September 11, 2015

The Hardness of Diamonds

In the studio the other day I did a tool switch in the middle of working on a painting and then everything else changed. 

That is my 'normal'; I use whatever tools are at hand (including my hands as tools) to get a painting to a completed state. Not being particularly constrained by habit or ritual in the studio means I explore a lot, in very tactile ways, with tools and with materials. This also means I don't have a belief about tools or materials that constrains my brain. I don't have a system of good-better-best, or a belief that certain steps must always be followed to get to an outcome in creative work (in building canvasses, yes, but not in painting them). I know there are certain realities in the studio, a key one being that paint flies and time does not. But I am not at all dogmatic about the knowledge patterns 'required' to create a good painting. Exposure, practice, fearlessness, and consciousness seem much more important to understanding many things than the required knowledge patterns, really. 

Which makes me realize I am not really committed to the 'required' knowledge patterns about most things. And this came up repeatedly in graduate school. Qualitative researchers are supposed to thoroughly code their data, much like statisticians do, and ideally use software tools to help organize all the coding. If you have an interview with a teacher as data, for instance, a qualitative researcher will code the content of that interview, identifying themes or ideas that arose in the conversation which may also arise in other interviews. Coding is essentially an organizing process. Or so we were trained. But coding is actually a limiting process about applying the knowledge patterns that are 'required' for good research. And in this process, each interview is not its own painting, its own universe, its own emotional experience, its own interaction. Each interview is, in the end, a series of codes.

Your task then is to clearly explain to the world what the patterns of codes tell us about the context (the people, place, time, event) you have studied. This explaining is based on the acceptable knowledge patterns required to make good data, i.e. rigorous and thorough coding which can somehow make the subjective objective. So, you have to use coding to then explain to the world what the patterns of codes mean, which is like removing the meaning from something so that you can then clearly describe the meaning of something.

What are you left with in the end? 

Dogmatism is constraint, but it seems constraint leads more quickly to familiarity, comfort, replication, prediction. Safety and sureness. Affirmation. Acceptance. And if you switch tools right in the middle of something (including a thought process) it can knock this whole thing out of whack. Or delay you on the route to safety. Or possibly put a belief system in peril, or change a perception about what is true or good or real. And then where would you be? Other than free, that is.

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