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On 17th December 2012 the University of Northampton will host a workshop in the Writing in Creative Practice series, which is run in conjunction with Writing PAD and funded by the Higher Education Academy.

Titled Practicing Theory in Art & Design Education, this workshop (Programme Practicing Theory) will explore ways to build and strengthen the relationship between theoretical modules of study and studio-based learning within HE art and design courses.

The scheduled talks and activities will allow participants to share experiences and discuss best practice when it comes to overcoming the perceived separation between the lecture theatre and the studio/workshop.  Methods and approaches will be discussed that attempt to bring together simply a concept of ‘practice’

A downside of the modular nature of HE delivery is that the various taught elements within a programme of study can appear to be ‘stand alone’ with little or no connectivity between other areas of the student learning experience. This separation can be found in the institution that is the undergraduate essay. Whilst formal written assignments that draw together hypothesis, research, analysis, method and execution are excellent ways to investigate and underpin learning, for students they do all too often appear to be a dry and perfunctory task that bears little relation to other areas of study. Within the context of art and design education too often the perception is that the ‘creative stuff’ happens in the studio and workshop, whereas text is just something one is required to do, regardless.

The challenge for HE educators is to breakdown perceived divisions in order to match ‘creative expectation’ within all areas of art and design undergraduate study.  To this end the Writing In Creative Practice: Practicing Theory In Art & Design Education event will bring together colleagues from Northampton and from other institutions to consider ways, through workshop activities, conference papers and discussion, by which theoretical studies and studio practice can be effectively integrated in order to emphasise simply creativity and build a more holistic notion of ‘practice’ for students.

The attendance of this workshop is free of charge to all those interested in the workshop topic, with preference being given to staff working in HE institutions and HE in FE colleges from across the UK. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, but travel expenses will not be covered.

For more information or to book a place, please get in touch with Will Hoon  (will.hoon[at]northampton.ac.uk)

I attended and delivered a paper at the 3rd Annual Conference of the International Journal of Art and Design Education in Liverpool 19-20 October 2012. Due to my lecturing schedule I was only able to attend the Saturday session where I presented my paper “The Artist Book: Making as Visual Method” to the “Creative Thinking” strand.

ekm_iJADE2012_ArtistBook

ekm_The Artist Book_paperFINAL

Here I attach my paper and my presentation which focus on the embodied knowledge developed through the development of my first artist book. The paper and book were well received, delegates appreciated looking at and discussing artefacts as so much of the conference focused on the teaching and learning of art and design subjects (and rightly and importantly so!). One delegate asked me, “What will you do now?” which is such a supportive and encouraging question. “More making, reading and writing” was what was on the tip of my tounge but I knew she wanted something more specific. I told her I was going to work more into the photographs I had taken and make more books and collages. Interesting that my reply was based on my practice rather than the theory/methodology…something has shifted in my practice and how I view the way to push my investigation further. I simply can’t wait to get back to my visual practice after the hard graft of writing the paper.

I still have my Lit Search to do though…..rather large detail to not ignore…..

The process of making, researching and writing the book and the paper have been richly rewarding and have pushed my thinking and practice much further along. I now feel my doctoral study is practice-led rather than practice-based.

I too attended the workshops and found them to be really useful. Many of our ‘direct entry’ students up here in Scotland have little or no experience of critical theory when they come to us from an HND course, so engaging with academic writing can be extremely challenging, even more so if they are dyslexic, as some are.

I hope to work with our Effective Learning tutor this coming year, when we offer a summer school for these students. I’ll take what I learned from the day and expand on some of the excellent ideas from Pat’s workshop, I’ve already suggested that they buy her book, as I have. It will be my companion all through my PhD. It’s rekindled my love of John Berger for a start!

 The collage workshop in the afternoon, I found particularly difficult to engage with; this is my own doing and no fault of the workshop itself, which was excellent, offering as it did, convincing references and arguments as to why collage is good for reflective thinking. Trouble is; this is what I’m doing as part of my qualitative inquiry for my own research; using collage to think, to articulate what I can’t say out loud, sometimes because I just don’t know but other times, it’s because it’s just too hard to find the words, let alone say them.

 So, because this method of reflection is embedded in my poor brain, I found that I couldn’t just ‘go with the flow’ and enjoy it, I took it far too seriously. So much so that I took scissors to my concertina book, cutting into its form, almost deconstructing it. (there’s a paper in there somewhere!)

Deconstruction

But all was not lost, I came home and reflected on my response and this has fed into the research. So maybe I did engage with it after all but not in the way intended? It was heartening to watch all the delegates immerse themselves in their collages; you should do it more often guys!

 I came back up to Scotland invigorated and inspired, hopefully I will be able to pass this feeling onto my students and they too will benefit from some lateral thinking.

Thanks folks!

Alison F Bell

Artist & PhD candidate

University of the West of Scotland.

Ayr.

I attended Alke’s workshop, Thinking through Writing and Making and it really inspired me to think differently about my research.  I am a PhD student in the Geography department at Staffordshire University and my project is about mapping creative networks in Stoke-on-Trent.  As part of my field work I asked 30 participants to make a map of their network while narrating the story of what they were doing over the five year period 2007-2011.  They had one flip chart size piece of paper and four pens.  I was surprised at how easily people took to the exercise and how little I needed to direct or prompt which meant that I was doing a lot less talking than if I had gone down the more orthodox qualitative route of semi-structured interviews.  I found the process of map-making seemed to lead them naturally to reflect on their processes and to uncover their own insights.  When I heard about the workshop I thought it might give me a few ideas of how I could integrate the map-making side of the data into the thesis.  I wasn’t sure exactly how it would help but I was very keen to think about it creatively.

Although I found all the exercises very enjoyable the most important thing I took away from the workshop was Sarah Williamson’s presentation on ‘the value of making for thinking’.  In my research I had seen the practical value but I didn’t know how I was going to validate this in my methodology.    Sarah provided a list of references that backed-up my intuitive leaning towards these sorts of techniques.  I was aware of the literature on participatory methods but before the workshop I would have said that my understanding was academic.  As I made my own art-book and reflected on my learning journey, I had both the experience and realisation that what was going on for me would have been going on for the participants in the map-making exercise.  After the workshop I felt that ‘research-making’ opens up a much more creative world for thinking about and doing research. 

Linda Naughton

So the workshop mentioned in the previous post went off without a hitch, and while everything is still fresh in my mind, I thought I would post an account of my perspective. (As I was the person who had the idea and organised it I am possibly a bit biased, so keep that in mind when reading this.)

How do you describe a day full of inspiration and exciting company in just a few lines? As I don’t want to give you a line-by-line account of what happened (which probably isn’t that interesting), I am going to keep to one of the devices that we used to engage our delegates – reflective book making.

Back in December I had met with Sarah Williamson of the University of Huddersfield and she had introduced me to this idea – she asks the attendants at a conference for her post-graduate students to reflect on the papers given in a visual way making their own concertina books over the course of the conference. When starting to plan my workshop I was keen to use this idea, and with Sarah on board as one of the speakers, we started delegates off giving them a long paper-strip to use as they saw fit throughout the day.

Thinking Through Writing and Making Workshop Book
Alke Groppel-Wegener, 2012

Here are some images of mine, and what they remind me of…

While still a bit plain from the outside – something I want to work on a bit more in future – it is hard to contain, bursting with ideas. I used the ticker tape describing the journey of the first session as a belly band, but had to extend it slightly. Some thoughts are leaking out, which actually are reminders for me which will find their way into  my diary to be acted on later:

Thinking through Writing pages

The first session of the day was led by Pat Francis, who treated us to some of the activities from her trasure chest of things to do in order to develop reflective writing. (You can find out more about those in her book Inspiring Writing in Art and Design: Taking a Line for a write.) So the first few pages of my book are filled up with her warm-up exercises and then ways to get people writing (like the use of objects or photographs as starting points). This was really enjoyable and I picked up some ways in which I could improve some of the exercises I do to get my students to start putting pen to paper.

What I particulalry liked and will definitely integrate into my own practice is the idea of the concentric circles to visualise context. This is something I find my students struggling with, and using circles of different colours and sizes to show how things relate to each other seems like a really simple way to get this across and allow the students to explore this further.

Thinking through Making pages

After lunch it was Sarah’s turn to talk about her work with collage as a reflective tool. The pages in my book (again a bit sparse, I do want to draw a bit of a background to this) show that I was really thinking about this as letting the thoughts and ideas ‘bloom’. One of the things she highlighted was how many people (researchers and people experiencing this strategy alike) use the physical act of making in order to develop their ideas – it gives the thinking time to grow, which is a real strengths.

I added little faces into my petals to show two other ideas – on the one hand how putting things onto paper allows you to see your work from different perspectives – literally, but also through different frames of mind. I think this is particulalry important, and much easier when doing something visual rather than something written, words tend to pin meanings down (which of course is their strengths, but it is important that this pinning down isn’t too soon in the thinking process). The other idea about the faces is the point Sarah mentioned about having a ‘critical friend’ with whom to talk through what you have done. In a way this is then putting it into words, allowing you to find your topics, issues and possibly discovering more in the process (not unlike I do now as I write about this for all you out there). The other page is mostly taken up by an illustration I found in my pack. these were randomly distributed and I discovered this wheel people were walking in (like an oversized hamster wheel) in order to move some barrels. This very much reminded me of the team, how for me the day was very much about finding like-minded people that might be interested in pulling at the same string than I do.

I also glued in some jigsaw pieces. I had decided to include jigsaw pieces in the packs (everybody got some random ones, like with the book pages), because I think that they are a good symbol of the integration of writing into practice – they might be separate techniques, but if they fit together they make a larger whole. So I was really surprised that in my random stamps in my pack I found a stamp with a jigsaw design on it! Serendipity clearly told me to include that in my book design.

Fishscale page representing my talk

The last speaker of the day was myself, so while I didn’t really do any collaging, etc. while that was on, I thought I should at least represent it in my book. Also Jennie, a lady sitting at my group table, had found a stamp of a fish in her pack and thought I should have it, so I thought I definitely should include that. So this page is basically made at home after the event with some stamps I made for the little blue books I gave everybody to take home. It is all about the Fish-scale of Academicness, which I will elaborate on in a future post.

So far the back of the book is empty, but I hope I’ll get the chance to fill this up later on.

Once I get the photos back from the workshop I’m hoping to post some more of the made books here – if you were there and want to add your own account, just let me know!

Thank you again to everybody who came and helped make this such a good day!