The ear that you are able to hear me with : theorising art practice through auto/ethnography

Farr, Alisa (2008-12)

Thesis (MA (VA)(Visual Arts))--Stellenbosch University, 2008.


This thesis investigates social aspects of the production and distribution of artworks, approaching these from the context of the every-day life of the artist. Its main aim is to form a theoretical framework and personalised application of auto/ ethnography to enable the artist to study her own practice within a specific context. The thesis serves as a counterpart to the practical work that is expected of a Master of arts student at this particular university and in this department, the University of Stellenbosch, Department of Visual Arts. As such, it works in tandem with the practical component to posit an understanding of the artworks as they have been formed in a complex postmodern society. I, as the artist and writer, discuss my work by drawing from autobiographical experiences and theoretical frameworks as texts. Auto/ethnography, the chosen methodology, is informed by post-structuralism, Marxist and neo-Marxist theories and feminist discourses, among others. It calls for researchers to apply self-reflexivity in their practice and, hence, must include the situated position of the ‘I’ of the researcher, as this inevitably impacts on research findings. My writing on my art-making process becomes a form of ‘emergent’ research that studies the relationship between the self and the social. This takes place through the use of autobiographical texts and the above-mentioned theoretical frameworks, combined with relational and dialogical theories of art, and frameworks that study art production and distribution from sociological perspectives. I write myself as constituted within ideology and subject to societal structure, but also possessing agency. I write on my art as a product determined by my position in society; my intentions and aims for the artwork and considerations on how its distribution might affect me; and its function as a text that carries meanings that differ from those which I, at any given time, might ascribe to it. The framework in which I write on my art-making process also draws on complexity theory. Within this framework I approach the self as relational, society and the environment as a complex self-structuring process, and the meaning of text as created and re-created in a web of interactions, between the self (of the writer/artist and reader/viewer) and the society (as built up of different interrelating subsystems). Writing auto/ethnographically to produce an academic dissertation within this specific academic community can, I believe, serve as a means through which I can question my own objectivising claims, or claims that lie in theoretical and personal frameworks that I draw from. Implicit in this thesis is the question: how can an artist, working within the confines of an academic framework, ensure that an ethical component exists between the self and other in her working practice?

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