Transforming education through art making

“As humans we’ve had a propensity to make art, to make images and objects, in every place and time since someone picked up a tool. That’s what makes us fully human in my opinion and I can’t understand: as this is a human cultural practice – why are we bleeding it out of the school system? Why are we putting it to the edges, or the last thing on a Friday afternoon? I mean, I could teach a student in secondary school anything through the arts.”

These are the words of Dr Lexi (Alexandra) Lasczik, a Professor of Arts and Education at Southern Cross University who began her academic career in 2011 having already had 25 years’ experience teaching visual and performing arts in high schools; in both Australia and Canada.

Dr Lasczik is now both the ‘Associate Dean of Research and Director of Higher Degree Research (HDR) Training’ in Southern Cross’ Faculty of Education; and Research Co-Leader of the ‘Sustainability, Environment and the Arts in Education’ Research Cluster (SEAE – pronounced ‘sea’).

SEAE is at the cutting-edge of climate change education, nature play, the Anthropocene and posthuman philosophy.

“We’re doing really exciting, world-leading things,” said Professor Lasczik who has recently been lecturing in the University’s new professional doctorate for experienced educators – the EdD.

“I am passionate about teacher education, I think this is an amazing job, and I have a particular passion for working with youth at risk, or students who have been disengaged for whatever reason,” said Professor Lasczik.

“I have been advocating for the benefit of the arts for about 40 years now – for all kids, but particularly for the kids who aren’t going to get all the awards on awards night, or have other things going on in their lives, or have issues concentrating or behavioural issues, or whatever challenges they have. The arts are a place where they can absolutely shine and be very self-directed and have a lot of agency over their learning.”

“The literature is quite robust regarding the benefits of the arts, but our policy makers and our educating administrators can’t seem to get it. When kids are in early childhood centres, everyone supports the arts; but it’s not seen as real, real scholarship, real learning in schools, unfortunately, and yet I’ve seen it save kids and I mean save their lives, over and over again. So I’m very passionate about that.”

Video transcript

My name’s Lexi Lasczik and I’m from the Faculty of Education at Southern Cross University. I am the Associate Dean (Research) currently and my work spans forty years in art education, visual arts education.

I have spent the majority of my work life advocating for quality arts experiences for children in schools and to this end, I have worked through arts-based educational research and more recently artography and walking enquiry.

What I’m interested in is collaborations and working with children as researchers and young people as researchers to empower them and to engage their agency in areas and topics such as environmental education and climate change.

Close transcript

In addition to her academic career, Professor Lasczik is a practising artist whose chosen mediums are painting, photography, poetry, walking and creative writing. She also uses these methodologies in her research. While walking as an artistic and research discipline, a method of collecting data may sound unusual, much intellectual and philosophical exploration begins this way. Walking also features strongly in Professor Lasczik’s family history.

“My parents are Hungarian. My father essentially walked all over Europe during the war and afterwards. And my mother moved with her family from Hungary to Germany and then both dad and mum to Australia in 1949. My grandfather was a truck driver working for the Americans and he used to transport the troupe entertainment.

Professor Lasczik’s PhD, completed in 2004 at the University of Sydney, revolved around her family’s migration story and resulted in her penning a book from her research, called Displacement, Identity and Belonging: An Arts-Based, Auto/Biographical Portrayal of Ethnicity and Experience. The sequel was written following a Southern Cross Vice Chancellor’s Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning (2012) and the resulting OLT award (Office of Learning and Teaching – national teaching citation) for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning in 2014. The OLT award came with a $10,000 kick enabling Professor Lasczik to return to Hungary on a study tour.

Professor Lasczik traced her father’s footsteps around Germany, the Czech Republic and into Hungary. “It’s more like the PhD I would have done, had I done it later.”

This experience solidified Professor Lasczik’s focus on critical walking methodologies and Arts-based Educational Research including the methods of walkography and A/r/tography.

Since starting her academic career, she has continued to work with students and children on numerous SEAE research projects.

A/r/tography is the collection and creation of data and its’ analysis through arts-based means, so Professor Lasczik might, for example, give children computer tablets and ask them to take photographs. They might also draw the landscape or take rubbings of the earth.

“Where I sit mostly in A/r/tography is painting, photography and poetry, fiction and memoir but you can come at it from lots of different ways. There are a lot of A/r/tographic scholars who have written their PhD’s as novels for example and that’s becoming a stronger research form. So we often do ‘seismic’ drawings as you’re walking, or video as you’re walking, to map place,” said Professor Lasczik.

These ‘seismic’ drawings involve walking while relaxed, holding a visual diary and a piece of charcoal, pastel or pencil as you’re moving. The movement of your body makes a mark on the page reflecting the topography of the terrain and the walker’s experience.

“We also do a lot of work, and this is really my thing, collaborative foot painting with children. We do this because if you put a brush in a child’s hand over the age of about seven or eight, they become quite nervous. They’re so worried about what people will think of the marks they make or the drawings they do, so once you put paint on their feet it becomes a completely different experience. And a completely transformative art making experience.”

Young student painting with feet

Within SEAE Professor Lasczik has found art, science and environmental education to be very comfortable bedfellows.

“And walking is something that’s endemic to environmental education as well and it’s become a very natural fit and a very productive space for projects.”

The SEAE research cluster is led by Professor Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles.

“I’ve never worked with a leader as visionary and as kind,” said Professor Lasczik.

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