Thursday, 5 March 2015

Ambitions for drawing in teaching and research

I started this blog to explore my thinking and practice around drawing and using images in my research and teaching practice. If nothing else, it gives me a sort of accountability for making progress. Because I am doing that, I am looking out for things that will get me thinking. I came across one such opportunity when I read about a public lecture to be given by Professor Keith McIntyre entitled 'Lines of Desire'. I have written about it here because it has given me a great opportunity to reflect and think about what I am doing in going back to drawing in my academic work.
 A short description of Keith McIntyre's work was provided on the page promoting the public lecture:
"Keith McIntyre’s work is well renowned for crossing over a range of studio practice and performance disciplines. His interest lies in drawing, graphic fine art media and theatre. Keith has had numerous exhibitions and has been Visual Director on a range of collaborative projects including Rites (Scottish Chamber Orchestra), New Constellations for Wind, Reed and Drawing Instruments (BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Sage Gateshead) and HEID (Sounds of Progress). Keith has previously won the Scottish Open Drawing competition and recently worked with renowned children’s writer David Almond and actor Kevin Whately to produce The Savage, an ITV documentary in partnership with Seven Stories Centre for Children’s Books.
Central to his current research is an interest in constructed narratives and the potential of the contemporary diorama. Large black ink works on white foam-board are produced in the studio and became the catalyst for a series of improvisations in workshop practices with other artists working across other arts disciplines. While drawing remains the fundamental interest in McIntyre’s work, the cross-fertilisation nature of this activity means that there can be a number of project outcomes, either as an exhibition, a live performance or both."

(see the original on the Northumbria University web site)
After a frantic car journey back into Newcastle Upon Tyne to get to the lecture, I found the studio where the lecture was being given and not only enjoyed the lecture but was kept awake afterwards thinking about my response to it. Professor McIntyre spoke about drawing and making as academic / research practice. His focus on lines, assembling, responding, 'larking' (playful innovation, change, improvisation) and collaboration with others was amazing. Because he was speaking about his practice over time, it was great to hear about the tree like structure of his productive and not so productive routes, and the value of learning from failure and embracing of that as necessity. 
self-portrait edited in iOS
It made me want to pursue what I have (re) started to do with more energy and purpose. I made a note to myself that I need to develop my artistic practice so that it can work with and respond to others in research and teaching contexts. Sitting in the lecture, I realised that I had backed off from doing this in my research and teaching until recently. I felt, perhaps because much of social science, organisational and sociological research has an uneasy relationship with the arts, drawing was seen as illustration or decoration, and certainly not serious enquiry. To counter this, I decided that I needed to do something. My response is to develop, discuss and apply my rationale for using artistic practice to teaching and learning. I must address the question of what am I doing in drawing, assembling, presenting, responding to visual things.
developing a new teaching and research landscape
I caught myself thinking in and after the lecture about Keith's thoughts on collaboration, and saw his conversations 'in the process' of making, and in the process of responding to presenting his work as the sort of research conversation I have had in a small way. I noted to myself that I just need to launch in, to give myself permission, to create, discuss, listen to responses. The idea of assembling and making together as collective enquiry was central to this. In making progress, I should not be embarrassed that my drawing is somehow imposing something on people: rather, I decided I must see it as a way to participate in conversation and to open up responses in others. I have already seen through my PhD and other research projects that others participate not so much by drawing with me (although that sort of collaboration would be interesting, but I find people don't want to do this) but by moving pieces, selecting, framing parts of images, annotating, responding with narrative. This research data that gets constructed in that site is where I can locate myself in as an artist.
These reflections have helped me think about what I can do to make this happen. To date, much of my work has been an 'add on' to teaching and research practice, and many of my images have ended up on my phone, accessible only to me. I can take from the lecture some encouragement to draw and make images in a more prominent way, but not simply 'for the sake of it', but at the same time developing a rationale for how the process and product of drawing can enrich my teaching and research. Watch this space.