Academics and the creative process

Mike commenting on a finished work.

This week I got a personal tour through New Mexico artist Mike Bell’s paintings. Now, artists and academics are usually depicted as two entirely different types of people.  Artists are free-thinking, soulful and sometimes a little wild, while academics are uber-rational eggheads who delight in flow-charts, facts and logic (right?!).

Nonetheless, I think academics have a lot to learn from artists.  We don’t usually talk about our work as a creative endeavor, but the process of shaping our own ideas, making unexpected connections between events and ideas, and writing about the social world involves a touch of mystery that artists seem much better equipped to think about than academics are.

The more I hear Mike and other writers, sculptors and creative types talk about their work process, the more I learn about my own.  We all need to find ways to keep our creative juices flowing in spite of other, often more pressing, demands on our time.  We struggle to value our ideas enough to try to realize them, to learn who is helpful to discuss early-stage ideas with and whose commentary will have toxic impacts on our work, to navigate the pressure to be our own best publicist with competing instincts to be humble.  Sometimes we think our creations are terrible as we are making them and then come back later and realize they aren’t half bad.

Beginning scholars in particular need all the help we can get in navigating the creative terrain of our work.  I’d love to find ways to bring us more formally into conversation with artists! In that spirit, please send in any of your own creative practices and tips!

My creative process involves lots of post-its…

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