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What to read

I’m sorry for the misleading title, I’m not going to tell you what to read. What would be the fun of that? I can, however, help to point you in the right direction in terms of what kind of reading will be useful to your research, and what kind you should avoid…

The first kind of reading I want to talk about is visual. This is essentially the sort you will be graded on: how well do you interpret and understand visual media. That’s why one of the first types of notetaking I have asked you to engage in, is visual notetaking through Pinterest.

You’ve been creating Pinterest boards filled with images related to your chosen subjects, or ‘paths of enquiry’. I hope these visual brainstorms will be really useful to you, and will be something to continue to add to throughout your research for Unit 10 (and beyond).

The benefits of presenting your visual research as an online pinboard include:

  • It’s pretty! As visual people you will be most inspired by, guess what? Images. Seeing all your found images together on a board provides you with a stimulating resource to refer to in the workshop, studio, or while daydreaming on the bus. Because, if you like what you’re looking at, you will probably want to find out more about it.
  • It’s a pattern! Collecting your related imagery together on a board helps your mind to make connections between two or more pictures. It helps your brain process and understand the similarities and differences between your collected images, and in turn, this will give you something to write about.
  • It speaks! You will have heard that old cliché ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’ countless times. Because it’s true. Your image board contains all the themes and ideas you will need to create your essay, and more. It’s also a tidy way to communicate all of these ideas with me, so I can help you to develop them.

The trick. It’s easy to get carried away pinning lots of images you like and without giving much thought to why you are choosing them. Nurture good habits by doing the following.

  1. Make an effort to group your images into boards that make sense to you and their purpose: for instance you might group images by theme, subject or date-range.
  2. Add content to the site from external websites, books and personal photographs, otherwise you’ll soon get locked in a Pinterest spiral, saving image-upon-image of wooden spoons with painted handles, for instance.
  3. Caption away! If you think that you’ll remember exactly why you liked something tomorrow, you’re probably mistaken. Capture those thoughts.

Online resources that are worth their salt. Above are some of the websites I read and watch online. When researching online it’s best to stick to popular websites that you know have been reliably edited and fact-checked, for example industry magazines; websites and journals by, or linked to by, academic establishments; and e-book archives such as Gutenberg or Google Books.

Smaller websites and blogs can be great for igniting interest, but be very careful when quoting from them. Some critical theory and design websites and podcasts that I have been recommended recently include:

Ubuweb – “a vast repository of papers about audio, performance, conceptual art, and poetry.”

99% Invisible – “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”

Criticismism – “a journal of art and ideas inspired by work in Brighton, UK, and beyond.”

A-N – “conversations around the critical and professional environment for the visual arts, bringing together artists, art students, producers, arts professionals, researchers, arts organisations and universities.”

A Kick Up the Arts – “an insiders view of the arts scene – buy, sell, see, do, read, discover, ignore, find.”

Internet research rules.

  • Never copy and paste text from a website into your essay
  • Always verify the information obtained
  • Never cite Wikipedia
  • Treat online research as a beginning, not as an end in itself
  • Take note of the article author, date of publication and full URL of any online articles you intend to reference

Primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are original materials that have not been altered in any way, for example, an interview transcript. Secondary sources are documents that refer to or comment on information originally presented elsewhere. Sources can be considered both primary and secondary.

Most, if not all, of the sources you will need to cite in your essays will be secondary. You do not need to consult primary sources to obtain a good grade for your submission, although you do need to ensure that any sources you quote from are reliable and accurate.

If, however, you are writing about a new art movement about which little has been written, it may be necessary to gather some primary information about that topic through interview.

Interviews are not always easy to arrange, and question-writing needs to be well considered if an interview is to produce anything of worth. However, I personally believe that the action of generating written material through interview is a highly valuable exercise both in terms of the way it makes you think about writing craft, and in terms of the possibility it provides to elevate the originality of your essay. If you think that you may want to gather research for your essay through interview, tell me, and I will help you.

Books. Books are great. The very fact that someone has gone to the trouble and expense of publishing something as a printed book almost guarantees that it will be a little bit more considered than something you find online. You should consider books to be the backbone of your research. You may choose expand on this with information and understanding gathered online. I have gone into some detail about research from books in this article. Essentially, I want you to take away these points:

  • You do not need to buy books for this essay, the college library should have more than enough
  • You do not need to read books cover-to-cover to find what you need, that is what contents pages and indexes are for
  • Always note down the title, relevant page number(s), author, publication date, place and publisher in your notes. You will need these details for your bibliographies
  • As with all research, pay attention to the material that is cited within the books you are reading, this may well help to lead you in the direction you want to go next


In the college library, find two books that are relevant to the topic you have begun to research visually through Pinterest. From the appropriate chapter or chapters, glean between three and five quotes that inspire you.

A good quote:

  • Is short: no longer than a paragraph
  • Is pithy: can act as a summary of the points being discussed
  • Is provocative or persuasive: should underline an opinion you agree with about a topic or inspire argument

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