Visual and Performing Arts Education at UNSW encompasses the discrete disciplines of Visual Arts and Design, Music, Dance and Drama as articulated in school and teacher education.

As dynamic areas of research and scholarship in the UNSW School of Education they make distinctive and diverse contributions to teacher education. Necessarily, research practice and teaching in each of these disciplines is shaped by theoretical frameworks from the fields of education, philosophy and the fields of art and design, music, dance and drama.

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This poster explains the research interests, funding and engagement of those in the Visual and Performing Arts research group (PDF).


Research in Visual Arts & Design Education

Researchers in Visual Arts Education have a strong commitment to conducting research that aims to enrich the understanding of learning, teaching and curriculum practice in classrooms and schools art departments, and to inform policy decisions and curriculum design at state and national levels.

Our current and past research projects encompass the following areas:

  • Creative Practice in Visual Arts and Design Education
    Associate Professor Kerry Thomas’ research focuses on two projects. The first investigates creative practice in art, design and education as a function of practical and social reasoning in the micro-moments of everyday exchanges between teachers and students in creative classrooms in secondary schools and university studios. Her particular interest is in how individual and collective misrecognition functions in creative exchanges between teachers, students and other interested stakeholders to shore up creative ends. The second investigates curriculum design in the Arts, with a special focus on the Visual Arts, including how knowledge and the creative object are theorised and made intelligible for teaching and learning.

    Kerry has recently co-edited and contributed chapters to the International Handbook of Research on Creativity (Edward Elgar 2013) with Professor Janet Chan, UNSW. Recent articles have appeared in Studies in Art Education, The International Journal of Art and Design Education and Art Education Australia. Prior to previous appointments at COFA (now UNSW Art & Design), Kerry was Inspector, Creative Arts NSW Board of Studies. She is recognised as a leading advocate for a non-reductive approach to the Arts in current Australian curriculum debates.
  • Conceptual and theoretical development in Visual Arts Education
    Dr Karen Maras’ research focuses on two key areas. The first area of focus is on the articulation of a developmental continuum of students’ conceptions of artworks as real things. The research investigates how students develop, build and learn to apply theoretical frameworks of value when interpreting the meaning of artworks. This research challenges the traditional view that aesthetic knowledge alone provides a basis for conceiving learning, teaching and assessing art understandings in art education. As a realist, interested in how knowledge of art practice is acquired and represented in logical terms, Karen proposes that art understanding requires one to know something of the field, and that explanations of knowing in art must be located within the interrelationships of a range of beliefs systems, language as a form of practical reasoning and artworks as artefacts of practice. This uniquely conceived research provides a robust foundation on which epistemological underpinnings of curriculum and assessment practice in art education can be examined.

    The second area of research concerns curriculum and pedagogy in Visual Arts and Design education. Karen examines issues of curriculum coherence in relation to theoretical framing and domain specific concepts within a developmental continuum of students’ learning in art making and critical interpretation. In this regard she has published critique on the proposals for the Australian national curriculum in the Visual Arts, as well as frameworks for re-conceptualizing curriculum in teacher education and teacher professional development.

See our current HDR students here

Community Engagement

International Links and Conferences - Visual Arts Education

Maras, K. (2014). Understanding constraints on critical reasoning: Considerations for structuring pedagogical collaborations between students and teachers in art criticism. International Journal of Art and Design Conference: Collaborative Practices in Arts Education, Liverpool, UK

Thomas, K. (2014). Keynote Address: The practice of collaboration as ethical activity in Art/s Education? International Journal of Art and Design Conference: Collaborative Practices in Arts Education, Liverpool, UK.

Thomas, K, & Maras, K. (2014). The advantage of a Realist framework for art and art education: Neil C. M. Brown and his impact on research, curriculum development and teaching in art classrooms in NSW schools, 34th World Congress of the International Society for Education Through Art, 7-11 July, Melbourne, Australia.

International Collaborations – Visual Arts Education

Finnish Art Education – Aalto University

In October 2014 Dr Karen Maras and Dr Kerry Thomas were invited by Professor Kevin Tavin and Dr Mira Kallio-Tavin from Aalto University to participate in the inaugural meeting of the Finnish Art Doctoral Studies (FADS) network. FADS is a consortium supporting the collective interests of Aalto University, the University of Lapland and the University of Jyväskylä in providing platforms and forums for doctoral students in art education. Kerry and Karen participated as panellists commenting on developing doctoral research.

Visual Arts and Design Education Programs and Professional Learning

The Visual Arts and Design Education Professional Learning Program typically brings together perspectives of Visual Arts teachers from state, catholic and independent systems with those of curriculum authorities, art educators and researchers from UNSW and other universities about how to improve the practice of Visual Arts and Design education in New South Wales’ schools. The purpose of these events is twofold. They provide a forum in which leaders in the field:

  • advance and debate ideas for curriculum reform and advocacy through discussions of research informed developments in the field of art education, and
  • provide support for the profession of art and design teachers through BOSTES accredited professional learning focussing on practices in curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and examination.

Since June 2014 UNSW has hosted several professional learning events for art and design educators in conjunction with significant professional and institutional partners.

The Visual Arts Education team maintain strong partnerships with a range of educational agencies and advocacy groups:

Curriculum Authorities:

  • Board of Studies, Teaching Educational Standards (BOSTES)
  • Department of Education and Communities NSW

Professional organisations:

  • Professional Teachers Council NSW (PTC NSW)
  • Visual Arts and Design Educators Association NSW (VADEA).
Postgraduate Research
Videos Dr Karen Maras, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, UNSW Australia   Dr Karen Maras, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, UNSW Australia

How students understand what artworks are and how they represent meaning is an area Dr Karen Maras is currently researching. Here she explains how this research supports teachers design good art curriculum that lift the intellectual capacity of the subject.

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