Dissertation preparation – or a tea dance?

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Huge thanks to Simon Denison for writing this guest blog post. It’s great to see how our students prepare for the dissertation in such an enagaged way, and if we have a Critical Studies tea dance next year I hope I’m invited.


Second year students continued their process of identifying potential Dissertation research subjects for next year that would support their creative practice at a couple of sessions in HCA’s cavernous Main Hall yesterday. We relocated to the Hall with its ancient rickety tables to allow college maintenance teams to bang and hammer away preparing conventional teaching spaces for the upcoming Summer Show. Looking across the acres of polished floorboards, one colleague – a plate of biscuits and cakes in each hand brought to fuel creative young minds – suggested that if the session went badly wrong we could perhaps use the space for a tea-dance instead.
In an experimental process begun last month (link to previous blog entry) students had been asked to bring to this session mood-boards containing images and texts representing artworks, objects and ideas that were particularly influential to them as practitioners and people. The idea was to find links between the various components as a way to identify themes and concepts that might serve as a starting-point for Dissertation research.
Most students had committed enthusiastically to the challenge and some amazingly eclectic and intricately designed mood-boards formed the basis for many lively discussions. One mood-board contained images of Dr Who, David Bowie, Roger Dean’s fantasies, Weegee’s street crime and Modernist urban photography; another ranged across botanical illustration, Constructivist design and aftermath images of sites of genocide.
Many students seemed to find the discussions extremely rewarding and left the session with a clear basis for their Dissertation Proposal. Ideas that were voiced in a plenary discussion at the end included changing representations of the occult in 20th century illustration, the relationships between visual ambiguity and humour and the social value of craft practice in disaster zones.
Some other students, however, found the eclectic nature of their various interests a little too baffling to reduce quickly to a single concept, while a few had perhaps focused a little too closely on the inward-looking and personal and not quite enough on ideas and on motivating aspects of the wider culture.
It is also the case that a number of higher-flying students have been independently developing their research ideas as potential Dissertation subjects over the course of the second year, and had less need for the ‘reflexive deconstruction’ called for by the experimental preparation strategy we have been working with this year.
Next year we may also find time for that tea-dance after all, if we can find a string quartet that will play appropriate repertoire for Critical Studies. Musical suggestions, anyone?

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