International Art English

For those of us studying Art and anyone who walks round a gallery encountering  International Art English (IAE) can be a bewildering experience.  In Gilda Williams book “How to write about Contemporary Art” she looks at the phenomenon that is IAE and the fight back against it.

“Some of IAE’s tics are:

  • habitually improvising nouns (“visual” becomes “visuality”)
  • hammering out fashionable terminology (“transversal”, “meta”, “involution”)
  • abusing prefixes, with para-, proto-, post-, and hyper-.

In an ARTFORUM book review responding to a pair of recent books on curating, critic Julian Stallabrass lamented the “thick and viscous vocabulary” he found there, rewording some sentences in plain English:

For instance here is the concluding section: “Exhibitons are a coproductive, spatial medium, resulting from various forms of negotiation, relationality, adaptation, and collaboration between subjects and objects, across space and time.” Rough translation: people work together to make exhibitions using objects. They exist in space and time.”

Williams book goes onto to help avoid these pitfalls and is well worth a read.



More about critical thinking

“No-one can tell another person.. how he should think any more than how he ought to breathe – but the various ways in which men do think can be told… some of these ways are better than others.  The person who understnads what the better wasy of thinking are – can, if he will, chagne his own personal ways until they become more effective.

(Dewey, 1933)

In Chapter 3,  Moon reviews the approaches to critical thinking in literature.  She finds that different approaches emphasize different characteristics of critical thinking.

Her general conclusion is that it is agreed that in critical thinking there is a need to be reasonably adept with language, a need for clarity and precision in ideas, a need for persistance and a need to be relatively systematic.  She also finds that “what we might be willing to call proficient critical thinking is likely to have a generally questioning habit of mind.”

Probably the point that I like the most… “There is a role for creativity and imagination in critical thinking”.

Moon warns however that “good-quality critical thinking is not demarcated by the quality of the processes involved in the thinking, but by the quality of the thinking itself” (Balin et al. 1999)



Mapping the territory of critical thinking

This is a review of the second part of “Critical Thinking” by Jennifer Moon.  In this chapter, she tries to pin down a definition of “critical thinking”.   She has run workshops on Critical Thinking and asked the attendees to write a definition of the term at the start of the workshop.  The professional educators and writers all come up with substantially different definitions.  Her point here is to show that although it is often assumed in pedagogy that terms such as critical thinking have a set and agreed meaning, the truth is they don’t.

The differences in the definitions she found included:-

Critical thinking is about ….

  • challenging ideas  yet about the development of one’s own argument.
  • is about the consideration of one’s own situation yet is related to the work of others
  • analysing what is “right” or “wrong” in the presented material and is about “where did I go right or wrong?”
  • mentions objectivity or depends on subjective understandings.
  • the object with which critical thinking is engaged is seen as material or problem or situation or talks of critical thinking being applied to “one’s understanding” of a situation or problem.

Learners asked to define Critical Reflection came up with these categorizations:-

  • weighing up, seeing both sides
  • looking at subject from all angles and viewpoints
  • looking back on a situation
  • looking beyond what is there


Jennifer Moon’s conclusions are that Critical Thinking is a collection of ideas:-

  • assessment of evidence to make a judgement
  • an aspect of the activity of thinking.  A form of learning in that it is a means of generating new knowledge by processing existing knowldege using tools eg. analysis, understanding, synthesis.
  • a multiple tool for the manipulation of knowledge
  • Working towards an anticipated form of outcome which is a judgement involving deep engagement with the subject matter.


A lot to think about!



critical thinking

MY last two tutorials have been with students wanting to know how to improve their “critical analysis”.  Following these sessions I have decided to read and summarize Jennifer Moon’s book  “Critical Thinking,  an exploration of theory and practice”.

The author points out that the development of a critical stance could be said to epitomize the aims for the individual of higher education and the professions.  Therefore it might be reasonable to assume that everyone would know what critical thinking is.  But she has begun to doubt whether this term is understood in a manner that is appropriate for its use in teaching.  So the book sets out to explore the theory of critical thinking and consider the practical implications and application of the idea in the classroom with learners.

The introduction points out how “critical thinking” is a fundamental goal of learning in higher education and contained in many level and qualification descriptors in the UK.

Then the wider significance of critical thinking in society is that it is “at the heart of what it means to be a developed person in a democratic society” (Brookfield 1987)

The lack of critical thinking can lead to “groupthink” according to Irving Janis who analysed the “Bay of Pigs events” in America in the 1960’s.  “The more amiability and esprit de corps among the members of a policy-making in-group, the greater is the danger that independent critical thinking will be replaced by groupthink which is likely to result in irrational and dehumanizing actions directed against out-groups.” (Janis, 1982:13)

Another example of the importance of critical thinking refers to the massacre of students in Tienanmen square in Beijing.  Barnett (1997,2006)  says those who stood against the tanks were carrying through the outcomes of their critical thinking into significant action.

Bowell and Kemp (2002:4) say “those who hold power … fear the effects of those who can think critically about moral, social, economic and political issues”

The author concludes that ” It is the step beyond the thinking the willingness to act that is really significant” and that can generate academic assertiveness.

The author’s background is explored.  Her interest in the higher qualities of higher education learning,  reflective learning and now critical thinking.

Part Two – mapping the territory of critical thinking will have to be for my next blog!

Bird by Bird

Written by writer and writing tutor Anne Lamott.  This book is all about the struggles and joys of being a writer.  The struggles include the sheer difficulty of writing itself, as well as, the lack of financial reward or personal glory.   The joys, the amazing feeling when you write something, anything you are truly proud of.  The book humourously explores the world of writing and the great satisfaction of creativity which for most of us, has to be enough.