Is academic writing the most appropriate complement to art students' practice?

Wilson, Gillian (2012). Is academic writing the most appropriate complement to art students' practice? EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d4fb

Abstract

This thesis examines the relationship between art students' academic work and arts practice focusing on: the function of academic writing; the space for the author's identity; and, whether dichotomies in the production of academic text and development of creative visual work preclude academic writing from being the most effective complementary mode of communication alongside visual arts practice.

Using semi-structured interviews as a primary data source, I explored the perspectives of nine undergraduate student volunteers. I used data from the interviews and multiple data sources emerging from them, such as examples of written and visual arts work, informal and email exchanges, to build qualitative case studies addressing three research questions: What is the function of academic writing in a higher education art and design context?; In what kinds of ways does the students' prior educational experience impact on their ability to engage with academic writing in their course?; and, Does academic writing enable art and design students to link theory and practice? During the study another question emerged: Are other means of evidencing art students' engagement with theory more appropriate and effective than academic writing? Here I looked at alternative models of assessment currently offered at five UK art and design institutions/faculties to find evidence of their efficacy in the context of my research questions.

Findings suggest academic writing is often ineffective in engaging students with contextual studies and theory. They tend not to link this to creative practice and resent the time spent away from the art studio. Tensions in the power relations between students and tutors often force students to write what is expected, compromising their identities within, and ownership of, the work. Non-traditional students (those defined as: the first generation of their family to participate in higher education; living in areas of social deprivation, or belonging to lower socio-economic groups) sometimes lack the cultural capital and prior experience to engage fully in academic writing. They feel there is no place for their identity in academic discourse. This is fundamentally opposed to art and design practice, where identity is often central to the development of creative work. Different forms of writing may be more appropriate complementary modes of communication within art and design than traditional academic writing, and in particular those which enable the writer to explore, celebrate and situate their identities in relation to wider historical and contextual influences in art and design. In addition to this, the potential and significance of multi modality should be considered in the 21 st century, where images, film, typography and sensory information can enrich the communication of ideas and concepts, as well as being a familiar part of our everyday lives. These offer opportunities for alternative modes of assessment, which are more creative and equitable, particularly in art and design, but potentially in other disciplines.

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