Helen Potkin is Associate Professor of Art History at Kingston School of Art, London, where she leads the BA Fine Art and Art History as well as teaching Critical and Historical Studies to Fine Art students. 


"Co-creating the Curriculum"

"How can you bring a classroom to life as though it were an artwork?"

Félix Guattari

Each student has brought an image of an artist’s studio to the session in order for us to collectively explore sites of production and the function of place in art making. On view is a range of examples of studio spaces: Giacometti’s, Hepworth’s, Samaras’… revealing messy mark-making; contingent, gendered territories. Sri’s response to our weekly task has been to make an art work and present it as research. She explains her photo-shopped image representing a cleaner at work superimposed with her own face. Sri sees no difference between the paid work she does to support her studies and making art. The site of everyday labour is re-envisioned as art through her experience; her art-making is framed by the condition of ‘post-studio’ production. 

The session was part of a second year undergraduate module Researching the Contemporarywhich the students and I co-created, aiming to breathe a new life into our curriculum through working together. We sought to make lectures collectively, assigning ourselves tasks, building knowledge collaboratively. We made space for the unpredictable, unexpected and for individual passions. At the same time, we gave purpose, direction and relevance to our subject of art history.

Sri and her fellow students undertaking the module were in their second year of BA (Hons) Fine Art and Art History, a joint honours course which is a combination of history/theory and practice. The module itself which formed part of the art history component has a dual emphasis on practices and process of research and contemporaneity in art and culture. The preponderance of models of collaboration, participation and inclusion in recent art practice - what Art Historian Grant Kester has termed “dialogic practice” (2004) - offered both a site of interrogation and a way of thinking about module design in terms of curriculum and assessment.

In this paper, I want to discuss the collaborative strategies we employed which permitted forms of creative practice within the academic context, to encourage a more porous understanding of the course as a whole, connecting theory and practice. Carl Rogers’ (1969) conceptualisation of education which embraces the learner as a whole and in which the nature of the relationship (between teacher and students) is fundamental to creating significant learning, provided the impetus for the development. I aimed to create a culture of trust, a participatory environment and for us all to embrace the principle of learning through doing. Catherine Bovill (2010) points out how academic staff are gate keepers to the curriculum, and that co-creation offers the potential to dismantle hierarchies allowing for a more democratic and inclusive curriculum and learning experience. For a module based in concepts and practices of research, I wanted students to engage more critically with knowledge and its production, requiring some rethinking in terms of the operations of power and knowledge. The project, although not without its challenges, presented an opportunity for research into and through the visual, with students also designing their own assessment outcomes consisting of visual presentations of their research into the contemporary.  


Bishop, C. (2012) Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, London: Verso 

Bovill, C. (2010) Students and staff co-creating the curriculum: research into three case studies from Scotland, Ireland and the USA, York: HES 

Hall, J. (2015) Co-creating a social justice and education curriculum with undergraduate students, HEA 

Kester, G. (2004) Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art, California: University of California Press

Rintoul, J. (2014) Theory and (in) practice: The problem of integration in art and design education. International Journal of Art and Design Education, 33 (3). pp. 345-354.

Rogers, C. (1994 [1969]) Freedom to Learn, 3rdRevised edition, New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Rogers, C. (2004 [1961])On Becoming a Person, London: Robinson