During the Falmouth Writing Retreat (12th – 14th July 2013) I had the privilege of working with Nancy de Freitas, whose enthusiasm and wealth of experience was inspirational.
My task for the weekend was to plan an article, titled: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Art, for a new international Journal of Cognitive Humanities. I had already written an abstract based on my presentation at the inaugural Cognitive Futures of the Humanities conference at Bangor University (UK) in April this year. The first task Nancy and I tackled was turning my abstract into a ‘working abstract’ that would provide a structure for my journal article. We spent time discussing what the central focus of the article would be. This was like running a magnifying glass over the material and choosing which area to enlarge and which parts to retain as background information. The process helped me see how I could shift my focus for different audiences. I liked Nancy’s idea of using ‘signals and signposts’ to provide a guiding structure for the article, such as images/diagrams, keywords, titles and subtitles. It was reassuring to know that it was ‘okay’ to use this approach and made me realised that I was still inhibited by the notion that there was a ‘right way’ to do academic writing.
For me, as a predominantly visual thinker (trained in Fine Art Painting/Printmaking) I find images seem to tap into my subconscious. So, as I was reflecting on the weekend’s events I saw connections between my concertina sketchbooks, Nancy’s metaphor of the cobbled-together ‘shed ’ of an article (the stage when you can invite others to comment on your draft version), and Alke’s metaphor of the academic ‘ocean’. As I stood on the jagged Cornish coastline at Pendennis castle, the pitched roofs of Swanpool beach huts came to mind, and I wondered if the Falmouth experience was about building a ‘beach hut’ (as a variation on the ‘shed’ idea) – a temporary shelter, a place where you can keep your essentials (but not your whole thesis!) and a place where you can look out over the (academic) ocean. The ‘beach hut’ article gets you ‘out there’ in the public domain but not overly exposed to extreme weather events (it’s just an article, not a book!).
So, while metaphorically sitting in my beach hut I can view the (academic) ocean, reflect on my research and art practice and do a bit of snack writing. Perfect!
Susan Ryland (University for the Creative Arts)