Multi-modality in a new key: The significance of the Arts in research and education

Year: 2002

Author: Wright, Susan

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Multi-modality and the use of non-verbal symbolic expression often is suppressed in institutionalised education, due to the social and cultural dominance of literal language and written modes of expression. However, non-discursive forms of expression are significant avenues for making cognitive, emotional and "spiritual" connections that are key to deep learning. Artistic meaning making integrates the visual, spatial and bodily-kinaesthetic modes, and its discourse utilises a range of "texts" - the worlds of still and moving images, sounds, gesture, body language and expressive vocalisation. Artistic discourses connect the body, thought, and emotion in ways that cannot be replicated in other areas of the curriculum.

This paper describes two studies, and illustrates how children use multi-modal expression to interpret, construct and manipulate symbols in art, music and storytelling. It describes children's transduction of meaning across visual, verbal, spatial, and bodily-kinaesthetic modalities while: (a) making drawings (stemming from imagery and visual memory), (b) creating story (to accompany their artworks), and (c) utilising descriptive, interpretive and formal qualities within art, music, story and non-verbal communication to create and communicate meaning. It illustrates how the visual-verbal domains enrich and inform each other as children manipulate and organise images, ideas and feelings, using a rich amalgam of both fantasy and reality. Examples from the children's drawings/stories and their interpretations of emotion in art and music illustrate how they embellished their works with expressive vocal inflection, gesture and body posture, and interpret such qualities in the music and art of adults.