composition is not research

Some fairly provocative ideas from John Croft here:

He makes a lot of very broad assumptions about research which I find hard to reconcile but it’s definitely worth a read.

the cognitive content of art while insisting on its resistance to conceptualisation – it presents rather than represents, discloses without describing. In terms of Wittgenstein’s famous distinction, such things can only be shown, not told.

And here’s Ian Pace’s response:

On 25 November there’s going to be a conversation about these ideas.

I have plans to make it along.

3 thoughts on “composition is not research”

  1. It’s taken me a few days to get round to engaging with this – I think partly because I was daunted by the thought of what Simon might consider a provocative idea! – but having finally read it (at least John Croft’s original piece) it immediately connected with something else I was reading this morning about Dewey’s ideas on scientific investigations

    “These open with the ‘Oh’ of wonder and terminate with the ‘Good’ of a rounded out and organised situation. Neither the ‘Oh’ or the ‘Good’ expresses a mere state of personal feeling. Each characterises a subject-matter” (Dewey, 1930/1988, 250)

    I’d like to explore the resonances between these two models further – at the moment I feel in strong agreement with the first two and a half pages of Croft’s article, but then I feel he goes off track (wonder if I’ll have similar hesitations to Pace or different ones). I’m writing this here now to put pressure on myself to find time for this more detailed consideration & post it on the group blog.

    The other response that feels interesting to make here though, is to this quote

    “in general, a researcher cannot simply decide to ignore swathes of previous research
    because it suits her to do so, or cultivate a deliberate obliviousness to the scholarly context in
    which she works. But for a composer, this might be just the right thing to do.”

    I really agree with Croft about the necessity of protecting the composition process sometimes from premature awareness of comparable work (or maybe just from premature comparing of any kind). Orley and I were chatting about this over lunch yesterday & it was also the subject of my question to Hamish – “Had awareness of work by other artists directly affected his practice?” (answer “No”).

    I’ve therefore felt most challenged by Simon when I feel he’s pushing the necessity to bring awareness of relevant theory and comparable practice into the research process. It also came up in my tutorial with Emilyn, when she suggested reading object relations theory as a natural line of flight to explore the Gestalt therapy experience and I explained why I’m deliberately avoiding reading any theory about it at the moment, so that I can develop a model that’s just based on my personal experience.

    [Having an ‘Aha!’ moment here. Gonna take some time out and brush my hair]

    Ok, yes – so my response to Emilyn wasn’t about the eventual value of reading the theory, it was about the timing (and to be fair, she in no way tried to push me on that) and similarly, I don’t think Croft is questioning the value of engaging with work by contemporaries and predecessors over the course of an artistic career – just in relation to the process of a particular composition. What went ‘aha!’ for me, was a connection between the importance of timing in this context and the discipline in the Gestalt context (as I understand it) of engaging only with what is figural in the co-created space in that moment – and not with what’s been generally on your mind between sessions.

    My experience so far has been that through this discipline, everything (that seems important outside the space) will eventually come into the space – often in a very revealing way. So by analogy, I would like to see my resistance to actively seeking comparable art practices and relevant theory at this point in my project as expressing my sense that the how of engagement with these is hugely important, rather than that I think I don’t need to engage with them.



  2. Hi Jenny. I think – as you say – many of these things depend on the nature of the project itself. I think you are wise to sense your way through what will work best for the nature of your project. Find the appropriate time to engage ‘externally’. Cheers, ske.


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