Peter Lamarque and Gregory Currie: Cognitive and Aesthetic Values in Cultural Artefacts

Cultural artefacts come in many different shapes and sizes and are of many different kinds. They might be tools or weapons, paintings or songs, houses or jewellery. Sometimes it is obvious what values they possess. Practical artefacts made to serve practical purposes are valuable largely to the extent that they perform their functions well. Of course they might also be well designed and look good or feel good to use. That seems like a different kind of value. We might call it “aesthetic” value in contrast to purely practical value. Yet practical artefacts are usually praised both for their efficiency in doing what they are designed to do and for their (aesthetic) look and feel revealed in their design. These often go together. So in very many cases the aesthetic and the practical turn out to be not entirely distinct.

What about works of art? Traditionally aesthetic values are thought to be dominant in the arts. The value of looking at a painting, hearing a song, or musing on a poem lies, so it is said, in the pleasures these activities afford. Practical functions don’t seem important. Are not works of art valued “for their own sake”? But maybe that is too quick. Nor is it clear exactly what being valued “for its own sake” means.

Our project is to explore questions of this kind, addressed to cultural artefacts broadly labelled “works of art”. The focus will be specifically on aesthetic values and cognitive values, examining not just what such values are but how they are related. What do we mean by “cognitive” values? In brief, these are values centred on the advancement of knowledge or understanding. Cognitive values can be thought of as a species of practical value and they are commonly associated with certain art forms (notably representational arts) that are thought not only to afford aesthetic pleasure but also to add to the stock of human knowledge, including self-knowledge and what is sometimes called “know-how”.

Rather than engaging in a purely abstract or philosophical investigation our aim is to focus on three very specific but radically different case studies in the hope of shedding light on these kinds of value:

• The Palaeolithic wall paintings at Chauvet Cave
• A selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets, on the theme of time and mortality
• The Ridley Scott film Blade Runner

We chose these particular case studies for several reasons. We wanted examples of totally different art forms and media; we wanted a wide historical and cultural reach; we wanted artefacts that have already been subject to extensive debate (part of the interest is in the nature of those debates); and we wanted examples that might usefully reveal different aspects of the two principal kinds of values in our study.

We have planned three intensive workshops on these case studies bringing together experts from different perspectives and disciplines: archaeologists and palaeontologists for the cave paintings, Shakespeare scholars and literary theorists for the Sonnets, film theorists and critics for the film. We were delighted, for example, that Jill Cook, who curated the highly successful exhibition on “Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind” at the British Museum, contributed to the Chauvet Cave workshop (held on 7th February 2014), as did Andrew J Lawson, author of Painted Caves: Palaeolithic Rock Art in Western Europe. Throughout there is also an input from aesthetics and philosophy of art. The interdisciplinary nature of the enquiry is crucial to it. The remaining two workshops will take place at the end of February and in April.

It is difficult to predict what kinds of intellectual findings will emerge overall—that is what is exciting about it—but we are hoping that the unusual juxtaposition of the case studies, the breadth of expertise called on, and the philosophical overview to be developed will yield genuine new insights in the longstanding debate about the values of art in general and the complex relations between the cognitive and the aesthetic in particular.

Pat Thomson – A critical review of the Creative Partnerships archive: How was cultural value understood, researched and evidenced?

What can the Creative Partnerships archive tell us about cultural value?

Creative Partnerships (CP) was the biggest and longest running arts and education intervention in the world. CP aimed to transform students’ experiences of schooling, expand teachers’ classroom approaches and dramatically improve the ways in which schools functioned and performed. Its focus was on ‘creative learning’ and whole school change. CP operated in England from 2002-2011 and worked intensively with over 2,700 schools, 90,000 teachers and over 1 million young people. It touched 1 in 4 schools in the country, and over 6,500 national arts and creativity organisations were involved in CP. Because 70% of the funding went to support creative practitioners, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that each CP£1 generated £15.3 of economic value.

CP understood itself as making a cultural offer. It supported teachers and young people in extended cultural experiences – working on a project with an artist (for example a dancer, sculptor, film-maker, story-maker) or a company (from the Royal Shakespeare Company to a local community arts organization) or a public institution such as a gallery, library or museum.

It was presumed that through these projects young people would both learn creatively and learn to be creative. Within CP there were strongly held views that the cultural offer supported children and young people to develop imagination, critical and reflective thinking, leadership, confidence and motivation, wellbeing and a strong sense of responsible empowerment.They were thus able to learn successfully, act as good citizens in their schools and communities and were prepared for 21st century life work and life (Thomson, Jones, & Hall, 2009).

While the aims of CP were not to produce cultural value per se, many of its explanations of creative learning overlap with the AHRC framework. For example, CP staff and texts always talked of the importance of reflection – “the ability to question, make connections, innovate, problem solve and reflect critically” – and citizenship -“imagine how the world could be different and have the confidence and motivation to make positive change happen”.

CP produced an enormous range of artefacts, ranging from literature reviews, research reports, publicity and promotional materials, demonstrations in the form of films and posters, to the annual plans and evaluation reports that each funded school had to submit. To date there has been no analysis of this material to assess what understandings it might have to offer. The archive, now housed at The University of Nottingham, has the potential to contribute further to international understandings about creativity, culture, reform, learning and organizational change.

Our project will systematically examine, for the first time, the CP archive in order to see what its literature reviews, research reports and annual plans and evaluation reports might have to offer the AHRC cultural value rubric. As its considerable body of research used highly diverse approaches, this project will use an interpretative approach to critically assess a range of key texts. The project will investigate and document how a cultural experience was understood, and what methodologies and methods were used to investigate CP’s cultural offer and the cultural experience of teachers and young people, and will show what kind of data the various approaches produced. On this basis, the project will then offer an assessment of the value of particular kinds of research methodologies and methods, and identity any areas for possible further investigation. It will also offer a synthesis of the various ways in which cultural experience was theorised.

We have begun by scoping the 150 plus commissioned research reports, focusing on the question of well-being. We can already see that this has been defined in different ways by researchers – for example it is taken as synonymous with general health, being the same as resilience, as an economic benefit, as a meaningful subjective evaluation, as a necessary component of a ‘good’ social life and as an end point in itself. Our plan is to write about our interpretations of the research material in a short summary paper then go on to other parts of the AHRC framework. When we finish with these research texts, there is still a very considerable digital archive to tackle!

Professor Pat Thomson (PI) and Dr Jan Keane, (research fellow), School of Education, The University of Nottingham

Thomson, P., Jones, K., & Hall, C. (2009). Creative whole school change. Final report. London: Creativity, Culture and Education; Arts Council England. See also http://www.artsandcreativityresearch.org.uk.

Pat is also the PI on a Research Development Award funded by the Cultural Value Project entitled: ‘The experience and value of live art: what can making and editing film tell us?’ You can read about it here: http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/experience-and-value-live-art-what-can-making-and-editing-film-tell-us

Helen Manchester – Teenage Kicks: exploring cultural value from a youth perspective

Nandos, chips and mapping: approaches to researching with young people

The words ‘skinheads’, ‘punks’, ‘emos’, ‘goths’ and ‘geeks’ conjure particular images, emotions and often specific musical genres and attitudes. From the dawn of ‘youth culture’ in the 1950s, scholars in cultural, literacy and youth studies have proposed that a generational account of cultural experience is necessary in order to provide a rich and coherent analysis of culture and the way it is valued. These cultures were seen as productive spaces where ‘common symbols and meanings’ were generated, meanings that often diverged from adult accounts. There was also a recognition in these studies, of the distinctive importance of everyday cultural experiences to young people, which were often viewed in opposition to high culture. These early studies also began to illuminate divisions between young people, taking class, race and gender seriously. Over the same period, sociology has increasingly come to recognise the importance of generational accounts of social phenomena; making visible the ways in which age plays a role alongside class, ethnicity and gender in shaping society and social values.

Meanwhile studies of young people’s social and recreational uses of new media propose that there may be a new fluidity of movement between young people’s everyday experiences of culture and their encounters with more formal cultural organisations (partly as a result of the emergence of a range of digital practices) and that it no longer makes sense to pigeonhole cultural experiences as ‘high’ or ‘low’. We will draw on both the more recent generational and digital cultural analyses of youth culture as well as the longstanding theorization of ‘youth cultures’ from cultural studies, sociology and youth geographies in our research project exploring cultural value from a youth perspective.

Our collaborative research project is working with 12-18 year old young people in Bristol who are differently involved in cultural activities across the city. We’re working with the Arts Council England bridge organisation for the South West, RIO (http://realideas.org/) who are supporting us to gain access to diverse groups of young people as well as in opening up communication with policy makers nationally.

Our project will provide a young person’s perspective on their ‘actual experiences’ of culture and what it is they value about these experiences. Our methods will draw on the team’s prior experience of participatory and collaborative research viewing young people as social actors and producers of knowledge in their own right. We approach our task understanding that young people are not ‘schooled’ in the jargon and discourse of cultural value. It will be revealing to see how young people conceptualise notions of cultural value and impact at the level of the individual, organisation, and society; and whether young people are able to articulate these notions in more concrete, grounded and practical ways. We believe that, with the support of adults, young people’s voices will enable some deconstruction of the current cultural discourse, cutting into a relatively stuck and sometimes sterile debate in new and refreshing ways.

We’ve been negotiating access to groups of young people through local galleries, schools and youth centres and have so far spoken to adults and some young people about the kinds of creative techniques and approaches they use/enjoy. In the more formal organisations we’re working with ‘participating’ young people who are used to being asked to talk about their cultural lives and experiences in round table discussions and are often asked to produce mind maps and written notes. However for young people who are less confident in these situations we’re trying to find different ways of including their voices. Several people we’ve talked to have suggested that we’d probably find young people more willing to talk if we take them to Nandos or if we ask them to take us on a walking tour of their neighbourhood, perhaps stopping for chips on the way. Others have said we might ask young people to visually ‘map’ their experiences, take photographs or produce short devised drama pieces that express their cultural lives. We’re looking forward to experimenting with some of these approaches in order to ensure lots of different kinds of young people are able to tell us about what they value culturally in their lives.

Matt Brennan: The Cultural Value of Live Music

The Cultural Value of Live Music. Credit: The Queens Hall

The Cultural Value of Live Music. Credit: The Queens Hall

I have a dual background as a musician and an academic, and my interest in live music is therefore two-fold. As a musician, I always have made more money from performing live than from selling records (even when counting physical and digital sales combined). It’s not an unusual experience – many professional musicians have traditionally relied on income from live performance and teaching to pay their bills – but it also maps onto an important broader economic shift in the music industries over the last decade: since 2008, British consumers have spent more money on concert tickets than they have on recorded music. Meanwhile, concert ticket prices have risen dramatically over the past decade. The economic value of live music is clear, yet too often the value of culture is reduced to its economic impact. So what about the cultural value of live music?

This Cultural Value project explores this question by focusing on a single venue – the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. Built in 1823, and in use as a music venue since 1979, the Queen’s Hall is a multi-genre music venue based close to Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. It is host to a wide range of musical events ranging from pop gigs, through jazz shows to full orchestral performances. At each of these shows different forms of cultural value are being promoted, performed and received. Our project examines the different forms of cultural value that are in evidence via a detailed analysis of the promotion, performance and reception of various musical events.

A central area of inquiry here concerns the ways in which different forms of musical value are articulated and perceived across musical genres. We have now chosen our case study concerts, which represent a cross-section of the diverse musical activity taking place at the Queen’s Hall. What makes a gig with Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Branford Marsalis different from the intimate folk music of Heidi Talbot? And how does a Bach concert performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra compare to the left-of-centre art rock of cult pop band They Might Be Giants?

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There are many different kinds of people who are pulled into the orbit of the case study concerts listed above. On the supply side we have the promoters, managers, agents, production crew, and the act. There are also intermediaries, the venue and its staff ranging from management and marketing to ushers, bar staff, security, and catering. And then there is the audience, including friends of the artists, paying punters, and journalists assigned to review the show. How do each of these groups articulate the cultural value of the concert they are attending, and what can we learn by comparing their answers across genres and different models of promotion? As academics, our team want to make sense of how these seemingly disparate musical worlds operate; what, if anything, they may share by performing in the same venue; and finally, and what they might learn from one another.