Not surprising for this time of year the weather was mixed but in wandering through the unfolding landscapes and and wonder-full vistas I felt an impulse to leave my mark. I began to look at the landscape differently, rather than taking in the spectacular vistas I searched for ways in which I could leave a mark. Driving past one boulder strewn beach the idea of building a tower of small boulders struck me so we stopped and I went onto the beach with the specific intention of making a small tower. I spent time searching for stones that I could stack and I took care in balancing the stones until I thought I had reached a point where I was happy with my tower. I then spent a while finding good angles to capture images – photographs and video clips of my tower. I went through this process once a day for 6 days.
I was once a geologist so it was natural for me to identify the types of rocks I was using in my tower and to think about the geology of the landscape in which I was ‘working’. It seemed natural to ascribe geological meaning to my structures. I decided these ‘mini monuments’ honoured the geology of the particular landscapes I had chosen from all the other landscapes that were available to me. In building of the towers I created an artefact but they were only available to me for the time I spent with them so the next stage was to make a short movie (using windows movie maker) from all the images I had collected adding some beautiful Celtic Uilleann pipe music I found on YouTube to accompany the scenes and create a deeper emotional engagement with the images. I then uploaded my movie to YouTube and shared it with family and friends.
I have recently been reading an article by Eric Rietveld & Julian Kiverstein called ‘A Rich Landscape of Affordances (1),’ in which they develop a much richer concept of affordance than I have hitherto appreciated. Gibson’s classic concept of affordances (2) is generally understood as possibilities for action provided to an animal by their environment but ER&JK argue that affordance is related to particular individuals with particular capabilities, and motivated by their concerns, engage with their environment in particular social-cultural settings and practices and select from a wealth of possibilities for action from a small field of affordances that they act upon.
I can relate my monument building to this more evolved concept. The perception and discovery of affordances is a process in which the body actively explores the possibilities in their environment for a particular purpose (1). Through the process of intentional (purpose-driven) inquiry and exploration of their environment the skilled person discovers and makes use of the affordances they find. Many of these will be what might be termed conventional affordances that others would also find and make use of, if they were motivated by similar purposes and intentions and had similar skills. But occasionally a person with a particular mind and skillset may discover and act upon what might, from a normative perspective, be considered unconventional (3,4). Indeed, Withagen and van der Kamp offer an interesting definition of creativity as ‘the discovery and creation of unconventional affordances (action possibilities) of objects and materials’ (4 p.1).
When we encounter an environment overflowing with affordances, we seek out particular affordances from the many available affordances - those that are relevant to our particular interests, preferences, and needs (which we might collectively term “concerns”). Rietveld and Kiverstein introduce the idea of ‘solicitations’ - the affordances we are drawn to act upon are the ones that are most relevant to our concerns. Rietveld and Kiverstein suggest that it is our current abilities and concerns that make it the case that we are solicited by one affordance rather than another. Moreover, once we have available the notion of a solicitation, we can also recognize how sometimes the world can motivate us to act in certain ways. When we experience a particular tendency or impulse to act in a certain way, this is because we have been solicited by one of the many possibilities for action available in our situation and our concerns, senses and meaning making have been engaged by it.
Seeing creativity as an individuals way of perceiving, being motivated by and acting upon (with their own unique set of capabilities) a specific set of affordances in their particular environment makes sense to me. In my story, my wandering through the Scottish landscape created an impulse – a desire to do something in and with the landscape. The idea of making small towers in and from the landscape came to me – this was a simple pragmatic solution to my concern and desire to act upon affordances provided by my environment. The towers were quick and relatively easy to make and the act of constructing and photographing them satisfied my impulse to act. Out of the massive landscape that was available to me I selected a particular place that was not always easy to access – perhaps it solicited me and I utilsed the materials in the place or within perhaps 20 meters of my tower. What I did was novel to me I haven’t made stone monuments in and from the landscape before. Neither have I seen others doing it so I guess I might claim its non-normative behaviour. The making of the towers required little skill other than finding stones that could be placed on top of each other without falling over. Perhaps there was meaning in the way I placed the towers in the local landscape and I tried to photograph or video them in a way that captured their presence and created significance. If there was skill in the process of making it was in the making of the movie that wove together the scenes I had created. But nothing would have been brought into existence without me being moved to act by my experience of beining in this landscape and being solicited by affordances that enabled me to express a little of how I felt by making these small stone towers.
Our creativity is most certainly an intrinsic part of who we are. Its part of our identities and what we care about. Its an important element of our concerns. We - our idnetities and concerns are indivisible from our environment. This is not the environment that anyone can experience it is the environment we percieve, experience and modify through our actions in order to accomplish something that we value. It is the world in which we, as unique individuals find opportunities to act (affordances) in line with our concerns - ie my impulse to make a mark in the landscape. In acting upon this concern I was maintaining my core beliefs and identities – perhaps part of me was being the geologist I was many years ago? When we discover particular affordances within our particular environment we act upon them with 'skilled intentionality'- a practitioner situated in a landscape of affordances, selects and responds in a purposeful and skilful way to a field of relevant affordances (5).
So what are the implications of these ideas for educators?
After reading several articles by Eric Rietveld and others I now have a much better appreciation of the idea of affordance and how it relates to the ecological model of learning, practice and creativity I am developing. A key question for educators is how do we, as eduators, learn to perceive and act upon affordances that are relevant to our learning concerns?
In acquiring a skill in an educational environment, we learn through the educative process, the places in the environment where we are more likely to find affordances that are relevant to our concerns and what aspects of environment we need to attend to. The acquisition of a skill by a learner involves what Gibson calls an “education of attention” (2 p. 254). Educating for attention involves the learner being brought to a selected aspect of the world that is of significance to the given practice and shown landmarks that orient and motivate his or her activities. In this way the novice learns what possibilities for action an aspect of the environment provides. This process crucially involves more knowledgeable and skillful others who selectively introduce the novice to the right aspects of the environment and the affordances it contains and reveal to the novice how the particular aspects might be acted upon in their practice (1 p. 331).
In educational environments teachers and institutions design affordances into the environments they create – in the forms of spaces, technological infrastructures and other resources, academic programmes and modules, and learning activities facilitated by teachers and learners become highly familiar with these well structured and highly visible and accessible affordances. But in the real world affordances are often not explicit, they need to be discovered and worked with in order to act upon. So a key question for educators is how do our educational processes prepare learners for working with affordances in the real worlds they will be inhabiting when they leave the world of explicit and accessible affordances for learning in the educational real world?
1 Rietveld, E. and Kiverstein, J. (2014) A Rich Landscape of Affordances, Ecological Psychology, 26:4, 325-352, available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10407413.2014.958035
2 Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. (Original
work published 1979)
3 Malafouris I (2013) How things shape the mind: A theory of material engagement Cambridge:MIT press
4 Withagen, R. and van der Kamp, J. (2018) An ecological approach to creativity in making New Ideas in Psychology 49 1-6
5 Rietveld, E., Denys, D. and Van Westen, M. (2018) Ecological-Enactive Cognition as engaging with a field of relevant affordances: The Skilled Intentionality Framework (SIF), in A. Newen, L. De Bruin, and S. Gallagher (ed) The Oxford Handbook of 4E Cognition available at https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/.../oxfordhb...