I started out this year lost and unhopeful about my academic abilities. I had decided the question I’d chosen to write about in my proposal was not correct, I was confused by the brief I had burdened myself with and didn’t know what to change my area of study to. I was so afraid of the monumental academic task that stood before me that I decided to join the Erasmus programme and run away to Germany for a year to give me time to contemplate my options. Now a year later I’m sitting here reflecting upon my finished thesis, that I am extremely proud of, as a more complete artist, designer and maker.
The primary difficulty I faced was figuring out a topic that I felt was valid and an academically sound area of discussion for a dissertation. I was feeling a similar way about my practical work at the time. I felt my work although visually and aesthetically pleasing lacked substance. Now I have completed this quest for knowledge, I have realised this is exactly what my work was lacking. I needed to have a deeper understanding of the wider areas of study to help inform my own practice. Through research I have learnt about art movements and manifestos that mimic the trends that were already, organically appearing in my own work. One such example I have been deeply moved and inspired by, is the work of a man called Edward Gordon Craig and his contribution to the New Stagecraft movement in the early years of the 20th century. He reinvented theatre embracing abstract imagery and surrealist themes in place of naturalism as a form of universal communication with his audiences. He did all this primarily through the mask as a theatrical tool. He also aimed to bring the traditional esoteric and carnivalesque uses of the mask to conventional theatre which is a key theme my work embraces. This ability of the mask to remove our primary form of communication (facial expression and speech) and still allow the wearer to convey any message is fascinating and exhilarating when you consider the possibilities this tool holds within. This concept that his work is centred around is the defining characteristic that spiked my interest in masks in the first place. Now I have learnt of a movement that has already explored these ideas I can see a clearer path as to where my own practice belongs within the world. I have also found a deeper context for my work by researching broader areas of study, like philosophy or sociology. I have found myself referencing Plato or Descartes throughout my work, although these ideas take far longer to evaluate and apply to my own thoughts than standard anthropological investigations, I found them monumentally more stimulating and inspiring. Also by learning about the history of the mask through different traditional or innovative cultural uses I have a deeper comprehensive knowledge of the mask’s practical journey through time which has inspired and positively affected my relationship with masks. Now, in the future, I can evaluate others’ art and my own with a more profound understanding. What was once an almost superficial love and fascination has become a deeper understanding of the symbolic value of the mask. Its relationship with the wearer and the audience has always interested me but now I finally understand how to harness the power of this vehicle of transformation. It’s as if the world was once merely a sketch upon a flat plain, now through broader understanding it’s been elevated and I am viewing the world in 3D for the first time.
The highest hurdle on my journey so far was tackling my dyslexia when partaking in academia. Engaging with academic texts has always been difficult for me, having a full dyslexia test helped me understand fully my own areas of weakness. I have learnt more about myself and this has informed my learning approach during this research project. Understanding my dyslexia on a deeper level has aided the organisation of my research using colour coding and keys keep from being swallowed by information. As well as allowing me to allocate more time to my specific areas of difficulty. This further knowledge about myself coupled with finding the right question to study cured my self doubt. I also received such positive feedback from my formative assessment that faith in my own ability was restored. Due to the fact I had less time to write my formative assignment, as I hadn’t decided on a question until late in the game I told myself it would be more valuable for me to have feedback on a shorter piece of well edited writing than trying to produce 3000 words in a very short space of time. This taught me that I work better by setting myself daily goals to stop me from being crippled by the anxiety of the enormous task ahead of me. I implemented these rules upon myself for the rest of the assignment and they worked with great effect. The task of the dissertation went from looming dread to inspirational investigation simply by breaking up my work load.
Looking forward, for any future academic writing I need to do, I will be marking out these personal interim deadlines; starting out weekly at the beginning of a project during the initial research phase, then setting daily word targets once sufficient background research is achieved. Regarding my practical work, I won’t turn purely to visual inspiration when designing and making future projects. I will utilise the wealth of knowledge in the world from broader areas of study to help inform my practice. I hope this will help validate my work further and help me place my work into the correct context on the artistic spectrum.