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You might have been wondering whatever happened to those academic mantras I was collecting in spring? Well, after my two months weaving at Penland, I went back to the Massachussetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in May to catch up with both students and faculty I had met in January. But mainly I was doing a residency at Press, MCLA’s letterpress studio. While I had hoped to set a lot of the mantras I had collected, I only managed two more (on top of the Process Doesn’t Get You Extra Credit one I had done in January), but one of the reasons for that was that I also printed some work that came out of my time weaving, where I had played around with a fingerprint motif as a symbol for identity.

This was a time of me thinking about my work, both in the context of university work and creative practice, if and how they link, and in a way it is only fitting that it was the process of making that allowed me to figure out that I am on the right track. I don’t want to bore you all with too much self-confessional dribble, so in this post I will give you a short overview of the finished exhibition, and then write a bit about how this has given me a new idea for my teaching.

The exhibition was called ‘What’s Your Mantra – An exploration of Creative and Academic Identities’, and it had three main parts to it. There were my three selected and set academic mantras – Process Doesn’t Get You Extra Credit, Start With The Box and Tangential Procrastination (which isn’t really a mantra as such, but a phenomenon I struggle with in my own work and a concept I refer to a lot when teaching) -, there were the academic mantra cards myself and colleagues at MCLA had done over the course of the term, representing what we were thinking about during this time, and then there were a series of paper fingerprints, some of them woven. (If you want to know more about the exhibition, check out the PRESS blog here and here.)

As I said, this work was very important for me. Making it gave me a tactile way of working through a lot of questions I had been asking myself, even if I wasn’t really aware of it. It made me think of the different ‘hats’ I wear – teacher, researcher, writer, designer, artist – and how they all weave together to one identity. In a lot of the workshops I have been to we are exploring thinking through making, and this was an extended experience of that.

But what I take away from this is not only all these deep experiences for my own personal development, I have also stumbled across something that might prove useful for my teaching, a development of the academic mantra.

The mantra cards are in a way word paintings. The ones I made were all inspired by the context of my day-to-day teaching, which is what made me think about them as academic mantra cards in the first place. Working on them allowed me to recognise the significance of that concept, the academic mantra, for the way I practice. Boiling down your expertise and guidance to the most crucial points can be a good way to connect with students that seem to want everything in little chunks. Not that I am in favour of only presenting little chunks to students, but I like the idea of a snappy headline, that you then elaborate on.

I have gone away from the term of the ‘academic mantra’ because of associations of meditation and really a mantra should be something that works on a different level than lessons at university. But when talking about my exhibition another term came out: visual soundbite. I think that’s what they are. And I think the experience of boiling down the crucial points to a snappy few words and then finding a visual representation for it is a good exercise. Not just for me, when thinking about how to present lessons, but also for students.

Note-taking, I believe, is much more effective if you make it personal to you. It should reflect your thoughts and questions as well as the content of what you are taking notes from. In the work with reflective books made with collage this is particularly so, the content becomes meaningful because you develop personal associations, which aid your recall. Students, particularly in their first-year undergraduate degree, find this hard to grasp. Maybe this is down to being trained to memorise facts at school, but in my opinion, university isn’t so much about the facts (which you can look up again anyway), it is about developing the ability to think independently and critically. For that you need to be able to take notes that are useful to you, and you need to be able to identify which bits of these are the most important.

So, this term I have set two of my classes the challenge to each make a visual soundbite each week reflecting on the most important thing they have learnt in that week. I explain that producing a polished visual is not that important, they could use a rough sketch, collage something or use a found image. I have seen a few of these already, and can only say that it is eye-opening what students identify as the important things they are learning. Hardly even the things I want them to take away from a lesson… So not only is this turning out to be a good exercise in focus for the students, it is also a way for me to collect feedback on what is going on in their learning process.

I’ll keep you posted!

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Yes, we are still looking for academic mantras (for more info and the regularly up-dated list of examples see here).

In the meantime, here is the card I have been working on – commenting on numerous students’ tendency of surface learning and their lack of understanding of the learning process to grasp that some work is process work, development work, work in progress, that needs to be completed if they want to end up with a better result. No, I’m not going to mark each draft that you write or each sketch that you make, because I know that if you go through these stages your final work will be better than if you don’t!

So, here my academic mantra:

Process doesn’t get you extra credit

… but it will make you a better artist

… but it will make you a better designer

… but it will make you a better teacher

… but it will make you a better writer

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I decided to emboss the four “…but it will…” sentences as a border first (you can’t really see it on these pictures, because there is no ink on them), and then set the ‘Process’ and ‘extra’ with wood type, hand inked in a number of colours. The rest of the text I then set with lead type to fit into the gaps (in a lovely magenta colour).

This will probably become the centre piece of my exhibition in May, displaying 25 of them in a 5 x 5 square, showing off the different colours. I have also kept a lot of the work in progress to exhibit alongside, possibly annotated, to make visible how much process work is in even a little card like this.

I am currently on research leave taking the Tactile Academia approach to the United States. At the moment I am artist-in-residence at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), where I am team-teaching some classes, and also am doing some professional development for staff. (And I will blog about more details when I have the time, though realistically it might take me until February, when I am back in the UK for a bit.)

Today’s session with staff was built around the idea of the Mantra Card, which Melanie Mowinski, a colleague from MCLA ,often does in the letterpress studio that is part of a teaching and community project she leads. (She even put together a 2014 calendar with monthly mantras, check it out here.)

Melanie recently put together a workshop making academic mantra cards for the Design Principles and Practices conference in Vancouver in January, which I had agreed to help facilitate, although that didn’t actually work out as my own workshop on the Fishscale was scheduled at the same time. As it had been very successful we decided to do this with the folks at MCLA.

image

Academic Mantra cards produced at MCLA faculty workshop

In a nutshell an academic mantra is a short saying that you a) say to yourself all the time, b) tell your students all the time, c) is the advice you would give to other academics or d) is an inspirational quote you want to be reminded of. In the workshops we work with packing tape transfers (a really nifty and easy way of getting images from a photocopy to your own card) and hand lettering, and people get the opportunity to play around with stock images and the layout.

And as it was so much fun, we decided that developing this idea further might be a good project for me to fulfill the idea of an artist residency, which comes with an exhibition at the end (while I am only in Massachusetts until the end of January, I will be returning in May to catch up with staff and students, and for said exhibition, of course).

So while I/we will typeset the academic mantras we made this evening, we thought it would also be an idea to collect some more, which we will either make into letterpressed/printed cards or just display around the gallery. They will, of course, be referenced to whoever submits them, if appropriate.

So please, send me your academic mantras, by either commenting on this post or tweeting them #AcademicMantras to me (@alkegw).

Here are some we already have (I will update this list with the new suggestions as they come in):

  • No matter how obvious you think something is, to students it is probably anything but.
  • If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
  • The creative act is not performed by the artist alone (Marcel Duchamp)
  • Try being a student yourself at least once every two years.
  • Deciding how you write is like dressing for the occasion.
  • I can’t answer that for you. Only you can answer that.
  • Good craft like good grammar should be invisible.
  • Always, always, always read your work aloud.
  • Proof read, proof read, proof read!
  • Take time to admire your work.
  • Practice takes practice.
  • Show! Don’t Tell! (submitted by Darren Raven)
  • Show me the evidence!
  • Remember to breath.
  • There’s always a way.
  • I don’t know, try it.
  • Consider craft.
  • YOU can do it.
  • Believe.
  • You can’t create and analyse at the same time.
  • Write now, edit later.
  • Sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.
  • There is a vitality a life force an energy a quickening that is translated through you into action (submitted by Lisa Donovan)
  • Translate – uebersetzen (submitted by Lisa Donovan)
  • We don’t see what we don’t know the names of (submitted by Ben Jacques)
  • the slower you travel, the further you go (submitted by Ben Jacques)
  • Here are two things: (submitted by Michael Dilthey)
  • Legitimate Needs – Deepest Desires – Unique Talents  –  Faith (submitted by Michael Dilthey)
  • Fortune favours the brave (submitted by Susan Ryland)
  • Just do it! (submitted by Sue Challis)
  • Do things for the goodness of your artistic soul (Alex Pacheco)
  • If you have a dream, it might hide a treasure (Luis Mundo)
  • This point needs unpicking further (submitted by Katy Vigurs)
  • Quotations don’t speak for themselves, tell reader what’s significant & why relevant (submitted by Katy Vigurs)
  • Don’t assume a sweeping generalisation is shared by anyone except yourself… (submitted by Louise H Jackson)
  • Once you accept referencing as part of the research process, and make it systematic, it becomes much easier (submitted by Louise H Jackson)
  • Researching Learning & Teaching is Research with a big R, whatever your specialism (submitted by Louise H Jackson)
  • Process work doesn’t get you extra credit. And it shouldn’t.
  • As wonderful as it might be, you’re not here to do what somebody else has already done (Louise H Jackson, as reminded by @RichStubbs89)
  • Learn about the apostrophe or avoid using it (Russel Spink)
  • Writing is the placeholder of thinking (Caroline Cash)
  • Ask Forgiveness, now Permission (submitted by Clare Aitken aka @LibClare)
  • make friends with the gatekeepers
  • Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. (Chuck Close)
  • The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you. (B.B. King)
  • Stop waiting for inspiration (and just write!) (submitted by Meagan Kittle-Autry aka @makautry)
  • Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself. (Chinese proverb)
  • Words are loaded pistols. (Jean-Paul Sartre)
  • The best artworks create artists. (James Wallbank)
  • Simplicity is just infinite complexity presented well. (Tim Klapdor aka @timklapdor)
  • Diagrams and quotations do not speak for themselves! (Katy Vigurs)
  • You don’t teach a subject, you teach people!
  • You have failed only when you fail to try
  • Problems: a word often used for opportunities to invent creative solutions or learn more. (Deborah Chandler)
  • Before you can think out of the box, you have to start with the box. (Twyla Tharp)
  • Art can’t be taught, it can only be practised and developed. (Anita, TiPP)
  • Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers. (Isaac Asimov)
  • If we mistake ‘unthinkable’ with ‘impossible’ we reduce our options. Just thinking beyond the possible is miraculous. (@metadesigners)
  • Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence. (Robert Frost)
  • Patience is also a form of action (Auguste Rodin)
  • Work begins when the fear of doing nothing at all finally trumps the terror of doing it badly. (Alain de Botton)
  • Everything stinks till it’s finished (Dr Seuss)
  • Know the rules so you can break them effectively (Dalai Lama XIV)

You can’t waste time, you can only use it.
Be fascinated by it more than you are frustrated by it.
When ego is lost, limit is lost.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. (Submitted by Jennie Malbon)
Time is inner space. Space is outer time. (Novalis)
There are no facts, only interpretations (Nietzsche)
Your mind is not a vase to be filled, but a fire to be lit. (Rabelais)
You may choose to live in a dream, face reality, or turn one into the other. (Erasmus)
Any straight line is an arc in an infinite circle. (De Cusa)
If you want to truly understand something, try to change it. (Kurt Lewin)
You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have. ( Maya Angelou)
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties. (Erich Fromm)