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).