Arts Week 2017: “Doing and thinking: methods in practice-based research”

Dr Maria Kukhareva, Educational Developer at the University of Bedfordshire reflects on the interaction of creativity and academia following a workshop as part of Birkbeck Arts Week 2017.creativity-academiaAs an interdisciplinarian (both by background and by own curiosity) I seek opportunities to be amazed by the way different disciplines and approaches interact, the conflict and tension borne out of this process, and the turbulent energy and questions it has potential to generate.

I recently participated in the ‘Doing and Thinking’ workshop during Arts Week, which gathered an exciting and diverse crowd of practicing artists, researchers, and artist-researches – both Birkbeck’s own and external enthusiasts, like me.

Here, I broaden the focus of the workshop and turn to the discourse around creativity, rigour and scholarship in higher education – and what it means for the creative practitioners and researchers, as well as the wider academic community.

“Is it alive or is it ref-able?”

What the workshop discussion demonstrated very quickly and relatively clearly, is that there seems to be a vast and deep ocean between the mysterious continent inhabited by the creative practitioners, and the equally mysterious land of “this is how things are done in academia”.

The ocean was represented by a heap of colourful cards with research (and life?) related words on our tables. As we were shuffling through them, we realised we could not agree on the meanings, values and emotions of some seemingly common words, for example:

impact (think: theatre performance versus academic publication)
serendipity and intuition as a driving force (think: visual arts versus systematic research)
discomfort and doubt (think: open creative process versus evaluation outcomes)

In fact, words and language in general continued to be the cause of frustration, namely the incompatibility of creative output (a painting, a book, a film) and the academic language accompaniment (a thesis).

One could almost imagine how creativity and its magic, so necessary for any artist’s existence, breaks into pieces on encountering the academic expectation. As if to become an academic scholar, an artist needs to give up a part of their soul in exchange for the gifts of rigour, systematic inquiry and strictly formatted self-expression and self-representation. As if the fruits of your labour can either be ‘alive’ or ‘ref-able.’

But… is this really the only way to cross the ocean?

“Follow your nose”

Let’s view creative practice – whether you are a professional artist, early researcher or an educator in any given field – as something you NEED. Whether it’s where you experiment, or where your intuition, or some other undefined drive pushes you to create news things. It’s where a part of your soul lives; it’s something that fuels your daily activity. It’s what inspires your signature pedagogy, your authorial voice and what gives it life – as demonstrated effectively by Emma Bennett, Katherine Angel and Catherine Grant.

If this is what your creative practice does, then not only does it not go against the ‘traditional’ academic activity, with its rigour, systematic approach, structure, format and language – rather, creative practice makes the academic activity possible and interesting, from teaching to publishing.

The messy, unstructured creativity with a mind of its own, should be preserved and nurtured, rather than ‘re-trained’ when entering the world of traditional academic boundaries and standards. As Thomas Fisher has pointed out, creativity can be a rigorous process.

In other words – ‘it’ needs to be alive to be ref-able.

I would like to invite the reader to consider the following questions:

  • How and where do your practice and research activity co-exist?How disparate or how close are these two preoccupations? Do they fuel or hinder each other?
  • Which one of these (research or practice activity) offers more scope for creativity?
  • How does your creative and experimental activity drive your signature approach?
  • And lastly, how can we preserve and nurture our creativity, while we are developing our academic identities and careers?

On that note, I am off to read Katherine Angel’s book!

Contact Maria Kukhareva:
@maria_kukhareva
University of Bedfordshire profile

 

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Military intelligence: former RAF gunner swaps military uniform for gown and mortar board

military-intelligence-photoFormer RAF Gunner and Southwark resident Paul Croney has swapped his military uniform for a gown and mortar board, as he celebrated his graduation today. Military life and then shifts in the police force meant that Paul, 34, didn’t have much time to think about returning to study until 12 years after finishing his A-levels.  However, his military background and experiences of conflict in the Middle East, serving alongside personnel from other nations, gave Paul a strong interest in how politics works at a global level.

When he moved into a new role in the Metropolitan Police Service in May 2012, Paul’s regular hours meant that he had evenings free. The first thing he did was to apply to the part-time Global Politics and International Relations degree at Birkbeck, University of London where the evening study meant he could continue to earn during the day, while satisfying his thirst for knowledge. He received funding through ELCAS, a MoD scheme to help veterans adjust to civilian life by funding courses and tuition fees for their new careers.

Paul says: “The best thing about evening study was I was able to carry on working in a job that I loved while learning. My evenings were being used constructively and I enjoyed the balance of work/study/life.”

While many mature students worry about fitting in at university, Birkbeck’s evening study model attracts a wide variety of different students and Paul says “I’ve made several friends for life from the course. It was great going to university as a “mature student” and, because of the diverse age and backgrounds of the students, not feeling like a granddad.”

Halfway through his degree, Paul applied for a new role in the Civil Service. During the interview he mentioned his studies at Birkbeck and was able to demonstrate his potential by working and learning at the same time. He says, “Now I have graduated, I am able to apply for further roles in the Civil Service that prefer applicants to have a degree.”

Combining full-time work with two or three evenings of lectures a week can be challenging, but a military background is the ideal preparation, providing the discipline needed to be successful. Paul’s advice for others contemplating a degree as a mature student is: “You will need to be really self-disciplined for the degree, particularly for the final two years. It is a great option for veterans, who will come from a disciplined background. I found the best way for me to study was to head to coffee shops with my books and laptop, so I had few distraction, and just made sure I did all the reading for the lectures.”

Paul graduated today at a ceremony at the University of London’s Senate House, along with 175 Birkbeck social sciences graduates.

Further information:

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