Knowledge as an Art Object

Thinking about the basic stuff of knowledge, teaching and learning has led me to develop an idea based around ‘knowledge as an art object’.  This formulates a theoretical framework drawing together the being, doing and shared encounter which is found in diverse forms of education. 

Umberto Eco
Umberto Eco


I have rooted this idea in the work of Umberto Eco when he analysed the term ‘culture’ in its anthropological sense – that is, the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies both historical and present.


In his analysis, which he covers in his Theory of Semiotics (page 15), he identified what he described as four elementary cultural phenomena which are consistent of every culture.  Semiotics is the study of signs (things which mean something for someone in some context) and communication.


As an orienting framework, these four phenomena have been used to build the study which feeds into the Ragged University project as a model of education based on Human Development.


The four elementary phenomena Eco cited are:

Kinship relations as the primary nucleus of institutionalised social relations

The birth of articulated language

The economic exchange of goods

The production and employment of objects used for transforming the relationship between (hu)man and nature


Here I have used the last in the list to bring together an account of what is happening in art and its relation to education.  The language draws heavily on etymology as a source and aims to get to the most essential expressions we can to really understand the nature of the thing we, as humans, do.  It is an attempt to get to the pre-figurational nature of our activities.  I use pre-figurational as an allusion to Norbert Elias as a figurational sociologist of whoms work has played a significant role in stretching my thinking.


What you are reading is not a final thought but an expression from a long process which I am exploring.  For these reasons it should be regarded as a moment in a living thing rather than an ossified, static encompassing of a complete work…  Your comments are welcome and your thoughts on what education is, does and represents are warmly invited.


The writings published to this website are an open copy book of the experimental studies I am undertaking with regards to education, learning and development.  As such, I feel it justified to use any language, means and medium to achieve the understandings I am seeking.  Art is a particularly powerful subject area and over the years has provided dynamic affordances to reach new expressions required to breach the levies of common garden thinking which both pushes us into the modern and sometimes holds us back from the future.


Thinkers like Martha Nussbaum, John Dewey, and James Clegg have all been inspirations to look into the world of art and gain the benefit of having art in my thinking, philosophising and doing.  This, to me, speaks of the deep understandings and practices which are needed to get beyond traditional ways of how we value people for the knowledge they have.


Drawing together work from Keith Smythe and colleagues on valuing of knowledge artifacts and taking influence from Mike Neary and Gary Saunders’ ‘Student as Producer’, I am interested in extending the study of how we know what we think we know.  This extends out from the philosophy of science and is recognizable as broader diffuse principles which exist beyond the academy in the wild.


Art florishes under the most hostile of circumstances as it eminates from an inherent behaviour which I believe is directly related to learning and development.  The Producer is a Student and production marks the engagement in a process of education which can exist in multiple forms other than the formal institutions.  The formal institutions all emerge from the relationships we have.


As Mark William Johnson says in his book ‘Uncertain Education’ (page xx): “Most people think we learn ‘stuff’ in school: maths, geography, woodwork, etc.  But if distinctions are uncertain, and conversation necessary, then it follows that our distinctions are embedded in our human relations to each other, and that what we learn, we learn about each other”…


The other need not be human and we can be in dialogue with the world and with nature.  It is in the generation of expressions of such dialogues which I am interested, and leaning on Eco’s posit of ‘the production and employment of objects used for transforming the relationship between (hu)man and nature’.


This thinking appends to the work which I have sketched out on the common instruments of knowledge and a theory of inherent knowledge which you can read on the website if interested.  All this is working towards a practical understanding of being able to recognise the value of the work which any given individual has done by paying attention to the work itself and understanding from it itself what the individual had necessarily had to know and mastered to have achieved producing it.


A good table maker is evident by the table the maker has made.  This principle, quite recognizable in art, is useful to step beyond the politics of who gets valued an who gets unvalued and orients instead around the subject as authority – as Mike Neary suggested.


Art object

Knowledge as an Art Object

Art might be understood as a series of cyphers used to discover reality.  Art objects are tools used to change the relationship between humans and the universe.  An object being a thing presented to the mind has no necessary quality of material nature.  An art may be practiced and the practice – the tool – might be found not necessarily static but evolving in a strength of skill in arranging sufficiently something to present which is apprehended.


Art might be found in the knowing of something; the apprehension and communication – the experiencing and the sharing of the implyed, the entwining of meaning with action in reflections which exist independently of the first instance.  I apprehend, I research, I discover, I take impression; I am involved in receiving affirmation. I see the desert but through knowledge make firm the oceans.


Through learning I practice skill and arrangement encoding an object we call knowledge, understood through its quality of knowing – a process of identity to cognicize and recognize.  Whatever the material – physical or non physical in the construct/ion meaning is invested for which we can call art; a form charged laden with a pattern which can be apprehended by an other.


An homage to life which carries a prompt of experience, fruit of essences tried.  The thing itself is itself; identity falsifies itself; it is in sameness we orient our selves to understand what we will be next; what we are to become, even if it is to discover the unknown.


In the apprehending of and communicating an object are represented all the visible and invisible acts of doing.  To formulate a recognition of knowing objects are commonly employed and interleaved with doings which speaks something of pedagogy and reading like the genesis and estuary of a river.