Video as a Pedagogical Tool:
Identifying Patterns and Tendencies in Creative Practice Across Numbers
In art education, film has remained a largely underdeveloped pedagogical tool, examples tend toward documentation and centre on the analysis of final artworks and historical, biographical discussion, reinforcing the one way transmission of information traditionally associated with theory delivery. The versatility of film however, can be used to develop a far more extensive and interactive forum for debate. Film can traverse the boundary between theory and practice.
There are two key ways in which this can be achieved. In addition to the capacity of film to document in real time; allowing access to activities too fast, too slow or too subjective to witness otherwise, time can be suspended and rearranged to emphasize and focus activity or forge connections between disparate elements. More specifically in raising understanding of theoretical concerns this footage can be layered, text literally placed on top of image, running theory and practice in tandem one informing and extending understanding of the other.
The research project ‘Making the Creative Process Visible’ utilizes this capacity of film to explore the phenomena of creativity, how an idea can be generated, developed and built toward overriding emphasis. It examines the nature of creative thinking by mapping the space between idea and form, and offering strategies to help students to move and grow between one and the other. Perhaps the most significant finding of this research to date, has been the identification of similarities between theory and practice in the navigation of that space, in particular their demand for the same cognitive processes. This finding was generated by observing practice, collating material and student feedback across large numbers. Only in this way, can patterns and tendencies in the creative process be identified, locating the habits of an individual within a larger consensus of artistic activity.
My interest in film as a pedagogical tool began after filming a series of interviews with MA students on completion of their Masters degree, describing their creative process and the role of visual studies, theoretical approaches and process within it. These films were made in 2004, my first year of teaching on the MA programme. They were made in order to address difficulties i had understanding how each component element fed into the programme and how i needed to alter my teaching methods to accommodate the varying developmental needs of the students at different points during the course. The films were to give me an over view, to show all elements at work and their impact on or relevance to the completed projects. They became an incredible teaching tool in their own right, exposing new students to the ethos of the course, the caliber of the graduating students but they also demonstrated something far more significant. Although no greater direction was given to the students other than to simply describe key ways in which their work developed – they each described the fundamental mechanisms of the creative process. There was immense diversity across the eleven students in subject matter, processes and approach and at the same time tangible evidence of recurrent ways in which they developed ideas and explored potential. These first films are archived below and are often used to teach creative thinking to current MA students.
The second range of films took the form of ‘in conversations’ created as part of The Fragmented Figure conference and adjoining exhibition in 2005. These films again demonstrate how film can be used to find connections and diversity in practice, in this instance looking at interpretation of fragmentation in figurative ceramics. Artists were first sent a list of questions in order to prompt them to consider fragmentation across their practice from process, methodology to outcome. The interviewer is largely silent in these films in order for the artist to describe their work unhindered although prompts do occur from time to time. See the website for further elaboration of the methods used www.fragmentedfigure.net Please find below short extracts of the films, for full versions do to the ‘In Conversation’ site.
The films and methodology continue to develop through extended application: observing tendencies in professional practice through the symposium ‘Porcelain Another Way’, identifying the capacity of ceramics as visual ethnography through the MA ceramics exhibition ‘Merge/Diverge’, a theme extended through the exhibition ‘Positions’ and ‘in conversation’ with curators Dawn Youll and Lowri Davies. Each project further evidences the versatility and effectiveness of film in demonstrating relationships between theory and practice and identifying tendencies and patterns in creative thinking. The archive of strategies is fast becoming a vital and engaging resource but it can also become an effective practice for students, doing it for themselves. The ease with which cameras and mobile phones can record quality footage means it is only a simple step to encourage them to do the work a far greater pedagogical tool …watch this space…
Drawing: Exploring The Role of the Body in Our First Encounter with an Environment
One of the first experiences students encounter in the MA Ceramics programme is a field study trip. This year we went to Nash Point, Cardiff, Wales, a site of natural beauty and often challenging climate, particularly in Autumn and Winter. Being at the edge of land and physically exposed to high wind and cold temperatures, any exploration of this landscape necessarily involves a consideration of the body, your own physicality as set against the properties of this terrain.Students were asked to respond to the environment through drawing.
The film above was played at the ‘Beginning Approaches’ exhibition, and begins to demonstrate certain connections in the ways in which students evidenced their response to this environment including: the simplification of information and an exploration of their physical / sensory response to surroundings. The question must be raised however, would their exploration of another context demonstrate the same common themes in their creative thinking, particularly one that did not so overtly make them aware of the response or presence of their own bodies.
Porcelain Another Way
The Lapp Insulator Factory, Poland, Image by Piotr Adam Fladro
‘Porcelain Another Way’ is an international ceramics symposium conducted in Walbrzych, Lower Silesia, Poland since 1977.The symposium runs every year for four weeks during the month of September and consistently attracts high profile international artists from Australia, USA, Korea, Japan and Europe. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the board of Lower Silesia District Council and the City Council of Walbrzych subsidize the symposium. Since 1998 it has been under the patronage of the International Academy of Ceramics.
The symposium collaborates with three porcelain factories ‘Karolina’ in Jaworzyna Slaska, ‘Walbrzch’ in Walbrzch and ‘Lapp Insulators’ in Jedlina Zdroj. Whilst still in healthy production, the working area of the factories has been reduced, creating disused spaces with evidence of historic processes, juxtaposed with contemporary modes of production. The artists’ studios are set amongst the employees and work is produced according to factory conditions, using specified porcelain clay, firing to the specific temperatures and timings of the industrial kilns.The artists reside in Szczawno Zdroj a beautiful health resort near Walbrzych, work in the factories together and meet in the evenings for discussion and presentations of their practice. On completion of the symposium, they are asked to donate at least one piece for display in two consecutive exhibitions first in Walbrzch museum and again in The Glass and Ceramics Gallery, Wroclaw.
It is the negotiation of restraints and opportunities presented by the factories that offers the most significant creative challenge. Artists are confronted with the need to re-consider their practice, testing established techniques and skills anew. In this way, the symposium creates the conditions whereby patterns and tendencies in creative thinking emerge across a diversity of practice and where the influence of specific cultural, educational and professional experience can be identified.
The president of the symposium has been looking for ways to draw attention to the event and to access a wider audience. With the exception of a website currently under construction and a comprehensive catalogue published each year, there is little that examines and disseminates the potential outcomes of this symposium. ‘Making the Creative Process Visible’ is an award winning learning and teaching research project within the department of Ceramics that examines the ways in which ideas develop in art practice. There are a number of strands to this research: the identification of structures that underpin the development of ideas explored through a sequence of films that include: work in progress, identifying the conditions conducive to creativity, ‘in conversation with artists’, account of exhibitions and the curatorial process.
MA Ceramics Cohort UWIC 2010
Final Exhibition Catalogue
In his introductory essay for the Masters exhibition 2010 Dr. Jeffry Jones wrote: ‘Alongside the multi-faceted range of material possibilities there is to be found in the discipline of ceramics there is also versatility of a different kind. The field of ceramics touches upon a huge array of associated interests and contexts which offer students the chance to challenge, extend and refine their own ideas in the light of knowledge and insights gained by practitioners and theorists of all kinds’. This final exhibition of MA work provides the opportunity to identify this versatility of ceramics and how its particular material and symbolic characteristics contribute to debate on a wide range of contexts from the domestic sphere to political commentary.