When intellectual property becomes troublesome knowledge – teaching IP in art and design

  • Silvia Baumgart: Own-it Programme Manager, Student Enterprise and Employability (SEE)

Brief description of session and activities

I would like to discuss the idea that learning about intellectual property creates conflicts with certain threshold concepts in contemporary art and design. Once a student understands design thinking, concepts of authorship or ideas surrounding reproduction or originality in contemporary art, intellectual property becomes ‘troublesome knowledge’ as it is ‘alien’ (emanating from another discourse), incoherent and counterintuitive.1 Intellectual property, in order to be understood, has to revert to the concept of the author and therefore, dislikes the concept of ‘joint authorship’, which is so often the result of collaboration. Additionally, law is based on a metaphysical idea of ‘justice’, and therefore, there is no room for creative thinking, which is associative and conscious of the real, which escapes symbolisation.

For these reasons, many aspects of intellectual property represent a challenge (or even create resentment) any art and design student, who has already integrated initially difficult concepts of art and design in their way of thinking. IP itself for such students may be described as a threshold concept2 in the sense that it creates ‘troublesome’ knowledge unless we recognize that the two disciplines are based on fundamental concepts that cannot be integrated in each other’s discourse. Instead, I submit that we must trust our students’ ability to learn about IP as they would learn about requirements of functionality in design, coming up with their own solutions of how to apply legal concepts to their own practice –without breaking the law.

Additionally, we must find or train teachers, who understand both disciplines in order to teach IP appropriately in an art and practice based university.

How will students be involved in the session?

Students are welcome to take part in the discussion

What will participants take away from the session?

  • Awareness of ‘threshold concepts’ as defined by Meyer and Lands
  • Better understanding of the challenges of teaching an ‘alien’ discipline, in this case IP, in an art and design context using the particular example of the concept of the author.
  • Better understanding of the different ways of thinking in both disciplines
  • Consider solutions to the particular challenges of teaching IP without giving up fundamental concepts