SAE: An ethos of practical creativity

In this webinar, Chief Academic Officer Raf Marcellino outlined SAE’s ethos of ‘practical creativity’, looking at the relationship between developing skills and knowledge for the creative media industries and the approaches to developing learners attracted to SAE’s fields of study. SAE programs are designed to cover technical knowledge, initiative and innovation and attitudinal development as the means of transforming enthusiastic amateurs into entry-level practitioners.’. Below we summarise some of the ideas introduced in Raf’s brief presentation.

Not art for art’s sake

SAE is not an ‘art school’ per se, or pursuing artistic expression as an end in itself. Here art has a very practical application, and Raf breaks it down into ‘expertise’, ‘professionalism’ and ‘innovation’, capturing not just past and present activity, but also what SAE aspire to.

Art, it is said, is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes (Trotsky)

Building on the quote above, Raf argues that creative media is something we do to change things. Far from being limited to the entertainment industry, for example, it is now being applied as a necessary part of many industries, from medical research and mining to aerospace and marketing. The relationship with technology is also fundamental, and we need to understand not only the technical implications of innovations, but also the implications for artistic expression and perception (he notes that the organ was invented not as a musical instrument, but as a means of imitating the human voice!).

Professionalism, Expertise, Participation

Creative media also has an ‘artisan’ aspect; refining a craft to a high level, as distinct from the position of an ‘artist’, where the skill itself may be less important than other expressive aspects. Then there’s ‘professionalism’, with skills and activities including projects, etiquette, teamwork, communication and so on. Raf adds to this the concept of a ‘fiduciary’ responsibility for the creative media professional, performed ‘for the advantage of the beneficiary’ – we are given a brief and have commitment to do it in order to achieve something better, so that the project will prosper.

Teaching creative media

Raf then delves more deeply into some challenges in teaching creative media. Challenging the assumption that tertiary education must all be focussed on the written word, he notes that a number of our students are reluctant learners, seeking creative media education because they are visual or sonic thinkers, for example. It’s not a ‘deficiency’ issue, but simply how a person may make sense of the world. The worst thing you can do to dancers is make them sit down and be still!

Do we have enough of the artisan, balancing the skills with the reflection that’s necessary to develop?

Raf throws down the gauntlet to our audience: maybe we shouldn’t do theoretical projects going forward, but projects based instead on praxis? This doesn’t mean complete absence of theoretical frameworks or writing, but a focus on the actual creation of work. This is how we contribute to the world.

Authentic, situated learning

So how do we do it? Using learning and teaching situations and projects that are reflective of what’s going on in the world. Responding to changes in the industry, such as new software and ways of delivering media, is important, and does not necessarily fit neatly with course and curriculum development plans. Students need opportunities to be in the context they will have to deal with in their professional lives.

Raf emphasises the importance of re-imagining failure: not failure as the inability to complete a task, but as a means of finding learning opportunities in the ‘what if?’ moments we encounter (teachers play a particularly important role here). Project-based learning in particular provides a more ‘integrated’ understanding of an area, with the chance to participate in both long term projects (why not several years?) as well as rapid projects lasting as little as 60 minutes. This variety can improve both student and staff engagement, offers a flexible approach to instruction and addresses multiple learning standards simultaneously.

The chat threads and concluding Q&A raised questions and comments with a particularly interesting focus on teacher development and the use of project-based learning for teachers. Navitas and SAE staff can continue the conversation on Yammer.