Mapping the Visual Mind

Mapping the Visual Mind

For the last 15 years, writer, theorist and RISD faculty memberAnne 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.

The book, released last summer by Maine College of Art’sMoth 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.”

West’s research 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.

“Employing the 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 communicators.”

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