NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Mobilising metaphor: Self-making, storytelling and consciousness raising in the creative arts

Metaphors live at the cross-roads of convergence and divergence, and they meet at points of connection, contraction, and intersectional friction. Indeed, it is metaphor’s unusual ability to simultaneously emphasise and de-emphasise certain understandings that gives metaphor its argumentative force and its creative power.

By Kate Cantrell, Beata Batorowicz and Melissa Forbes

 Metaphors, like people, are complex entities.

Metaphors live at the cross-roads of convergence and divergence, and they meet at points of connection, contraction, and intersectional friction. Indeed, it is metaphor’s unusual ability to simultaneously emphasise and de-emphasise certain understandings that gives metaphor its argumentative force and its creative power. 

Metaphor, by its nature, is paradoxical.

As a unifying device, metaphor brings together disparate ideas, incongruous elements, and contrasting images to create new meaning. This meaning lies in the mingling of similarity and dissimilarity between the two things being compared. As such, metaphorical statements raise more questions than answers because metaphorical propositions always present to us as semantic puzzles.

For example, the metaphor, “Scott is a sheep”, does not mean that Scott belongs to the zoological species Ovis aries. Rather, the metaphor “Scott is a sheep” means that Scott is a follower. Sheep, as any good sheepdog knows, are prone to mindless strolls and chatter. If one sheep wanders off a cliff, the rest are likely to follow. Metaphors are so enmeshed in language that often we do not recognise them as figurative expressions. “It’s raining cats and dogs” does not conjure a literal rendering of the idiom (that is, we don’t imagine actual cats and dogs falling from the sky). Similarly, at our monthly team meeting, we understand there is not an elephant in the room but rather a looming problem that is being painfully and pointedly ignored. Metaphors, in their most distilled form, are words or images that are used inappropriately.

However, in the creative arts, the suitability, viability, and ubiquity of metaphor cannot be denied: irrespective of practice or process, theory or methodology, metaphor is a way of thinking that facilitates understanding. In fact, because metaphor gives rise to a consciousness of analogy, metaphor itself is a creative act. In other words, metaphor doesn’t simply illuminate a correspondence between two seemingly dissimilar subjects, disciplines, or fields of knowledge. Rather, metaphor creates the correspondence by requiring us to draw an inference, imagine an association, or make a cognitive leap.  

By bridging the gaps between what we know and what is potentially unknown or unfamiliar to us, metaphorical understanding allows for boundary crossing, discovery-making, and conceptual problem solving, all of which contribute to the core business of the creative arts. Moreover, as literal descriptors often misinterpret or misconstrue what it is that creative arts academics “do”, metaphor is an effective tool for narrative re-framing – for describing, explaining, and sharing the still misunderstood challenges and sacrifices of creative labour. Metaphor, like all forms of communication, is a way of finding common ground. 

This edition of NiTRO focusses on the different ways that artist-academics use metaphor as a self-shaping strategy, a pedagogical tool, and a form of arts advocacy. Each of the seven articles featured in this issue attest to the transformative power of metaphor – the hope of changing the actual into the ideal, of transcending the limits of pure reason, of reaching beyond the confines of experience to broader possibilities and truths. 

Kate Cantrell is a Lecturer in Writing, Editing, and Publishing at the University of Southern Queensland. Her research specialisation is contemporary accounts of wandering and narrative representations of illness, immobility, and displacement. She has published over 50 journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers, as well as industry articles in high-profile outlets such as The Sunday Mail, The Conversation, and Times Higher Education. At present, Kate is the Special Issues Editor of TEXT, Australia’s leading journal in creative writing, and the Associate Editor of Queensland Review, a leading journal in Australian studies and the only academic journal devoted entirely to multi-disciplinary Queensland scholarship.


Beata Batorowicz is the Associate Head of Research in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Southern Queensland, as well as one of the executive research leaders within the Centre for Culture and Heritage. As a Polish-born Australian contemporary artist and academic, Beata’s work explores visual narratives that address gender, human-animal relationships, and cultural identities in light of a traumatic past. Beata exhibits her work nationally and internationally, and she has recently published in Animals (2021), Student Success (2021), Biography (2020), and Arts and Humanities in Higher Education (2018). She is the recipient of two USQ citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (2016, 2018).


Melissa Forbes is a Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Singing at the University of Southern Queensland. Her qualitative research sits at the intersection of music performance, psychology, and education, and explores singing experiences as mediators of health and wellbeing. She has published her research in leading international journals. Melissa is the Editor of Australian Voice, the journal for the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing, and is the Early Career Development Chair for the Australian Music and Psychology Society. She is a Churchill Fellow and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK).

More from this issue

More from this issue

The veil is a material device that articulates, enhances, and controls space, and an epistemological metaphor for expressing both the revelation of knowledge and the suppression of infection. The veil functions to both reveal and conceal. Given recent upheavals in studio education, it is important that teachers provide students with opportunities to engage the veil, embrace infection, and sense out their circumstances.

Teaching someone how to sit down to write is as important as teaching them how to write at all. While creative writing is often mythologised as the result of divine and spontaneous inspiration … many writers and instructors will offer different advice – that writing is a more Hephaestion labour … one that requires consistent mental and physical struggle against one’s baser instinct to do anything else.

It is difficult to communicate what it means to live with an eating disorder … This illness, anorexia nervosa, has profoundly impacted my life in ways that words cannot express. In my art practice, I utilise metaphorical imagery to challenge stereotypical eating disorder images, such as the physically thin body, in order to adopt a novel way of looking at ordinary objects through an eating disorder perspective.

Editors are many things: mythological tinkers, invisible menders, midwives coaxing the progeny of others into the world. We are the bridge between the artist’s chaos and all that is logical and right.

Museums and galleries are places of world-making. They document, display, and interpret artefacts deemed worthy of our attention, objects considered significant for collection and preservation. Such objects are carefully staged to relay certain stories, while other stories are concealed by their absence … it is no surprise that museums and galleries, at least historically, have intentionally and inadvertently excluded those of us whose ways of knowing, doing, and being in the world are challenging or uncomfortable to dominant logics.

A metaphor is what motivated me to undertake my PhD … I was a full-time high school teacher, teaching English and music, with a background and training in jazz music performance … To me, jazz and teaching were similar. Jazz was a metaphor for teaching.

In the creative and performing arts, resonance is everywhere, both literally and metaphorically … Metaphorically, in moments of connection, performers feel a resonance with their audience – an actor may feel “heard” by their fans; a musician might be “amplified” by a crowd’s roaring applause.