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Mapping the Visual Mind
For the last 15
years, writer, theorist and RISD faculty member Anne West has helped
graduate students across disciplines express their visual ideas in written
form, providing support as they tackle the thesis component of their master’s degree
programs. West has captured her unique approach to helping artists and
designers articulate their ideas in a new book, Mapping the Intelligence of
Artistic Work: An Explorative Guide to Making, Thinking, and Writing.
released last summer by Maine College of Art’s Moth Press, draws on West’s
teaching methods and her work as a critical theorist and maker, exploring a
series of techniques designed to encourage visual artists to ask strategic
questions, wrestle with conceptual problems and catalyze creative thinking.
Already, her non-linear approach to writing is winning widespread praise among
artists and educators alike.
“We are all
trying to write or speak with the same hand we make with, but too often what we
know resists language and we are stymied when asked, ‘What is your art about?’
‘What does it mean?’” well-known contemporary artist Ann Hamilton says of West’s
book. “The words too often lack tactility or specificity and become peanut
butter stuck to the roof of our mouths. But whether . . . writing a thesis or
sketching in the studio, the insights of Anne West’s thorough collection of
exercises and process offer ways of finding how making in words and making with
materials – no matter the form – are mutual. How we name what we are doing can
be as revelatory as the next video edit or stroke of a pencil – mutually bound
and mutually made.”
interests are wide-ranging, focusing mostly in phenomenology, poetics and
interpretive human studies. Her interpretive projects have been featured on
“Two New Hours”, CBC Radio, in catalogue essays for museums and galleries in
Canada and the United States, as well as in art journals. Her book is
structured as a series of exercises and prompts that chart the mapping process
and introduce methods for artists to develop and express their ideas.
In an interview
with artist and Moth Press Director/Editor Katarina Weslien, West says the
book grew out of her work with graduate students – makers in a wide variety of
disciplines who find themselves facing the sometimes daunting challenge of a
written thesis that will complement and advance their work.
“The process of
writing a RISD thesis is rarely straightforward, efficient or methodological,” notes
West. “As we search with words, we find our vision and voice in the intimate
tension between sensations and writing.… As one of my colleagues suggests, we
are not explaining the work but writing together with it.
technique of ‘mapping through writing,’ students discover the underlying
intelligence of their work, and through this discovery, their voices as artists
and designers,” she says. “Mapping enables them to forge vital links to the
meaningful messages of their work, making them more effective and confident