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This article incorporates research involving artivist and pedagogical curatorships (200717) that were developed by contemporary artists, university professors, students from the Faculty of Education, practising teachers and students from nursery, elementary and secondary school. It intends to showcase a series of artistic research projects financed by public institutions, facing the challenge of transforming teacher training. These contemporary artivismbased projects have been able to break academic barriers and obsolete routines in teacher training. One of the results of this experimentation has been materialised in exhibitions at renowned museums and contemporary art centres. They have managed to expand teaching models beyond the classroom space, as the emergence of the collective and the educational interest in the commons. A/r/tography was used as a research methodology that unveils the three interconnected identities of the 'artist, researcher and teacher' as the person who, in his or her teaching practice, is capable of developing a creative practice with students through experimental processes in artistic research. A/r/tography generates a learning space where educational meanings can be broken. It is in this intermediate zone of intellectual incitement that curators propose artivist projects capable of generating tactics of proximity between two apparently separate fields: art and education.
Artivism, social transformation, citizen empowerment, development art teachers, sensibility, curatorial practice, contemporary art, artography
History is usually cyclic. Every 300 years, market-based societies restore themselves and generate an affective transformation of the capitalist regime to ensure their survival (Drücker, 2013). Simultaneously, in the wake of a collective revolution, the vindication of social movements results in the emergence of community engagement as an effect of the impact of fierce economic crises on our lives. Sloterdijk (2003) recognises that today’s world needs an urgent revolution, able to correct the self destruction of human beings, the outburst of the “spheres of the quotidian”: Those spaces lived and experienced, where failed attempts, crises, catastrophes, affections and personal conflicts take place.
On this same line of argument, South Korean philosopher Han (2014; 2016; 2017) analyses two key ideas to understand contemporary societies:
• An individualistic and self-reliant performance system, in which the subject is an entrepreneur of himself, who exploits himself and believes he is achieving realisation: ‘He is undoubtedly free in that he is not subject to any other who commands and exploits him; but he is not really free, for he exploits himself, even though he does so with complete freedom. The exploiter is the exploited. One is both an actor and a victim. The exploitation of oneself is much more efficient than the exploitation of others, because it is linked to the feeling of freedom. In this way, exploitation is also possible without dominance’ (Han, 2014: 19-20). Han reflects on the need for time of our own that the acceleration of the neoliberal system does not allow us. We need to stand still, with nothing productive to do, not to recover to get back to work but as a completely free time for ourselves.
• The problem of narcissism, the quest to be different and radical conformism (Han, 2017). This second idea addresses narcissism that prevents us from seeing the other and, without it, one cannot consolidate the feeling of self-esteem. We are what we are because that space of communication with other people flows. We reformulate our identity: “the more equal people are, the more the production increases; that is the current logic; capital needs us all to be equal”. Perhaps we are in that era of radical conformism and it is the historical moment in which the system implodes again, the world short circuits, and we recover that citizen who does not consume or communicate uncontrollably (Han, 2016).
Democratic societies are tremendously individualistic, hyper-consumerist and technological; causing blindness towards others, which results in extreme self-centredness. One only needs to observe the tyranny of social networks in everyday routines, as contemporary forms of visuality, voyeurism and exacerbated exhibitionism, where the boundaries between the intimate, private and public are blurred, where the cult of the body and the ostentation of a happy life turn out to be the legitimisation of fictitious lives. Images and videos published online to be seen by others with a clear lack of commitment, sensibility and affective indifference towards others.
The project ‘Selfiecity’ (https://bit.ly/MgRmKh) coordinated by Lev Manovich from MIT, is a very good analysis of this situation. Over a week, they compiled more than 3,200 photographs published on Instagram in five different cities of the world: New York, Moscow, Berlin, São Paulo and Bangkok. They analysed the self-portraits, most commonly known as selfies, making a comparison between gender, age, facial expression, head inclination, eye and mouth positions as well as the percentage of people wearing glasses. They studied the aesthetic similarities between people of different parts of the world when facing a camera. Most selfies depicted young women, between the ages of 20 and 30, smiling, not showing anger and displaying open eyes. Meanwhile, men smiled less on their selfies, most of them had their mouths closed and exhibiting a lack of calmness (Tifentale & Monovich, 2015). This is the scientific proof of the intellectual intuition of what we observe around us, in our daily relationship with everything digital.
These frontiers between what is virtual and real require citizens in general, and teachers and students in particular, to make a commitment through artivist strategies that deconstruct the superficiality of those ‘spheres of the quotidian’. This artivist commitment entails getting involved and inevitably complicating oneself as we get out of our comfort zone, of our own state of welfare, characteristic of developed, bourgeois countries with a completely comfortable, aseptic academic life and detached from social reality. Artivism as a training and educational action methodology implies a way of being in reality, as a resilient educator, profoundly connected with the educational context to which we belong.
Artivism is a neologism derived from “art” and “activism”, where the order of words has its rationale; the term describes artists who are committed to creative processes of an activist nature but not activists who resort to art as a form of vindication. Many have theorised about this term, and they associate it with protest art, but nowadays a distinction is made between political art: reproducing ideological representations and artivism, conditioned by a cultural positioning of thought through art. The latter utilises “guerrilla” methodologies (of public demand), but it is also true that it goes much further than the superficial definition of a one-time complaint action. Artivism, understood as a complex artistic process, was influenced by the success of performance, feminism and queer theory which demanded more efficient communication strategies within the field of contemporary art, capable of demanding and institutionalising the non-existent rights of those groups in a situation of risk and social exclusion.
Felshin (2001) explains that this term necessarily emerged from the changes taking place politically, culturally and artistically, within the last decade of the 60’s beginning of the 70’s in the USA. It originates as a consequence of the mobilisation against culture and social vindication during the Cold War, the Vietnam War, racism, sexism and gender differences. They would all give way to the feminist movement, LGTBI protests, the difficulties of the Berlin Wall and the uncontrollable spread of HIV throughout the world. It is more than a simple demand; it attempts to develop a social transformation in the face of a problem that affects people’s lives, “through alternative images, metaphors and information made with humour, irony, indignation and compassion, with the aim of making those previously invisible and powerless voices and faces heard and seen” (Lippard, 2001: 57).
Public art, works produced in outdoor settings and urban spaces had been the precursors of Artivism. Central and local governments in the United States financially supported these projects because, among other reasons, public art was used to speculate and revalue isolated spaces for development. So much so that in 1967 the US government created the “Art in public places program”, a series of projects subsidized with state funds, to develop new artistic works in different spaces with a future real estate projection. It was then that this contemporary movement acquired a greater ethical commitment to the community, because they felt in their own skin that the political, social, cultural and economic were strongly linked to the lives of the people and the places they inhabited. Art and life began to share problems in public.
The artivist peak took place during the 80’s throughout the world, but mainly in the United Kingdom and the USA. New York was the place where feminist groups like ‘Group Material’ (1979) or ‘Guerrilla Girls’ (1985) emerged and in London ‘Hackney Flashers’, a group of ten professional women from the world of education, healthcare and broadcasting who revitalised the working class neighbourhood of Hackney both culturally and socially. Their first project, ‘Women and work’ (1975) was a photographic exhibition that criticised the stereotypical images of women’s invisible jobs, depicting their professions accompanied by statistics of women’s employment and the types of jobs they held in comparison to men. In 1978, the same group held its second exhibition, “Who’s holding the baby?” a series of advertising panels that, through collage and photomontage, showed the multifaceted nature of women as people who have jobs, care for children, handle household chores, etc. (Heron, 2006). Other groups that also defended women’s rights in different geographic regions included the “WAC” (Women´s action coalition), “Homeless collaborative, Pony” (Prostitutes of New York).
Artivism is a social sensitisation towards collectively shared problems that concern peoples’ lives. It is at the root of artistic strategies, works and actions that influence politics and promote the defence of human rights in a given context. Many of the privileges we now enjoy have been the result of past struggles. Perhaps the difference between yesterday’s and today’s artivism is the transfer of information through virtual networks. Understanding these new communication processes is one of the challenges of the new alphabetisation. All these digital environments have a communal character, they are reconstructed from within, and the participants themselves, immersed in contemporary culture are the ones who set these collective mechanisms in motion. Many artivist citizen projects and calls for proposals are generated through the network and it is difficult for politicians to “control” them. This global network enables the construction of virtual communities and new social ecosystems of struggle within cyberculture (Lévy, 2007) with the emergence of cyberactivism in different parts of the world. Through the aesthetics present in virtual media and platforms, it is the constituent basis for citizen participation, which is committed to freedom of cultural expression, transparency and divergent thinking.
Artivist practices have broken into museum space as collective pedagogical processes for reflection and public demand about educational problems through the arts. There have been two main antecedents to these practices: “The model. A model for a qualitative society” (1968) and “The dinner party” (1979): “Palle Nielsen’s “model” for the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm was the result of the social upheaval in May 1968 in Paris, in an atmosphere of tension and social indignation that sensitised the rest of Europe. The exhibition consisted of an adventure playground for children that “provided children with spaces and facilities for play, such as tools, materials and paint, costumes and masks of world leaders, and vinyl albums that could be played over a loudspeaker system” (Bang-Larsen, 2010: 149).
This was a construction built in wood with soft flooring, only accessible to children from 0 to 18 years of age. Parents enjoyed a series of conferences, meetings and other activities while their children played in the facilities. This space was an enclosure with security cameras that could be moved by children as they pleased using a remote control. There were different areas within the park: a foam pit, a dress up area, a sound area (with metal pipes, cans, drums and antique musical instruments, rock and classical music LP records...) where children could select and play records using large speakers located in the room.
“Nielsen’s “Model” opted for a more subtle type of artivism, seemingly innocuous on the surface and conceptually aggressive at its core, an intellectual feat to introduce the Trojan Horse into the museum. It was not intended to be an artistic work with a vindictive effect that acted viciously to occupy media space as a provocative advertising claim. On the contrary, that wasn’t really the concept of artivism. The artist staged a brilliant, highly intelligent scene, sweetened by the influx of children, the main characters of the work. He used the innocence of a park as a metaphor for the qualitative society he defended, the one organised and experienced by children. The installation glimpsed a rather more reflexive, ethical and intellectual artivism than a vindictive one, with the ultimate goal of social transformation through qualitative values present in the participation and intervention of children in artistic work: ‘The pedagogical model has the ambitious purpose of inciting a debate about the role of artists in society. It is all about driving the public attention towards the isolation of an individual and the lack of opportunities to interact’ (Nielsen, 1968, cit. in Bang Larsen, 2010: 163).
The second project ‘The dinner party’ was developed by the artivist Judy Chicago in 1979, related to the feminist movement in favour of social justice. It was launched at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; however, since 2007 it has been part of the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. It consists of a large triangular table that occupies the entire room, with 39 plates reserved for 39 women of great significance in the history of humanity. Thirteen women are set on each of the three sides of the equilateral triangle. It is a symbolic tribute, in every sense, to the role of women in society. It embodies a visual rewriting of history from a woman’s viewpoint. The architecture of the table, an equilateral triangle that represents proportion, balance and equality on all sides; thirteen women is not a casual number but a reference to the thirteen men who participated in the Last Supper and at the same time it is the number of the members of a witch coven in medieval times. Every single one of the places is reserved for an important woman in the history of humanity, with their names embroidered at the front of the table. The dishes display details of feminine genitalia, reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s artwork.
Later on, educators and researchers have joined together to create ‘The dinner party curriculum project’ (https://bit.ly/1BKxljg) for K-12 students. This is an artivist online project for children in primary and secondary schools through which they can visit the museum website and see Judy Chicago’s artwork. Based on this work, dialogues can be started about feminism and its inclusion in the national curriculum, and students can develop research projects about the role of women in history and their scarce presence in it. Simultaneously, students and teachers can begin to understand the importance of artistic activism to transform small realities, through the use of metaphors and the role of symbolism in artwork, generating new interpretations and meanings in diverse contexts (Nordlund, Speirs, Stewart, & Chicago, 2011: 141).
These two artivist projects achieved the unthinkable: they became models for curatorial practices such as art-based educational research projects (Eisner & Barone, 2012). Artistic laboratories of civic participation using a work-in-progress approach, critical of life and daily routines, intuitive and non-official, both projects intended to defend the idea of artistic learning processes, pedagogical training for citizens and cultural mediation within the art context.
Artivist projects emerge from artistic mediation to advocate for the defence of universal rights, mainly rights to childhood and education protected by UNESCO. Within this international framework and as a result of the worldwide congress “Risks and opportunities for visual arts education” held in Lisbon in 2015 and organised by InSEA (International Society for Education through Art-UNESCO), a document was sent to CULT (Eça & al., 2015). Actions and strategies related to artivism and the social commitment of Arts Education were proposed in defence of today’s challenges: the empowerment of women and gender equality, environmental protection through the arts and peace and societal integration for the defence of human rights. From this position, teacher training is proposed as a disruptive methodology of artistic action through curatorial practices such as Arts-based Educational Research-ABER (Barone & Eisner, 2006; Irwin, 2008; Leavy, 2015).
A curatorial project “is presented as a commitment to the development of formats, methods, programmes, processes and procedures that do not simply deal with the adoption of education as an issue from a critical point of view, but as a way of legitimising art and the curatorship as critical and radical educational practices in themselves” (Soria, 2016: 27). Curating does not only imply the task of producing an exhibition, understanding it as a mere selection of works and other artefacts by the curator based on a previously prepared discourse. Curatorial practices in teacher training constitute a new form of dynamic institutionalisation, a relationship based on the intersection between museums, schools and universities, which legitimises artistic research in diverse pedagogical contexts, not exclusively curricular or formal. Therefore, curatorial-artivist practices are currently presented as action and research projects within the field of Arts Education (O´Donoghue, 2017). This research shift stems from the creation of a pedagogical space for experimentation, questioning and criticism (O´Neill & Wilson, 2010), in which initial hypotheses are being developed on the connection between teachers, teachers-in-training, contemporary artists and students, sharing artistic ways of conceptualising and inquiring into educational situations.
These curatorial-artivist projects have utilised an artographic methodology for teacher training, constituting themselves as ABER (Irwin, 2008; Irwin & O´Donoghue, 2012; Irwin 2013). According to Barone & Eisner (2006: 95), ABER derives from two inextricable criteria: on the one hand, it aims to intensify human actions associated with artistic expression, but with an educational and, consequently, formative character; and on the other hand, this type of artistic research is characterised by the presence of aesthetic qualities and design elements that accompany both the research process (photography, painting, performance, video, installation, etc.) and the final artistic product, in our particular case, curatorships. Researching under this artistic perspective in education has the peculiarity that the researcher-curator uses procedures, techniques, documents and methodologies typical of the field of visual arts to delve into educational situations from the inherent tensions of an artivist field in constant friction. Curators as intellectual agitators act under two parameters: innovation and imagination; they see themselves more as creative researchers than as mere methodologists applying prescriptive procedures (McNiff, 2004: 49-50). Outstanding among these are five projects aimed at raising teachers’ awareness towards new educational and social challenges.
Galician Centre of Contemporary Art (CGAC), Santiago de Compostela, 2007 (Agra & Mesías, 2011) (https://bit.ly/2rATlAg). It constitutes the first curatorial project of a pedagogical nature in Spain that resulted in a shared reflection and a questioning of what educational space means as a shared public space. Teachers in initial training were involved in experimentation with photo-activist actions that defined, analysed and displayed the aesthetic, organisational, political, administrative and structural problems that exist in schools, starting with the faculty itself, and how these affect teachers and students.
Unión Fenosa Contemporary Art Museum (MAC), La Coruña, 2010 (Mesías-Lemma, 2011) (https://bit.ly/2G79pPa). This has been a collaborative research project that begins in the classroom as an intersubjective space to transcend to a reflection and artistic dialogue between teachers in training, contemporary artists and practicing primary and secondary school teachers. Educational Autopsy found the way to move through the fissures and bends of educational institutions, not leaving them as impossible, but rather appropriating their resources to reposition them back into the field of educational/academic policy. We are referring to teachers in training, that group of people who are being asked to be ambitious in their academic careers, moderately active in class and passive in institutional decision-making.
Ágora (La Coruña, 2012). Framed within “Gusts for peace” (https://bit.ly/2I8H2Gn). Time capsules were artistic objects that merged past, present and future. This merger of time periods allowed primary school students to work on the Sarajevo conflict from today’s viewpoint, looking into the photographic mirror of Gervasio Sanchez. Through contemporary artistic processes of a photoactivist nature, students have developed different photographic actions that will become part of their teaching model based on ethics and education for peace.
Normal (La Coruña, 2015) (https://bit.ly/2I89lF4). Arts as defenders of a paradigm of resistance don’t usually work within the educational system. Day after day, a politically instigated society naturally assumes the exclusion of creative learning within the classroom. “Atmospheres: for a change in education” are interactive spaces that submerge the public in a relational environment. They reflect on the lives and routines of individuals as a collective, the frictions between the personal and the communal across all social strata, including exclusion. These are artistic installations that invite discomfort, because they function as social agitators, as a project of possibility, which is politically incorrect and educationally transformative.
Vicente Ferrer Foundation. India, 2017 (https://bit.ly/2rAiOtu). It took place at the Inclusive School for Speech & Hearing Impaired Children (India), from September to October 2017, as part of the cooperation and research project “Arts Education and Human Development”. This is an artivism project that sought to transgress the lives of 40 functionally diverse girls between the ages of 5 and 14. These are artistic actions that deepened the empowerment of girls, their identity and self-esteem in a very poor region of southern India. All the actions originated from ordinary objects in their environment, but the work was done with them from an aesthetic and non-functional perspective of the object in question. The real democratisation of ordinary life for the inhabitants of this place was achieved.
Through these artistic research projects, we have been able to rethink the initial and in-service training of teachers from an artivist methodology perspective. This involves working from:
• Subjective processes that influence the (de)construction of the teaching model, given that it originates from the personal, as a motor of political action, and moves towards the commons. Borriaud (2006: 114) defines subjectivity as a “territory of its own derived from other existing territories”, shaping itself as a place for the difference that constitutes the concept of otherness. Subjectivity does not exist autonomously, it can only be understood in terms of its relationship with other human groups and with socioeconomic and information systems.
• The emergence of artivist pedagogy linked to the social and educational challenges that can determine the struggle of teachers in educational centres. Artivist pedagogy is frontier pedagogy. It starts from the regulatory deconstruction of teaching and learning processes to involve students in ethical, political, creative, culturally relevant and context-sensitive situations that affect people’s daily lives. Some authors claim that “practicing critical pedagogy is practicing activist pedagogy” (Few, Piercy, & Stremmel, 2007: 53); however, it differs from criticism in that the artivist uses strategies and artistic actions of a non-conformist nature (Bubriski & Semaan, 2009; Koschoreck, Bryan, Campanello, & Mominee, 2010; Beyerbach & Davis, 2011). Labelling this teaching action methodology as exclusively vindictive teaching-learning processes is a reductionist, technocratic and partial vision of the very notion of artivism.
Artivist pedagogy responds to the need to transgress in teacher training in order to produce teachers capable of moving through the fissures of educational institutions. Through it, social justice and equity emerge, as positive values that teachers incorporate into their professional identity (Frey & Palmer, 2017; Rose, 2017). This methodology is capable of inviting people to “fight” through contemporary artistic processes. It implies giving students a voice, an interstitial space to question both what is explicit and hidden, capable of avoiding ideological manipulation. We can only alter teaching models when we manage to establish affective connections between students, collective creation and artivist processes serving as a transformation of life.
Transforming teacher training from the artivist perspective means assuming a risk ethic. It is the radical hope of believing oneself capable of changing routines, obsolete forms of action, decontextualized teaching models, resistance against injustice, from the standpoint of innovation, from that of micro-utopias, to constantly challenge and challenge ourselves, knowing of the possible erosion that this may generate in our teaching career. We have verified how through experience in artivist projects we can train teachers with common traits:
• Micro-utopian teachers: passionate, involved, optimistic and energetic: micro-utopias invite “realistic” people to dream and bring about change and thus test the possibilities. Micro-utopias elicit new ideas, generate fascination in people, are not centred so much on grand representations but rather on the development of actions aimed at generating short-term responses, achieving a regeneration of the context through small alterations in it. They enable social transformation through passion, involvement, optimism and energy of participating teachers.
• They reveal the “hidden face of the moon”: They combat “social anesthesia” because they are not on the fringes of educational reality but intervene within it, to experience other ways of relating to the context, those that are not intended to be made public as they constitute the ‘hidden face of the Moon’ within educational institutions. They propose different perspectives through art, breaking with the prevailing routines of educational policy and thus developing more inclusive propositions.
• They establish empathetic connections with their students and their social context: They are teachers who take into account students’ scripts, and are capable of putting themselves in the shoes of each one of them, of their interests and of their way of understanding reality. Empathy derives directly from artivism. It is inherent to it, from the moment in which an artist, an educator, is preoccupied with questions of a social nature that concern a social group. They are the agitators in the educational community.
• They create an environment of confidence to take risks: One of the handicaps is the thin line between teachers and the control of educational institutions, which is why the risks that both can take must fall within the framework of educational regulations. They take risks within the institutions by displaying their position as educators, far from political manipulation, in order to create a climate of trust within the classroom, of community cohesion and to mitigate, as far as possible, the risks that can occur at a personal and professional level. They are neither neutral nor indifferent to imposed educational policy. They have acquired integrity and coherence through the artistic actions they developed.
• They exert pressure on unyielding, unfair or imposed positions: They assume a role against totalitarian and populist discourses without arguments to contradict them or without the opportunity to do so. Their position is firm in the face of unyielding, unfair or imposed stances by the administration. For this reason, they seek irony and mockery in artistic interventions to attract the attention of a lethargic society and propose alternative forms of reality, appealing to social justice and mobilising ideologies that awaken students and other educators from lethargy.
When teachers and students in training get involved in curatorial-artivist projects, in essence, they appeal to social and educational responsibility. Conceptualising curatorship as artistic inquiry is not a question of appropriating a radical educational discourse by approaching it with conventional academic means but showing the results in an exhibition-curatorial format (such as image cleansing) using the arts subserviently. These constitute inquiry processes of horizontal cooperation with creative processes and these cannot and must not be distanced from the way of thinking and acting of the agents involved: educators, artists, teachers in training, students, etc. The common interests of all participants create spaces for debate as transformative practices in teacher identity. Once teachers experience these artivist processes in their own skin, they are able to lead other collective projects based on community action for social change. This training model is the trigger for social responsibility among students and educators. They constitute proposals that account for the social and educational fabric that moves at very different speeds, as well as the people who are part of it, and are responsible for its transformation or conservation. The projects developed by these resilient educators enable spaces of artistic creation for their students to establish a multidirectional dialogue with personal experience, common concerns and free thought expression. They are made visible through artistic actions geared towards educational awareness and social responsibility, beyond individuality. Other researchers who have also developed artivist projects involving students have come to the same conclusion, pointing out that “educators must recognise oppression, identify the current potential state of students and create safe spaces to research and fight for social justice” (Rhoades, 2012: 317). The essence of artivism, from its origins and in its evolution, is a mode that moves along the edges of what is conventional, in the social clashes, in the subversive processes capable of combatting injustice, in the search for the commons, in the inter-creative and political learning environments, free culture, the defence of human rights, sensitivity towards others and hacker ethics. It is the combination of art that insubordinates against life and the difficult challenge of trying to transform it, at least on a small scale. While being coherent and respectful with this artistic tendency, we cannot use quantitative or qualitative methodologies to develop an aseptic, statistical or merely descriptive research study, detached from the action and experience of creative processes that artivism demands. This trend only makes sense from the perspective of artistic research (McNiff, 2013, Eisner & Barone, 2012; Leavy, 2018) because, as Atkins (2013: 60) asserts, arts-based educational research challenges the comfort zone of many scholars. This creative inquiry impulse has been made possible by the influence of critical, feminist, participatory, democratic or ethnographic discourse, typical of the artistic fields (Janesick, 2003). It implies a more realistic way of exploring the educational complexity of the contemporary world. Researching with an artistic methodology means conducting research on the basis of the established tension between the aesthetic, divergent and non-conformist vision of artivism and what it contributes to educational processes. Researching from an artographic perspective is always a new quest for strategies, methodologies and actions that are implemented to gain in-depth knowledge of a subject in Arts Education. As a result of the curatorial-artivist projects, we have verified how resistance and educational struggle are increasing and collective alternatives are being constructed within the training of new and active teachers. Curatorial practices have demonstrated the effectiveness of sensitive strategies to achieve a teacher training that is closer to contemporary art and artivist pedagogy in educational contexts.
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