ALTR Conference August 2016 group on tour of UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ironbridge

Art as Research in Learning and Teaching Conference

From Wednesday, 31 August 2016 to Friday 2 September 2016, we held the inaugural Art as Research in Learning and Teaching Conference. We welcomed guests from across the world to the University of Wolverhampton's Telford Innovation Campus in Telford, UK and heard from keynote speakers including Professor Shaun McNiff (USA), Malcolm Ross (UK), Professor Carole Gray and Professor Julian Malins (UK). The conference was led by Professor Ross Prior of the University of Wolverhampton and Principal Editor of the Journal of Applied Arts & Health.

This lively, international conference took place in beautiful Shropshire, England, over three days. It was aimed at researchers and lecturers in Higher Education and practitioner-facilitators, particularly in the Arts, Humanities and Well-being fields.

Download our conference programme: Art as Research Conference 2016 (PDF 2,071K, Downloads file)


There are many ways in which we may use art as methodology and address evidence in research using the arts. Shaun McNiff (2009: 144) directs us to the potential of the artform itself in responding to issues of research:

"…the arts and therapy communities have historically been so thoroughly tied to traditional social science methods of research and the more general notions of scientism that we have not appreciated our own unique potential to further human understanding."

It was in the quest for understanding how the arts may speak to another way of understanding that Shaun McNiff developed ‘art-based’ research. In his books Depth Psychology of Art (1989) and Art as Medicine (1992), McNiff uses his own paintings and drawings as a form of art-based research in demonstrating different ways of reflecting upon images. This later led to his publication of Art-Based Research (1998) and an edited book Art as Research: opportunities and challenges (2013). He discovered that personal art-making could be used to research the work done in expressive arts therapy.

"I developed a deeper understanding of the need to establish the autonomy of images; how personifying images helps us to engage them in more creative complete ways; how images, as particular phenomena, are distinct from symbols; that psychological experience is characterized by multiplicity; how literalism is a great flaw when interpreting artistic expressions and dreams; and most importantly, how creative imagination is the intelligence informing everything we do in expressive arts therapy." (McNiff 2009: 42)

This conference explored the various visual and performing art forms including creative writing as ways to provide a rich understanding of learning and teaching in Higher Education. We heard from some key figures in the field and gave participants the opportunity to share their research and practice in multiple ways. This conference brought the arts and humanities to life within their taught and learnt contexts with lively practical expressions in all art forms.

"We can judge no-one’s ‘capability’ without understanding the nature and extent of the opportunity they have had to develop and hone their gifts. In so far as everyone has the inclination to and wherewithal for personal expression, they have a talent for the arts. In some of us that talent will be remarkable both in its specificity and its force. Nonetheless, everyone carries the impulse of self-expression and a propensity for reading the ‘signs’ of art, and whether their talent is exceptional or run-of-the-mill, ‘opportunity’ will determine the extent of their artistic capability…" (Ross 2011: 9)

"During the 1990s, extensive debate occurred about the nature of 'research' in Art and Design. Various positions were taken…Confusion reigned and we were struggling in the swamp! Defining 'research' became an obsession. It seemed important to claim part of the territory of research for the creative and performing arts and design…and to give identity to it by naming our research 'practice-led' or 'practice-based' research." (Gray & Malins 2004: 3)

Ironbridge tour

After a short exploration of the Ironbridge area we had a special Conference Dinner which reflected the history of the Ironbridge area. We had an interesting and memorable evening.

ALTR Conference August 2016 group on tour of UNESCO World Heritage Listed Ironbridge

Those delegates who made it to the Iron Bridge (built 1779) before the conference dinner.


Ironbridge is known throughout the world as the symbol of the Industrial Revolution. It contains all the elements of progress that contributed to the rapid development of this industrial region in the 18th century, from the mines themselves to the railway lines. Nearby, the blast furnace of Coalbrookdale, built in 1708, is a reminder of the discovery of coke. Ironbridge is a village on the River Severn, the longest UK river, at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire, England. Ironbridge developed beside, and takes its name from, the famous Iron Bridge, a distinctive 30-metre (100 ft) bridge, the first of its kind fabricated from cast iron, built across the river 1779–1781. The bridge had a considerable influence on developments in the fields of technology and architecture.

The area in and around Ironbridge is described as the “Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution” as it was Abraham Darby who perfected the technique of smelting iron with coke, in Coalbrookdale, allowing much cheaper production of iron. The area was certainly at the heart of extraordinary and innovative industrial practices and is now a beautiful area of historical significance. Not to be missed!

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