Sound Is My Guide was created for the MA Creative Media Practice module at the University of the West of Scotland by:
- Touqeer Ahmad
- Annemarie Bala
- David Crossan
- Jerry Padfield
The group was inspired by my soundscapes, borne out of my own experience of visual impairment, to create a campaign to raise awareness of the experiences of those who are visually impaired. The title “Sound is My Guide” came from a phrase I used in conversation when talking about how much I rely on sound to navigate the world, and how it can be difficult to find my way around when sound cues are disturbed by things like a windy day or people being noisy nearby.
Each of the three filmmakers took the audio soundscapes created by myself and interpreted them in their own way.
Being a creative practitioner, there have been several stages to my journey, whether it’s been consuming art or contextually analysing artistic artefacts. The thought of this assignment was initially intimidating, the idea of producing a portfolio detailing my learning journey was daunting as being blind, I was not sure where to start or how to present the information I wanted to impart. However after taking some time to think and utilising the skills I have learned, a path to completing the assignment arose and grew.
At a very young age, I fell in love with Art, this became a particular comfort to me as I endured two traumatic events that resulted in long term hospital stays. At the age of six I was hit by a taxi and a year later I contracted a severe infection, both of which brought me close to death and led to long term health problems. These events had a significant effect on my childhood learning experience as I did not learn to fully read until I was 11, finding solace in Art allowed me to escape from the environment of long term hospital stays.
One of my earliest memories that had an impact on me and which encouraged my journey into the creative arts began in primary school. My art teacher selected me to paint a scene depicting a scene from the 1977 Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth 11 which was to be hung in the foyer of my school to celebrate the event. At the age of 13 I submitted a painting into a competition to highlight disability, I was the runner up and my painting was put on display at Paisley Art Gallery and Museum for several months. This began the realisation that Art could be used to promote change within society and that I could be part of the discourse concerning attitudes towards the disabled, this was a milestone moment for me and cemented my desire to be involved in the creative arts.
An image of Paisley Art Gallery and Museum (image provided by Renfrewshireleisure.com) where my painting was exhibited.
Further early experiences that promoted the evolution of discovering my identity as a creative practitioner are detailed on the following page.
My art teacher at school was a great inspiration and source of encouragement who taught me that that there is no right or wrong in art, there is only differing levels of interpretation. While I may not have fully understood this at the time, his teaching methodology allowed me to explore freely what I was feeling through the medium of artistic expression.
His guidance at a difficult time in my early years (I missed a lot of school through illness) and the discovery I was dyslexic gave me confidence at a time when I needed it the most as prior to this my academic studies were suffering and it was a struggle to keep up with everyone else.
Finding out I was dyslexic, and having it explained to me, after years of struggling with reading and writing, encouraged me to think, over the years, about why Art was so important to me….I realised that Art was an international language that could be ‘read’ by anyone, writing was not necessarily required to express myself or to impart information, this can be illustrated by stone age pictograms painted in caves/walls to Egyptian hieroglyphs, demonstrating that individuals/groups since the far reaches in time have used artistic means to communicate, which through the evolvement of societies has led to formalised language and writing styles.
As my interest in Art grew and developed, I explored the work of artists such as William Blake, Vincent Van Gogh and Charles Rennie Macintosh, this is when I began to critically think about the artefacts they produced and why they provoked a response from me. Below is an interpretation of Blake’s ‘Judgement of Adam’ that I created as I honed my artistic skills and a print of the original painting for a comparison.
This is a print of the original William Blake painting ‘God judging Adam’ (source: commons.wikimedia.org).
The work of Blake drew me through his use of colour and dramatic imagery, my family’s religious background was catholic and whilst I was not a practicing catholic, my mother was and this was where my interest in religious imagery began and also led to a questioning of how institutions such as the church affect perceptions. At college I developed my artistic side through furniture design and construction, which included learning to create stained glass windows, I had not been academically inclined due to previous experiences of education but I showed talent in practical arts and crafts which I enjoyed.
In 1992, I was commissioned to paint a mural of a well-known rock night club, it featured a devil and an angel and was influenced by my interest in religious art. This was my first experience of attempting to put a monetary value on a piece of my artwork as well as translating the brief that I was given into reality. This experience led me to question if it was possible to make a living as a creative practitioner. McRobbie (1998) argued that government reforms introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980’s were detrimental to those working within creative industries as they lacked employment security and had little collective bargaining power associated with more traditional industries. McRobbie proposed that individuals may need to sacrifice their ambitions and take employment in lesser creative positions in order to financial survive.
The next pivotal stage in my development as a creative practitioner took place after a long hiatus from the arts, I lost my eyesight due to glaucoma and for a very long time I could not reconcile being a creative practitioner and being blind. It was an emotional painful time, not being able to do simple things for myself that I previously took for granted, let alone explore my artistic dreams.
Examples of artwork prior to being blind can be found as follows:
The previous picture was my interpretation of trying to capture the emotion of sorrow, trying to place myself in the shoes of another and to explore my own feelings. Glasser (1941) proposed that an attitude of being disposed to consider, in an honest and careful way, the varying array of your own and other’s experiences and acquiring certain skill sets can aid the learning of critical thinking.
Re-Evaluating my Creative Nature
I decided I needed to retrain, I learned how to touch type and this with the use of a screen reader opened up a new world for me. I took a personal risk and went back to college to do a humanities course, as I had a great interest in subjects such as politics, sociology and psychology. Learning to study again as a blind mature student was very challenging but I embraced it, this was where I began learning, what I now know is critical thinking. I learned of a radio production course which appealed to me as I spent a lot of time listening to radio as it was a medium that did not require eyesight to enjoy or to participate in. In conjunction with this I had developed a strong interest in technology, particularly that of assistive technology, which had helped me to become more independent and widen my personal interests. I slowly began to learn how to structure differing pieces of academic writing as well as getting to grips with the technology of the radio studio. Marzano et al (1988) proposed that the environment that one learn best in is one that engenders psychological safety and intellectual freedom. These two courses gave me the tools I needed as well as the confidence to go into higher education, something I’d never thought I would be capable of.
Challenges to Learning
I then embarked on a Broadcast Production degree at the University of The West of Scotland. I cultivated new skills such as sound editing, script writing as well as learning more in depth theoretical underpinnings of the methodology and practice within the Creative Industries. It was in second year when I discovered a love of creative writing, it allowed me to express myself in a way which I had not done since I had sight and gave me a new enthusiasm for learning and further evolved my identity as a creative practitioner. University posed difficulties for me to overcome, a critical part of the learning process is the research required to further your knowledge and challenge what you think you know. Being blind and using a screen reader creates issues that are difficult to overcome, I couldn’t pick up a book from the library and delve into it, finding information on the internet depended on how well the site was designed and if visually impaired users had been thought of in the design process as I found that my screen reading could not access many sites. Graphics on sites would often prove frustrating as my screen reader could not decipher them.
I found that while embarking on my University degree the ability to think critically was instrumental in achieving a 2:1 honours degree, a feat that I was very proud of. Critical thinking has been described as being able to think in critically, analytical and evaluative ways using mental process such as attention, categorisation and judgement (Cottrell, 2011)) It has been argued that critical thinking improves the quality of thinking by changing the structures inherent in thinking and placing intellectual standards on them (Paul & Elder, 2001). Paul & Elder propose that there are three components necessary to upgrade thinking skills; elements of reasoning (e.g. questions, concepts, and inferences), intellectual standards (e.g. clarity, accuracy logic) and intellectual traits (e.g. fairmindedness, empathy, autonomy). They argue that students in the pursuit of higher thinking skills are required to identify the parts of their thinking and be able to assess them. Foucault (1991) argued that we need to move away from art criticism and evolve to a level where we embrace creativity as a discourse of practice where the artist is a research and the ‘critic’ acts as a scholar who values the artistic process as the production of knowledge.
Csikszentmihaly (2006) proposed that there were five steps that the creative process could be broken down into; preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation and elaboration. Through my years of studying I realised that as I painted, drew, made furniture (I was a joiner), I was beginning the process of honing my skills but lacked knowledge that would have greatly enhanced my practice at the time. Through my artistic endeavours, I allowed at times my personal criticism of what I was doing at the time, to negatively influence my work (e.g. I often threw away pieces of work as I did not believe they were good enough). I realise now that the critical voice has an important role to play in the creative process (e.g. to review, to assess and to change) (Bowen, 2003) and assists to improve my creative practice. This began the journey of training my thinking to be more reflexive, as I took on board the criticism, examined it and allowed myself to be more open minded (Hamelink, 2008), whereby I consciously paid attention to what I was doing and why I was doing it.
Methods of Reflective Practice
There are a number of ways in which reflective practice can be achieved;
- Audio and video recording
Creative writing was initially a challenge for me as it was not a medium I had felt an interest for in the past, script writing and poetry was totally new to me and developing an idea seemed daunting at the time. I found that to fully immerse myself in the assignment, I needed to create time and space where I wouldn’t be interrupted or distracted. As I did not know what I was going to write about, I followed a technique used by a friend of mine who is a poet, this involved writing for five minutes continually, without conscious thought and seeing where it takes you and then re-read and re-draft (Bolton, 2014). I found this technique quite liberating once I got over the fear of feeling daft and worrying about my spelling and grammar and found that this helped to build trust in myself in regards to creative writing. Collaboration, I have found is vital within the creative arts, by engaging with other practitioners, I gained insights and learned new techniques that helped to inform my own writing, being open to the ideas and thoughts of others, brings the realisation that no one piece of work is created in isolation (Wolf, 1989).
I found that in writing this piece of poetry, I channelled and brought through feelings I hadn’t considered at the time, Humphry (2011) asserted that past emotions in present events can be turned into a positive event which helps to inform our practice as we have achieved a greater in depth understanding of our emotion. This is similar to the concept of ‘Pentimento’, (Bolton, 2014) where past situations can have influence over our present actions, using reflecting writing allows individuals to stand back from themselves and achieve perceptions within themselves.
View of Fear – Poem written in second year
View of Fear
The displacement of air was all around,
Staring into darkness without a thought,
The bus passed creating a roaring sound,
Blind to it, feet anchored and feeling caught.
Fear creates walls and removes power,
Anxiety starts, my reactions fail.
Dodging the bus as it heads wherever,
Fear dissolves as I finally prevail.
Once, waving my cane, acting as a guide,
I fall over onto train tracks. It’s near.
I scramble away before we collide:
These stressful events teach me to persevere.
Though no fight or flight response to push me,
Overcoming fear proved quite easy.
Examples of collaborative Creative Practice
In third year of University, one of the assignments was to hold an interactive debate on Moodle. This was a fascinating method of exchanging viewpoints and opinions as well as acting as a support mechanism for students who were looking for help and advice on particular issues. This was of particular benefit to myself as I can find it very difficult to physically meet up with other people, particularly if it is in an unfamiliar location as I would need someone to guide me. Returning to education has brought me into contact with many individuals who are creative practitioners in a wide range across the creative industries. Through family and friends I have learned a lot through discussion and the exchange of ideas, I have had friends who have completed sociology and politics degrees and while these individuals may not be actively involved in the creative arts, their viewpoints offer different ways of seeing the world which is influenced by their studies. I would often ask my family/friends to read what I had wrote, as it is important to keep the audience of a piece in mind as you are creating. I found that while some aspects worked great others did not and they explained why it didn’t have the intended effect I thought it would. Rather than take this criticism negatively, through learning about critical writing I saw this as an opportunity to improve my writing and gain more informed knowledge about the audience who may see/read my creative output. Brookfield (2009) proposed that there are four lens from which we can gain a different perspective and which can challenge our practice/assumptions; the practitioner, the students, colleagues and theoretical and philosophical research. This is a useful tool in which to remind ourselves about our own practice and can reveal power dynamics at play.
The growth of technology has been particularly beneficial to those with disabilities as it has opened up a world that for many was closed off to them and gives individuals an opportunity to engage with others and make a difference not only to their lives but the lives of others as they bring a differing viewpoint and perspective on ways of life that perhaps many non-disabled individuals take for granted. Media literacy, the ability to understand and use audio-visual information rather than text is vital in the digital age in which we live (Ofcom, 2009). Those who are not media literate are potentially disadvantaged as they do not have access to the same services/technologies (or an informed understanding of the digital world). Hartley (2002) argued that digital literacy is ideologically and politically charged and can be used as a method of social control.
Societal effects on creative practice.
It has been argued that no creative artefact is created in a vacuum. Bourdieu (1977) proposed that differing levels of performance and achievement can be explained by his concept of capital, of which there were three divisions; Economic, Social and Cultural.
Bourdieu – Three forms of Capital
- Economic Capital – Money, assets, property
- Social Capital – actual/potential resources linked to the belonging of a variety of institutionalised networks
- Cultural Capital – An individual’s knowledge and intellectual skills, this is further broke down into three parts
- The embodied state – knowledge that is consciously acquired, learned over time by socialisation
- The Institutionalised state – Educational qualification
- The objectified state – ownership of cultural goods (e.g. books, paintings, artefacts)
Bourdieu was interested in the dynamics of power within society and how social order is maintained, Bourdieu argues that these forms of capital are intertwined and your position in the world is determined by the level of capital that individual/group have. The success of an individual will depend on how well they can navigate through the fields (area of expertise) they are involved with and if they have the necessary skills to transfer to higher levels within that field. Johnstone (2004) further argues that the value of cultural capital is not only dependent on the field it is produced but also through the institutional/social contexts in which it is received. She argues that the reconceptualising of culture capital could open up new lines of understanding and valuing artistic merit in the future
In conclusion I believe that my journey as a creative practitioner has travelled a wide and varied road, the loss of my eyesight, as devastating as it was, took me along a path I never expected to walk. Through the higher education system I came into contact with many different people and gained a vast amount of knowledge that has helped me to progress as a creative practitioner and has helped to inform my practice.
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Accessed: 7th October 2017
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