Academics and artists

Introduces a new white paper - co-authored with Christa Sathish - that compares academic writing to various art forms

Artist: Jos Harzing, Title: Mother with children and dog, Material: Polyester, Year: 1963, Location: Station restaurant Driebergen-Zeist

As a grand-daughterdaughtersister and aunt of artists, I have often compared academic writing to art. In the acknowledgments of my PhD thesis I already referred to research being akin to art in that it requires matching the 1% inspiration with 99% perspiration. In this video on why academia can still be a great career, I compared academics and artists in terms of careers.

Academic writing and art

However, there may also be similarities on the level of day-to-day work practices. In my last three papers, dealing with linguistic diversity in multinationals, a reinterpretation of ethnocentric staffing, and inpatriation and subsidiary capability building, my co-authors and I spent an awful lot of time crafting, rewriting, and polishing our work.

In one case we had to start on a completely fresh canvas after our original creation wasn’t appreciated by the critics (aka reviewers). In another case, we had to cut ruthlessly to reveal the diamond hidden within the rough cut of competing story lines. The third paper had a slightly less tortured journey, being accepted at our first-choice journal after only one R&R. However, we had polished the paper so much before submission that our fingers and brains hurt. We must have looked at every word in that paper five times!

At the same time, however, these three papers were a glorious experience in terms of collaboration. They were each written with a different set of two co-authors. On each of these three papers every co-author played their part to perfection, whilst at the same time caring deeply about making the collective end product the best it could be.

From sketch note to white paper

When reflecting on these projects for an – as yet unfinished – blogpost about the joy of co-authorships, the analogy with art came to mind again. Not just the parallel with 99% perspiration aka bloody hard work, but also the analogy with different art forms: painting, sculpting, and acting.

So I made a sketch note (see academic writing as sketching) with some rough ideas in my “blog ideas document” with the plan to write up a blogpost about it at some stage. I have at least fifty sketch notes in various stages of development. So, the idea languished for quite a while until Christa Sathish read the sketch note. It triggered lots of great ideas with her, and she offered to co-author the post with me.

In the writing process our ideas multiplied and, at 5,000 words, the resulting piece was far too long for a blogpost. So we decided to publish it as a white paper: The art of academic writing. You can find the entire white paper here, but you can also skip to individual sections by clicking on the links below. We hope you enjoy our reflections and they inspire you to think further about the parallels between academics and artists.

Writing as sculpting
Sculpting by reduction
Sculpting by augmentation
Where writing differs
Writing as drawing
Landscape drawing
Writing as painting
Writing as making music
Writing as acting
Theatre acting
Movie acting
Other similarities
In sum

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