Aesthetic Explorations in higher education: An illustration

At the second international seminar on Philosophy of Education, 2014, organized by The Azim Premji University in Bangalore, Professor Stephen De Giulio  made a presentation titled, ‘Power and Aesthetics: Rabindranath Tagore’s Decolonizing Pedagogy”.  During the presentation, he asked the audience to think of themselves as teachers who had small children coming into the room.  What is the first thing they would say to the children? “Sit down”, “Don’t move”, “Keep Quiet”, “Listen to me”, were some of the responses he received.

By the time children enroll in universities or degree level institutions as young adults, they don’t even have to be told the above. They come with an entrenched habit of learning by sitting quietly inside a classroom, listening to the teacher, who is the dispenser of ‘knowledge’.  This kind of learning, incidentally, is also one that predominantly stimulates the intellect alone.  Such learning that discourages student participation not just in class but in life itself and overloads students with ‘intellectual work’, can be oppressive and at the cost of the flowering of children’s and young adults’ various other capacities and faculties. (Sahi,J 2005).

Most of our higher education environments provide very little scope for body-mind interaction, for the mind to understand and learn through bodily experiences (Martin. J, 2010) or for learning to take place by doing.  The excessive rush for professional / technical courses or a surrender to the examination treadmill to achieve certification hamper any meaningful engagement or experience of higher education.

Bearing this in mind, the undergraduate programme at the School of Liberal Studies, Azim Premji University is attempting to inculcate in the undergraduate students, scientific, humanistic as well as aesthetic understandings of the world by focusing substantially on physical practice, student experience and explorations.  Students learn about themselves and their relationship with the world, not only through intellect and imagination, but through physical practice and their experience. One of the prominent ways in which this is encouraged is through a component called Creative Expressions – a series of workshops in a wide range of art forms. The arts, have been portrayed as being exemplars of embodied knowledge (Bresler, L. 2004 as cited in Macintyre Latta, M. 2005). Through the practice of art forms of diverse traditions and cultures, students experience the primacy of the body in teaching and learning, are supported to craft their own relationship to the capacities of their body, develop discipline and cultivate physical ‘intelligence’. The aim is to align the psychological and the physiological to bring about a well-balanced individual capable of adaptive and creative responses.

The aim of Creative Expressions is to:

  1. Learn in embodied, aesthetic and playful ways
  2. Develop various capacities of the body
  3. Expand breadth of experience
  4. Experiment with new art forms and physical activities
  5. Develop collaborations with artists, athletes, craftspeople
  6. Understand the value of experimentation, repetition, revision and reproduction
  7. Recognize the contributions of key people, contemporary issues and global trends in the choice of art-form / physical practice.

In their very first semester, the 2015-18 batch of undergraduate students participated in workshops on woodwork/carpentry, clay work, watercolour painting and mural making, art and science in the natural world, dance / movement and theatre.  The students spent a whole semester expanding the breadth of their experience in the chosen art form, learning in playful, aesthetic ways in collaboration with artists. The journey culminated with a Mela that became a platform for the students to showcase their work.  Students interacted with their peers, those from workshops other than their own, sharing their journey in the workshop of their choice.

Some snapshots:



[1] Martin. J. What is Embodiment? (PowerPoint slides). Retrieved from Slideshare:

[2] Azim Premji University. (2014, October 1st). Power and Aesthetics: Tagore’s decolonizing pedagogy by Stephen De Giulio.  Retrieved from YouTube:

[3] Macintyre Latta, M. (2005).  Review of ‘Knowing bodies, moving minds: Towards embodied teaching and learning’ by Liora Bresler. Visual Arts Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 94-97. Published by: University of Illinois Press.

[4] School of Liberal Studies. (2015, May).  Creative Expressions.  Unpublished internal document, Azim Premji University.

[5] Taleem net, Goa, India. (2004-2005).  Chapter 4:  Jani Sahi.  Work and Wisdom of Vernacular Educators from India.  Book.  Supported by UNESCO (Under the Search/Research Programme in Education) India 2004-2005

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