Tag Archives: practice based research

Art practice-based research and the scientist’s mind

My mum told me that with all of this learning that we’re doing, that I should give my busy brain a chance not to think occasionally and let it stew over ideas quietly. Well since coming out of yesterday’s lecture my brain has been stewing more than I would like. Something has bothered me.

The lecture yesterday was the first of a series of shared lectures for all of the different Camberwell MA students. Our own subject leader, Maiko Tsutsumi had the pleasure of opening with a talk on ‘practice based research’ with an intent to set us down the right path as we all get started. It was an interesting lecture, although it felt very much like the tip of a rather large academic iceberg. But something she said really bothered me. A the time I thought it was simply my worry that I don’t yet have much of an art practice (I feel like I fell into quilting somewhat by accident not passion).

I thought about it on the way home. I thought about it while making dinner. I tried not to think about it while watching this weeks rather splendid episode of Great British Bake-off (does anyone else now desperately want to make a Swedish Princess cake??). It wasn’t until the witching hour that I realised what it was she had said that perturbed me:

“theory and your art practice should feed each other, you shouldn’t make a theory and then create art to illustrate it”

Ah. Isn’t that exactly the premise scientific research works on?

During my PhD I set out a hypothesis based upon a gap in the physics ‘body of knowledge’. My research looked at other people’s theories about this gap, analysed them, developed new theories and examined a range of data sources to test and validate if the hypothesis was right or wrong. Essentially the data merely illustrates the rightness or wrongness of your theory. Perhaps it is not really surprising then, that I would be taking the same approach to my MA? “So!”, my brain said this morning just as the first planes to Heathrow started waking up London. “You are being theory-led not practice-led”.

Looking again at my project proposal, I see that is indeed exactly what I have done. I had an idea about ritual and liminal space, and it’s impact on the human condition – and had set myself up to nicely illustrate my idea by making some nice things. It is no wonder that I can’t connect my proposal with the type of art and artists that inspire me, nor can I answer the rather reasonable questions – what do you want to make and from what materials? That’s not really putting art as the centre of my research…

So what now?

In an unusually quick decision which feels both logically and instinctively like the right thing to do, MA Proposal v1.2 is now officially binned. Kaput. Nada. I am going to attempt to turn my head upside down and start from my craft and work outwards. Although the list of artists that I really like (and can actually name, without googling!) is eclectic, there is a distinct strand of thought connecting them – and connecting them not just with my intent in making my own stuff but also with my own personal philosophy and goals in life. Why on earth did I not start here?

I intend to use this connection to be the starting point for framing a research question which will help me develop a unique, personal artistic practice. I am sure there will be aspects of the liminal space idea and of art invoking raw human emotions which will come back, but hopefully reframed in a different context – one which I can drive by the creative process itself.

I’ll describe my new idea in a later post once my brain has had a bit more time stewing on it. I’m going to not think about it for now (thanks mum). Oddly though, even though I intend to completely rewrite my proposal, I feel like the first part of the jigsaw has just slotted into place.

Angelique xx