Writing as a Practitioner, not an Academic

A photograph of a man portrayed in the style of Saint Jerome

Detail from my photograph “The Historian” (2019)

A couple of comments over the past year-or-so have made me think about how I write here.

Without going into too much detail the main thrust of the comments were that the posts weren’t written in the style of traditional scholarly research, and this made them harder to read and cite as academic sources.

These comments were particularly aimed at my more speculative blog posts about social, cultural, and political subjects, rather than “here’s some of my latest artwork I just finished”.

I should add (for fairness and for the sake of my ego) that both these minor criticisms of style were sandwiched between praise about how informative and interesting they found this blog, which was very kind, so I’m not having any sort of existential crisis about this, and I very much appreciated all of the feedback.

The thing is that this blog is just that - a blog. It’s not an academic or scholarly article (I see enough of those in my day job), but is instead far closer to being a Studio Diary/Journal - a personal record of my artistic practice which includes both the visual artwork (finished and in-progress) and my notes on the research, reading, and thinking that informs, and runs in parallel to, the actual creation of visual artwork.

And this difference comes down to my role in the whole ecosystem of “thinking about stuff like this out loud”: I am writing as a practitioner, not as an academic researcher.

This is also why I haven’t submitted abstracts or responded to Calls for Papers to any of the small academic conferences or special issues of academic journals related to things that my artistic practice touches on, despite a number of people kindly suggesting that I should.

Unfortunately I’ve yet to see an academic conference, and especially not an academic journal, fully engage with practitioners as opposed to academic researchers, although I’m fully prepared to be proven wrong - I certainly haven’t analysed every single one.

What I mean by this is that everything from the submission/proposal format to the form and style of the finished article/presentation have — unsurprisingly and quite naturally — been engineered over decades to be aimed at academic researchers, in the form that academic researchers have been taught to use by their institutions.

And so it would feel, at best, like an affectation (at worst, like an act of monstrous egotism) for me to try to write about my own artistic practice as if I was an academic researcher studying my own artistic practice - I’m simply far too close to the primary source (that would be me!) to have that sense of perspective and objective separation.

I would be interested if anyone has any examples (from any field) where an academic conference or journal has successfully managed to combine work from both academic researchers and individual practitioners, overcoming the academic shibboleths and constraints of their forms.

Finally, I’m also aware that this is my third blog post this week - if you’re new here I’m not usually this prolific (three or four posts a month is more usual these days, and seems like a pleasant frequency) - I can only presume that either artistic block in the creation of visual artwork is driving me to write down my thoughts instead, or it’s simply procrastination.