Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Beyond decoration: committing to visual (research) practice

Although I haven't posted lots here yet, my journey into developing a thoroughly 'visual' research and teaching practice is something I've been thinking about and working on. Although I'm on a mission to go 'beyond decoration' with drawing, painting, photography and map making, I've 'decorated' my office with a recent painting test. Why? I think if you want to thoroughly integrate something into your daily activities and workflow, it should not sit in a draw somewhere. It's on my wall not because I love it, or because it's my best possible work, but as a statement of intent and a point of connection - with whatever I am doing. I am becoming committed to thinking visually first, and that's what's going on for me at the moment. 

I'm doing this because activities like drawing are intensely practical and philosophical. I love how thinking visually has necessitated being visual. It has pushed my practice on because I have needed to get off my backside and kick-start my painting, to use a sketchbook in all my academic meetings, and to work on visual research methods as 'plan A'. Doing this has also made me think about how all this is received. Tradition dictates that visual arts are consumed or admired by others, which is something I am aware of when people look at what I am doing; we are conditioned to respond to certain types of visual artefacts we are told are 'art'. I want to push past that and to locate my work in a collaborative process of work with others, not as 'final product' but as a response amongst other responses. My work is intended to prompt, to open up, to question, to shift - not because it is 'great art', but because it presents a different view, and one that calls for a response. At the moment, I am thinking through a research project that I hope will involve me in drawing aspects of professional practice. I have a job in health, education and social care research to blend this visual process with a philosophy of the social sciences and an ability to speak to pressing and concrete professional issues. In other words, my visual practice is not 'simply' about visual art as a product - I am not primarily presenting myself as an artist - but I am working on a sort of accessible, practical visual philosophy. The sort social workers, looked after children, teachers and so on can engage with and that speaks to their frame of interpretation. 

The second image here is a page from my sketchbook. Again, it's quick work, but it is an example of me thinking through an article on the 'life-world' of young people in school. For me, it was more than decoration because it forced me to commit to a visual explanation of what I was thinking through in a previously vague way. I have been able to build on this in my reading and writing, and have come back to my workbook to build on it. Visual thinking is as valid as, and complements writing but provides a different set of practices for exploration and questioning. The experience has been therapeutic (I find drawing and painting therapeutic) but also exposing, because I have to put my naivety on the page, or canvas, or Instagram, in an academic world which is all about 'performing' expertise.