Documenting development – Blogging in Art and Research

During the last few weeks I’ve been working with my fellow artist Carmen Lamberti, in the development of a new art project, linked to the Cambridge Sustainability Residency. Albeit in its infancy, the project has changed and evolved from our initial proposal, indeed, watch this space because next week we are planning to launch it officially!

In this process, Carmen has been adamant in documenting and taking pictures of the different phases of our conversation. This is clearly the dimension of research that is also important in the artist development. Not only this is important for tracing back the development of an idea, but, working in collaboration is really enhancing. Normally artists work on their own which makes it a bit of a lonely activity. I, personally, prefer to work with others, both in my academic work and my artistic work:  I learn so much from that interaction, as proved by my friendship with Carmen, creating not only images or conceptual art, but even adventuring in singing and making music; also working with the genial Lesley Longworth or playing mixed media with Jill Taylor, all so joyful interactions!

A couple of days ago, we were reminded of the need of documenting and having a history of a project. This was in the context of my work as an academic, and it was related to  the GoGreenMovement.  GoGreen has been our sustainability / art / experimenting playground for almost seven years and a team effort. Indeed, the point of applying for funds and doing projects is to be able to work with friends and like minded people. We all believe in the intersections between education, art and sustainability! In the GoGreen Pilot’12 we worked with the fantastic Ann Rippin and the National Union of Students (with the lovely and committed ladies Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte Bonner and Jo Kemp, and the inspiring Jaime Agombar!), while creating a great team with 12 talented students, and formidable colleagues: Alison Stowell, Helen Benton, Barbara Toninato and Romas Malevicius. In short, GoGreen Pilot’12 was about having 12 students  working with 12 organisations of the third sector improving their environmental practices, through the use of a structured program called Green Impact designed by the National Union of Students, and supported by the academic team of GoGreen. In this project we kept a lot of material and rich notes, pictures, videos, works of art (paintings and paper dolls) trying to document the process. Now, when we are trying to make of this a case study for the next REF (for non academics this is the “Olympics” of academic research when universities prove their worth and the use of tax payer money using a very controversial table, publishing in certain journals, and more recently, demonstrating impact!).

In the field of art, this process of documentation is also valuable. It shows the development of ideas into more finished projects. It is also the “incubator” of new ideas, because the project/process always create different threads, not all of them fully developed in a finished outcome.  This blog, for instance, is a way of documenting my progress: it started as a “loud journal” (still is) in my process of coming out of the closet, but throughout this journey, I have been able to “reflect” and “digest” many of the things that shape my art and my life in general.

For instance, when reflecting about an exhibition, a book or perhaps your own holidays or walks, it is good to keep track on sketches and original ideas: These are immense mines of ideas and creativity.

Apros, I’ve been wanting to share some of my sketches from holidays in Cornwall. Here you can see the drawings that were transformed in the paintings above:

 

When attending blockbusters exhibitions of great artists, one of the things I enjoy more is to see sketches, initial drawings and drafts of the finished paintings. They show that ideas are not “born” finished, but they are part of a journey. This journey involves chance, experimentation and flowing, all of them also elements in the process of researching.  For me the blog has been a great companion in the documentation of “becoming an artist”, but also merging and touching with my life as an academic, an educator and a green activist.  In fact, the merging of these dimensions has been evidenced in the posts I upload here: they are a mixture of informed reflection, a bit of research and academic formation, translated into a more informal, yet, well referenced and structured writing.

So for those -artists and academics (sometimes both can be very similar people), these are some of my tips for blogging:

a.  Do not wait to have the “best” idea for starting the blog. The blog is like a sounding board, a way to “digest”, “explore”, or “question” ideas…. as academics we are used to write a lot, so it would not be that difficult… however, academics may find that it is difficult to “get rid” of the solemn tone of the academic papers.  It’s all about experimenting.  On the other hand, as artists, writing may be more difficult, but I suggest that this process of documenting our ideas, collecting the drafts and sketchbooks and pushing ourselves will help us to create our own story, to trace our development and to develop a relationship with the public.

b.  Feed the blog. It can be a weekly activity, or a fortnightly exercise, but keep on writing. Sometimes, you think you ran out of ideas… I assure you is never the case. Some times you are tired, can’t be bothered, but think of this as a sort of “therapy”… one that you share with the world. In case of absolute zero ideas, it is always nice to share some other’s great blogs!

I personally love Ann Rippin Blog, merging her academic research with her passion for sewing and quilts; Sam Warren, the traveller professor with thought inspiring posts about travelling, visual methods, etc. The illustrated life of Lisa Congdon in Today is going to be Awesome! well… so many!

c.  Think of your audience: people read your blog… yes, it may come as a surprise but there are people who follow you… friends, random visitors or simply people interested in the title or what you are doing. However, not everybody “like” your blog or write a comment. Do not despair, keep writing, because people are reading!

d.  Use categories and tags. This will make your life easier when looking for a topic.

e.  Although informal, try to keep your blog within some basic etiquette… for instance, quoting is crucial as well as referencing. If you are explaining something, link it to original content or the person.

f.  Use the blog for your own practice: I have been putting ideas in the blog that I hope will become a book or perhaps further projects. Also, by keeping the practice of writing, you can advance in writing papers, catalogues, articles or books!  One of the nice things of blogging for me, is that it rekindled my love for writing, something that I had lost in the sausage factory approach of university’s “outcomes”.  We are academics, we like to write!  For instance, I wrote a whole paper based on the weekly exercise of explaining something, so, I recommend this: see Foucault.

g.  There are many sources about how to write a good blog. Just go around and you’ll learn from the expert advice of generous people who share their tips.

 

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