Being Human Today (Book)

Art, Education and Mental Health in Conversation

Stages conversations between art, education and mental health around the question of what it means to be human today. Moves beyond the suggestion that this requires ‘strong’ educational or therapeutic interventions or can be resolved by means of individual expression, chapters explore new possibilities for 'the arrival of I’. 15 b&w, 23 col. illus.

A PDF version of this book will be available for free in Open Access. It has been made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License and is part of Knowledge Unlatched.

Category: Art Education


Education, mental health and the arts all share a concern for human beings and for how they live their lives. Living one’s life, and living it well, has always been a challenge – life never simply happens. But what the particular challenges are, differs from time to time, from location to location, and even from individual to individual.

In both education and mental health there is a strong pressure to think of being human as a technical problem that in some way can be ‘fixed’ by powerful, research-based interventions. Also arts are quickly turned into an instrument for fixing problems. While such fixing may be possible, and may appear to be quite successful from one perspective, it clearly runs the risk of turning students and clients into objects – things to be acted upon, rather than human beings to encounter and act with.

This book stages conversations between art, education, and mental health around the question of what it means to be human today. Moving beyond the suggestion that this requires ‘strong’ educational or therapeutic interventions or can be resolved by means of individual expression, the chapters explore new possibilities for 'the arrival of I’.


Gert Biesta is Professor of Public Education at the Centre for Public Education and Pedagogy at Maynooth University, Ireland, and Professor of Educational Theory and Pedagogy in the Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh, UK. From 2018 until 2022 he was Visiting Professor (Professor II) at the University of Agder. The current book is the outcome of the work done with colleagues during this time. Gert Biesta’s work focuses on the theory of education and the philosophy of educational and social research, with a particular interest in teaching, teachers, curriculum, education policy, arts education and religious education. 

Lisbet Skregelid is Professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Agder, Norway. Her research interests are within the field of art education. In particular she investigates how art and aesthetic practice can be relevant in school and society, and how educational theory can be of importance for artistic practice. Her research interests are within the expanded field of art education, and she has many years of praxis experience in this context. In her Ph.D. thesis, she investigated secondary school pupils’ encounters with contemporary art exhibitions over a period of three years in partnership with art museum and schools. In recent years, she has had extensive collaborations with artists in both teaching and research. Skregelid has written a number of books, book chapters and articles where she makes calls for arts-based approaches to education and what she calls pedagogy of dissensus. In her latest research, Skregelid’s own art practice is the point of departure for discussing art educational issues.

Tore Dag Bøe is Professor in Department of Psychosocial Health at the University of Agder, Norway. He has many years of experience in mental health services as a mental health worker. In his doctoral work he investigated processes of change in mental health based on interviews with adolescents, their families and therapists involved. His research interests include phenomenological, ethical, and dialogical approaches to mental health. In recent years, he has written a number of books, book chapters, and articles on the ethical and dialogical aspects of mental health work, and also on methodological questions related to qualitative research in mental health. In his work he is seeking to develop new forms of practice and new ways of understanding in the field of mental health, based on phenomenological, social, and ethical perspectives.


1 A Catalogue of an Exhibition That Didn’t Take Place

      Gert Biesta, Lisbet Skregelid and Tore Dag Bøe

2 How to be a Self, Today

      Gert Biesta




3 The Art of Running and Being (or Just Running and Being?)

      Lisbet Skregelid

4 Mental Health Work: A Disastrous, Superficial, Weak Practice Out of Order

      Tore Dag Bøe

5 ‘Sit Down and Listen – Stand Up and Talk’: Classroom Life as Lived Experience

      Dag Nome




6 In Search of New Beginnings: On Poetry and Hope

      Sigurd Tenningen

7 Being Helpful: An Autoethnographic Account of Trying and Its Companions

      Rolf Sundet

8 What Might Keep a Teacher Going? Reflections on Meaning and Persistence in the Life of Teachers

      Aslaug Kristiansen




9 Touched by the Sight of Hands Touching Yarn Touching Hands

      Monica Klungland

10 Otherwise in Life: Thoughts on a Minimalist Psychotherapy

      Bård Bertelsen

11 When I Teach

      Gert Biesta




      The Authors

Being Human Today provides readers with a different and innovative way of navigating concepts and experiences of the self through the variant approaches the volume takes to self as a concept and a sense of being. As a ‘book that was never-meant-to-be’, it invites us to engage with those existentialist dilemmas which neither offer a final sense of resolution nor does it furnish us with quick answers. This open-endedness while still clearly being set within identifiable parameters for those interested in the fields discussed is the book’s strength. The editors have collated a volume with a permanent sense of arrival, which effectively brings together several points over a horizon that keeps expanding. More than authors writing and reader reading, Being Human Today is a space for participants who are willing to take the role of actors-artists coinhabiting a curated space.’

John Baldacchino, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
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