exhibition in School of Art Gallery, 40 artists addressed issues associated with the our need to reduce energy and material consumption;

(ii) 2003, Ceremonial Vessels for the Drinking of Water, exhibition in the Canberra Centre, 60 artists celebrated fresh drinking water as a precious, scarce and spiritual resource; and

(iii) 2004, Slow Ground, artist book, edition 20, combining 4 student scientific investigations on the ANU community’s environmental awareness together with a related suite of 9 student and staff art prints.

Field Studies students become aware that rural communities value highly artists who take creative interest in their community concerns. Students realise that there are roles that they can play as visual artists in small communities. From the reaction that they get, students appreciate that what they do has an impact and can boost community morale. This emerged like a gift from the first community orientated Field Studies program in 1997, The Murrumbidgee and the Hay Plains. Now, by way of consolidating a mutually beneficial relationship, a Field Studies retrospective exhibition introduces the Field Studies program to the community.(Wentworth, 2005; Shepparton, February, 2006). The Shepparton exhibition was included in the 2006 Shepparton Art Festival program (23 artists, 60 works). It is not uncommon for the mayor of the catchment town-centre to welcome students with a reception or to speak passionately at Field Studies exhibitions (Hay 1997; Griffith, 1998; Grenfell, 2003; Gunnedah 2004; Wentworth, 2005; Shepparton, 2006). The exhibitions, catalogues and associated mass media exposure (local press, radio and television network coverage, 1997-to present; ABC Radio National Earthbeat, 2003) counter rural marginalisation and contribute to building the cultural confidence and social strength necessary for communities to live more sustainably in an ecologically stressed Basin. Student witness of, and engagement in, this concluding stage of the Field Studies program builds an appreciation of possible professional roles and involves them in community outreach as grass-roots formulation of public policy.

Field Studies students learn that the world is hungry for powerful visual images. Artwork in Field Studies exhibitions is highly desired by community members as an aesthetic manifestation of familiar experience. Securing where people live and work on the cultural record – whether through paint, photographs or cloth – is of great social benefit. As a consequence I have assisted students with the sale of their artwork so that it stays in the community (several thousand dollars worth of student artwork purchases since 2003). I also encourage Field Studies participants to return to their field communities after graduation to act on invitations for solo exhibitions in local galleries. (Quambone, 2002; Gunnedah, 2004; Wentworth, 20O5) *Networks [are] created for ongoing and new projects with individuals, groups and communities. *The facilitation of interaction with the community and the opportunities this provides are excellent.

Field Studies participants camp on location. The educational ambience in the field is supportive of personal artistic processes and of independent learning. *[There is a] freedom to develop ideas and style. *[Field Studies] have enabled me to explore new ways of approaching artmaking other than my usual studio practice. *Following an independent line instead of conforming ‘to regular teacher’s’ ideas/directions. In response to this and similar feedback, I have attempted to maintain a mutually supportive field community of co-researchers, co-learners and co-producers. There is excellent peer teaching and learning. *Socialising with people in other Workshops – INVALUABLE.

Students on international exchange and visiting international artists who are seeking inspiration from the Australian landscape and indigenous culture feel their aspirations are met by the program. *I was interested in the countryside and thought it [Field Studies] might be a kind of camping trip with a little work beside. But in 5 days a lot of work came up, new ideas, 3 slide films and lots of fresh inspiration and motivation. [TW, Germany. Feedback letter, 1998]. Field Studies is introduced to each intake of international exchange students as they arrive at the School. Many students have had the program recommended to them by fellow students. *Field Studies is fantastic. It was highly recommended to me before I came to Australia by a student who came before. [PB, USA. Personal communication. 2006].

4. Statement

The Field Studies program has influenced student learning by meeting an expressed need for field research opportunities within the School of Art curriculum and a demonstrated desire to address environmental issues. *The field studies program at Gunnedah was the highlight of my time at ANU, and provided me with the opportunity to realise several significant works for my PhD. *The best features of field studies are the great support, assistance and encouragement towards student interests with the environment.

There is a genuine sense of scholarly satisfaction. The October 2003 ANU CEDAM Student Evaluation for the Enhancement of Teaching at the School of Art revealed that 35 students from the 254 respondents had undertaken Field Study programs. On a rating scale from 1 to 5 the minimum score was 3, maximum was 5, mean was 4.7 and standard deviation was .79.

Respect and support for the development of students as individuals is a high priority for me as both Field Studies Convenor and Field Co-ordinator. Students come into the program from all disciplinary Workshops in the School of Art. However, I still foster a close working relationship with students in the field concentrating on cross-disciplinary scholarly values such curiosity, analytical skills and a love of debate – many memorable tutorials around the campfire at night. Through the mutual witness of each others process of art production, teaching and learning takes place without the prospect of stylistic dominance by me or enabling student creative dependency. In this way the Field Studies program engages students with different artistic sensibilities in a challenging learning environment that substantiates the School of Art’s commitment to scholarship. *John is amenable, knowledgeable, level-headed and really does his best to help all ‘on board’ with their diverse requirements. *I have found being with John and a group of like minded artists from different disciplines in the field an invaluable experience – generating diverse ideas, inspiring, critiquing each other in a constructive way but always focused and generating work as a result.

Field Studies has continuously developed its pedagogic profile. This year it enters its second decade of delivering programs that have consistently responded to sustained action research.

I have received an ANU Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (joint, 1998) and I have been previously nominated by the ANU for a national teaching award (1999) for the inception and development of Field Studies. In 2003, I was the recipient of an ANU Environmental Achievement Award for demonstrating the effectiveness of the Field Studies program and the aesthetically powerful visual imagery it generated as a community environmental education strategy. The Australian Science Festival Limited awarded me in 2003 for “inspiring artwork informed by science”. I have submitted Field Studies case examples to national and international conferences and for international publication (Reid, J., Carpenter, D., and B, Meehan (2006) “Art for earth’s sake: creative and interdisciplinary collaborations for sustainability in the tertiary sector” in Filho, W., and D. Carpenter (Eds) Sustainability in the Australasian University Context, Frankfurt: Peter Lang Publishers).

More info on the Carrick Awards here…