So what is Research?
When I wrote the blog post in October introducing myself as the new Course Leader for Textiles I outlined the elements that I feel make a good textile course. At the top of this list I put research.
“I believe good quality research is at the centre of every students studies. Wide reaching research enhances the students creative potential by exposing them to the richness of the creative world, inspiring creativity but also developing critical thinking skills and analysis.”
I was asked by a couple of students what this means and how they can go about doing good research. So this blog post is about unpacking those couple of sentences and explaining what research in the creative arts, specifically textiles, is all about.
The Oxford Dictionary definition of research is – a. The systematic investigation into and study of materials, sources, etc., in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. b. An endeavour to discover new or collate old facts etc. by a course of critical investigation.
Pulling out the key words from this definition we have – investigation, study, discover, collate, critical and conclusions. All these words suggest a level of thinking and searching that leads to understandings of value. In other words the exercise is useful and assists with the development of knowledge and creativity. The value will be defined by where you are in your studies or creative practice. The point you are at on your journey to becoming a practitioner will influence the types of research you will be most interested in.
When your journey starts, perhaps during your first Level 1 course, the main type of research activity you will be engaged with is looking at and collecting imagery. This will be of art works made by others and the purpose of this research is to develop an understanding of what creativity is in your field. From these beginnings the intensity and shape of research changes through academic study leading to a research degree or becoming an artist/practitioner.
“I never made a painting as a work of art, it’s all research.” Pablo Picasso.
Here I believe Picasso is saying that all his artistic endeavours are part of a learning process that leads to the next piece of work.
To help you understand the way research progresses I have broken it down into parts or steps.
- Looking and thinking. I am going to use the example of going to an exhibition to illustrate these points but exhibition could be replaced by a book, magazine, website, TV programme, etc. At the exhibition you start by examining the art works, thinking about what you like and responding to them instinctively, acknowledging what you like.
- Collecting and annotating. This is when at the exhibition you take some photos of the works that most interest you. Making notes that go with the image about things like the artists name, the date created, media used, something about the style and composition. In Austin Kleons book Steal Like an Artist he suggests setting up a ‘Swipe File’ on your computer to collect all the imagery that excites you. This is a way of storing material that you may wish to refer to again later. Other ways of collating the work is in a file, pin board or a Pinterest page and of course your OCA learning log/blog.
- Critical thinking and drawing. According to Gray and Malins in their book Visualizing Research critical thinking is “thinking effectively and applying sound intellectual standards to your thinking.” In the gallery space this is the consideration of a piece of artwork through an understanding of the art works effect on you. Pinning down what you think of the work and why. Asking yourself questions about materials, composition, placement, colour palette and how these work together to make the artwork. To assist in this process observational drawing and mark making helps to explore the work, taking your eye in to have a closer look. It also moves your observations from your eyes to your hands where after all most artwork is made. This process of drawing and getting down your thoughts, ideas and feelings helps to pull out what it is that makes the artwork of value to you.
- Sample making and analysis. This next step moves away from looking at the work of others and taking what you have learnt to produce work of your own, beginning with sample making. The samples will combine your knowledge of techniques with the research you have undertaken and your own sensibilities. By sorting and filtering the quality of your samples you will come to conclusions about which to take forward into final artworks or designs.
- Creating your own artworks and peer review. In this final step where you are making artworks or designs of your own your research material will be deeply embedded in the work you make, in the way that Oasis were influenced by The Beatles. It will make your work current and fit into the artist culture you are now part of. Opening it up to peer review at your own exhibition or scrutinised by potential employers.
These parts or steps are cyclical and continuous, propelling the artist forward, ever deeper into their creativity.
I hope this has answered some of the questions students have about research and how it fits into their studies. I am sure it will have also generated more questions and discussions.
In a nutshell research is
Look. Think. Write.
Look. Think. Draw.
Think about your thinking.
Gray, C and Malins, J. (2004) Visualizing Research. A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design. Farnham: Ashgate
Kleon, A. (2012) Steal like an Artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman Publishing Company
Oxford English Dictionary. 1995. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.