The ever-changing unknown

Critical Thinking: Free De Backer & Sven Vanderstichelen

“Theory without practice is meaningless, practice without theory is blind.” This
claim from ‘Marx’, a monologue by philosopher and dramaturge Stefaan Van Brabandt, performed by Johan Heldenbergh, perfectly sums up what we in the educational sciences, and more specifically in the field of art education, mean by critical thinking.

There are tons of theoretical frameworks to approach and understand art, but at a certain point in time you are confronted with the individuality of a piece and the necessity for interpretation thereof (Free De Backer & Sven Vanderstichelen)

Two variables play a role in that. On the one hand there is the piece and its interpretation. On the other hand there is the context of the artwork, that is constantly changing. Social issues can be approached critically through diverse methods, but society itself is constantly evolving, and it is there where educational sciences play a crucial role.
We don’t teach our students to focus on what is fixed, but rather on the ever changing unknown – the context, the observer… – and the interaction that originates from these divergent components.

Our students learn that there is a certain freedom of interpretation, a diversity in experiencing a piece of art.

Theoretical framework versus gut feeling

Critical thinking is not purely rational, emotions play their part too. Looking at art is a total experience, of which all its sub-aspects influence your thought process and analysis. Theoretical frameworks are imperative as a guide to deal with this variability. Taking into account the emotions that an artwork can elicit, does in no way mean that you can solely trust your ‘gut feeling’ though.
However, it does not suffice to approach a piece of art only from an art historical or philosophical angle either. In that sense, educational scientists are critical mediators or intermediaries between different actors: between the artwork and the observer, between the involved organisation etc. We look at the entire context and thus bridge the gap between theory and practice.