Getting art and design students to write by stealth (Paper)

Simon Bell

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    How can we stop some student reflective essay writing becoming a laborious, descriptive, chronological route-march through events, without critical insight or applicable awareness? In my experience, many UK university art and design students tend to agonise about the writing of traditional, reflective essays at the expense of productive analysis of the studio practice which should be the driver of the writing in the first place. My research indicates that this may be because they have residual respect for essays even if they dislike writing them. The tail is wagging the dog. This paper discusses an essay project in which my graphic design undergraduates were asked to produce a manifesto to summarise their emerging studio practice. The manifesto could only have three words and one image, and had to fit an equilateral triangle template. Students had to think about dividing their practice into three - and, if this were not possible or desirable, could the words (even the relative size of the words, perhaps) minimise readers’ reductive assumptions? How could three words do justice to their practice? They had to consider consistency and tone of voice - much more prominent given the focus on the words; they had to consider which word should come first; should a word come first? If so, how might that be shown? Should the words stand alone, or be read in sequence…in one direction only, or might content be enhanced (or diluted) via multiple readings? Should the image explain the words, or draw them together, or act as a fourth word, or as some sort of determinative, perhaps a determinative which could have a different agency with different words? How might image orientation affect meaning? Could the image reduce the significance of the three words, perhaps introducing some welcome ambiguity or double meaning? Most of these considerations were either new to students or had unfamiliar emphasis. There were many gratifyingly thoughtful and imaginative manifestos produced, and interesting vocabulary and word / image combinations. The best students analysed their studio practice well at the outset and understood it better at the end. The essay had clearly worked - most likely because the students didn’t realise they’d written one.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationICERI2014 Proceedings
    PublisherIATED Academy
    ISBN (Print)978-84-617-2484-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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