NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Still two worlds? Creative writers as academics

In the last thirty to forty years there has been a concerted drive in the Australian academy, to justify creative arts training in forms that articulate with economic worth, vocational function and government policy. . . . While there have been great gains in recognising the value of creative work within academic frameworks, their effect on the creative academics who deliver these graduate outcomes remains underexplored. . .

 

By Shane Strange

In the last thirty to forty years there has been a concerted drive in the Australian academy, to justify creative arts training in forms that articulate with economic worth, vocational function and government policy. This is evidenced in terms of the ‘benefits’ of so-called creative industries to the ‘new’ economy; as graduate outcomes, employability, and skill-sets that those with creative training bring to ‘non-creative’ jobs(a capacity to write, ‘creativity’, problem-solving etc), and to new articulations of work (‘flexibility’, ‘networking’, self-employment, portfolio careers etc).

But how is creativity recognised within the academy itself?  While there have been great gains in recognising the value of creative work within academic frameworks, their effect on the creative academics who deliver these graduate outcomes remains underexplored, especially at a time when the pressures of market-oriented universities are adjusting to tertiary education policies in this country by focusing on vocationalism as an attractor to students pressured to be ‘real-world’ or ‘job’ ready.

How do artist/academics negotiate their roles as researchers/educators with their roles as creators, as artists? This is particularly germane to the field of creative writing where numerous established authors have taken the opportunity in recent decades to ‘upgrade’ their credentials and move into an academy that has to some extent made room for them.

How does one be an active creator under the influence of academic work? In 2013, my colleagues and I were asking ourselves this very question. Does the creative practice suffer or adapt? How do other creative academics articulate these two worlds? Are there, in fact, two worlds, or were we looking at this the wrong way?

much of the work that had been done in this area revolved around either the effect of teaching on (often casual) ‘industry-practitioners’, or on the effects of creative teachers on shaping the creative careers of students, little has been done on the lived experience of creative academics. . .

We found that much of the work that had been done in this area revolved around either the effect of teaching on (often casual) ‘industry-practitioners’, or on the effects of creative teachers on shaping the creative careers of students,  little has been done on the lived experience of creative academics at what Jen Webb calls the ‘cross-purposes’ of academic and creative achievement.

So, we asked our colleagues in tertiary creative writing departments across Australia to respond to a pilot survey: a series of questions revolving around their experience at this nexus of creative and academic labour (Strange, Hetherington & Eaton, 2016).

Broadly speaking, while the survey highlighted a number of complex intersections between the daily practice of creative and academic work, there were three key ‘pressure points’ around which much of the data coalesced:

The undervaluation of creative outputs – creative work is accorded significantly less value in the economy of academic labour. Although the ERA process in Australia has enabled the recording of so-called non-traditional research outputs (i.e. creative works), our respondents believe that, in general, creative works remain of lower value within the formal (and often informal) economies that make up the value regimes of contemporary academic output. They believe that ‘traditional’ academic research, on the other hand, is valued much more highly and tends to marginalise creative practice in terms of its value to an academic career overall.
 

Time pressures – coupled with a perceived lack of value accorded to creative work within the academy is the perception on the part of many respondents that the requirement to shoulder significant administrative and teaching loads made the pursuit of creative practice difficult to achieve on a consistent basis.
 

The privilege of intellectual work – however, despite these significantly negative perceptions attached to the intersection between creative and academic work, there are real and significant benefits perceived in the capacity to undertake intellectual labour within the academy (including research and teaching) that for a considerable number of respondents enhanced their creative practice. This is consistent with a broader perception among respondents that substantial privileges are associated with academic positions, including a high level of intellectual stimulation, the opportunity for communal and collaborative work, and financial security.

While academic work underpins the livelihoods and intellectual engagements of many creative writing academics, these privileges are counterbalanced by. . . the concerted undervaluation of creative work as a significant contribution to an academic career.

While academic work underpins the livelihoods and intellectual engagements of many creative writing academics, these privileges are counterbalanced by academic administration (a fact of life in the contemporary university for all academics) and, most tellingly, the concerted undervaluation of creative work as a significant contribution to an academic career.

Overall, it would appear that there is a broad acceptance of the notion that working within a contemporary creative/academic environment should ideally not involve a binary between creative and academic work. Nevertheless our survey results indicate that there is a strong tendency among scholars working within the field of creative writing to apply this binary to an analysis of their professional experiences, even if only tacitly or unconsciously.

In an ideal world both creative and academic careers would be integrated in both intellectual and material terms. However, the truth is these articulations are far from resolved. Enlightened academic managers are few and far between in this regard, and the struggle to better recognise creative work for its value in an academic setting continues.

References

Strange, S., Hetherington, P., & Eaton, A. (2016). Exploring the intersections of creative and academic life among Australian academic creative writing practitioners. New Writing13(3), 402-416

Shane Strange is a teaching fellow in Writing at the University of Canberra where he lectures in writing and literary studies. His research interests include creative labour and cultural work; subjectivity and creative practice and cultural representations of the city. He is a writer of essays, short fiction and creative non-fiction who has been published widely in Australia. In 2010 he was an Asialink Literature Fellow. In 2014 he was a contributor to and co-editor of the book Creative Manoeuvres: Writing, Making, Being (Cambridge Scholars Press). He is also publisher and editor at Recent Work Press – a poetry publisher based in the ACT.

More from this issue

More from this issue

Georgie Meagher graduated with undergraduate and masters degrees in Creative Arts (Performance) from the University of Wollongong in 2008. She is now CEO of Next Wave Australia’s most comprehensive platform for emerging artists whichincludes learning programs and a biennial festival.  NiTRO editor, Jenny Wilson, spoke with her about the influence of her university years, her role as an alumni and her advice for graduating students.

After six decades of music education, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University graduates are making their mark in the performing arts industry, both in Australia and abroad. its alumni include players in leading positions in every Australian state orchestra, and a host of Grammy and ARIA award winners and many internationally recognised musicians including Dami Im, Jayson Gillham, Katie Noonan, Piers Lane, Megan Washington, Kate Miller-Heidke, Lisa Gasteen and Brett Dean have all passed through the Queensland Conservatorium.

LinkedIn has been described as the non-sexy, sleeping dragon of social media (Buck, 2012).  It has become the premiere social media site for professionals; most employers in the UK will search for a job candidate on LinkedIn.  This makes it very useful when searching for jobs internships, exploring careers or accessing company information. Yet, while students may be active on other social media platforms they are less engaged with LinkedIn. Certainly our creative students report that LinkedIn has little appeal

What do students of art need to know and be able to do today in order to flourish tomorrow? For the past ten years I have been exploring this question within the context of US art schools (Salazar, 2013a, 2013b, 2014, 2016). Reflecting on this body of research, three strategies stand out by which we, as educators, can better prepare art students to meet future challenges. We need to prompt inquiry, nurture entrepreneurial dispositions, and facilitate creative communities of practice.

Independent artists are faced with a challenging and transforming landscape that requires adaptive resilience in order to thrive creatively, today and in the future. How do we, as tertiary educators, empower and enable artists to build strong and flexible, professional contemporary art practices? To address this issue, my current research draws models of praxis from artist-run initiatives (ARI) in the Visual Arts industry, specifically from my experience as director of Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space.

If one was to believe the various reports emanating from the popular media, creative arts schools provide a waiting room for global graduate unemployment.  As we all know, nothing could be further from the truth or, as the US Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts puts it ‘Uncle Henry is Wrong’.

In higher education, we like to throw around the term “successful” when referring to our alumni, but what do we really mean by that?  Employed, certainly (if that is their goal).  Financially stable, making enough money to have a decent quality of life.  But beyond that, is more money really the best way to measure more success?  What else should we consider in this assessment?

Writing twenty years ago, Neumann (1996) questioned the existence of a nexus between research and teaching roles. Reviewing the literature up until the late-1980s, she asserted that few academics find a nexus because of the privileging of research over teaching. From the 1990s, however, she found the research-teaching nexus to be bi-directional and multi-level, with many students identifying the nexus as an opportunity for scholarly interactions. . . . This short discussion paper retains the focus on the artist academic and further extends the ART nexus through the addition of employability.

Emerging out of a multidisciplinary history, including an ongoing relationship with the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the School of Arts and Humanities at Edith Cowan University has shaped and honed a contemporary focus through actively defining the usefulness of art for today’s society whether that be through praxis or pedagogy or a hybrid of the two. The ethos of the school is to explore and experiment and to push back from pre-determined understandings – to collaborate, innovate and find solutions through a merging of making and theory often employing whatever is to hand.

I completed a double degree in Music and Law at Monash University, graduating from music in 2010 and from law in 2013 The opportunity to study under the guidance of Australia’s leading performing jazz artists and alongside talented peers was a dream come true.

Over the last ten years, I have engaged in a number of research projects exploring the impact of a higher education degree in the creative and performing arts for graduates seeking a career in the creative industries. In essence, I have discovered that a creative arts degree provides students with three significant career-building opportunities. . . On the other side of the coin, . . . graduates in industry often report that they are insufficiently prepared for the complex nature of the creative industries work environments