An adaptable framework for self-directed art learning

Moving from traditional to contemporary; and from improving to established

This exploration was partly driven by an interest in art and partly by an interest in learning. The art-interest was a desire to move from doing quite ‘traditional’ art – landscapes, still life, some simple portrait work – at a level that was beyond Beginners Group and still ‘Improving’ … and to get somewhere closer to being able to do more contemporary work at a level that I might consider ‘established/confident in my own activities’. The learning-interest was part of my exploration of ‘pulled-in’ learning ie not taking a structured course, with fixed timetables, over a defined timescale – but moving in whatever ways seem appropriate, along flexible pathways, pulling in resources/learning as and when needed, and speeding up/slowing down as the situations allow. What follows is some attempt to put this down as a set of intentions (rather than a fixed curriculum) that tie in with my existing interests. It starts with some ‘entry point ‘ descriptions of where I am now; and sketches out some possible lines I might follow … just for interest/fun and from a desire to learn rather than a need for a qualification.

Starting points

Knowing properties of colour, composition, materials, context, print qualities – in figurative and abstract works

Use of watercolour, acrylic, pencil, charcoal, pastels, ink, print, glazes, guache, oil etc

Basic knowledge of use of software and photography in producing art

Knowledge of artists, trends, approaches, styles.

Basic understanding of the language of art

Able to produce a small amount of original work, planned and made independently

Able to respond to prompts and suggestions – including working to an external brief

Understanding the elements of theory and visual culture

Able to combine/integrate approaches and materials

Able to express personal interpretations through art

Understanding potential audiences for art

Produce a simple portfolio of work that covers a range of styles, subjects and media

Maintain records of ideas, planning, test pieces, sketches, storyboards, reflections etc

Produce informed personal investigations (1000-3000 words) into ideas, issues, concepts or themes, clearly demonstrating a line of reasoning

Spend 15 hours (after preparation time) producing a finished piece of art, complete with record of workings.


By the end of the process, I hope to have:

Established a sense of self as an artist; an artistic identity

A personal platform from which to flourish as an artist, writer, curator etc

Undertaken a creative journey that is independent, experiential, reflective, flexible

Experienced a range of opportunities – projects, collaborations, placements, workshops, visits etc

Become aware of a broad range of contemporary artistic practices

Participated in a public exhibition of a major work (or series of works) and undertaken some real-world activities

Formed a substantial portfolio of work

Assembled future ideas as a portfolio of possibilities

Developed a firm understanding of theoretical issues around the conceptualisation and production of art

A substantial set of understandings of contemporary art

An ability to communicate interests, intents, processes – as design/adapt; as research; as academic dissertation; as critical reflections and as exploratory practical pieces

An ability to generate ideas, to focus down on the elements of a theme, to solve problems

An ability to personally respond to briefs, calls for proposals and development opportunities

An enthusiasm for continuing development and learning


Actively participating in a mix of lectures, tutorials, workshops, coursework, assignments, critiques, discussions, practical activities, seminars, presentations, visits, study tours, placements (in UK and abroad), competitions etc

Experimenting with a range of methods and materials including painting, drawing, printmaking, writing, film/video, sculpture, photography, installation, and digital

Exploring how basic methods can be used, combined, extended and subverted

Relating ideas, methods, materials, meanings and contexts

Developing flexible self-direction and review

Maintaining an intellectual curiosity; an approach based on puzzling

Learning through doing and experimenting, without necessarily focusing on perfection of products. Reflecting on learning itself, as playing with ideas

Critically reflecting, alone and in groups, on own work and the work of others

Some peer-peer learning as part of a learning community/network

Building confidence in making art, and talking/writing about art

Developing a clear and extensive language for writing/talking about ideas in art and creativity

Producing written articles (each at least 2000 words, and one of around 6000 words) on relevant themes and concepts

Working to own interests and to external specifications

Collaborating with others, including those with different interests, backgrounds and approaches

Experiencing at least one placement in a creative real-world setting

Undertaking a sustained, in-depth, theoretically informed research activity; engaging with new research practices in contemporary art

Making a wide variety of work, alone and with others, with supporting evidence of thinking and process

Making a substantial work of art (or linked series of works) to be shown and discussed publicly: Using a variety of media, techniques, technologies, images, texts, cultural contexts etc.

Topics to be covered

How art is made, seen and talked about in contemporary society

What it means to be an artist in C21st UK

What contemporary art can contribute to current social debates

Historical influences on contemporary thinking; understanding continuity and change

Creative publishing, marketing and dissemination; art as writing

Art education; art and learning

Ideas around the value of art as a creative activity in contemporary society

Theoretical and contextual underpinning to art practices

Contemporary discourses, philosophy and aesthetics

Established and emerging ideas in art

Business models for creative practice

Models of curatorial practice

And at least eight of the following:

Public art and socially engaged art

Art and a range of social issues (eg housing, wellbeing …)

Art and identities

Art and research

Art and ambiguity

Art and histories

Art and anthropology; art and psychology

Art and genders

Art and urban geographies (Art and the city)

Art and language

Art and architecture

Art, place and space

…. plus any others that may emerge during the process.

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