Educational turn describes a tendency in contemporary art prevalent since the second half of the 1990s, in which different modes of educational forms and structures, alternative pedagogical methods and programs appeared in/as curatorial and artistic practices.  Initiatives related to the educational turn revolve around the notion of education, gaining and sharing knowledge, artistic/curatorial research, and knowledge production. The emphasis is not on the object-based artwork. Instead, the focus of these projects is in on the process itself, as well as on the use of discursive, pedagogical methods and situations in and outside of the exhibition (~discursivity ~exhibition display ~performativity).

The most common aspects of art works, exhibitions, and projects interpreted within the framework of the educational turn, include developing new methodologies, which allow for the democratization of the access to knowledge; the use of new genres and methods of presentation; the transformation of the positions of the artist, the curator, the artwork, and the viewer, as well as the formative engagement of the participants in the process of the project. (~authorship ~curatorial ~exhibition display ~participation). The educational turn can be considered mainly a tendency in art that shapes the processes of creation, acts as an incentive for self-organization (~collaboration), and it also concerns the (self-)revision of museums, as well as the transformation of the art institutions into educational platforms.  Furthermore, it reacts to changes in public education.

In relation to the educational turn, the theories of critical pedagogy are often cited [1], with regards to, for instance, providing the democratic conditions of education, or the emergence of anti-hegemonic teaching methods and roles. [2] One of the main goals of artists and curators working in this field of contemporary art is to establish ways of sharing knowledge, which besides, or instead of, disseminating the hegemonic value system, allows for a more flexible and anti-bureaucratic practice that also takes current issues and the need of the participants into account. Antecedents of the educational turn in the 1960-1970s can include experimental teaching methods—which are also regarded as artistic practice—such as the action teaching of Bazon Brock, or the performative lectures and the Free International University of Joseph Beuys. Likewise, in Hungary, architect, philosopher, and artist Miklós Erdély can be mentioned here, who, similarly to Beuys, focused on creative thinking and interdisciplinary approach, instead of the traditional education of arts. [3]

In the socialist countries in Eastern Europe, before the political change of 1989, “curricula” that were prohibited by state institutions, and hence was taken out of—or was never a part of—the educational system, were circulated illegally, during discussions and lectures at private apartments (free universities, flying universities), as well as in samizdat forms. In this region, the antecedents of educational projects in contemporary art are, in part, these educational formats that were forced into illegality. The number of free universities and self-organized schools have expanded in the last few years, for instance in Hungary. Although these current instantiations no longer (or not yet) function as alternatives for an authoritarian cultural policy of a political regime, they fill in the gaps of public education in a collaboration-based system of practice and theory. [4]

Formal innovations of the projects interpreted within the framework of the educational turn encompass mainly, building on art practices of institutional critique, the abandoning of the gallery space (~white cube ~exhibition display). During the course of these projects new sites were also involved, such as the street, private apartments, schools—taking into consideration the socially constructed aspects of site-specificity as well (~participation). Manifestations of the educational turn in contemporary art range from free universities to temporary and experimental schools realized in the framework of biennials. At the same time, various forms of public institutions (library, school, laboratory) appear in the gallery space (~white cube ~exhibition display ~discursivity). [5] In these cases curatorial practice may also considered an “expanded educational praxis.” [6]

The impact of the educational turn was substantiated by the “profile change” of art institutions in Western Europe, the ascendancy of their institutional critique profile, the self-reflexive projects initiated at various art academies, [7] as well as by exhibitions around the theme of education. [8] Hence, the educational turn is related to the endeavors of institutional critique, as it also attempts to change the educational role of museums and exhibition places. Likewise, it can be connected to practices that—beyond the focus on aesthetic specificities and visual appearance—offer a platform for dialogues between the audience, the artists, and the public sphere as well. (~new museology ~discursivity ~interpretation ~participation ~performativity). Occasionally, the moderate display of educational projects, evoking, for instance, the classroom, might put the audience at a distance that is accustomed to more spectacular, visitor-friendly exhibitions. One might ask if these programs, which are based on the premises of democratic methods and the voicing of different opinions, exclude, rather then include “outsiders”(discursivity ~interpretation ~participation ~performativity).

The discourses of social theory related to the educational turn—besides the issues of the traditional and hierarchical functioning of art academies—also critically examines the general problems of education as such.  For instance, the critique of the Bologna process of the EU member states, which, although, encourages mobility, its modus operandi, due to the standardizing, administrative rules, are difficult to permeate. By the same token, the criticism of the educational system’s unification (BA, MA, PhD), which is coupled with the marketization of knowledge, is also analyzed. [9] The parallels of these discourses in contemporary art are also the basis of problematizing education as an issue: the critique of the market economy processes of neoliberal societies. That is, the criticism of the regulation, appropriation, and commodification of knowledge-based production.

Furthermore, the educational turn can be contextualized within different contemporary (art) tendencies:

-- Art institutes, following the principles of “new institutionalism,” besides exhibitions, initiated research projects, workshops, free universities, and open forums, accentuating the renewing educational role and responsibility of the institutions. Therefore, the educational turn can be examined from the perspective of institutional critique and new institutionalism, as well as from the connection of these two (~performativity).

-- The delineation of the possibilities to adapt the precepts of new institutionalism to educational institutes (~performativity).

-- The analysis of art and curatorial projects related to the venue, structure, practice, and the metaphor of education, as well as projects that reflect on the original meaning of the academy.

-- The examination of the proliferation of performative and discursive art forms, which are the most typical within the educational tendency. (~discursivity ~performativity).

One might ask whether the educational turn is a turn within contemporary art, or it is rather the quick (and perhaps non-reflexive) burgeoning of the term. First it was Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson, [10] as well as Irit Rogoff [11] who used the expression “educational turn” in 2008. Rogoff in her text asks if it is a reading strategy when education is read through a different system, such as the filter of exhibition display (~exhibition display), or it is rather an interpretive model.  [12] In fact, with the proliferation of discursive practices (~discursivity), the educational turn is a tendency in contemporary art. As a consequence of the ever-expanding literature on this concept, art and curatorial projects of the educational turn take their place more and more steadily within the above-delineated theoretical and historical contexts.


Eszter Lázár


References and Firther Reeadings

Allen, Felicity Ed.
2011 Education. Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Gallery. London, MIT Press

Beech, Dave
2010 Weberian Lessons: Art, Pedagogy and Managerialism in: O’Neill Paul és Mick Wilson Ed. Curating and Educational Turn. Amszterdam: Open Editions / de Appel, 2010

Bishop, Claire
2012 Pedagogic Projects in: Artificial Hells,Participatory Art and the Politis of Spectatorship. London, New York, Verso

Doherty, Claire
2012 New Institutionalism and the Exhibition as Situation. Situations. Web. 9. Sept. 2012

Frimer, Denise
2010Pedagogical Paradigms: Documenta’s Reinvention. Art & Education, Web. 2012. szept. 9. %E2%80%99s-reinvention/

Freire, Paolo
2007(1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York, Continuum

Giroux,  A. Henry
2011 On Critical Pedagogy, New York, Bloomsbury Academic

Hornyik Sándor:
2007 Egy megvalósult „poszt-neoavantgárd” utópia - Erdély Miklós művészetpedagógiájáról. Exindex. 2007. okt. 2. Web. 2013. jún. 10.

Lee Podesva, Kristina
2007 A Pedagogical Turn: Brief Notes on Education as Art. Fillip 6/2007;, Fillip. 
Web. 2012..szept. 9. 

Madoff, Steven Henry
2009 Art School (Proposition for the 21st Century). Camnridge, Mass., MIT Press

Ranciére, Jacques
1991 (1981) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Standford University Press

Rogoff, Irit
2008 Turning; e-flux Journal 0/2008,, e-flux, Web. 9. Sept. 2012

Nollert, Angelika Ed..
2006  A.C.A.D.E.M.Y. (2005-2006).  Frankfurt am Main, Revolver

Nora Sternfeld
2010 Unglamorous Tasks: What Can Education Learn from its Political Traditions? e-flux Journal 14/2010, e-flux, Web. 2012. nov. 7.

O’Neill, Paul – Wilson, Mick. eds.
2010 Curating and the Educational Turn. London, Amsterdam, Open Editions-de Appel

Wilson, Mick
2007 Curatorial Moments and Discursive Turns. In  Paul O’Neill ed. Curating Subjects. Amszterdam, Open Editions / de Appel


[1] Jacques Ranciére 1991 (1981) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, Nora Sternfeld 2010 Unglamorous Tasks: What Can Education Learn from its Political Traditions? e-flux Journal 14/2010, e-flux, Web. 2012. nov. 7.

[2] Paolo Freire 2007 (1970) Pedagogy of Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2007, Giroux, A Henry 2011 On Critical Pedagogy, New York, Bloomsbury Academic.

[3] The art pedogogical projects of Miklós Erdély between 1975 and 1978 (FAFEJ - Fantáziafejlesztő gyakorlatok, INDIGO - Interdiszciplináris gondolkodás), operated an alternative and a deliberate ciritical oppostion to the offical educational syste. (See Sándor Sándor 2007 Egy megvalósult „poszt-neoavantgárd” utópia - Erdély Miklós művészetpedagógiájáról Exindex. 2007. okt. 2. Web. 2013. jún. 10. (In Hungarian) The study groups at the Ganz MÁVAG cultural center, even though they were a preparations for entrance to the art academy, this series of creative exercises led by Dóra Maurer and Miklós Erdély, became an autonomous pedagogical form.

[4] For instance, the Free School for Art Theory and Practice  (, a or Fundacja 36,6 that was established in Krakow in 2003.

[5] Dave Beech 2010 Weberian Lessons: Art, Pedagogy and Managerialism. In: O’Neill Paul and Mick Wilson eds. Curating and Educational Turn. Amsterdam: Open Editions / de Appel, 55.

[6] O’Neill Paul, Mick Wilson eds 2010 Curating and Educational Turn. Amsterdam, Open Editions / de Appel, 2010., 12.

[7] Steven Henry Madoff ed. 2009 Art School (Proposition for the 21st Century), Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press,

[8] A.C.A.D.E.M.Y. (2005-2006), Siemens Art Program, MuHKA, Van Abbemusuem—an exhibition, discussion, and workshop series, which looked at the academy—as a general term for educational institutions—and its role and possibilities in society. The project also examined the role of the museum as a site for education.   

[9] See for instance, the 2011 exhibition Possible Damage as INIVA, London was on the student protest of 2010-2011 in London.

[10] You Talkin' to me? Why Art is Turning to Education. Nought to Sixty Salon Discussion, organized by Paul O’Neill and Mick Wilson, ICA London, July 14,  2008. ICA. Web. Aug 18. , 2013. aug. (Among others, this discussion was one of the preparations for the publishing of  Curating and the Educational Turn (eds. Paul O’Neill és Mick Wilson).

[11] Rogoff, Irit: 2008 Turning; e-flux Journal 0/2008,, e-flux, Web. 9. Sept. 2012

[12] Ibid.