Understanding Research

I have never really understood research. Perhaps it was to do with the timing of my BA (late 80s) or the chosen medium that meant research (as I understand it) was pretty much technical. How to make structures, glazes, the chemistry of firings and oxides, how to throw forms etc. There was a bit of looking at other potters, but not to the extent that seems to be needed on the MA. And with me now working in a different medium I am even more lost. Luckily Emma offered to hold a study group for those who requested help with this topic. It was an excellent session and I am writing up my notes from this here. __________________________________________________________________________________ We began by discussing how hard we found writing artist’s statements. I often feel like I sound pretentious in a statement. This is partly because of the tone of voice required and because I don’t like talking myself or my work ‘up’.

  • The tone of voice you use might be relevant according to your audience in any given setting, but at a high [academic] level, it needs to be of a certain tone.
  • You need to find the balance between honesty and putting a bit of icing on your work.
  • Fine art is an enormous field – with much reading and summarising needed to get a small statement. The more you do this, the easier it gets – it just has to be done. You have to absorb and distill an enormous terrain into something small. It will always be a struggle – whoever you are.

We then began to talk about Research and Research Methods.

  • Research can be like darts thrown around a board – it’s normal – but you ‘score’ when you find something that you can follow-up and start a thread from.
  • MA written work needs to show context theory, research methods and how people practice.
  • Drop the idea of what are looking for ‘being out there’ already. It isn’t. You have to do the legwork yourself from the ‘clues’ given in texts.
  • Start simply with what you do and what other artists do that is similar – in subject matter, materials and techniques.
  • We are building on a body of knowledge in an MA and we need to know what came before us in the world of art – whose shoulders do I stand on?
  • Research can be people in other mediums – not just textiles.

Emma then gave us a fantastic tool to help kick off our research (as I was still lost on where to start).

  • Think of FOUR words that best describe your work: INTRICATE process deal with NATURE felting in a PAINTERLY fashion and in a KITSCH style Immediately this made us think of Jeff Koons
  • Research artists who make work with the above words used to describe their work (some or all words).

Humour can come through in the work in a kitsch, cutesy and retro fashion. Time-based media. Time-based is intrinsic to the description. You keep learning and adding to your pool of research all the way through the MA. You understand through the course and get better. Go in close to reflect on your work and then pan out and look at it widely on a regular basis. Continue to use the 4 words tools after each piece or at regular intervals. This will allow you to see how your work and references are developing and growing new leads and paths. When deciding whether a book is right for this level have a look at the author. Do they have any academic credentials? What are the reviews like? What other books do Amazon suggest as frequently bought with etc.? My chair can have ‘abject’ attributed to it – research who the theorists are on this subject and do any of their other theories apply to your work or give you new leads? Google key terms – such as the ISMS. Looking a sticking points from the intro of Art and Today Feminism (in relation to art) is looking at art from a feminist perspective. How it relates to women as a whole – from a feminist perspective (not just your woman on the street).

  • Psycho-social – is looking at a mind and social situation
  • Patriarchy is men’s intrinsic upper hand/power in society
  • Ethnocentric – based around a particular ethnic group
  • Formalism is the distillation of the material’s inner logic. The formal properties of an artwork; line, colour etc. The meaning of the artwork from the materials there (a very simplistic form of symbolism)
  • Sign and signifier – sign = chair. Signified = the word connected to it. Signifier = the message it projects. e.g. Magritte’s “This is not a pipe” challenges what we think we are looking at.

The quantity and depth of research you need is dependent on how important it is to your practice. Some can be quick Wiki, Google etc. searches, but if it is deeper then books and galleries would be better. Show your researched artists in your blog. Research should be done while you are developing your ideas and for the future and NOT retrospectively. Feed the research into the work. Dovetail it so it goes in and continues to feed into your work. Notice on what basis am I making decisions? Reflect on my chair in light of what we’ve just discussed. What came from my head? What research did I do? What books did I use? What did I find out? What artists did I look at? How would I deepen this? If I did drawings in a series, like Louise Bourgeois, then the work would deepen. What other artists use the chair as a metaphor? How can I express m message with a less literal metaphor? Lichtenstein (I imagine I wrote this because of kitsch and humour and clear inspiration links?). Dissatisfaction with modern society – look at artists and artworks that do that. Humour – being irritated with self/self-loathing – who else does that? Making a case and filling it up – who else does that? etc. We then talked more fully about my chair plant and my ideas behind it. That plants are meant to be inert but carnivorous plants aren’t. This parallels with perils that are regarded as inert in modern life – such as obesity, credit cards and plastic surgery. For Threat and Peril, Emma suggested I look at Kant and Burke (existential sublime) and Paul Crowther – a paragraph on each, not a whole book. For a follow-up session (which now won’t be happening) Emma suggested we:

  • used the 4 words we had just identified to make a research tree/map
  • reflect and review on that to get pointers for artists, movements and ideas
  • look at the last piece of work made – find 4 methods from that and how can they be taken deeper.

__________________________________________________________________________________ 08 October 2012 Follow-up with Angela Mind map from current work using Mind Node

Jo, Angela and I met to continue the reading group. I do now feel like I ‘get’ research and how it is supposed to work and feed into your practice and process. I’m so grateful for the help I’ve had in this area and find that Emma was correct in what she said originally: that I was over-thinking the process – I already knew all the component bits, but just wasn’t seeing the process of how to put them together with the right connections. Some of the below are just notes/statements about how to refer to aspects/the language of essay-writing. Others might relate to my own practice or practice in general.

  • Don’t use the term ‘fashion’ for anything. (i.e. in a ‘painterly fashion’). It isn’t very sophisticated and is a bit of a cop-out. Explain it properly by thinking deeper.
  • Using the term ‘pushing the boundaries’ is a very big statement when describing your work – it requires you to provide evidence of how you are doing this. However, ‘playing with’ is not such a bold statement – but says the same thing without having to provide evidence.
  • When referring to another artist, be clear about how your work relates to them. How are the artists different to one another and how does their work relate to you?
  • If an artist is very ‘exposed’ (i.e. famous!) say that aligning your work with them is a very ‘obvious’ association but that your work is more closely aligned to… someone who is more obscure.
  • STOP reading when research is no longer relevant to your work. You don’t need to fill your head with loads of unnecessary stuff!
  • Have between 2 or 3 artists (or a movement) that you can talk about in an informed way. Much more in-depth info.

We talked about Jo’s recent work with mirrors and were looking at the words she had chosen to describe her work. We then talked ‘around’ these words and the work ‘reflecting’ (not in the mirror sense!) about the meaning of the work which then gave us other words we could research. Ego, gaze, feminism, teenage stages gave way to disorientation, fragmentation and orientation. Mirrors play formal games with what you are seeing. Artists to look at would be Helen Chadwick, Laura Knight and Anish Kapoor. If you choose to write about Kapoor, you need to be clear about WHY you’re writing about him in relation to the mirror – as he is not an obvious choice – focusing on his perspectives about distorting reality as his other concerns probably do not relate to Jo’s work. Keep asking ‘How does it relate/not relate to what I’m doing?’ Is this person relevant enough to read about and reference or not to mention? Don’t pack writing with unnecessary stuff because you think it sounds good. Keep it relevant! When looking at my work and the words I had used in the map above, we felt that the word ‘muted’ was a better representative of recent work than ‘grey’ and that ‘obliterate’ was an important word. I am using strategies of ‘obliteration’ and ‘simplification’ in response to chaos in my work. This is a psychic AND physical response to chaos and I am using the obliteration as a visual strategy. The photographs and ipad drawings have a coherence and integrity about what I’m looking at and concerned with and how I’m exploring it by recording it. Look at other artists and how they have recorded things. Morgan Spurlock is a fave of mine for his documentaries (Supersize Me and the film I part-recorded recently on consumerism The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) who did a video diary for Supersize Me: where he recorded what happened to him and his body when he ate nothing but MacDonald’s for 30 days. Rather like our exploratory project, he set many parameters/rules to what he could eat and do: only eat and drink items sold by MacDonald’s; if offered, he would always take them up on the option to ‘Supersize’ the portion etc. The photographing my ‘mess’ is a way of recording my life in details. Angela spoke about an artist she came across – Stig Evans, a colourist – who asked psychiatric patients to create a colour diary painting layers and layers that were then sliced into, revealing a colour history of mood and emotion. I think the project was this one (Langley Green) here, but all of his work looks really interesting. This piece is not about his own feelings through colour, but is about facilitating other people to express theirs. I should look more into recording my life and moods etc. This does feel rather like therapy – but I think if I look at it from a perspective of events/humour/colour as well as emotion, I don’t think I will get too dragged down by it. I should be regimented about this and use a constricted time frame – I am imposing a strict 15 minute limit to this. I should do this by IMAGE and not words. Make a visual diary and do it for a limit of something like 30 days – so it appears achieveable. It needs to be a non-literal record of my day. I have an A5 journal to draw into each day and a new magnetic whiteboard onto which I can post a daily colour record using my 100 Pantone chip postcards. Artists to look at for notebooks are those such as Helen Chadwick (whose journals can be viewed online at the Henry Moore Institute) and Eva Hesse – although both of these are ‘writing’ journals. Jo spoke about Van Gogh doing a series of many portraits that reflected his emotional state. We thought it might be an idea to look at these and pull out the most important colours (max 9/12) with the postcards that reflected the emotional state. Although I can find any record of a series of portraits I can find records of the large amount of work he did leading up to his death (almost a painting every day). I found a list here (13/10/2012) http://www.vggallery.com/painting/by_period/auvers.htm of the works he did in 1890 and it would be interesting to spend a morning analysing these colours with the intention of re-appropriating them later on. Formalise the photos/colours/sketches into a daily recording. I should continue to look at Bobby Baker (although her work is an obvious link) too. Ask any friends and the rest of the cohort if they know of any artists who produce art through recording their day/life. Angela suggested I look at Tom Phillips and his work Humument – there is an app for this for my iPad which I’ve downloaded to look at later. Having a quick look at his website and the slideshow for the book Humument I absolutely LOVE it! I’ve often thought of doing something like this – as it sort of combines many elements of things I like to do – doodle, graphic design, art, reappropriating words/messages. It would be interesting to take the ‘sketch a day’ recording of my life, further into a book like this. His work also reminded me of the exhibition I went to see by Aligheiro Boetti – the biro images that obliterated text and had letters or punctuation remaining as a negative shape. Charlotte Salomon is another ‘recorder’ – she recorded many aspects of her life from the Nazi in large A2 paintings – particularly in a series called Life? or Theatre? Consider Outsider Art and look at the Prinzhorn collection. I have also found a chap on Amazon called Danny Gregory – he has produced a book called Everyday Matters: A Memoir – which is a record of his life following a life-changing accident to his wife. The sketches in his journal are in a very domestic setting, which seem very appropriate to me and obviously relate in some way to his own mental state through such a difficult time. So I plan to read this when his book arrives. Probably on the back of this he has compiled a book of other artists and illustrators that document their lives, which I think will be great to look at as we were struggling to think of artists who do this in our group. An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers. When referring to other artists, be clear about my processes and clear about others that use it. What I’m doing is recording my life from a psychological and emotional perspective. My struggle is to step back and record my life. Who has needed to record every day just to get through it? Sometimes this is a release and a means of occupying the mind in order for time to pass in order to heal. Consider – with any artist – what is similar/dissimilar on themes and processes. Hockney is an obvious reference to my iPad drawings, but it’s OK for that purpose, particularly if it is pointed out that he is obvious. Should those sketches ever be printed out or should they only be viewed on a monitor – is that part of the works integrity? (I have realised colour space is important – and explains the ‘dullness’ of some of Hockney’s printed work – I should explore this in my essay). Make sure that the relationships between artists and your work are strong enough when you refer to them. Caroline and I had discussed Nash as an interesting link to my newspaper/drippy painting. The colour palette and psychological impact of experiencing war on his paintings are something I should probably keep on the radar, but need not refer to at this point. Yaoi Kusama is someone I relate to on many levels. She suffers with poor mental health and voluntarily checked herself into a psychiatric unit in 1977 – where she has lived since. I saw her exhibit at the Tate and was fascinated by her textile sculptures and her continued theme of obliteration (see article in Guardian on recent obliteration work here) where elements in life (herself, animals, rooms) are obliterated by sticky dots. Whilst the dots, on the surface, look very superficial, they reveal a deep process of obliteration relating to her inability to cope with everyday life. The idea of using artists who relate to your work is to use those that the reader would not automatically connect you to – Hockney, Kusama and the (slightly obvious) Baker make the reader make new connections of them which include you. Do the word and review process again at the end of each piece and once a month. Language Try to think about and write about what I am doing in the appropriate language. Think about what you’re doing and take a step back a bit – and speak about it in a slightly removed fashion – this helps the language too. e.g. “Like Yayoi Kusama I’m using the strategy of obliteration. I’m using the recording of xyz like abc.” Meaning it is written in the style needed for the essay. Try using the OU tool COMPENDIUM. Progression

  • Choose my top 5 words
  • Choose my top 3 artists
  • Ask how they all relate again
  • Focus my reading on those
  • Use Art and Today (read the Art and Time chapter as well as the Art and Nature and Technology chapter)
  • P197 has Kusama and her obliteration work (in Art and Deformation)
  • Consider other feminist artists from the 1960’s and what they were doing
  • Consider Susan Hiller (who does collective work – see her piece of hanging coloured fabric)

I’ve made a new mind map which is below. I found a great app to help do this and it’s been really useful.



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