Did you just make that up? An auto-ethnographic investigation into the emergence of images in painting, as situated within the framework of C20th and C21st British Art

PhD Thesis

Williams, C. 2023. Did you just make that up? An auto-ethnographic investigation into the emergence of images in painting, as situated within the framework of C20th and C21st British Art. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Creative Arts and Industries
AuthorsWilliams, C.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

I am a painter. My paintings depict figures in groups or alone, enacting narrative in illusionistic space. The paintings are produced without much explicit preparation in terms of their content, relying on improvisation in the studio for their realisation. I do not have a clear idea of when they are finished, either, and I often alter paintings long after their first conclusion. I set out to examine where the images and spaces I depict come from, how their form develops and how they might continue to emerge; how I make things up, in other words. In doing this, I hope to make the paintings better by increasing the complexity of my understanding of them, to shed light on creative practice in general, and to offer insight to other painters like me, and to researchers into creative practice.

I have subjected the emergent and shifting nature of my paintings to academic study by combining a close attention to the work and its processes with a self-reflective journal of the activity and ongoing theoretical writing. This process generates a virtuous spiral of activity in the studio, as writing about the painting produces insight, which is fed into the painting, making it better, and producing more insight, which is fed into the painting and so on.

In subjecting my studio practice to study, I hope to open it up in a way that might be useful to others. The analysis of reflections on my own painting - developing the concept of the intersubjective object - is an attempt to make sense of interrelationships between the material, social and theoretical territories of painting. This is where the originality of my study lies. In presenting it, I offer insights into my creative practice that will be useful for other creative practitioners, and for academic study of creative practice.

I address questions about improvisation and narrative development in my paintings. First, I introduce the thesis and lay out its terms. In chapter 1 I set out the literature which informs the thesis, and in chapter 2 I set out the methodologies I have approached in working out my own method. In chapter 3 self-reflection and reflexivity are discussed in relation to improvisation and narrative, in chapter 4 which I examine how meaning is realised in relation to the surface of the painting, in chapter 5 which the positioning of my studio practice in terms of its wider contexts is examined in relation to painting as an intersubjective object and in chapter 6 which I look at continuity in my studio practice. I propose cloth as a metaphor for the work, as an articulation of development within individual paintings and within the practice. In chapter 7 I discuss the problem of finishing paintings.

This research has brought my painting into sharper focus, examining the relationship of painting to the improvisation of content. It has allowed me to re-examine elements of my practice that I have either taken for granted or overlooked, revealing historical parallels that would have remained invisible otherwise. It develops an understanding of the significance of narrative and improvisation in any creative practice, elucidating ideas about the self in creativity. In differentiating painting from other fine art practices and creative forms it produces a powerful sense of the significance of the painting in making meaning. The research leads me to the identification of a painting as an intersubjective object, in that my own subjectivity and those of others meet and operate there to generate and develop meaning. This theoretical construction can be employed in discussion of other art works, as well as my own.

KeywordsAuto-ethnographic investigation; Images in painting; 20th century British art; 21st century British art
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Publication process dates
Deposited18 Dec 2023
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