Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing as a Generative Process

Classes started today at YVCC. Last week while I was updating syllabi and trying to determine whether I have work study support in the studio this year, I was also been thinking about changes and improvements I can make in my classes this coming quarter. I finally got around to reading some course evaluations I gave my students last year and I got some good suggestions from them.

I plan to have my independent clay students keep a blog about their quarter's experience in clay. I suspect some of them will not be thrilled about the writing element in a clay class, but I have a background in writing as well as art and I think that an essential skill for an artist (or anybody) is to be able to talk intelligently about their work. 

One of the things I have noticed about keeping this blog regularly--even for the short amount of time I have been keeping it regularly--is how helpful the writing process is for how I think about my work. As my mother likes to remind me, "writing is a generative process." 

As I sit down to write, I don't have a fully formulated plan. I keep a notebook handy in the studio and jot down a few ideas as they come to me. When I sit down to write, I pick the most interesting or promising idea and start to write about it. I often don't know where I am headed when I begin to write. A few times I have found myself on a tangent or in a slightly different place that where I expected to be when I began writing. A few times I have made a connection in writing that I hadn't really thought about before writing it down.

The fact that I end up writing something I wasn't expecting when I started is what makes the whole process interesting. Keeping the blog has reminded me of sharing a studio in college. Obviously one doesn't script a whole conversation ahead of time. Conversations with a studio-mate or conversations in a more formal critique move you from one understanding to another. In some ways having a conversation with a blog is like talking to a very neutral studio-mate. 

I also like Blogger's save and edit features. I try to step away from my blog before posting it because, as is happening right now, I might get distracted in the middle of writing. I can get the basic ideas down and return later (say, when my daughter isn't trying to talk to me about her owies) and read the post through to be sure that I didn't muddle my phrasing.

But a blog also doesn't require formality expected in a classroom setting or an artist's statement. Blog authors can use slang and incomplete sentences as it suits their style, just as long as it makes sense. One of my favorite examples of this relaxed (and funny) style of writing is the Books I Done Read blog. 

Another advantage of a blog is that the writing can be sparse and the images plentiful. The Larson Gallery Guild blog uses a lot of images combined with writing (and the images and writing come from a variety of sources). Other artists' blogs use almost no writing and focus entirely on images of work. One of my favorite blogs that relies heavily on images hasn't been updated recently, but Hyperbole and a Half has excellent stuff if you search past posts. 

I believe that keeping a blog will force my independent students to formulate more thoughtful ideas about their work. I hope that it will also encourage discussions between the independent students. Of course it will allow me insight into what students are doing, thinking and talking about. 

My independent students keep different studio hours or work outside of the studio. I can force conversations by holding a required critique, but the discussions end up being somewhat formal and are hard to schedule.

Of course I also like the idea of having students present their work regularly and perhaps even interact with people who are not in the class. Several local artists keep blogs of their work. Fostering a discussion or connection between students and artists could be a good experience for all.

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