Social Artistry… A new idea?

Social artistry in the context of educational change was the subject of Nancy White’s presentation for changemooc this week.

I haven’t come across the term before – but everything I have heard this week and read suggests that the ideas are not necessarily new – just expressed differently to fit our changing context in relation to learning in a digital age.

So what is it? It’s interesting that when we can’t explain or define something, we end up with falling back on the argument that defining something can often destroy what you were trying to capture. This argument was put forward earlier in this Mooc in relation to defining Moocs – and was put forward again in the Friday online session this week. Half of me understands the dangers of pinning something down with a definition, especially too early in people’s understanding, but the other half says we need some common understanding or terms to be able to discuss it at all.

This is what I picked up from another rushed week.

A social artist is a person who creates a social space for learning – and is not the same as a social reporter.  A social artist invites you to engage – listens, empathises, values, validates, amplifies and most of all asks the questions that will create the social space needed for learning.  A social artist connects people and encourages participation, which in turn leads to reciprocity, reification of ideas and a developing shared history.

Jean Houston writes (in 2004) an interesting article about social artistry and Fleming Funch as long ago as 1995 summarises the key skills of a social artist having attended a talk by Jean Houston.

In 2008 David Wilcox talked to Bev Trayner and Josien Kapma about social reporting as opposed to social artistry and blogged about Etienne Wenger’s reference to social artists

In September of this year Etienne and Nancy were discussing the same ideas in their presentation at the Share Fair in Rome  – where the importance of social artists being able to work in both the vertical and horizontal systems of accountability in organizations was also discussed – i.e. with the hierarchy and with peers. This is significant for a social artist’s ability to influence change.

And then – this week Nancy talked with Giulia Forsythe, Zach Davis and Tim Owens in DTLT Today  as well as in changeMooc about these ideas.

The question came up – is this any different to what the best teaching or the best facilitating has always been? I am struggling to find a significant difference. There might be some differences in terms of the technologies we now use for connecting people and the scale (size) of the networks in which ‘social artists’ work, but my feeling is that the skills mentioned above – listening, connecting, questioning, empathising and so on are what the best teachers have always done (see for example, the work of Lisa Lane ) and the skills that Fleming Funch lists on his post are the skills of a good learner. So maybe a quality of a ‘social artist’ is also to be an effective learner.

I think Nancy’s right – focussing on the words ‘social artist’ does not help. It’s the process we need to be talking about and how this might be changing in our changing educational environments.

14-11-11 Postscript

I have just come across this blogpost by Jupidu – Are we Social Artists? – which is great not only for the thoughtful reflection on the question, but also reminding me that Etienne Wenger has written an essay on social artistry – which I know I have somewhere in my computer files. It obviously did not resonate at the time, but maybe it will now.

13 thoughts on “Social Artistry… A new idea?

  1. Jeffrey Keefer November 5, 2011 / 8:06 pm

    Perhaps a #socialartist is a term for those qualities, namely listening, connecting, questioning, emphasizing, and supporting learners — while focusing on using technology to support these efforts?

  2. jennymackness November 6, 2011 / 7:36 am

    @Jeffrey – didn’t social artists exist before technology? 🙂

  3. Jeffrey Keefer November 6, 2011 / 12:17 pm

    I am not sure. The term does not appear to have been used before the uptick in social media / Web 2.0, and while Jean Houston does not seem to dwell on it, I imagine technology infused throughout her writing: “Thus the social artist’s medium is the human community. She or he seeks innovative solutions to troubling conditions, is a lifelong learner ever hungry for insights, skills, imaginative ideas and deeper understanding of present-day issues. Above all, the social artist is one who is always extending their own human capacities in the light of social complexity.” — It seems to me this complexity and chaos has a direct relationship with technology, otherwise there would just be the same old problems of inequality and power and positionality (things that have always been problems). If we do not include technology in social artistry, what else could call attention to there being a new need?

  4. Simone Staiger November 7, 2011 / 3:01 pm

    Thanks for linking to our blog where we summarized the session of Etienne Wenger. I like how the term “social artist” values specific people in a community. We can be a facilitator but we can “detect” or “see” the social artists in communities.

  5. Mark (@mcjsa) November 7, 2011 / 6:45 pm

    This term was new to me too but I did recognize the idea quickly. Nancy’s talk was one of the most productive events I’ve attended on MOOC so far. People obviously had trouble getting their heads around the term “social artist”, thus the defining frenzy. This is a serious problem but not unsurmountable.

    What I took away from the talk was a better understanding of my role as a “teacher” and of how I can better interact with students both in the classroom and online, in order to achieve my goal, which is to help them to identify and move toward achieving their goals.

  6. jennymackness November 7, 2011 / 8:21 pm

    Jeffrey – I think you are right – without a consideration of technology, I can’t see what ‘social artistry’ offers that is new. There have always been people who are very good at creating learning spaces for others.

    Simone – thanks for your comment and visit 🙂

    Mark – it would be great to hear more about how your understanding of ‘social artist’ will change your classroom practice. Thans for your comment


  7. Nancy White November 10, 2011 / 3:41 pm

    Ah, some of my worlds are connecting — Simone and Jenny and Jeffrey… LOVELY

    Jenny, sorry for my slow response. I just found this post (and added to my link summary). Distributed reading has its challenges.

    I agree social artistry is neither new nor particularly situated in todays technology context. I suspect Etienne picked up this term because it is EVOCATIVE and causes us to stop and think, “what, me an artist?” (there is a link to a video of his talk here ) Just that moment of shifting perspectives. Think about the word “facilitator” and how it has been battered about. it is still valid. SO much so and I agree w/ you about its essential importance in teaching.

    But what wakes us up? Jolts us out of our definitional frenzy? Gives us a break from one way of learning with each other (i.e. a very intellectual approach) and touch on some other part of our humanity?

    As I reflect back on the things I’ve read by others over #change11 and #socialartist, what is coming out stronger is the emotional resonance of a conversation about social artistry than the intellectual soundness of the term “social artist.”

    If that is what is happening, I’m thrilled. And I join you in asking Mark, how can social artistry change not just your classroom practice, but the people in that classroom!!

  8. jennymackness November 10, 2011 / 4:34 pm

    Thank you Nancy for taking the time ‘to sit on my front porch’ 🙂

    I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it, but yes, I think a lot of what happens in these Moocs is emotional resonance.

    I would say that for most weeks I have had the ‘feelings’ – yes I’m with this idea, or no I just don’t get that idea – and that’s a great starting point – but I think we need to go beyond the starting points. The problem is there are just too many starting points coming thick and fast for me to go beyond starting points at the moment.

    But you certainly ‘jolted’ me enough to have a bit of a dig round about the meaning of ‘social artistry’ – so thanks for that. It is probably an idea I will return to as I teach, facilitate and write 🙂

  9. Nancy White November 10, 2011 / 7:09 pm

    The pace is pretty hard to fully exploit my “aha” abilities! Did Etienne talk about social artists at Betreat?

  10. jennymackness November 10, 2011 / 7:19 pm

    No he didn’t. The focus was on the value creation framework. We also had a quite a number of participants from the corporate sector which gave it quite a ‘business’ feel . A really interesting experience 🙂

  11. Nancy White November 10, 2011 / 10:59 pm

    The value creation stuff Bev, Maarten and Etienne put together… I think it would have relevance to Change11 too. Whatchathink? They should invite one of them for a talk….

  12. jennymackness November 11, 2011 / 7:35 am

    Hi Nancy – I have been thinking about how the value creation framework would apply to Moocs ever since I got back. I agree with you. I think it is relevant to Moocs and I think I mentioned it at some stage to the Changemooc Research group. I know that the framework can be applied to both communities and networks – but I’d love to hear Etienne, Bev and Maarten’s thoughts on how it might apply to a network on the scale of Changemmoc. That’s the only thing that’s putting me off launching in and trying it out on my own. I’m not sure how relevant it is to the topic of change – other than to suggest a change in perspective on how value is created and identified. Have you used it at all?

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