I almost went to college to study art. I even interviewed for a place. I had a portfolio and everything. That was more than a decade ago and honestly, I can’t even remember if I got in. But I didn’t go. Things changed, life took a drastic turn, and I wanted to leave everything behind. And so I did. I ended up at university, pursuing another passion of mine: archaeology; history, anthropology.
I have never strayed that far from art. It’s always been there, in my life. But recently, it’s been a lot more… present.
You may have noticed (if you follow this blog, or me, elsewhere on social media) that in the past few months there have been a lot more posts about sketches, doodles, paintings, and uhh… other endeavours. I have become semi-obsessed with the creation of anything and everything that enters my mind. My house is full of pencils and pens. There are stacks of paper and boxes of paints. My kitchen table covered in pencil shavings and eraser rubbings. Paintbrushes and dishes of water frequent the draining board. Behind the stairs are baskets full of art supplies and scrap paper drafts. And I think that I’ve finally figured out why.
I am writing my PhD.
Up until a few months ago, when I began seriously writing up my thesis (yes, PhD supervisor, if you are reading this, I am actually writing, I swear), my PhD studies were filled with creativity. I was absorbing lots of fascinating research almost every day, developing new methods for investigating past populations, playing with facts and figures from history to try and solve a problem – and it worked (sort of). I discovered that I had results, and by interpreting them within an archaeological context, they actually meant something. Oh, the elation. It was the peak of my PhD creation! But then I had to start writing it down.
It’s probably a bit harsh of me to say above that the creativity stopped when I started writing, because of course writing is its own art form (trust me, it is, and one that I am struggling with at the moment). It’s different though. In the case of my PhD: at this point, I already know what I’m going to say. So now, it’s just* writing it down. This change in either the type or amount of creativity needed is enough, that for me at least, I need another outlet. And there follows my return to art.
I have been wandering around a bit though. There have been archaeological doodles, paintings of animals, jewellery based on TV documentaries and while it is gloriously fulfilling, I do feel like I need a bit of direction. Sometimes the freedom to create whatever you want can become a little overwhelming.
Which brings me back to my thesis.
If you’ve seen my plague poster or watched my presentation from the TAG conference, you may know that I’ve been trying to do academia a little differently (admittedly, this is the same as a lot of people). Not a lot different, just a little, but hopefully enough that it makes a… well, a difference.
I would love to create a PhD thesis that accurately reflects my position on the dissemination of academic research. To me, this means making it accessible, which fundamentally comes down to it not being one million overly complex words that follow increasingly Inception-like narratives. I’m working on this. But I also think that research should reflect the personality of the individuals involved. And unfortunately it is there that the current go-to PhD thesis doesn’t do it for me.
Therefore, I thought it would be wonderful to create an illustrated thesis. There are academics out there who have done – and are doing – this, to a much more intense extent than what I am proposing. Aside from the fact that I have already written significant portions of my thesis (yes, seriously, supervisor) I do think that my particular topic will benefit from some of the more traditional thesis elements (e.g. format, text, figures, etc).
So what am I proposing? I am proposing a subject-appropriate artistic element to my final thesis:
If you don’t know what that is – then get off this blog right now… AND GO LEARN ALL ABOUT THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS MEDIEVAL MARGINALIA!
I do intend to try and make this happen and so after arriving at this idea, uhh… last night (although I think it’s been brewing for a while) I made a little sketch.
I imagine something like this heading up each of my thesis chapters and then I can include proper marginalia (that’s actually, you know, in the margins) throughout the thesis. It is important to me that this adds something to the thesis though and since I mean other than adorable medieval-style doodles, I’d aim to use this marginalia to emphasise certain points, illustrate specific ideas, or other generally useful things.
The next step for me (other than, umm, writing my thesis) is to ink that sketch and paint it, so I can get a more complete idea of the final effort required (and whether it looks like something I’d want to put into the final result of three plus years of academic blood, sweat, and tears, that… you know, a whole three people are going to read). In the meantime, I would really like to know what other people think of this potentially viva-failing (or maybe viva-winning) idea.
If nothing else, it’ll give me a creative distraction that might just keep me on topic while I’m writing up…
*Ha, if only it were that easy.