Knowledge is a form of awareness or familiarity to better understand or be informed about the subject matter (knowing). 

Being clear about knowledge is essential to organise learning, inform planning and how we set out our curriculum. The acquisition of knowledge and (applied) skills are considered by some art educators as the foundation of any learning experience.

There are also competing ideas about knowledge and knowing, which question how best we might organise knowledge into ‘domains’ to clarify the different knowledge functions. 

Historically, art educators have assumed that knowledge is fundamentally factual or theoretical, but within more practical and applied learning contexts, we understand that knowledge can be acquired experientially.

Not all knowledge is taught as facts, most is modelled, guided and built through making and doing.

However, this does require art educators to signpost, clarify and communicate what the knowledge is. In order to develop reflection and metacognition, make explicit the understanding that has been gained following the learning experience.  

UK art, craft and design subject curricula place great emphasis on developing students' knowledge and understanding. For example, the National Curriculum for Art and Design in England sets out learning objectives and skills for students to acquire across each key stage and learning phase.

These objectives are aimed at developing students' knowledge and understanding of techniques, materials, processes and works of art and design.

Students are encouraged to explore their personal interests, and artistic styles and embrace cultural diversity through their work.  

The curriculum provides opportunities for students to develop essential skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, preparing them for future learning and careers in the arts. Hence, experiential and practical knowledge becomes as highly regarded as the theoretical knowledge informing it.  

This subject knowledge is ‘powerful’, enabling students to function confidently and successfully in subject-specific ways.

Powerful knowledge is promoted by the sociologist Michael F. D. Young, who makes the case for ‘specialised’ knowledge, as it functions within a subject (Young, 2008).

For example, knowledge of drawing media; paper surfaces; line and tonal qualities; shading techniques; and the conscious (meta) control of our own mark-making abilities.

Applying these can contribute to better drawing outcomes, with deeper levels of engagement and understanding. The structure of art and design as a process and experiential subject, means that students acquire knowledge and learn mostly by making and doing. 

Four Knowledge Domains for Informing Learning:

  • EXPLICIT – Know What (facts & theory
  • TACIT – Know How (experiential learning
  • CONCEPTUAL – Know About (critical & contextual, aesthetics, other cultures) 
  • AFFECTIVE - Know Self (self-perception, reflection, metacognition, motivation, feelings & emotions, making meaning) 
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