New directions opening up I could almost call myself an art historian maybe…(trainee level:-)
New directions opening up I could almost call myself an art historian maybe…(trainee level:-)
In 2009 in support of my initial M.A. proposal I wrote this statement….
Nothing much changed..:-)
Shaun Belcher November 2009
I am a somewhat unusual case to be writing about my ‘fine art’ practice. I began life ‘post-Hornsey College of Art’ in 1981 having successfully gained a place on the Royal College M.A. in Painting but sadly was not so successful in terms of funding. I continued as a painter and printmaker until a move to Edinburgh in 1993. There I became a published poet. A return to Oxford in 1996 then saw a period of fine art mixed with song-writing.
In conventional terms this kind of genre-hopping is frowned upon as not being quite serious enough. Thankfully I have enough USA based models to not worry too much about that e.g. Musician and Architect and Fine Artist Terry Allen to name but one influence. However whatever my ‘practice’ entailed throughout this period one thing remained constant. My commitment and seriousness about what I was depicting in whatever medium.
Throughout my ‘art-working’ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively’ constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.
There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme the Berkshire Downs another. Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such ‘tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic ‘Anglocana’ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years..Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003). Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.
I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up from Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice. I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. I have recently purchased a reproduction of Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvellous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677. In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’…wonderful….
It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in. Both in poetry (see Downland Ballads) and artworks (see TRACK..2009)
So how does theory inform my practice? Well I see no distinction between the various arts. I am widely read in poetry and song and that informs my practice whatever I do. At times I have also used cartooning as an ‘art criticism’ vehicle as well as penning many art review pieces. I regard both theory and practice as being essential parts of art education and indeed my own life-long learning. One would not exist without the other.
One needs time to absorb and think not just create. I return again and again to my greatest teachers. People I did not know but who showed by example. Sorley Maclean and Norman McCaig both fine Scottish poets and the female war artist Ray Howard Jones whom I had pleasure of meeting…a friend of the artist David Jones. Wonderful inspirational people…
This blog contains all the media related research I have conducted since the inception of my ‘multimedia’ M.A. by registered project back in October 2010. Then the focus was on contemporary tablets and software and a geographical location. Since then I have fairly logically worked backwards towards the creation of the media culture and found myself increasingly interested in the Victorian period.
For want of a better title I have renamed the blog ‘Victorian Transmedia’.
For me the period from the invention of photography through to the birth of commercial cinema is fascinating and it where most of my attention been in terms of genuine research.
So this blog will continue to reflect my genuine interest in the impact of technology on and through the arts in the Thames Valley from about 1825 -1910 ( The Leverhulme application slightly modified that focus for funding reasons.)
I am currently consolidating this research angle into something more solid and will continue to seek support for it outside of NTU SAD.
None of this research will in future be attached to NTU and I have created a new research profile on academia edu as an independent which says it all really.
The new profile is here:
Read more about this App here : Microsoft Apps
It has been a career-defining week so until the dust truly settles I not making any comments about my withdrawal from the Creative Writing M.A. other than these reflections on what I think is happening to fiction these days in general.
It was only after withdrawal that I started to consider what it was that I had wanted from the course rather than what the course offered me. There was no problem with what delivered it simply wasn’t what I wanted..they sold bananas I actually wanted peaches.
The problem is that the field of ‘Extended Fiction’ which I am primarily interested in is at present almost homeless within academia in general. The NTU course is not the only one focusing on the principles of traditional fiction writing, screen-writing and poetry in categories that have been fixed since the notion of Creative Writing was accepted into the academy. Indeed one could even go back further to the battles to get English Literature accepted into the academy.
This constant seeking for ‘validation’ alongside the sciences means that, like fine art, a lot of conservatism has crept in alongside the wish to be taken seriously. This conservatism is especially prevalent now with REF status measurement . Creative courses move towards ‘acceptability’ through research worthiness but in my opinion it is stifling creative content and not just in writing.
The area of apps and fiction (see above) which mixing illustration and stories, online and offline graphic novels, voice-only novels ( a recent development..basically a recording of writer reading but no text sold) photo-embedded literature, visual-poetry, comics etc etc has hardly rippled the surface of ‘creative writing’ that country-wide has been modeled on a Stateside Iowa Workshop model first introduced in the 1960’s. A model that now 50 years old. We wouldn’t drive a car built in 1960 now so why drive a model of education that similarly dated?
There are various reasons for this. A lot of the embedded wisdom in that model is very good. Good writing is good writing and basic principles have not changed. What has changed is everything around that model. The stand-alone paper novel may not be as Will Self so clearly put it ‘as dead as the Dodo’ but it is it certainly one platform amongst many now. Self is one author trying to breathe life into its form in an arena where what we call literature or ‘the book’ may be fragmenting into a variety of platforms. The internet has changed the delivery, consumption and influence of the literature we read as comprehensively as the first paperbacks sold at W.H.Smiths (which trains then distributed around the country like a steel internet) changed our notions of literacy, communication and most importantly fueled universal suffrage and democracy.
To paraphrase Yeats
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold……
But the centre here is the reader. The reader is now the centre of endless opportunities be it social media, hypertext, embedded photos. Everything has become an endless ‘narrative’ which we making from our own lives via social media. To disrupt this ‘FLOW’ of trans-mediale imagery and text we have to purposefully disengage via Kindle or paper (the original kindle is a electronic metaphor for paper anyway) and place ourselves outside the ‘FLOW’.
If one turns one’s attention away from standard literature field to what I tentatively calling ‘Extended Fictions’ a whole new landscape emerges. This is a landscape that the millennial born digital natives are swimming in effortlessly. It is both image and text like graphic novels but maybe even more fluid and permeable once online. The graphic novel has its ‘paper’ retro adherents who regard online as a threat to its unique paper object-ness. They see its object-hood as the defining characteristic of paper-bound writing and in many ways this ‘thing-ness’ corresponds with contemporary crisis in the fine arts over authenticity and object value.
I spent much of last year investigating Charles Dickens and his illustrators as a key moment in the development of the ‘serialised’ novel. Indeed one could say he invented the modern magazine serialisation and therefore modern cinema and TV.
It is no coincidence that the first efforts to create working free-flowing multi-directional Apps from literature have used him as a model. The image above is a illustrated short story by Dickens from Microsoft. The image below is from the ‘Dark London’ app developed by the Museum of London and again drawing on both location tracking and multiple entry points to the narrative..all is FLOW..not uni-directional narration.
Unless modern creative-writing courses take on board THE FLOW we will have a version of writing presented as all writing just as a version of fine art currently dominates fine art. This is my opinion. It is not an opinion many in my institution would agree with that is for sure.
For me to not go with THE FLOW is to cease to go forward it as simple as that.
The future is here now and it looks very much like the past to me …we do not want to miss the train do we? Would Dickens be working on paper or the web?
The Tuning of Place
Sociable Spaces and Pervasive Digital Media
Table of Contents and Sample Chapters
How do pervasive digital devices—smartphones, iPods, GPS navigation systems, and cameras, among others—influence the way we use spaces? In The Tuning of Place, Richard Coyne argues that these ubiquitous devices and the networks that support them become the means of making incremental adjustments within spaces—of tuning place. Pervasive media help us formulate a sense of place, writes Coyne, through their capacity to introduce small changes, in the same way that tuning a musical instrument invokes the subtle process of recalibration. Places are inhabited spaces, populated by people, their concerns, memories, stories, conversations, encounters, and artifacts. The tuning of place—whereby people use their devices in their interactions with one another—is also a tuning of social relations.
The range of ubiquity is vast—from the familiar phones and handheld devices through RFID tags, smart badges, dynamic signage, microprocessors in cars and kitchen appliances, wearable computing, and prosthetics, to devices still in development. Rather than catalog achievements and predictions, Coyne offers a theoretical framework for discussing pervasive media that can inform developers, designers, and users as they contemplate interventions into the environment. Processes of tuning can lead to consideration of themes highly relevant to pervasive computing: intervention, calibration, wedges, habits, rhythm, tags, taps, tactics, thresholds, aggregation, noise, and interference.
About the Author
Richard Coyne is Professor and Chair of Architectural Computing, University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age: From Method to Metaphor (1995), Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real (2001), and Cornucopia Limited: Design and Dissent on the Internet (2005), all published by the MIT Press.