Course An Ecology of Mind - Gregory Bateson and the Arts


March 8-26, 2012

Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland

In the spring of 2012, Jan van Boeckel taught the course An Ecology of Mind, Bateson and the Arts to a group of students at Aalto University in the fields of architecture, art education and fine arts.
At the first session, Nora Bateson, the youngest daughter of Gregory Bateson, was present too. The same evening she showed her film An Ecology of Mind in the Media Factory of Aalto University.

Below is the course description:

Master student level, max 25 students, minimum 8; open to all students of Aalto Schools.
The sessions are 30 hours in total, 2 sessions per week, 5 ECTS

Course contents
Bateson's influence is wide (e.g. on Guattari/Deleuze and Lakoff/Johnson). The students will receive a comprehensive introduction to both primary and secondary literature (and film) on Bateson. Specific to this course is a focus on Bateson's view of aesthetics and its relevance to visual studies and art education. Bateson's work was profoundly interdisciplinary and is of relevance to many different fields. At present his work has not been dealt with in a systematic way in any of the courses that i am aware of. The course would be a meeting place of students interested in ecology, philosophy, aesthetics, as well as systems thinking and epistemology.
As preparation to the sessions, participants read the assigned literature for that day; the course syllabus will contain excerpts from the following books: Gregory Bateson: Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 2000 (ca. 50 pages) Gregory Bateson: Mind and Nature, 2002 (ca. 50 pages) Peter Harries-Jones: A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson, 1995 (ca. 50 pages) Optional additional literature: Gregory Bateson and Mary Catherine Bateson: Angels Fear: Towards an Epistemology of the Sacred, 1987 David Lipset: Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist, 1982.
The students will acquire basic and key knowledge of the seminal work of philosopher-biologist-anthropologist Gregory Bateson, and his importance for understanding questions pertaining to humans' and ecology/nature/biology. The skills the students develop or deepen are studying a range of literature sources, partaking in group discussions and making a group presentation and presenting a well-articulated academic essay in English.

Nora Bateson in discussion with Finnish students.

Nora Bateson and Jan van Boeckel.

Comments from students:

"The ecologic approach to art attracted me to attend the course. I also wanted to deepen my knowledge of ecology and the relations between art and science. The course met my expectations; it really focused on Bateson’s thinking and at the same time put it into larger context.
The films were great! It was amazing to have Nora there with us in the first session. The course works well and I really hope there is possibility to arrange it again. Maybe it would be nice to have examples of some art pieces and to discuss them in the context of Bateson’s thinking. It could be offered to bioart students from department of art.Thank you for the course! It really gave me new perspectives to think about."

Kasperi Mäki-Reinikka

"What attracted you to attending this course was its interesting name: Ecology of Mind. I was also attracted by Bateson’s philosophy that deals with questions that are fundamental for the artmaking and art education, such as meta-patterns, beauty, ethics and aesthetics, the relationships between the science and art, human and environment, culture and nature, systems theory, transdiciplinary learning, etc. I expected much and got out more than I expected in a such a short period of time.
The teaching was very appropriate, holistic and high standard. The discussions were interesting and the atmosphere in the class was open for a dialogue and discussions. There could have been more contributions from us, the students. Perhaps the group could have been bigger and more diverse: ecologists, antropologists, environmental scientists...
Once the key concepts were opened the reading was not that difficult.
It was unforgettable to have Nora Bateson opening the first course session. The film was great opening to the topic as well. Nora and the film brought Bateson as a person closer to us and clarified some of the very complex ideas and concepts. The learning process became more intimate and personal since we had ”met” Gregory through Nora and the film. Really an amazing and unique oportunity.
A huge thank you for the moving and inspiring course. Hope there will be many more to come."

Heli Mäkinen

Image from a workshop, entitled The Pattern That Connects. Heli Mäkinen co-organized this small symposium in June 2012, inspired by Bateson's work. Scientists, artists, poets and others engaged with the issue of Truth in the landscapes of mind and language.