As a research process that often develops through sensorial means and embodied practices – sound, visual, experiential, haptic – Artistic Research has a different kind of relationship with writing than more conventional research processes. Whilst in scientific fields writing and writing up take place as means of analysing, making sense, and communicating phenomena which can be easily expressed in words, in Artistic Research, we sometimes write about processes and events which have very deep experiential knowledges associated. This raises the challenge of finding the vocabulary and the tools to express an experiential process in words.
The counterpoint between creative making processes and critical writing can sometimes feel jarring. With the support of your supervisory team, you can find writerly strategies that can both acknowledge this difference and also resist it in playful and critical / theoretical ways. Writing is helpful in diving deep into the practice, in unpacking its layers, and in reflecting and articulating its value. The process of writing enables you to articulate the knowledge emerging in your research: to explore the limits of what words allow you to do brings criticality into the work (de Assis, 2020). In the following video excerpt, Paulo de Assis speaks about how we need to go as far as possible in language to express an argument:
Writing is a form of dialogue with the practice to bring forth your original contribution to the field. It can be about the practice, describe the practice, unpack emerging issues in the practice, relate the practice to other practitioners, theorists, philosophers… it can be writing with the practice, through the practice, next to and/or in parallel with the practice, and in any possible articulation. Writing can be the practice too, and alternative writing styles can be appropriate for your research project. As there are many directions open in the research, what you write about can be a challenge: will you examine the failures and articulate your learnings? How much space will you devote to describe the processes, examine the findings, explain your methods, locate your work in the field? What is the appropriate balance between philosophical and/or theoretical sources and contemporary/historical artistic contextual practices? The answers to these questions depend on the specificities of your project. As you write it will become clearer what you need to focus on.
Annette Arlander speaks about the role of writing and how it relates to the practice (2020):
Finding your writing voice is also challenging. Writing in Artistic Research often involves the use of different registers to talk about practice and the research:
Your writing evolves as you edit the text and refine your thinking. Similarly to the artistic process, where you constantly edit and refine your work, a large part of written materials will not make it to your final submission. In editing and revising you are making room for new ideas and highlighting the most relevant ones, as well as making new connections.
Artistic doctorates have a rich potential to explore distinct kinds of writing, of articulation between knowing and doing, of thinking and making, and of creation and analysis. Allow your own process to expand the realms of where your research might take you, both in writing and creative practice, taking you towards unknown territories.
Proposals for Action: Expanding your Writing
These two strategies can be helpful to support your writing. For more strategies and exercises, consult the resources below.
- Record Yourself Speaking
Write yourself a question, a prompt, or a set of questions that you are facing at the moment. Using a camera or a sound recorder, press play, ask the question/prompt out loud, and begin responding freely. If you stop, try to grasp the train of thought you were in, and continue a bit longer to let the ideas emerge and associations to happen.
- Thinking Walk
Research shows that walking helps you think creatively about problems, and that creativity is boosted while walking and after (Oppezzo and Schwartz, 2014). If you are stuck, stop staring at the screen and go for a walk. Write down the issue you are thinking about in your notebook, grab a pen and go. Think about the matter you are struggling with while you walk. Talk to yourself about it. Record yourself even as you walk. If an idea emerges, take notes before resuming your walk.
Resources on Writing
The following generic resources contain helpful writing strategies and prompts which you can use to get writing going:
- Murray, R. (2017) How to write a thesis. 4th ed., London: Open University Press, McGraw-Hill Education.
- Murray, R. (2013) Writing for academic journals. 3rd ed., Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press.
- Dunleavy, P. (2003) Authoring a PhD: how to plan, draft, write and finish a doctoral thesis or dissertation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Phillips, E., and Derek S. P. (2008) How to Get a PhD: a Handbook for Students and Their Supervisors. Maidenhead: Open University Press.