Architect, lecturer and researcher, Ylva Dahlman, began to notice a trend in the graphic arts and design class she created for natural science and social science students. She noticed her students at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden were taking more than art and design concepts with them when each term ended. What Dahlman observed were hints that the art activities students completed in class were having an effect on the students’ overall learning.
Dahlman created an investigative strategy to find out what that “something” (Dahlman, 2007) was that students were taking with them after completing her course.
Knowledgeable about research efforts studying links between artistic experiences and academic achievement, Dahlman decided to investigate her students’ learning.
Questions & Reflection
Dahlman’s investigation into her students’ learning process occurred from 1994-2001. The data she discusses in Dahlman (2007) comes from the responses and reflections of 220 students completing her class during this time period. Students filled out two questionnaires — one before the course began and the other when the course ended. Two key pre- and post-questions Dahlman asked were, Do you think your vocational studies can be influenced by art studies? How? and Do you believe that a natural scientist thinks differently than an artist?
Dahlman also asked students to spend the last 15 minutes of each lecture reflecting on their learning.
Ninety-three percent of Dahlman’s students completed the pre-course survey, 84% completed the post-course survey, and 75% submitted reflective summaries. From students’ written responses, Dahlman (2007) concluded that their artistic experiences in class:
- Helped students develop problem-solving skills.
- Taught students how to see their environment in new ways.
- Instilled self-confidence in students.
Dahlman (2007) found each of these factors contributed to students’ overall ability to concentrate, resulted in students having a “changed attitude towards their studies”, and had an effect on their overall learning (Dahlman, 2007).
What type of art activity did Dahlman focus on to study the link between art and learning?
Dahlman’s area of focus was drawing, specifically what happens during the drawing process. Dahlman (2007) refers to the act of drawing as “the pictoral process.” Dahlman (2007) claims the process of drawing turns “unarticulated forms of experience into non-verbal artifacts that invite reflection.”
According to Dahlman (2007), people make sense of confusing situations by grouping events into familiar categories. She says people acquire new knowledge only when they can overcome the urge to fall back on familiar categories. She says drawing is a great tool to use to overcome the desire for familiarity because drawing “often connects seemingly incompatible categories of experience” (Dahlman, 2007). Dahlman continues to say that through the act of drawing, “the world is being articulated in new shapes” and this takes us to a new level of understanding.
Eighty-eight percent of Dahlman’s students thought the art activities they completed in the graphic arts class had a positive effect on their studies. Regarding student responses to the question, Do you think your vocational studies can be influenced by art studies? How?, Dahlman shares two lengthy replies in her paper. Excerpts from these lengthy replies are included here.
One student replied:
Yes. It gives a knowledge of other ways of looking at the same thing. It yields a personal confidence. When it comes to problem solving, I feel that [if I] can make a painting of an abstract concept, I should feel more confident in other problem solving situations as well.
Another student said:
Yes. When I read a scientific article about, say, growth factors, I may understand all the words and accept their face value, but it is not until I make a sketch of the content of the article that I understand it thoroughly…..Creating pictures means taking responsibility for the kind of reality that you perceive.
In summary, Dahlman (2007) states it is important to view the world through the drawing process. As she puts it, “knowing is action” and drawing is action. Dahlman (2007) says it is through drawing that we “connect incompatible categories of experiences”. She also points out the act of drawing produces an object upon which we can reflect and it is through categorizing experiences in new ways and through reflection of the resulting object that we arrive at new knowledge.
In addition to describing her research project and results, Dahlman (2007) compares and contrasts the drawing process as a way of knowing to other ways of knowing (e.g., pragmatism, tacit knowing, metaphors). To read Dahlman’s complete analysis, search for this article at your local college library or order this article through the Wiley Online Library for $35 for 24-hour online access.
Dahlman, Ylva. 2007. Towards a theory that links experience in the arts with the acquisition of knowledge. The International Journal of Art & Design Education. 26(3): 274-284. Web. [accessed 2 June 2011] <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1476-8070.2007.00538.x/abstract>