1The professional competencies of a conservator-restorer (from here on called conservator) are extensive and complex. In short, this professional field combines both hands-on skills with a thorough theoretical understanding of materials and techniques. The craft of restoration has developed to achieve professional status through the embedding of teaching ‘practice’ within an academic framework. This more scholarly approach is often seen by those working in the field as a movement away from perfecting hand-skills at an early stage of training. This may be considered inevitable, as ‘practice’ receives fewer allocated hours within academic curricula, giving way to more theoretical modules, and a broader ‘skill set’ expected of the practicing conservator.
- 1 HUTCHINGS, J., "Educating the conservator-restorer: evaluating education delivery in terms of the (...)
2Before discussing a pedagogical technique implemented at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL) in training painting conservators, that allows conservation students to develop the necessary hand-skills while also gaining the required theoretical knowledge, the role of a conservator needs to be defined. This characterisation will provide a framework that can be used to establish the essential elements that need to be taught in this field. This has been discussed extensively elsewhere, and synthesised in Hutchings’ paper given at the 16th ICOM-CC Triennial Conference in 2011,1 so a summarised version is given here. The manner in which conservators are educated to an academic level varies from country to country, in and outside of Europe, but the competencies remain for the most part consistent. It is these that will be discussed further in terms of a pedagogical paradigm.
3The role of the conservator has changed over time. Traditionally the restorer gained his experience working in the field as an artist – this allowed the practitioner to build up a knowledge and manual understanding of the materials used to create artworks. As the demand for restoration grew, so did the primary task of the practitioner – artists became restorers – or artist-restorers. Treatment carried out by these practitioners was subjective, and often aesthetical improvements were paramount, leaving a respect for original materials or appearance far in the background. It was only in 20th century that restorers became more than skilled artists or craftsmen, with an affinity for the technological aspects of painting practice, a respect for artistic intent and a scientific understanding of materials encountered. The professional conservator is a construct of the latter decades of this century. Thus, the profession of the conservator is young and still developing. While professional standards remain unregulated, there is today a clearer definition of the responsibilities that a conservator is expected to carry out. These responsibilities have been defined, and are continually updated, by the European Confederation of Conservator-Restorers’ Organisations (E.C.C.O.), the primary professional body in Europe, and by the Conservation Committee of the International Council of Museums (ICOM-CC).2
4The ICOM-CC 1984 document on the definition of the profession states that the activity of the conservator-restorer consists of technical examination, preservation, and conservation-restoration of cultural property.3 But what exactly does this entail? A Google search for ‘what does the conservator do’ leads to a page on The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University: here an art conservator is described in the following terms “an art conservator is charged with preserving works of art. More specifically, conservators are concerned with determining the structural stability of individual works, counteracting deterioration, and performing conservation treatments based on an evaluation of aesthetic, historic, and scientific characteristics.” 4
5Coalescing these views, the conservator is expected to have an in depth knowledge of the art-historical, cultural and social context of the artwork so that choices for treatment options can be carefully considered and weighed before being implemented. In order to establish the best treatment for the object, the conservator must have an in depth scientific knowledge of the materials from which the artwork is composed, and their degradation products, as well as a clear understanding of the effect that materials or techniques introduced to the artwork will have in the long term. Damage diagnostics, risk assessment, analytical capacities, ethical considerations, problem solving, decision-making, communication and dissemination abilities all play a role. And the list goes on, not forgetting hand-skills or the ability to carry out remedial treatments. This is a long and varied list of competencies that the conservation practitioner is expected to excel in order to practice the profession, and each aspect requires attention within the academic curriculum.
6Furthermore, today’s conservator is expected to collaborate with those practicing in other related fields. George Stout (1897-1978), a pioneer US conservator, first used the analogy of a three-legged stool to refer to the collaboration between scientists, art historians and restorers in terms of art authentication (provenance, connoisseurship and scientific examination being the three legs of his stool). Nowadays, the conservator is expected to be the linchpin between the conservation scientist and the art historian providing interpretations for both. Thus, more competencies that the conservation student is expected to learn! So what are the competencies that a graduating conservation student entering the field needs? How are these best implemented into a pedagogical paradigm? Is the acquisition of the compentencies a balancing act?
Fig.1 Schematic representation
Schematic representation of the Competencies required by a conservator
Schematic: Kate Seymour. Background Image: Adrian Gray, Stone Balance Installation 2012
- 5 ENCoRE , "On Practice in Conservation-Restoration Education", Approved by the ENCoRE General Assem (...)
- 6 E.C.C.O. (2011) ‘Competences for Access to the Conservation-Restoration Profession’. [ISBN 978-92- (...)
7The Encore practice paper (2014),5 based on the ECCO Competences for Access to Conservation-Restoration Profession,6 describes the required activities necessary for the graduate to obtain. These competencies have been compiled into the schematic illustrated in Figure 1. Today’s conservator is expected to learn much more than those trained before the introduction of formal education programmes. They are expected to learn, for instance, how to document an artwork in terms of its constituent elements and damage pattern, and to communicate this in written and spoken form to clients and collaborative partners. The graduate conservator is supposed to interpret results of analytical investigations together with the conservation scientist, and supplement the art historian’s understanding of the making process and subsequent history of the artwork. Furthermore, the conservator is supposed to be adept at problem solving and decision making in order to determine the best treatment for the object. And all of this on top of developing expertise in hand skills, so as to be able to carry out remedial work, which was the main skill required of the pre-academically trained restorer.
8Thus, all of these competences require attention within the curriculum framework to allow students to acquire the necessary information and abilities before the knowledge gained can be put into practice and evaluated. Educational programmes have had to adapt their curricula in order to cover all aspects within the course duration. However, as with all vocational training, it is only by implementing the knowledge in practice that the student can grow in expertise and develop skills appropriate to entry level access to the field. Graduates obtaining the equivalent of a European Qualification Framework Level 7 (EQF7) from a Higher Educational Institute are considered by E.C.C.O. and ENCoRE to have the necessary skills and knowledge to enter the field. At this level the practitioner should have the conceptual and procedural knowledge that allows them to apply their knowledge and analyse results. Both organisations recognise that time is necessary to acquire these skills and recommend that 5 years of full time education be devoted to training conservators. However, this long list of competencies leaves little room during the learning cycle for the development of manual skills, which may take many hours of repetitious practice to achieve high levels.
9So how can learning outcomes and a defined curriculum help structure the learning process in order to allow students sufficient time to efficiently develop the multitude of skills required? And in which way can the necessary practice of skills be delivered to produce a professional. What balance should there be between knowledge and practice? Should this balance be of equal weight? And how do teaching staff ensure that the conservation student does not become swamped with information and expectations? How these theoretical and hands-on skills can be best taught is something that will be discussed further.
- 7 MILLER, G., "The assessment of clinical skills/performance",Academic Medicine (Supplement), 1990, (...)
10Students need to be given declarative knowledge (facts) at an early stage in their training. This information needs to be swiftly put into practice or it stagnates or disappears from their cognitive processes. Thus, procedural knowledge (knowing how) must be given equal weight to declarative knowledge during the initial semesters of an academic programme. Statements of fact given to the student should be quickly implemented in practice and repeated to establish permanence. The best manner in which to do this is by ‘Experiential Learning’ in which the student applies the theoretical knowledge in a real situation observing the results. Designing curricula to incorporate theoretical blocks interspaced with practical sessions remains key to initiating conservation students. “Learning is at its most powerful when it is authentic and experiential,” says Miller.7 Learning by doing is thus key in this pedagogical approach. And the conservation field can borrow much from the medical domain where this teaching technique is already in play.
11Experiential learning works by providing the student with facts combined with concrete experience, often first demonstrated by those with more experience – teaching staff or expert guest lecturers. The encountered experience is evaluated and discussed giving the student time to reflect and assess results. This allows the student to form a series of abstract concepts that are based on reflection. It should be stressed that at this stage it is essential to evaluate these new concepts and compare these results to previous established experiences. Feedback is essential for this learning protocol to work – the tutor must review the student’s process and the student must reflect on their results. This review and reflection process is enhanced if the action is repeated and is assessed by the student’s peers – this gives the students an established milestone event, which they can use to evaluate the results of subsequent similar actions.
12This repetition and reflection allows the student to quickly build up a metal database of understanding that they can then apply in future similar circumstances. Negative results remain as important as positive outcomes, so long as critical evaluation is delivered by both student and tutor at the appropriate time. Results, whether positive or negative, become embedded in a student’s consciousness soon after it is completed – the ‘authentic’ powerful moment mentioned by Miller – thus to avoid confusion and misinterpretation feedback, review and correction are necessary at determined key moments.
- 8 KECK, C. , "Lining adhesives: their history, uses and abuses", Journal ofthe American Institute fo (...)
- 9 BLOOM, B.S. , Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: Davi (...)
- 10 DREYFUS, S. and DREYFUS, H. , "A Five-stage Model of the Mental Activities Involved in Directed Sk (...)
- 11 KRATHWOHL, D.R.,"A Revision Of Bloom's Taxonomy: An Overview in Theory and Practice". In Theory in (...)
- 12 KOLB, D. & FRY, R. (1975). Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. In C. Cooper (Ed.), (...)
13Through gaining this systematic, and progressively increasing, knowledge capacity the student can move through the skill levels, developing from a novice towards what Caroline Keck describes in 1977 as the competent practitioner. Of course, this learning curve includes repeating lessons learned, as well as practicing this acquired understanding. According to Keck, “the competent practitioner is always that person who selects the procedure most appropriate to the nature of the demand. “Appropriate” implies personal response to observed characteristics. “Select” implies freedom to make an educated choice.”8 Through acquiring new factual knowledge, developing procedural understanding, and reflecting on outcomes, the student can move upwards within the pyramid of competence. This taxonomy was defined by Bloom in 1956,9 revised by Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1980),10 and developed further by Krathwohl (2002).11 In this classification of learning moments the student moves from gaining declarative knowledge (the novice), to being asked to remember and comprehend it (the advanced beginner), to understanding and applying that information (the competent). It is at this stage that procedural knowledge is implemented. The following step is to encourage the students’ ability to analyse and critically assess or reflect on results (the proficient), and ultimately develop the skills necessary to implement findings in real-life scenarios (the expert). The aim being that the student becomes proficient as they enter the professional field. Of course the learning cycle is not completed, as the student becomes a young professional – lifelong learning ensures that the proficient practitioner becomes expert as experience is gained working in the field. It is these experts that are often invited back to teach the next generation of students! The key to this knowledge transfer and development is how to impart these lessons to the students. Kolb and Fry’s system of Experiential Learning, explained below, allows this to be put into play.12
14Knowledge itself can be separated into factual, procedural, conceptual and metacognitive. Factual knowledge, as mentioned above, is declarative – statements, terms, specific details and elements fall into this category. Procedural knowledge covers specific material, techniques and methods, and when to use these. Conceptual knowledge refers to classifications, principles and theories. Lastly metacognitive knowledge involves a more strategic approach in which reflection on the other three knowledge types plays a significant role. As a student progresses from novice to expert, at each level knowledge acquisition is paramount. Each level of expertise requires a different set of knowledge values, which logically build upon the previously gained experience, and are interlinked. As each level of knowledge is reached new goals and achievements are defined. However, meaningful learning, in which knowledge is retained and applied, is essential for student evolvement and, thus the retention of knowledge gained.
15Repeated experiences do not have to be replica situations but should increase in complexity so that the student can develop a factual knowledge, supplemented with a conceptual understanding that can be put into application and finally they should independently evaluate and propose new strategies. This progression is based on established educational paradigms discussed by Kolb and Fry, in which the cognitive process is measured through increasing levels of comparative evaluation. The progression from one level to another is illustrated in Figure 2. It is to these standards that the student is judged in order to measure development, and it is these terms and goals that are used to form our learning outcomes within an academic framework.
Fig. 2 Schematic synthesis of Bloom’s classification Krathwol’s knowledge levels, and Dreyfus and Dreyfus’ heirarchy
Bloom's taxonomy, combined with Krathwol’s types and levels of knowledge and Dreyfus and Dreyfus hierarchy of learning.
Credits Kate Seymour
16However, as Kolb and Fry have demonstrated, defining student progression in a linear manner does not promote meaningful learning. This leads to ‘learning by rote’ in which students can repeat information given but have difficulty putting that information into practice in new situations. Instead the student is encouraged to learn by ‘doing’ using reflective learning. Kolb and Fry synthesised this in an Experiential Learning Model (ELM), which is composed of four elements. Factual knowledge is given to the student; this is supplemented by procedural and conceptual knowledge; and subsequently by implementing metacognitive knowledge as the student puts into practice and reflects on his actions. At this stage the student is encouraged to learn more factual knowledge as his experience and understanding increases. Thus, the cycle begins again.
Fig.3 Schematic representation of Kolb and Fry’s Experiential Learning Model
Kolb and Fry’s Experiential Learning cycle in which repetition and reflection are key.
Schematic: Kate Seymour
17Figure 3 shows this cyclic learning circle, which can be implemented to help the student move through the taxonomy of learning. By giving the student a concrete experience (feeling), they are able to put into practice (doing) abstract conceptions (thinking) and reflect on their results (watching). This cycle of feeling, doing, thinking, and watching provides the ‘authentic’ learning moment described by Miller, and it is this information that is retained by the student.
18The UvA provides the learning environment for training conservators in the Netherlands. This relatively young programme emerged in 2006 from the amalgamation of two pre-existing teaching institutions: Instituut Collectie Nederland (ICN) (now Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (RCE)) and SRAL. The programme uses the guidelines provided by E.C.C.O. based on the Bologna Agreement in a creative manner – entry to the field is not directly after the Masters but after a two year post-graduate traineeship.
19However, glancing at the programme provided, the structure for the Masters is equivalent to many other European studies in conservation.13 Time is divided between studio work and classes devoted to providing the student with the relevant list of competences defined above. This means that studio time is not solely devoted to treatment application or ‘practical’ work, in which hand-skills are developed. Much of the time is allocated to material knowledge and ethics – all combined, so as the student can determine best practice for particular treatments by discussing treatment approaches. This approach is replicated at the post-graduate level, but at a higher level of complexity. Compared to previous teaching curricula, remedial treatment participation is much reduced. Effective teaching practice ensures that the student gains relevant knowledge and development of necessary skills has become paramount. Implementing Kolb and Fry’s ELM has become an essential teaching paradigm.
20Within the programme, lecture sessions are supported by workshops in which key learning moments are given. This allows the student to acquire the required skills for individual aspects. Lectures and discussions equip the student with declarative knowledge, which is immediately put into action during practical sessions. This allows the student to consider the factual information provided, and actively apply that newly obtained skill in either a real life scenario or a replica situation; thus, furnishing the student with a concrete experience. ‘Doing’ the task makes the action authentic and is thus retained more effectively. Reflecting on results and repeating experiments enforces the learning experience. This balance of repetition and reflection has become an effective learning strategy at the UvA.
21Planning workshops that are related to remedial treatment at the relevant stage in the treatment progression is key to this effective learning paradigm. Prudent planning ensures that the student is developing the correct skills set at the opportune time. Thus, information given in lectures does not stagnate, and becomes part of the student’s developing cognitive process. So, how is experiential learning put into practice at the UvA? This paper will close with an example of this.
- 14 SEYMOUR, Ka., ‘Teaching adhesive principles to conservation students: sine scientia ars nihil est (...)
22The author presented in 2011 a paper on teaching adhesive principles to conservation students at a conference organised by the Institute of Conservation (ICON) in London.14 This topic provides an apt model for this teaching paradigm.
23Here factual knowledge on adhesives is given in a series of lectures supported by practical experimentation. Lectures are given by conservation scientists and practicing conservators, providing the student with the relevant scientific and practical application background. Simple tests are carried out to compare adhesives in terms of bond strength, solution, and application. This gives the student time to reflect on material behaviour and performance before they can use this in a real life scenario. Until this stage the teaching environment is the classroom and laboratory, moving into the conservation studios at the more advanced stage. Lessons learnt are applied and repeated in later years of study as the student moves out of the UvA environment and into a practicing conservation studio (final year students undertake internships in recognised institutions). At each stage the student is encouraged to evaluate, assess and reflect on both positive and negative outcomes. This process is represented in Figure 4.
Fig. 4 Teaching adhesive principles
Teaching adhesive principles using Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model . Top left: Typical adhesives used in conservation; Top right; First year Master students discussing results of tests; Bottom right; Second year Master students developing comparatives tests; Bottom left: Post-Graduate students undertaking structural repair of a panel painting.
Photos: Kate Seymour.
24To summarise, by reflecting on past experiences and repeating lessons learnt in real life situations the student progresses forward through the different stages of learning, developing from a novice to a proficient practicing conservator with the competencies required to enter into the field of conservation.
25Teaching students and young professionals at the UvA / SRAL programme has shown that active participation in higher performance learning experiences, providing procedural knowledge, produces the desired learning outcomes, though these experiences must be supported by more passive activities in which declarative knowledge is given.
26Balance between teaching practical hand-skills and theoretical knowledge remains a topic foremost within the education sector for training conservation students. Hand-skills require time and practice to develop, but the modern day conservator has to be much more than a manually dexterous restorer. Professional standards require the practitioner to obtain many more peripheral competences in addition to those required to carry out best practice benchwork. It is essential therefore to establish an efficient pedagogical paradigm that allows students to put skills to test.
27Learning by doing enhances the education of young conservators ensuring that this new generation enters the field at an academic level while having the necessary hand-skills to practice conservation. It should be stressed that the academic training of conservators aims not to provide the market with highly skilled craftsmen but with a competent academic able to apply best practice in treatment selection. Without knowledge, skill is nothing!