Saturday, 17 January 2015

Creativity as a Research Method

Creative writing as a research method has been already established within critical theory and, of course, literary studies. Nevertheless, I still wonder how findings from the process of creative writing can contribute to other disciplines, like social sciences, politics, cultural studies, or film studies. A recent TVAD talk by professor Michael Biggs regarded the complexity of practice-based research within creative arts, and one of the discussed case studies was a novel, submitted as a PhD, being itself a final result from the research process and the documentation of that process. A novel by proxy represents creative writing. For a PhD it still needs to be accompanied by some form of reflective documentation which subdues to the nature of PhD argumentation. The same with dance, film, or a piece of art 'submitted' as a PhD. The relationship between the 'intellectual' part versus the 'creative' part must be explained in a classical - non-creative form of writing. As professor Biggs admitted this situation is changing as much as our disciplines are changing. the borders between intellectual and creative are more and more blurred. I am very interested in the process of writing per se across different academic disciplines, especially, in how our style of writing represents a particular research paradigm. Although novels and poems are accepted as practice-based research more commonly than not these days (a different question is how they are evaluated by REF), it is not so common to see creatively written articles within non-creative disciplines. There are some interesting examples of creatively-inspired publications within social sciences, like Les Back's famous The Art of Listening and his creative diary online, or a widely awarded novel by Slavenka Drakulic, 'A Guided Tour Through the Museum of Communism', or Mitchell Duneier' Sidewalk, engaging with the authors' social and political research in an entertaining and compelling way. We are all encouraged to engage our audience (impact) through more emotional and personal means, so our writing becomes more individual and unique, thus breaking through the patterns of classical academic argumentation, inherited from natural sciences, and opening to experimentation. Yet we do not have many pieces out there, which would reflect creatively on non-creative matters. If our research to change the world and especially if it is going to be funded by taxpayers' money, we need to explain ourselves clearly and with no doubts. Policy makers would not like to read novels and poems instead of traditional reports. But why not? Maybe policy makers would benefit from creative writing workshops, singing workshops or reading poetry together? Such a proposal would need to be explained first and predict the outcomes clearly, so no taxpayer's money is wasted. It may happen one day (maybe even is happening somewhere now), that the language of disseminating research findings will have to be based on stanzas and creative narratives, involving sounds and images which are not embedded in Power Point, but produced by a researcher communicating with the audience on more than one - verbal level. It must be happening to a certain extent in communication with audiences and stakeholders with disabilities. How much effort academia undertakes to 'translate' academic books and reports for deaf people or blind people? Such translation deploys non-verbal 'signs' and in that sense encourages creativity. Yet signing and Braille reflect the systematic organisation of words and letters derived from the dominant discourse, so, although not languages but codes, they are verbalised in the intellectual manner analogous to language. Creative articulation of research findings, which takes my attention, would abandon the system of sense and unfold on the level of the senses. For example, an experimental film projected as a final outcome of a project on aging of the current population, or an exhibition of smells as a way of disseminating finding from a project on...pottery, or using colour as a method of identifying our sensitivity to ...urban design. There are project like that, of course, applying creative methods of research and dissemination across all disciplines (it is quite fashionable, in fact), but how such projects engage with writing their findings? Is that writing as creative as the methods applied? How to write about smells and colour and experimentation without falling into total solipsism and unverified subjectivity? Whose experience would we represent when writing? How to articulate what our senses are going through? Using synesthesiae to capture multisensoarial experience seems a bit dated. How else can we capture the impact of non-verbal stimuli in academic writing? I would like to see those smells and colours and images submitted instead of writing. To communicate, would they need to reflect our current intellectual coding like signing or Braille? or could they serve as a trigger releasing some form of 'the unknown', surprise, or even shock. I am not promoting Romanticism with its Platonic methods of truth discovery and sublime, but rather the studies of affect, in which mind and body are working together on equal rights, but not with equal intensity. I suppose I would like to see a new measure in place for the next REF: the ratio of affect. Why? To open to new modes of communication and new modes of impact, which do not know the borders of disciplines or the patterns of thinking traditions. How would such impact be evaluated? Do we need to establish new 'affective norms outside of normativity which affect denies? It will take us some time to answer this question, and while trying we are already discovering new knowledge. PS. I would like to add an avatar with some fragrance representing my intellectual approach here, but my keyboard does not have one (yet).

Thursday, 1 January 2015

TVAD Talks coming up in 2015...

The TVAD Research Group hosts research seminar lunchtime presentations on the second Wednesday of each term time month. All are welcome and lunch is provided at 12.45 for a 1 pm start.

Our next TVAD Talk will be on January 14th 2015, when Prof Michael Biggs, Professor Emeritus in the School of Creative Arts will be speaking about doctoral assessment in creative arts, an area in which he has considerable expertise and experience. Prof Biggs was involved in setting up our Professional Doctorate in Design (DDes), aimed at academic staff in architecture and design broadly understood, in universities and institutes of higher education. Read more about the University of Hertfordshire's DDes here: 

On Wednesday February 11th 2015, TVAD will enjoy a double bill of TVAD Talks presented by two of the staff members from our Graphic Design and Illustration course team: 
Matthias Hillner, ‘From virtual typography to intellectual property rights (IPR), and from research through practice to research into practice’
This presentation will describe a journey from professional graphic design practice in the field of motion typography to design research and theory building. Building on Sir Christopher Frayling’s differentiation between ‘research into practice’, ‘research through practice’ and ‘research for practice’, the presentation will discuss possibilities to connect research with practice in the field of art and design. These different paradigms will be discussed in conjunction with my journey through MA studies, MPhil studies, and PhD studies. These three stages are strongly linked to my professional art and design studio practice in the field of time-based typography. Two projects will be highlighted as practice-based connection points between stages of research: Virtual Typography and the so-called ‘SafeView’ project. The former is a consultancy-based business in the field of motion graphics, the latter a proprietary initiative to innovate the ATM interface. The talk aims to provide inspiration on how the connection between research and practice can be utilized for the purpose of fund raising and for entrepreneurial endeavours. Including two disparate subject areas such as motion typography on the one hand and IPR on the other, may seem confusing. The talk will, however, show how such unrelated topics may connect with each other through research.
The journey from professional reflective design practice to theory building in the area of IPR, will comprise my successful funding bid with NESTA in 2005, my ‘not so successful funding bid’ with Design London in 2009, and my successes obtaining funding within and outside the University of Hertfordshire in 2010. Last, but not least, the talk will provide a succinct outline of my current research into how designer-entrepreneurs utilize IPR in order to obtain financial support for their design initiatives. This will include references to interviewing techniques and qualitative research analysis.

Second on the double bill for February 2015, is Kevin Dowd, ‘Exploring practice-based methods in graphic design research’
The discipline of graphic design is growing to accommodate novel ways of gathering data and generating findings, expanding beyond the established foundation of borrowed rhetoric that has informed current research methodologies. However, there are few examples of methodologies tailored specifically to the skills of the graphic designer as researcher, and fewer still with practice at their core. This talk explores examples of practice-based research in graphic design, highlighting a need to develop methods for design research practitioners. This is examined further through my own study, which proposes a novel system of practice-based methods in graphic design research.

Further TVAD Talks planned for 2015 are our March TVAD Talk (Wednesday March 11th) when Dr Ivan Phillips will speak about his forthcoming book Once Upon A Time Lord: The Myths and Stories of Doctor Who and, in May our last TVAD Talk of the 2014/15 academic year will be given by Jodi Nelson, speaking about her PhD in Critical and Creative Practice in Film & Media at the University of Sussex (Wednesday February 11th 2015).

For more information, contact TVAD Research Group Chair, Dr Grace Lees-Maffei,