I came here to draw, not to write

Simon Bell

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

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    Most art and design students increasingly see written work as irrelevant. However, recent innovative assignments which judiciously mix formal constraints and reflective freedom have encouraged students to apply critical thinking to their practical work. This paper analyses three such written assignments and outlines a fourth, to be delivered in autumn 2010, which aim to inject rewarding creativity into student writing. The students are from Coventry University’s School of Art and Design, and range from Art and Design Foundation to undergraduates in Fashion and Graphics. The assignments set meaningful restriction against opportunity: for example, essay lengths are set in terms of the physical space allowed (page extent, or maximum page area: thus students can integrate emerging arguments with layout) instead of word count; picture captions have very specific overall lengths but can be distributed at will amongst the images (thus the images can be strung together as part of a sub- or meta-narrative); conclusions have to be presented wordlessly as one-page picture essays (thus encouraging students to summarise cogently whilst at the same time considering intelligently ambiguous reading as a way of adumbrating meta-truths); and the main points of a hypothetical debate between students and their chosen practitioners for comparison are to be presented as a dialogue replacing the original speech in short clips from feature films (thus obliging students to exploit genre and expectation in text / image combinations). Students have enjoyed the work: not only have they reflected constructively about their practice, but they have also produced work of appropriate scholarly content. However, the work has not favoured those predisposed to write: it has favoured those predisposed to develop sophisticated critical insights as creative visual arts practitioners.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

    Bibliographical note

    This conference paper was given at ICERI 2010 (International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation) that was held in Madrid (Spain) on the 15th, 16th and 17th of November, 2010. Author's note: - Significance: -
    This conference had approximately 700 international delegates. All presentations were strictly limited to 15 minutes (12, + 3 for questions), except for keynote addresses, and the paper was published by CD with ISBN. The paper and presentation were the first exposition of this author’s work with visual arts students, very fixed length texts and formal constraints. The projects discussed have contributed greatly to this author's PhD study, ongoing work with student writing and practice capabilities, understanding theoretical relationships to practical outputs, and writing projects where space and shape are major considerations.
    Rigour: -
    The projects were rooted in reliable and replicable practice: text length was not stipulated in module descriptors, the student work analysed was carefully evaluated against learning outcomes and the projects respected and tested the intellectual requirements of the courses. Much professional writing that these students might do will be subject to similar formal constraints: websites, exhibition boards, catalogue entries and some magazine pages, for example, will have strict text/image or graphic relationships. These will call for a sense of visual order as well as an awareness of (and ability to handle) how meaning might be compromised by changes of wording to achieve fit and a breakdown in visual order if fit has not been achieved. These projects therefore neither jeopardised student learning nor distorted results because of experimental procedures.
    Originality: -
    The assignments encouraged a creative interplay between the visual - or, more properly, creative practice - and the verbal. Factors such as suggested meaning, sequences, narratives, genre, and picture reading in close relation to text reading, were brought into play. These factors are not generally considered part of conventional academic writing. This work contributed to the PhD study in which writing and reader-response theory are brought into the visual arts creative process.


    • constraints
    • ambiguity
    • interpretation
    • application.


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