Lately I have had the strangest looks (to misquote Stevie W) whenever I’m asked what I do. This is not altogether surprising, since the answer is that I’m currently practising a/r/tography.
So let’s swing from the songsheet to chapter and verse.
It’s widely accepted that there are different kinds of learning, and chances are at some stage in your life you’ve probably been in some dodgy business training seminar that has analysed ‘your style of learning’ and assigned you to a category (a bit like a multiple choice pop psychoanalysis in a women’s magazine). A/r/tography emerged not from Cosmopolitan, but from the (slightly less entertaining) field of Education Studies, where people began to expand on the idea of different types of learning by investigating different ways of teaching, ultimately linking this back to different types of knowing. It’s written that way because the ‘/’ are meant to indicate folds or pleats where the disciplines of art, research and teaching overlap, and the ‘graphy’ the writing of same. See what they did there?
Of course, Nana wouldn’t be Nana if she toed the line, so I’ve adapted this handy little nomenclature to reflect my own mingling of disciplines; art/ research/translation.
So what is it that I actually do? My version of a/r/tography is a means of investigation, a research perspective, a tool if you like. It emerges from a (phenomenological) school of thought that suggests the way we approach things partly defines our understanding of them. If you try to write a poem about a sunny day, let’s say, the activity of writing will begin to shape your thoughts, feelings and memories of whatever sunny day(s) you have in mind. What you eventually capture on paper is as much about the properties of words and paper and mark-making as it is about the properties of your notional sunny day.
In the same way, if you were to take a photograph of a cat, you would be re-presenting some of the qualities of the cat and a lot of the qualities of photography and photographs.
So for me a/r/tography is using art and translation to understand things differently, particularly things that are normally investigated and represented using ‘traditional’ academic techniques (you know, the old qualitative data collection>analysis>representation of findings type of thing). I’m still looking at ‘data’, but because I’m doing it through art and translation what emerges should be a different spin on the same ball; a different, but no less valid (and no less particular) way of looking at and understanding, a way of uncovering overlooked aspects of ‘known’ things.
Not one to paddle when I could be jumping off a cliff blindfold without knowing the depth of the water, I thought I’d experiment with a/r/tographic methods in a PhD- applying them to the study of British Sign Language poetry.
But I dream of a future as an a/r/tographer for hire, shedding new light on ever more challenging topics. I did think it would be fun to market myself as some sort of a/r/tographic private detective, until I realised that would make me a ‘dick’……..