NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

New Verbs: a Preamble to Impact and Engagement

I was recently introduced to a verb I hadn’t encountered before. I was attending—as a supervisor—a session looking to create opportunities for doctoral researchers (mostly of a STEM kind) . . . . the session (for me) had one good outcome, and this was learning this new verb. Angular, gauche and graceless, with zero poetry, it is however precise and pulls no punches: to self-select-out.

By Dr Antonia Pont

I was recently introduced to a verb I hadn’t encountered before. I was attending – as a supervisor – a session looking to create opportunities for doctoral researchers (mostly of a STEM kind) for various post-doc industry pathways. My writing postgrads were there with me and looking increasingly crestfallen as the tone of the session veered further and further from anything that acknowledged their skills or fields of interest. That aside, the session (for me) had one good outcome, and this was learning this new verb. Angular, gauche and graceless, with zero poetry, it is however precise and pulls no punches: to self-select-out.

Working in the creative arts can involve a constant slip ‘n’ slide ride that careens from feeling ‘included in’ and ‘part of’ various scenes, communities and groups, to feeling excluded, ‘not of that ilk’, disliked even (usually with no clear sense of a discrete subject who does the disliking, just a sense … a hunch! … in relation to a vaguely conjured other or others).

It means to decide in advance that one is out of the running for something. In this case, it was industry internships. Someone who ‘self-selects-out’ (hitherto referred to as SSO) tries to stave off future disappointment by doing the work of rejection in advance and on behalf of the other party. SSO-ers can be found in any field. They can be the mechanical engineer who doesn’t apply for the post (the example we heard about over the three hour workshop) due to the words in the advertisement being not-quite aligned with her specific area of research. A SSOer forgets that those advertising the position don’t always quite know what they want in advance. They just ‘put some stuff’ in the position description, perhaps hastily, perhaps going for something they can’t quite articulate at the time. They might just want YOU, was the take home message. Hence SSO-ing was not the behaviour of the elegant operator.

This became relevant for me, soon after, when I was pondering the mechanisms of feeling included in or excluded from cultural fields. Working in the creative arts can involve a constant slip ‘n’ slide ride that careens from feeling ‘included in’ and ‘part of’ various scenes, communities and groups, to feeling excluded, ‘not of that ilk’, disliked even (usually with no clear sense of a discrete subject who does the disliking, just a sense … a hunch! … in relation to a vaguely conjured other or others). It can also involve – and this I’m less good at catching in myself – my own dislike of, disappointment in, alienation from the scenes themselves.

Sometimes bunches of people, on particular occasions, can be interpersonally bloody mediocre. That’s par for the course, of course. What matters is to catch the shivers of disdain and sadness that can accompany these moments. And to remember that it might be different next time.

This is where we get back to SSO.

It is a strange kind of ‘non’-verb. That is, it usually involves an abstaining from an activity of  some kind. When we ‘do’ it, there is often nothing to be seen. Our action is to stop acting. We can just evaporate a certain possibility for engagement, and usually go about doing something else. Busily. Quietly. Resentfully. Even cheerfully. You see, it’s hard to catch when the SSO has happened. When do we do it?  When did we? It can tend to reveal itself in accretion. It reveals itself as having-happened.

‘Imagine’, I’d say to the students, ‘that it is possible that you do belong. Hold that open and make work from there.’ As researchers, we can acknowledge, but not dwell on, the unlovely terms ‘impact and engagement’, and instead just bear the not-knowing, track the ‘SSO’, and focus on practising – together and sometimes alone. Work will happen.

In the Creative Arts, for our students, our postgrads, and ourselves as practitioners weathering the wilds of something that is intrinsic to our fields (that is, they are in fact constituted via operations of inclusion and exclusion), we can simply decide in moments that we don’t belong. But without knowing we’ve decided. We can imagine that we have no impact on our scenes and communities, and this Evaporative Thinking is stealthy. Sometimes the field does reject us and momentarily finds our contributions irrelevant. This is ontological to our vocations, not optional. Where we can intervene, I’d argue, is in the internal SSO that we might do – protectively, defensively, vulnerably – which can happen behind our own backs, and about whose necessity we might be utterly mistaken.

I wanted to start my first year lectures in 2018 with a little verb lesson. Along the lines of: what is a verb? A doing word. Let’s take an example verb: to self-select-out. And, let’s decide in first year creative writing that we might enact this odd verb every now and again and that it is not in our best interests as writers. As creative practitioners, we simply can’t know whether we belong or not in our fields, except that this kind of constant not-knowing is perhaps itself the sign that we are deep within our chosen field, surfing its intrinsic topographies. I’d like my emerging writers in class to know to watch for the SSO and the tricksy shapes it can take.

‘Imagine’, I’d say to the students, ‘that it is possible that you do belong. Hold that open and make work from there.’ As researchers, we can acknowledge, but not dwell on, the unlovely terms ‘impact and engagement’, and instead just bear the not-knowing, track the SSO, and focus on practising – together and sometimes alone. Work will happen. And its impact over time – although we’ll try to (and must) measure it for our jobs – like for all art, is also unfathomable in advance.


Antonia Pont is Senior Lecturer in Writing & Literature at Deakin University, the current Chair of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, and Course Director for the Bachelor of Creative Writing. She is a practitioner of writing, movement and silence. Her theoretical research seeks to articulate the mechanisms involved in practising (a particular mode of engaging in doing and making) to account, among other things, for how it courts change and cultivates stability. She publishes poetry, creative prose and essays, and a recent co-authored book, Practising with Deleuze, is out with Edinburgh University Press.

More from this issue

More from this issue

The sleeve notes for a 12 inch vinyl record – or the ‘liner’ as it’s known in the US – comprise on average 700 words ... thrice that of the ‘textual descriptor’ – the Research Statement - which is all that’s allowed when describing the content of a non-traditional research output [the INTRO] for the forthcoming research assessment exercise...

On Tuesday December 12, 2017, in unceded Wurundjeri territory, a group of 40 artists/designers/researchers/curators/educators from Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand came together at RMIT University to start to discuss the future of Social Practice in Art and Design. Using human relations as method and content across art and design, social practice connects creative practitioners with communities, industries and institutions to address contemporary social and political issues.

Here in Australian higher arts education, we are presiding over some ‘interesting’ times ourselves. With a divided polity, seemingly, but not only, separated along education and value and belief system lines, we are finding an astonishing and baffling suspicion of ‘expertise’ and what has been called ‘wilful ignorance’ or the US legal term ‘wilful blindness’.

Like many of us who supervise research in Creative Arts practice, I spend a lot of my time navigating what I do not know. Perhaps this is part of the attraction of mentoring research at this level. Although I have been supervising Creative Arts PhDs for almost 20 years, I have become aware in the last decade of a rich interface between our disciplines and indigenous inquiry

The extraordinary growth in both quality and quantity of Asian arts education arrived with a distinctly new edge in 2017. After more than 15 years of identifying needed aspects of Western contemporary arts and arts training, the last decade has been focused upon catching up, on inviting Western experts to teach, sending staff abroad, and in establishing conferences that allow arts training to be discussed within Asia. There is now a wealth of quality arts colleges and universities across Asia, and activities and publications on arts education now surpasses Australasia.

Friends, relatives, colleagues and past students are mourning the death of Debra Porch, until recently an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Queensland College of Art.

I’m writing in the weeks following the end of Singapore Art Week 2018, and the full schedule of exhibition tours and meetings with international museum, gallery and education professionals it marked at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore. The ICA Singapore is the curatorial division of Lasalle College of the Arts. Art Week’s many and various artists and visitors are reminders of the increasingly global context for our programme but also of the capricious field into which Lasalle fine arts graduates will emerge.

The arts have always been at the center of human life and civilisational progress in African communities. In the pre-colonial period, the arts defined cultural expressions, mediated community structures, and facilitated the generation, articulation and flow of knowledge within communities

A conversation between Clive Barstow, and Professor Chen Huagang, Dean of Art & Design at Guandong Baiyun University in China (with thanks to translator Jie He).

An ongoing state of wonderful “little ease” might be the best way to sum up 2017. What that ongoing state of “little ease” continued to reveal and what is exciting moving forwards is the very extraordinary ways in which dance training produces truly ‘agile beasts’ – capable, intelligent, resilient, adaptable and inspiring collaborators and artistic leaders.

Thinking about tertiary creative arts in 2018, it is worth reflecting on the 2017 ACUADS Conference at the ANU School of Art and Design, which probed the theme ‘Value’. At a time when Australian tertiary art and design schools are facing increasing economic and political challenges, this was a vital focus, and resulted in the sharing of key research, and productive discussions.

Art and research, typically, have their own focal points and contextual understanding of relevance for their fields. But there is at least one strong overlapping area, and artistic research is at the core of this today. Artistic Research is multi-coloured, curiosity driven, open to apply and adapt methods and reach out for topics challenging the given

As we settle into the 2018 academic year in Australia, surrounded by the confused faces of new students (and staff) and enmeshed in ERA statements, research impact and engagement justifications and the uncertainty of government plans for teaching and learning funding, we can forget that our world of creative arts education is bigger than the institutionally created boxes that immediately surround us.

Following a period of research consolidation in 2015 and 2016, 2017 saw the Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association (ASPERA) ‘up the stakes’ with regard to its capacity for disciplinary research and, importantly, its future. We launched the report Screen Production Research Reporting: An ASPERA Scoping Project ... to capture some of the long-standing discussions and issues the discipline was facing.