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)

Further reading:


Week 67: 23rd – 29th December
After last week’s exploration into artistic forms of research mixed with concepts of quantum physics and philosophy, I thought it might be time to consider again the nature of interdisciplinary practice, particularly in relation to the PhD and academia in general.

Interdisciplinarity and the Practice-led PhD
Interdisciplinarity is defined as a process of integration ‘by which ideas, data and information, methods, tools, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines are synthesized, connected or blended.’ However, before considering the nature of interdisciplinarity in practical terms, it is necessary to recognise the time required to develop a clear understanding of even a single discipline, which is one of the fundamental elements of achieving doctoral status (discussed in week 19).

This, unfortunately, runs counter to artistic practice which may, by its nature, stray into other disciplines. When producing a PhD in Fine Art, in addition to investigating a particular question (and the disciplines within which it falls), you are also expected to contextualise your work within contemporary art practice, as well as art (and cultural) history. Such a wide scope of research, particularly within the timescale of a postgraduate degree, is viewed by some scholars as “risky” as it potentially doesn’t allow time to gain a complete understanding of all the related fields.

Benefits and challenges
This necessity to draw from and connect disparate disciplines has led some scholars to believe that this can result in reduced standards in the quality of research, a view that it has been suggested is upheld by the submission process of the Research Excellence Framework. However, others believe that interdisciplinary practice challenges traditional disciplines by creating new forms of cultural knowledge.

In Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity: The Case for Interdisciplinarity Knowledge and Research, Moti Nissani discusses the need for increasing interdisciplinary research in tackling creative and real world challenges. His points include: the necessity of a “clashing” of disparate ideas to develop new creative solutions; the ability of people who are familiar with two or more disciplines to spot errors that may not be perceptible to strict disciplinarians; and the understanding that the knowledge that people create doesn’t always adhere to the boundaries of academic disciplines.

Practice vs theory
Even in the case of theoretical interdisciplinary subjects such as Cultural Studies, the field is widened by its nature, in that it ‘represents the field of culture itself and the field of methodologies for interpreting that culture’. Each project is defined by locating a cultural phenomenon or object of study and then reading it. However, in the case of the practice-led approach, the object of study is simultaneously created alongside its interpretation, further problematising this process.

However, it appears that despite these discrepancies, both sides of the argument for and against interdisciplinarity, appear to reach a similar conclusion. Hal Foster sums this up in his interview in ‘The Anxiety of Interdisciplinarity’, where he declares “The status of interdisciplinary has changed over the last decade. Although I remain committed to it in principle there are clearly problems… Today so much work that purports to be interdisciplinary seems to be non-disciplinary to me. To be interdisciplinary you need to be disciplinary first – to be grounded in one discipline, preferably two, to know the historicity of these discourses before you test them against each other… Art needs structure, it needs constraint – enough resistance to articulate complicated thoughts and feelings”.

Further reading:
Simon O’Sullivan, Cultural Studies as Rhizome – Rhizome as Cultural Studies in Cultural Studies, Interdisciplinarity and Translation