Disciplinary Thinking

Recently I have been exploring the notion of disciplinary thinking – that is, the different concepts or frameworks that are specific to individual fields of study or work.  The term ‘interdisciplinary’ is one that is thrown about so often that I hadn’t really unpacked what it means, even to ask the basic question of what the opposite of interdisciplinary is, until I spent some time with a terrific group of history teachers about how their work and mine can support each other.  So, here it is: every field of study (discipline) has specific ways of categorizing what it is all about as a guide to looking at the world.

Take, for instance the idea of ‘Historical Thinking’ – my entry point into this interest – and its core six concepts: historical thinking, evidence, continuity and change, cause and consequence, historical perspective and ethics.  Or ‘Design Thinking’ which includes empathy into its basic stages or principles, along with experimentation and iteration.  In each case, and many others, there are specific priorities that guide our interpretation and interaction with the world (past and present) and the people, stories and objects we encounter within it. 

A bit of reading sent me down the rabbit hole of trying to determine the principles of every other discipline, but at the same time, left me with some questions – What is ‘Art Thinking’, and when considering art-making and art-history, are there unique concepts that are at the core of these two things.  How do they intersect?  Where do the elements and principles of design fit in, since these form the basis of so many arts curricula? How similar and different are art- and design-thinking?  What about history and art-history?  And how can we use art to support learning in other disciplines? And, what can we learn about art through these other lenses?

Take, for example a painting of a woman in a kimono painted in 1914 (currently on view at the AGH).  If we apply the Historical Thinking framework, we are pushed beyond the notions of technique and style and think about questions that include the impact of WWI on the role of women in society, the attitudes held by euro-centric society about other cultures and the idea of the ‘exotic’, and what the conditions within which the artist was living might have been like.  We learn to set aside our contemporary attitudes for a moment to delve into another person’s time while at the same time looking for the lessons that have been learned since then.

In another example we can analyse an everyday object like a chair through the lenses of empathy and function to see how an object that most of us never thinking about has evolved to ideally serve human needs.  We can also think about engineering and structure, science and materials and so much more.

I am left with more confirmation of my opinion (bias) that art is everywhere, and that interdisciplinary study is the best way to learn things.  But also more appreciation for everybody else.