Jarvis, Christine and Gouthro, Patricia (2014) The Arts and Professionals' Ways of Knowing. In: Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education (CASAE) Association canadianne pour l’étude de l’éducation des adults (ACÉÉA). CASAE 2014 . Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education, Ontario, Canada, pp. 141-144.

This paper will explore how the arts can support professionals’ ability to manage ill-structured problems and develop their roles within the competing discourses that Barnett identifies as integral to professional life in an age of super-complexity (Barnett, 2008). The paper brings together literature on professions with literature about the educational value of the arts to articulate the specific contribution that the arts can make to professional’s approach to knowledge.
The literature on professions is extensive. There are varying and evolving definitions of what constitutes a profession (Evetts, 2011). Definitions of ideal-type professions (Freidson, 2001) focus on the professional autonomy and self-regulation; others discuss the growth of new professions and the changing nature of professional occupations, including the loss of those very properties of autonomy and self-regulation (Halsey, 1992; Crook, 2008; Whitty, 2008). In this paper we use the term ‘professional’ to describe occupations, such as law, social work, nursing, teaching and medicine that generally require specified training in a university as a pre-requisite to engaging in practice, Freidson,(2001, p.85) . These professions do not necessarily possess all the properties of self-regulation and autonomy that define the ‘ ideal-type’, but share some general characteristics with it, including the need to deal with ill-structured problems.
Barnett (2008. p.200) argues the ‘challenge to professionalism lies in the handling of multiple discourses’ and ‘the task of professionalism lies in the critical deployment of discourses.’ In contemporary society there are many discourses shaping the concept of professionalism. An effective and successful professional will need to understand how such discourses construct the multiple and often contradictory expectations placed on them. Two factors therefore, the need to deal with ill-structured problems and the constant reframing of professional work within different discourses, require professionals to develop a sophisticated epistemology that acknowledges the constructed and multiple nature of truth. It is these elements of professionalism that we believe can be supported through a critical engagement with the arts.
An awareness of multiple perspectives, contradictory meaning and the creative processes involved in making meaning are central to critical engagement with the arts. In our on-going review of the literature on using the arts in professional education we have noted that whilst some educators explicitly discuss using the arts to develop a more sophisticated epistemological understanding in students – to help them to recognise that knowledge is constructed and that there can be many right solutions - this understanding is under-explored in the much of the work we have reviewed. In this paper we draw on Eisner’s (2002, p.77) discussion of capacity of the arts to enable people to develop ‘ the improvisational side of their intelligence’ and to expose them to the constructive nature of meaning making, so that they recognise how individuals read professional dilemmas and day to day decision making differently from within their own frames of reference. We will argue that such epistemologically sophisticated dispositions are particularly pertinent to the needs of the contemporary professional in an age of uncertainty and super-complexity.

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