On Process: Or How I Tried to Work Like an Artist

*This is the second of two blog posts in which I reflect on my process, thus far.

One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of my work with Humanities Truck has been having time and space to be creative, and to move out of my usual comfort zones with how I engage and work through ideas.  

Part of my interest in working with the Humanities Truck is because I thought that it would help me reflect on process and ideation in general. I’m a “mid-career” scholar who has written one book, and is writing another, but I’m also a public historian, so I’ve had the opportunity to work on public-facing collaborative projects. A lot of what I teach has to do with “best practices” (in paper writing, in historiography, in public engagement), so I’ve been thinking about how process shapes products, and have been looking for a space in which to try new things, and, hopefully,  bring them back to my research and teaching.

One of the most interesting and valuable learning curves for me has been remembering that this is a process, and not a linear one. From the beginning of the fellowship period, my ideas have changed a lot, moving through several different iterations and, in the process, helping me refine what I actually wanted out of them. I’ve had some stops and starts throughout and am only now feeling like I am working with an idea that I like, and that I can move further with. But also, it’s the first time that I am getting more clarity about my overall processes, in ways that I think are valuable.

It took a several do-overs and U-turns, but I finally have a sense of what I’m doing with the Truck (see my first blog post if you wat to read more!) I think this idea might continue to change, but I am prepared for it this time—in fact, I am expecting it!

In thinking through all of this, I have realized that in my usual work (academic research, teaching, and administration), the expected process—or at least my expected process—is waiting until I have worked out all of the angles of an idea before going with it. And if and when, I am going with it, I realize that something’s wrong, I make a note for next time, but mostly stay on course and try to correct or compensate later. Part of this is because academics are trained to be “productive”—it’s one of the main ways we are evaluated as scholars and employees (tenure requirements as well as yearly evaluations are focused on measurable output). As a result of this, many scholars fall into the habit of conserving and/or repurposing every bit of their research—so, for example, something that is edited out of a book manuscript may show up as an article later.

And so, I very rarely have the opportunity to experiment, to try ideas and drop them, or to shift direction. It took time for me to get comfortable with this, to stop feeling bad about buying or making something, and then not using it. It took a while for me to realize—or remember—that this is how artists work; that creativity is iteration, and that every effort helped me understand better what I was doing and why.

This has been, for me, a valuable part of the Humanities Truck model: that I had funding to try ideas, access to all of the materials in the Truck Lab, a space for fabrication, inspiration of all of the prior projects on the walls and around the space and the expertise and experience of the Humanities Truck crew.

I’m looking forward to creating an impactful project, and—as importantly—using this experience to re-envision my approach to other ideas and processes.

Scroll to Top