An Inquiry into the Notion of Wilderness and the Place of Nature in Artistic Practice and Learning

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Paterson, Susan

Drew, Marian

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Nalder, Glenda

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This dissertation in conjunction with an exhibition of art work, reports on the outcomes of my doctoral inquiry into the place of Nature in artistic practice and learning. The doctoral study took the form of a series of artistic projects undertaken with children in an outdoor learning environment ‘the campground’ at Mt Nebo State School on the edge of Brisbane Forest Park, in locations as far north as Townsville and Mackay, as far west as Bingara, at the edge of the Channel Country in south-west Queensland, Girraween National Park in south-east Queensland, and a number of visits to the Bundjalung National Park in the north-east of New South Wales. The research is about the ‘space in between’ based on experiential and empirical understanding of a ‘cultural landscape’ (Langton, 1996). ‘Are we there yet?’, was the commonly posed question by students on school camps when backpacking the Australian countryside. Unsure of why young people ‘missed’ so much of ‘what I saw’, I found some clues in the literature I began to review on the topic: the idea, predominant in Western cultures, that in the journey through the bush between the point of departure and the point of arrival, ‘there is nothing there’ (Rose, 1996; Langton, 1996; Plumwood, as cited in Becket and Gifford, 2007) - just an ‘empty vista’ between constructed environments. Thus an important question to be asked in the context of my study is ‘How do we engage ways of looking and ways of working that are inclusive of our First Peoples’ respect for the land and that offer a different way of thinking, about Nature?’ Three main areas of focus within this study include: an inquiry into how notions of belonging, homeland, and wilderness underpin the cultural construction of landscapes in Western and non-Western thought; children’s perceptions of ‘Nature’ explored through the experimental projects, the Bush Bags, Lost 1886, and The Single Leaf project; and learning and teaching in outdoor settings. Children’s perceptions and experiences were explored as they arose through close engagement with the natural world during art-making and whilst responding to art. The capacity to ‘hear’ and privilege the voices of children as they engaged in art-making has been crucial to this study.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Education and Professional Studies

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Nature in artistic practice

Engaging with nature

Engaging in art

Environmental art

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