Week 68: 30th December – 5th January
Even though I’m enrolled on a Practice-led PhD, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the reading and writing aspect of problem-solving as a way of producing art, rather than utilising doing and making activities to think through new ideas and concepts.
Facing a block in my creative process, I remembered to return to my sketchbook to explore how I might resolve some of these issues. After a short amount of time spent drawing (and making notes) in the local museum and library, I had generated lots of new sketches and ideas to produce a new body of work.
Drawing as looking
The thing that struck me most however, was how the act of drawing (specifically from an object) equated to the act of looking.Through drawing, a focused study necessarily slows down the encounter with object, affording the viewer more time to notice details that they may have previously overlooked. Artists including Claude Heath and Jochem Hendricks have explored the relationship between looking and drawing in their practice, as Ann Jones describes in her art blog, Image Object Text.
This act of drawing as looking also seems to facilitate an increase in looking inwards, creating new connections between the works and new possibilities for contextualisation. In Artist Scholar: Reflections on Writing and Research, G. James Daichendt describes this with the statement “art-making at the most basic level is thinking made visible”. (Daichendt, 2011, p.47)
Making as thinking
Despite the fact that the book ‘Artist Scholar’ is primarily focused on inspiring artists to become better writers in the pursuit of articulating their research to a wider audience, it does offer interesting insights into the relationship between making and thinking. As Daichendt explains “Rather than understanding art as a cultural phenomenon and aesthetic product… art production [is] a type of inquiry, reflection, interpretation, commentary, and thinking process that has transformed the way we understand the world and ourselves.” (Daichendt, 2011, p.5)
It also considers the methods that artists use in the production of their work are also valuable research data and that “the drawings, mind-maps, sketchbooks, photographs, old napkins, notes, inspirational quotes, pictures, books, conversations, critiques, and anything used to brainstorm or think about subject matter are important. These bits of information represent aspects of our thinking and can be analyzed with qualitative tools.” (Daichendt, 2011, p.52)
Other kinds of writing
Although certain kinds of problems are better solved through doing/making, this does not automatically equate to an argument against intellectualisation, and in fact can even help facilitate this process. Therefore, within this thinking practice, doing and making can also apply to writing, particularly forms of self-reflexive writing such as essays and blog articles which the artist uses to analyse their own work.
Writing practice seems like an anathema to making art, and arguments have been raised regarding the question of why artworks should be translated into a textual form. However, Daichendt cites Cupchik, Shereck, and Speigel (1994) who “found that artworks were thought to be more powerful and personally meaningful after the subjects wrote interpretations” and that rather than closing down audience interaction “the interpretative exercise through writing opens up more avenues for inquiry and thought.” (Daichendt, 2011, p.63)
Reflexive writing, that is, writing that takes place after the art making process can also be useful in organising and consolidating thoughts about the work, and in a similar way to drawing, can slow down thinking around the work of art in order to trace threads of inquiry throughout and between works.
What is practice?
These influences have started me thinking about how my blogging practice is intertwined with my art practice, not only as a research tool, but as a cultural artefact in its own right. Thinking about writing in this way subsequently also helps me to understand how I can think about objects and images I make as data in a practice-led academic context:
“Research is based upon using primary data in all fields and the following categories are examples of appropriate types of sources: Observations and self-reflections… Sketchbooks, notebooks and letters… Writing, publications, papers, and statements… Emails… Lectures… Exhibitions, performances and advertisements… Mind maps… Art and objects… Documentary photos” (Daichendt, 2011, pp. 95-98)