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?

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.
I would like to propose a course that recognises certain ideas and themes from the programme, which would also support students to develop a critical awareness and understanding of fine art and its context to provide the intellectual and practical resources to continue their careers and realise his or her creative and intellectual potential professionally beyond the academic setting of Central Saint Martins.
The Academic and vocational background I have outlined means that I have a good understanding of the importance of employability and career development and appreciate the necessity of considering this throughout the courses I design and how I deliver these within the framework of the programme overall. However, I also take into account that this course does not aim to create ‘cultural managers’. London has a cultural and social diversity that allows students to engage discursively with different social and political ideas and creative output. I would develop courses that would help students develop their ideas through a consideration of some of the spaces of art production, display, reception, interaction and interpretation, considering a broad range of contexts and histories of art practice. I hope to help students activate what it means to produce, present and interpret art that results from working in the art school, to consider the practice of the student, whether they come from within or outside of the humanities, to consider the notion of ‘genre’ or scene, to consider the frame, the pedestal, the screen, the internet, the body and beyond. Through careful planning, I could develop seminars and workshops that support and complement ideas around materiality and the demateriality of the art object, image of art, while also taking on ideas around contemporary visual and textual documents, including art works, theoretical writing and films, to consider how the recent ‘eras’ are represented and re-represented in the present, and how we might consider this with the challenges of contemporary art historical discourse, dealing with issues of appropriation, replication, the ‘new’ and the ‘post’, which will activate discussion about the value and assumptions we make through documentation surrounding art practice, which would help students to re-evaluate their own assessments. To consider the materiality or non-materiality of the artwork is key to my understanding and reading of artworks at this time, for the encounter with the artwork is not necessarily a result of the material form, but can be a result of thinking beyond the space of exhibition for example.

For the CCC course I would develop a series of seminars that attempts to support and develop the student’s ability to understand and navigate the history of modern and contemporary art through forms of writing, this being art criticism and theoretical writing as well as other forms including literary works of fiction, poetry and political and non-political commentary, etc. Thus, writing that may come from disciplines removed from the visual arts that help students to reconsider what it means to respond to artworks and other creative disciplines (as a method of reconsidering and repositioning fashion, design etc, for instance) through different uses of language, visual and non-visual, that will provide students with the skills of interpretation in order to develop a better understanding of the visual culture, which will inform how they assess and position their own creative practice. Furthermore, by considering other forms of writing, the students will be able to question the relationship of text to image/text to artwork, to consider the imagination as opposed to what is visually in front of them. I am keen to work with MA students who are familiar with a broad range of artworks, artistic genres, theories, etc, so I would hope that this series of seminars would support students to link their theoretical and practical work to the history of art post 1960, and perhaps a broader trans-disciplinary arena. Key questions that I would choose to emphasise would be, ‘What are the moments when we critically engage with contemporary art and what is it about these moments that makes it ‘critical’?’ ‘What are the material differences we find between modern and contemporary art practice?’ ‘What does it mean to look and critically engage with contemporary art practice when the physical object might be absent?’ Much of how we learn to experience art is understood through forms of writing found in theoretical textbooks. History of Art is an engagement with art through a historical narrative and if we want to use writing as a method of interpreting or engaging with art, we are adding to an existing narrative. In order to do this, we would traditionally identify and use a common use of language and certain descriptive terminology to state a claim. The way we write about the artwork is informed by a way of looking, which is written about at length as part of art historical discourse and therefore we might wonder what it means to look at a work of art rather than read about it. This ‘gaze’ might be a formation of multiple perspectives or a single perspective, it might be a learned way of looking that takes the moment of seeing to a different place within our imagination. So perhaps writing can inform an interpretation as well as unmake it. The “unmaking” might be the moment where writing tricked us into thinking we could use a language so familiar to us, only to take meaning and twist it beyond sense, while our “senses”, our “imagination” remains intact, reverberating in our ideas, our memories.

With the source material provided- this including key works by artists working in different media including text- I would like to encourage students to test what it means to write, speak, read and listen when determining the experience or engagement with the artwork. How might reading and writing inform their approach to the artwork, whether it is their own work or someone else’s? I would like to encourage students to consider how much their own reading and writing informs and entwines with what they determine as a creative practice. Does writing only act as some form of commentary on this practice or does the writing relate to how they might position themselves as artists, writers, curators, etc? A use of language is key to development in all social sciences and beyond in the social spaces outside of academia, while it is instrumental to how we approach visual language, an area of thought that is key to my research. Although I would need to be aware of the level of students with respect to some finding the topic and themes within it easier than others to grasp, I would be able to use my own understanding of theoretical and philosophical thinkers to introduce new concepts of reading and writing about art.

In the first session I would introduce the essays and the artworks, providing them with more background on the artists, and introduce the key ideas that I have found in the essays. I would begin asking the students for their initial thoughts and opinions on the essays firstly, then on the artworks. I would then ask that they consider how the essays and the artworks might relate to one another. What are the problems with attempting to look at art and writing at the same time, and how might we think about art and writing as separate objects to consider independently of what we know about their author and the moment of their production. Essays may be written on a theory of interpretation rather than on specific examples of works, so this might be an area for discussion. Meanwhile I would present writing found on the selected artworks and ask students to consider what this might mean for the gaze. How might the written interpretation affect the way we look, for example?
The discussion around these objects would be ongoing, while I would continue each session to bring in other examples of art works and writing, which I would discuss with them. As the sessions continue I would ask that students bring examples of artworks they find particularly interesting or inspiring, which relates to their own work and I would encourage students to provide these for their colleagues before the session using online learning resources. In the second half of each three hour session, I would ask the students that wish to introduce their objects to briefly speak about their choices and for the group to continue the discussion. I hope that by sitting in a circle formation around a table, we would be able to create a more informal situation that encourages all students to participate. In order to ensure those that might feel less comfortable volunteering their object become involved in the discussion I would ask all students targeted questions, to consider these works and return to the essays and artworks discussed in the first session, and the additional essays and art works that I add on the Virtual Learning Environment as the course progresses.
Throughout the sessions I would encourage the students to begin writing the final assignment, which I would introduce to them at the beginning of the first session so they are considering and writing it throughout the course. This might be an essay, a piece of art criticism, a fiction, for example, that would be submitted with an essay explaining and supporting this piece of writing in the context of their critical and creative development. I would hope that this would include well-considered and articulated interpretation of the material discussed during the course. For the final session we could continue discussing the objects they have brought to the session and the essays we have been reading. I would split the students into four smaller groups to discuss their own practice and how what they have learned in previous session might affect the writing of their assignment and continue to develop their personal projects. Here I would move between groups asking targeted questions to evaluate what they have learned in order to approach marking their achievement as well as the success of the course.
My aim of this course is to help students develop a confidence to deal with written material in a way that challenges preconceptions of theoretical and non-theoretical text. Meanwhile, I hope that it will allow them to challenge expectations of the visual and non-visual in art as a way to engage critically with their own practice. The course I am proposing proves a commitment to incorporating the processes and outcomes of relevant research within the field of Fine Art, as well as a commitment to scholarship that supports the professional practice of the individual learner. Meanwhile I believe that the seminar structure and assessment criteria of the individual learner within and out of the group learning environment acknowledges diversity, while promoting equality of opportunity within the academic environment, which I hope will allow students to take with them as they develop their career.

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.
Academic quality should be concerned with how well the learning opportunities that are made available to students enable them to move on to Unit 2: Practice and continue on to achieve the MA in Culture, Criticism and Curation. I would aim to provide appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning resources to help them achieve a higher education award, which enables them to participate in the learning opportunities made available to them and use these skills beyond the academic institution. It is also important to find effective ways of receiving student feedback. Evaluation of student progress and evaluation of the course and my self-evaluation as a teacher would involve a series of questions that would help to consider what was learned and how the time allocated was used within each session. This would help me to learn how students are thinking about what is being learned, the positive outcomes being the achievement of what I have outlined. I would aim to bring all students into the discussion, which would test how comfortable students are with the progress of the course. I would hope that students feel prompted to ask questions of the material they are discussing and would aim to recognise key moments when students are able to identify parallels with and for their own artistic and writing practice, their ability to successfully navigate material to articulate their own ideas to their colleagues.
Art History is a social science and in order to study art there is an expectation for the student to engage with the broader social conditions from which art is made. On such a course that invites people from varied disciplines including art, fashion, education and journalism for example will benefit from developing what they know about the history of art, taking moments and ideas in order to inspire them in a discursive, technical, social and political manner. In order to plan and evaluate the sessions I would refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy and the development of this by other key teachers and sociologists, that being the cognitive domain (Bloom 1956), the affective domain (Krathwohl, Bloom, Masia, 1973), and psychomotor domain (Simpson, 1972). For example, the cognitive domain involves knowledge and the development of intellectual skills, which includes the recall or recognition of specific facts, procedural patterns, and concepts that serve in the development of intellectual abilities and skills. At the end of every session I would spend five to 10 minutes in conversation with the students as a group to help assess student understanding as a way of evaluating the effectiveness of the lesson to inform my planning for the following session. Using targeted questions that would include asking for examples of things they have learned and how this might inform their own practice for example. I would keep a log of individual student progress and use tools such as Bloom’s Taxonomy to aid how I plan and assess. This will contribute to the summative assessment of the students, which will include a piece of written work.
I would use the Central Saint Martins Quality Handbook to support self-assessment as a teacher within the framework of an MA course. I am aware of the importance of implementing the department’s learning and teaching strategy, departmental review mechanism (that being internal arrangements for reviewing its provisions and evaluating the effectiveness of its approach to learning and teaching). I am also aware of the importance of adhering to Central Saint Martins strategy for evaluating student progress in the programme overall and the importance of monitoring this, the evaluation of learning resources and their linkage to the programme aimed learning outcomes.

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