Action Research and Reflection: Jonathan Kearney Lecture

 

Note to self – watch the video again, before reading once more what I have written. This is not a regurgitant of content, it is a spontaneous assimilation awaiting future reflection. So watch the video from time to time even if I think I already know what it says.     www.bitly.com/MA-youtube2018-19

This lecture is an excellent exposition on methodology and how not to suffocate with dogma, prejudice, lack of direction, inappropriate and imposed expectations: to be all you can be as an individual amongst individuals. But to have it so clearly and concisely laid out belies the time and thought that has gone into such a simple explication. It brings together complex aspects of creative thinking without even touching the medium used or the work itself. This deft handling of practice methodology leaves matters open and flexible. It is not a prescriptive way or approach but a practical philosophy based on experience, knowledge and research. I feel very at home with the ideas and to have them put across in such a clear and simple way helps me identify where and how I can improve on my thinking or better said, how I can avoid wrong thinking.

But avoiding wrong thinking is not the same as avoiding mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process and the finessing of a craft. It is necessary to make a mistake to know what not to do. This may appear counterintuitive but to aim for the ‘right’ or correct thing, to have a set paradigm, often leads to wrong thinking. Wrong thinking starts out as knowing exactly where it is going and as it starts to loose its way, asserts its stance with greater force, but it is only heading towards a mirage. This is a cycle in which learning is reduced and can only lead to frustration. Mastery is the removing of veils, it is a reduction to the core of something. It is not about making it right but avoiding mistakes once made: knowing what not to do. 

I have often wondered what action research is. It is the everyday process that an artist engages in. It is to focus from within what is being done regardless of the esternal world. Perhaps this is what is meant by the much abused term, art for art’s sake. It is a cyclical process that never ends, where learning never ends, and that is exciting. 

Reflecting on reflection: at the start of these two years, three weeks ago, I stated in my first Project Proposal draft, that I was looking for the connective tissue in my practice. What is starting to appear is a picture where writing links the various means and outcomes I am involved in. This journal is beginning to create a framework. I have so many things to write about in relation to my practice, ideas, experiences. I am excited to see how the framework emerges, a body constructed with the elements of my practice acting as organs, limbs and manifestations of the whole. After all, what Jonathan talks about in the lecture is about knitting together a holistic dynamic process of integration, accretion, assimilation, and making it your own. Where this might lead is an open question that will only be resolved later along the course of these two years; even then the process does not end but starts, again. It is not something that cannot be hurried, only intensified. 

Jonathan also talks about the idea of reflection on and in-action. To reflect in-action is so much easier if you are already practiced at what you are reflecting on. When learning something new, I aim to understand, then do and finally, usually after a pause during which assimilation takes place, I can fully immerse myself in the activity so that I can step outside the doing while being in the action and reflect as it is done. This process is one of detachment and integration at one and the same time. I become one with what I do and also aim to be able to explain what is being done. That is why simplicity is essential. If the matter in hand is made complicated or appears complicated (makes no difference), reflection in-action becomes thwarted. This is why practice is so important. Practice makes something ‘automatic’. However, there is something about practice that is little understood. Practice does not of itself make perfect. Practice makes permanent. That is the reason why it is more important to know and focus on what not to do rather than on striving towards a paradigm.

[I have to say that since I started this journal, writing has become easier and each piece of writing takes less labour. But I still have to focus equally; it is just that it comes more easily and takes less time.]

Jonathan’s list of what to keep a record of in the blog journal is worth revisiting regularly:

  • actions
  • decisions
  • thought processes
  • successes and failures
  • issues you are dealing with 

The lecture also covers the difference between art and science research. Science is what I started with. I loved the themes and ideas but to have done research was not for me. Science is a victim of its own success. It is constrained by the scientific method. This can be summarised as the need for repeatability, falsification and personal detachment. It is the antithesis of artistic practice which emphasises individuality, uniqueness (which is very different to originality) and verification. Scientific ideas are universal, open to appropriation and waiting to be shown as false. Art is personal and subjective, it is also universal.

I am a metaphorical being seeing the world and explaining it in terms of labels: that is how language works. Language is the basis for reasoned thought. Whereas science looks to tropes as ways of explaining and understanding but always with caveats, art embraces metaphor and other tropes as means of opening out to nuance and subjective communication and of asking questions. I wanted to be nuanced and have the possibility of portraying ambivalence and ambiguity in my work, speculate and imagine. That is why I did not continue with science. I still attempt to be logical but not as a reductive, deductive mechanism for inference. The logic of what I do is often hidden in the weave and texture of the work and reflection is part of teasing it out and making it more apparent to myself, to start with. This is a principle aim of my MA research. It is a matter of constructing a valid argument but not necessarily a sound one. The reason for a sound argument not being desirable or even possible lies in the very way art practice evolves. By every definition that contains humanity at its core, art is subjective. A non-false premise, for that is what a sound logical argument must have, need be objective. Therein lies the point of potential conflict in any artistic discussion. Validity and soundness of argument are two very different things. To believe in the soundness of an artistic argument is a false notion and requires as back up falling into dogma and faith, something that an artist might well have difficulty in contending with if they are to maintain openness and follow a holistic approach. 

An interesting proposal nearing the end of the lecture was that science leads to no change in the world whereas art does. This opens up a whole new and long discussion but I would like to finish off by reminding myself that science is not technology. Science is about finding explanations for how the world is. Technology applies these but it also applies social, economic and other non-science based ideas. Technos comes from the word techne which although closely related to the meaning of episteme (knowledge and understanding), it emphasises active application of knowledge. Whereas science is about understanding, technology is about applying understanding. Both techne and ars refer more to human activity than disembodied knowledge. Note that this disembodiment of knowledge becomes a universal idea that can be appropriated by anyone whereas technology and art very much bear the stamp of authorship. This is embodied in the concept of copyright, you can copyright a means of doing something and an artwork but you cannot copyright an idea.  

 

 

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