Writing and Making: New Ways of Thinking Through Language

Writing and Making: New Ways of Thinking Through

Academic Practice: extracts from submitted course plan. Distinction achieved.
Course title: ‘Writing and Making: New ways of thinking through language’
Originally proposed for the Image and Language course at Gerrit Rietveld Academie, The Netherlands. Second year.
Adapted for the MA Culture, Criticism and Curation (as part of Unit 1: Theories, Methods and Research).
Proposed seminar length: four-six weeks. Two-hour sessions each.

Background and reasons for choice of MA Culture, Criticism and Curation

As the MA Culture, Criticism and Curation course description outlines, the term ‘culture’ encompasses several meanings and positions, while what defines the word culture is a multifaceted discourse, containing perspectives that are central to debates around the subjects that define the meaning of the word. This is true whether we are speaking about culture as ‘civilization’ or the ‘entertainment and education sector.’ The course outline says that the term “designates things and processes”, the term being “accompanied by an ongoing negotiation about what might constitute the objects, activities, agents and interpretations of cultural production.” I am particularly interested in exploring how and what the parts are of this designation, for often it is difficult to separate the terminology for objecthood or thingness (see bibliography) from the processes, especially when claiming specifics in contemporary art theory. That the course looks at culture within a historical framework is key to my own research interests, which charts and attempts to re-evaluate the moment when objects are placed within the context of history as something within the tradition canons of art historical discourse. Also, key to my own career progression has been a continual concern to bridge scholarly research and the creative industries. Working as a researcher, curator and writer alongside artists as well as others working in the creative and cultural sectors, I am keen to develop a teaching practice where my own interests and scholarly approach supports the students to become high level researchers and innovative practitioners, responding to the need for professionals with a broad interest in cultural production with the skills to communicate this to specialist and general audiences alike. The fine arts are increasingly focused on socio-political issues and this is something that must tie in with the concerns of the CCC course and indeed, this is something that might allow students to reconsider narrative structures and the creation of meaning through the engagement with art.

The MA course in Curating at Goldsmiths College encouraged students to collaborate on several diverse projects at one time, while maintaining a strong focus on our independent development with specific interests that we learned to develop in new ways while learning the importance of being able to work and communicate with others whose ambitions and concerns varied from our own. I have continued to develop this strategy throughout my career since graduating in 2005, having now developed more confidence in my own strong interest in Art History while aiming to continuously re-evaluate the conditions and expectations of this, which is where my previous experience crosses over into my PhD research and the practice that has come out of this. Therefore I am excited at the prospect of working with students encouraged to take advantage of the location in an art school, the growing creative community in the city, and the wealth of resources found in collections, archives housed in and outside of London institutions, in order to integrate theoretical issues and practical skills, to interrogate history (as well as the constructions within it, such as the archive), and work critically and creatively to consider how knowledge is presented in the public realm, to larger and/or new audiences.

On a course that aims to support students gain high-level critical and practical skills to generate criticality as a skill and mode of address, one key element is the role of the written word and the function of writing critically but also writing as an engaged creative practice within the contemporary field of art. I would be able to support students to work between the theoretical and the practical aspects of the arts, as well as support them to challenge modes of writing beyond a theoretical discourse. Key to my practice and research interests is the notion of Textuality, which I continually return to as a method for exploring the theory of art through an engagement with artworks. Key to this is a negotiation of literary works that traditionally remain in and out of art historical discourse. Text has played a key position in art practice throughout modern and contemporary history of art, be it as a mode of description or as part of an artwork. While ‘Art Writing’ has become a genre of its own, one wonders what the position of Art Writing as a theme might be and how it is activated or cultivated as or beside Fine Art and how both might engage together, alongside, with or without the discourse of History of Art or Art Theory. These terms remain in flux and generate much discourse which often conflicts with notions traditionally found in the study of culture. What are the cultural possibilities of art discourses and theories specific to an art school as opposed to a traditional history of art course? How might our modes of engagement conflict and where do the lines of separation occur, if they in fact should?

Topics covered:

Course outline
Design and planning of learning activities and/or programmes of study/ description of learning materials and the relationship to my research, including an explanation. Reasons for particular emphasis.

During the Academic Practice course I became familiar with key thinkers on learning, which has helped me to re-evaluate how one approaches learning and development within the art school environment approach. For example, I might consider what Molotch says, as quoted by Howard S.Becker in ‘Writing for Social Scientists’, “ ‘A problem that writing people have is the idea in their heads that a given sentence, paragraph or paper must be the right one…We have to free ourselves from the idea that there is only one CORRECT way.” (Howard S.Becker, Chapter 3, ‘One Right Way’.P.48). It is also worth considering the writing of Dirkx writes on “meaning making” as something “essentially imaginative and extra rational, rather than merely reflective and rational.”(2001). Social Development Theory, originated by Lev Vvgotsky, argues that social interaction precedes development; consciousness and cognition are the end product of socialization and social behaviour, which runs parallel with the insistence that students maintain a social awareness throughout their development at Central Saint Martins. Vygotsky places emphasis on culture affecting and shaping our development, explaining that social factors contribute to this cognitive development. Key to this is the emphasis he places on language and the importance of people learning together, in discussion and by sharing understanding. This method for approaching education ties in with the MA Culture, Criticism and Curation course concerns and objective.

Use of online resources
Using moodle, I would be able to build an area on Virtual Learning Environment/MyArts student portal in which I could create topic areas. Here I would upload essay, links to essay, images, as well as encourage students to discuss ideas using forums I have set up, and so continuing the ‘community of practice’ beyond the sessions and so encouraging collaboration and discussion between students. Goldsmiths College acts a moodle support centre for London and the South East, so I would be able to refer to them for support and advice. The virtual learning platforms provide key methods for promoting the equality of opportunity within the academia, especially for students who might be intimidated in the classroom environment. The virtual environment allows students to act professionally, developing a group mentality, while the nature of communication ensures the individual is able to speak and be heard more readily. I see the VLE as helping students to gain confidence that will allow them to engage in all areas of the education system and more so in the classroom environment, thus developing professional values including respect for individual learners and acknowledgement of diversity to promote equality of opportunity.

Planning, learning outcomes, assessment and evaluation
Assessment of the individual students and the success of the course would be a combination of what takes place during the seminar sessions, and what students present in the written assignment. The assessment would focus on how the students have developed individually and as part of a group environment, which would be informed by the larger and smaller group discussions and presentations that take place over the duration of the course. I would assess their ability to grasp an understanding of the written and visual material, their ability to highlight, navigate and present themes and ideas as outlined by art historian and theoretical thinkers, and an ability to take and discuss this in sessions about material, that being artworks or other non written or theoretical works by artists, which may or may not relate to their own practice, or the work of their peers. The written assignment will evaluate the students’ ability to take these themes and ideas and use these to form well-constructed written material that presents clarity of understanding and good methods for placing this in context with their own theoretical and practical work.