Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Surviving Your Dissertation

It might seem illogical after having spent the last five months cooped up indoors writing and writing and writing that I might want to write even more about about how to survive the final year dissertation process and basically how not to freak the fuck out, but I want to get this down before I forget the majority of the advice I would give to future students and before my brain slips into full summer let's-fucking-'av-it party mode. I'm already halfway there because since last Thursday I have already allowed myself to indulge this mode twice and it won't be too long before my brain requires another good Malibu-soaking, so we don't have much time. Therefore, my main advice based on personal experience would be as follows:
  • Decide what you want to write about a long time in advance: Don't get to February or March and still have no idea what in the blue hell you are writing about. If you decide on your topic far enough in advance, you can do background reading and hopefully even find your "angle" before you actually start writing it.
  • Choose a topic that interests you: This is half the battle. There's no use in writing about something that you find boring or something that you just don't care about. I think in order to be motivated to complete even the most tedious of research tasks (i.e. finding statistics, piecing together appropriate parts of history to create a background for your reader etc.), your topic has to be something that arouses some sort of sentiment within you. This is why I chose the umbrella topic of "feminism" as a starting point, because it is a subject which is relevant and academic enough to warrant writing a paper about it, but which is also something that I enjoy reading about online anyway. Other people on my course chose things like tourism and cinema, because they are things that they themselves are passionate about.
  • Make sure you're happy with your tutor: If you aren't, then request a change as soon as possible because they are going to be your guide and first port of call every time you feel like the few thousand words you've just written are utter nonsensical drivel. They will have done all of this before so should be understanding of your situation and should want to help at any opportunity so if you feel otherwise, then request a change because this one piece of work is a large percentage of your final degree classification and you can't afford to be palmed off every time you're in desperate need of some direction.
  • Write a preliminary document: What I mean by this is a document which outlines the following: why you want to write about the topic, what interests you, what you may have read in the news recently about it and what questions you have prior to your research and how you will go about answering those. This document will serve as a working introduction for yourself and your tutor (so they have a basic idea of what you will be studying) and will help you to centre your research.
  • Read as you write: Don't just do some initial reading and think "wow yes I am now such an expert in this field anything that I write about it will be correct." Until you are a PhD student, you have to back up everything with other people's research and writing and making sure that you read as you write will help you to steer and support your own research. It's also useful because there is nothing worse than having to go through all of the 547329 books you've borrowed from the library to find that one quote that you don't have a source for.
  • Allow writer's block to happen: Don't try and force any old crap out if you feel like it's just not happening. My writer's block lasted for a couple of weeks each time and there was nothing I could do about it, so I just got on with other important assignments that needed written and some important knitting that needed knitted. It will pass eventually and the next time you sit down to write you will probably find yourself word-vomiting all over the shop (just make sure it's the good kind of word vomit).
  • Don't panic: This is probably (read: definitely) an extremely clichĂ© thing to say where looming deadlines are concerned, but seriously do not panic. There will come a point where you will doubt everything you have written so far and will wonder whether your topic is a worthwhile topic to have chosen at all and whether the moderator will simply fall asleep whilst reading your paper because it is just so fucking boring, but don't let this take you over. Contact your tutor with any doubts you may have (this is why you need a good, reliable person to help you) so that they can reassure you and bring you down from your adrenaline-fueled panic high and encourage you to continue with your research path.

Et, voilĂ . I don't yet know how successful I have been in writing my dissertation, but I am confident that I have done reasonably well due to having had a great supporting tutor and due to being passionate about the topic I was writing about (which, I have just realised, I have not yet disclosed. The final title of my dissertation, in English, is An Analysis and Commentary of the Development of French Feminism - but if you're a clever clogs you probably could have worked that out). The thing I found most difficult about this project, apart from trawling my way through and trying to make sense of 19th century French documents, was actually keeping my opinion out of it; as much as I would have liked to have written 6,000 words about why feminism is still relevant according to my own personal experience, it just wasn't my place to say in this project. Besides, I found it really interesting researching the origins of French feminism because I found out that, in actual fact, the whole concept of feminism itself actually stems from post-Revolution socialist movements in France.

Anyway, I am definitely going off on a tangent and am most likely boring those who will be writing about neither French culture nor feminism in their dissertations next year, but I hope that even the smallest part of this post might have helped at least one person who may be having a premature panic attack about what is to come in the next academic year. Now hand me a Malibu.



Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Art: Sargy Mann

I often get stuck in one of those never-ending vortexes of watching videos online (mainly when I'm procrastinating - like now). My "vice" is generally either crochet and knitting tutorials (oh yes - I can watch hours of them) or discovering various different people's painting processes; this video is one of the most interesting of the latter that I have ever come across.

Sargy Mann has been a painter all of his life, painting impressionist-realist paintings in vivid colours and bold shapes as well as tutoring art to those who wanted to learn about how to see and apply light and colour. His most recent exhibition, entitled "New Paintings" was in 2010, which might surprise you if I were to tell you that Sargy Mann actually went completely blind in 2005 after having been diagnosed with cataracts over thirty years previously. Since then, Sargy has had to develop a whole range of new techniques for ensuring that he is painting, well, what he envisions painting. He has had to learn to see and use colour differently and often enlists the help of his family for posing and placing paint on the canvas.

I can't really comment on his art in great detail (mainly because I only studied Fine Art until A-Level so I'm rusty and I can't remember how), but I think what I appreciate the most is his actual process. I generally find watching other people make, draw or paint things fascinating anyway, I could watch them all day, but this is absolute gold for me because Sargy's process begins before he even starts painting. He literally has to feel his way around the scene that he wants to paint and retain it in his memory to then reproduce it as accurately as possible on canvas. I enjoy the way he seems to build his paintings up in layers, changing them as he goes, and how he is never quite sure if they're finished are not (a trait that I am very familiar with from when I used to paint. Nothing was ever finished). I also enjoy the fact that he has to be very tactile with his work and workspace due to his blindness, as it gives the sense that he is really getting to know his paintings inside and out.

This video, made by his own son Peter, shows the process of his first fully-blind painting that he created in 2006 and I would highly recommend it if you're looking for some quiet, relaxing art viewing whilst you crochet in bed (no? just me then...). It's only 38 minutes long and Sargy himself has the most relaxing voice I've ever heard which manages to lull you into this sort of sleepy trance: that is until he says something along the lines of "oh fucking/bloody/buggering hell." He seems like a really wonderful man and his family seem to be nothing short of supportive of his recent blindly-produced work, as are many others.

If you would like to read more about Sargy Mann, click here.