The Living Art School

JW's incomplete, working notes for a new HE learning framework
See possible contributors (currently restricted) | See Art School Futures essay

A new HE learning framework

  1. We think the world needs a less specialised, more creative, fully-embodied higher education system.
  2. Our framework regards experiential learning as more important than attaining standard assessment targets.
  3. It augments the HEAD-BASED (monastic) university tradition with learning for HAND, HEART & HUMOUR.
  4. It therefore encourages curiosity, purposive inquiry and a learner-led agenda for the whole body-mind-spirit.

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    • The following (working) notes are offered as an introduction to this practical and timely educational initiative.
    • Many of our ideas emerged from our metadesign research - see our recent book.

What is the purpose of education?

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  1. In our view, the deep purpose of education is to help citizens to adapt resourcefully/convivially to their habitat.
  2. The climate emergency brings urgency to this question, so we need radical and practical answers.

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    • Unfortunately, the current (UK) educational system has become increasingly cost-driven & bureaucratic.
    • A learner-centred, adaptation-based education system would work at the ecosystemic and job market levels.
    • Moreover, learning how to learn (e.g. heutagogy) would be more cost-effective than a pedagogic approach.

The Biological Order gave way to the Industrial Order


Every learner is unique

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    • Each human being is different from any other. This one of the outcomes of sexual reproduction and evolution.
    • Even when twins are genetically identical, culturally acquired behaviours (or epigenetics) will amplify differences.

Every experience is unique...

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    • "...consciousness cannot go through the same state twice..." (Bergson - Creative evolution, p.171)
    • This has implications for creating egalitarian frameworks, such as fair examination systems in schools and universities.
    • How might we reconcile this with the increasingly bureaucratic, examination oriented procedures of universities?

...scaling up societies encouraged standardisation

square-50cm-spacer.jpg Foraging square-50cm-spacer.jpg Right Arrow Black White square-50cm-spacer.jpg Managerial Hierarchy
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    • Humans appear to have acquired the ability to use hand tools around 2.5 million years ago.
    • This might be regarded as an important step in the sensory alienation of our species from its habitat.
    • 10k years ago Homo sapiens began the transition from hunter gatherer to agrarian empire builder.
    • But colonialism & imperialism means learning to live in groups that greatly exceed Dunbar's number.
    • This led to a less personalised communities (e.g. division of labour / categories / castes / specialisms).
    • Quantity began to rival quality as accountancy & alphabetical writing emerged, some 5K years ago.
    • This helps to explain the emphasis on logic, analysis & reason (i.e. philosophical 'truth'.)
    • Today, the summation of learning & coursework into a single final grade (i.e. bottom line) resembles accountancy.

Living systems don't add up

square-50cm-spacer.jpg Accountant
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  1. Fee-paying students in HE are accustomed to the quantification (or grading) of their coursework.
  2. Often, their final grade or mark is a summation of marking criteria that are incomplete or ambiguous..
  3. Sometimes, incongruities between different performance criteria are reconciled by academic judgement.
    • The need to manage empires and remote colonies is the reason why education emphasises writing and counting.
    • If learning always occurs as a unique process for a unique learner, then it cannot be defined, codified, exchanged and evaluated in terms of data, information or knowledge.
    • The word education (from Latin word ‘Educare’) implies a teacher’s perspective (i.e. is a top-down idea).
    • It is a unidirectional process (i.e. the act of ‘drawing out’ ) in which potential is extracted by the master.

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    • The word pedagogy also privileges the teacher's, rather than the learner's standpoint.
    • By contrast, the Welsh word Dysgu means 'learning', but is also used to mean, in effect, 'teaching'.
    • Replacing 'education' with 'dyscovering' (from 'dysgu') announces the intention to share the learning process.
    • It technologies designed to diminish / usurp / replace human trust

Our four-fold system

square-50cm-spacer.jpg Head Hand Heart Humour B&W
square-50cm-spacer.jpg Fig. 1 - Reconciling Four Modes of Learning

  1. John Ruskin described fine art as an approach that combines 'hand, head and heart'. (see fig. 1).
  2. Our framework uses this 'art school' approach, but also adds the fourth element: humour.
  3. Unlike some conventional HE approaches his approach implicitly values tacit knowledge and lived experience.
  4. It would enable universities to create 4 faculties (Head/Hand/Heart/Humour) with their 6 adjoining pathways.

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    • We would cultivate/encourage Visioning - with special attention given to how we experience opportunities.
    • Artist Anab Jain creates installations offering multi-sensory experiences of likely futures e.g. for climate emergency.
    • Her approach is informed by psychological research into why we resist scientific data or intellectual argument.

The 4-Fold Format

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    • Organisationally (mathematically) the relationships between these values is important, but is limited by being a trio
    • This is because quartets have a combinatorial advantage over trios.
    • Whereas the trio (3 players) implies 3 relationships, the quartet implies double that number (i.e. 6).

square-50cm-spacer.jpg JW Mint 2019 Fig 1 Small

    • Although Ruskin names only 3 elements (Head, Hand, Heart) his description of craftsmanship implies 6 relationships.

square-50cm-spacer.jpg JW Mint 2019 Fig 3 Small
square-50cm-spacer.jpg A set of relational synergies (inspired by John Ruskin's 1885 description of a craft-worker)

The Head

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  1. Modern universities evolved from the mediaeval, monastic cultures of silent reading and reflection.
  2. We use the term head-basedto refer to the predominant mode of learning that is strongly document-centred
  3. Book learning is important, but it can limit what is learned to knowing that... rather than knowing how....
  4. Today it is not uncommon to find courses in which learners, teachers & examiners do not meet face-to-face.
  5. If considered within the more hands-on context of the traditional art school this would be strange .
  6. Our learning framework will encourage Head-based learning, integrated with skills of the Hand, Heart and Humour.

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    • In mediaeval times, monasteries hand-copied books as a devotional practice of silent rumination and reflection.
    • The advent of printing presses made it easier to validate and to share knowledge that could be written down.
    • The Enlightenment further validated Head-based ideas of knowledge (e.g. evidence-validated science).
    • Information Technology made books more accessible and distributable.
    • Databases, AI, etc, enable the automation/standardization/monetization of large bureaucratic institutions.

The Heart

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  1. Plato (387 BCE) identified the brain as the seat of the mind.
  2. Aristotle (335 BCE) saw the heart as the key site for mental processing.
  3. This debate continues to have important implications for how we design higher education systems.
  4. Enlightenment mathematician Pascal argued that "The heart has its reason of which reason cannot know" (1670)
  5. In purely rational terms, the heart's unfathomability makes it untrustworthy? (e.g. it defies quantification).

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    • Post-Enlightenment industrialisation reflects the search for reductionist systems of time and motion (e.g. Taylorism).
    • Many have argued that an over-emphasis on rationality caused a lack of support for creativity in learning
    • Medical science has since emphaised the importance of emotional intelligence within management and education.
    • It also shows that good intuition can be enhanced by a healthy gut (e.g. bacterial content and diversity).

square-50cm-spacer.jpg BOOKS

    • See Goleman, (1996), D., Emotional Intelligence; why it can matter more than IQ, Bloomsbury, Great Britain, 1996

The Hand

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  1. Art School ethos owes less to the mediaeval monastic traditions and more to the mediaeval crafts guilds.
  2. Instead of analysing and validating truth claims, it seems more concerned with making things work.
    • e.g. creative atelier-tradition and art school ethos
  3. John Ruskin said: Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together. (1859)
  4. Our approach adds 'humour' to Ruskin's trinity of 'hand, head and heart'. (see fig. 1).


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  1. Playful and performative activities are essential to creative and adaptive living.
  2. This means creating safe spaces in which it is permissible to challenge the status quo and to have fun.
  3. Making the process work calls for a radically optimistic and affirmative spirit

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square-50cm-spacer.jpg Clown

    • unique or strange combinations of things that may not be noticed by most of the population
    • shamanic emulsifiers
    • thrive on diversities
    • ineffable ambiguities
    • = new opportunities + FUN


  1. Our relational framework for learning is heutagogic and learner-centred.
  2. It offers a unique ((Tool-1-Tetrahedral-Logic|four-dimensional) framework.

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    • The Relational Learning Tool (RLT) encourages a more self-reflexive approach.
    • It encourages role play - either in collaboration with others, or alone (e.g. at home).
    • It relieve examiners from making 'absolute' quality judgements on coursework.
    • Instead of the teacher assessing 'specific work' the learner submits a 4D map of the whole context.
    • This helps learners to map the key elements of their learning journey in a self-reflexive way.
    • It encourage learners to be more ambitious, entrepreneurial, empathetic and risk-taking.
    • Learners are marked on how well they recognise their strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures.
    • This encourages a risk-taking, ambitious approach.
    • This is because learning from failure may win as many marks as achieving success with an easy task.
    • When used within an examined curriculum, it makes plagiarism virtually impossible.

Designed to grow and evolve by itself

  1. Our template is intended to evolve by itself, therefore it will use a Creative Commons license

square-50cm-spacer.jpg Creative Commons Sharealike

  1. We also aim to make the terms & conditions of Share-alike work more effectively.
  2. Initially we will trial classes as an art foundation course that includes some non-art projects (e.g. science, literature).


  1. Is free for learners at the point of learning
    • Whereas learning in conventional HE colleges and universities is fee-based, ASP is free at the point of use.
    • N.B. some regard access to healthcare, food, etc. as human rights to be resourced by local communities.
  2. May also support non-art disciplines
    • ''e.g. STEM subjects.
  3. Encourages open-ended and playful learning at the pace of curiosity
  4. A strongly learner-centred approach
  5. Encourages and supervises self-directed programs of learning
  6. Offers a heutogogic approach
    • i.e. it aims to help learners to learn how to learn better.
  7. It asks each learner group to assume that each of its member has some learning difficulties (e.g. autism / ADHD / dyslexia)
  8. It invites each learner to become part of a collective resource (e.g. knowledge base) for the benefit of the other learners