In both the art world and the academy, our attention is often on the finished product.
Whether it’s a painting, a performance, or a research project, the goal is often to create something which is (in some sense) ‘complete,’ or at least satisfying to the creator and thus, hopefully, to others. Considerable effort is made to create, refine, and then share these outcomes with their respective audiences. These works can generate aesthetic experiences and meaningful dialogue, as well as reflection and critique to shape future projects.
When projects are so often judged by their final outcomes, we could be forgiven for thinking the process is only a stepping-stone to something greater. While the outcome may present the culmination of the process, focusing solely an outcome implies that the process only occurs in service of producing the end product. This allows no room to recognise the value in the process itself.
Prioritising the process
The Student-Led Collaborations follow a critical framework which emphasises process rather than product. This emphasis has become a distinguishing feature of the most recent TheoArtistry partnerships; but why is it so important for developing creative methodologies?
1. Fostering creativity. Researchers can afford to broaden their scope to include creative methods when they are not under pressure to produce a polished final product. Focusing on the process has allowed our TheoArtistry researchers to explore a variety of creative methods through their projects, rather than being limited to whatever route might best help them produce a final artwork.
2. A deeper understanding of the project. Paying attention to the insights, methods, and challenges of a project along the way lends greater context and clarity for whatever may emerge. If a researcher is able to delve into a subject for its own sake, they are better able to respond to unexpected discoveries or lines of enquiry — much more so than if they are always obligated to produce a work on only one aspect of the topic.
3. Ongoing critical reflection. Process-orientated work provides greater opportunity for reflective thinking, enabling the researcher to consider their own development as part of the research process. Emphasis is therefore placed on what researchers can learn from the choices they make along the way — such as what perspectives they choose to prioritise, or how they choose to formulate and express their ideas. They can then consider how they might build on their experience in the future.
4. Relieving the pressure. If we are to introduce creative ways of doing theology to research, there needs to be opportunity to experiment without fear of failure. Within the TheoArtistry Student-led Collaborations, removing the pressure associated with producing a ‘final piece’ has encouraged some researchers in becoming more comfortable with previously-unexplored art forms and subject areas, and provided space for participants to devise innovative methodological techniques.