Let’s talk about the messiness of research and writing. It corresponds to art making, but rarely is the messiness as visible. Sure, you might see strewn papers or piles of books, but art messiness is more palpable.

The longer I work with art students, the more I am perplexed at their reluctance to engage all their studies with the same messiness they have in their studio practice. Research and writing can be such a challenge, whether it is out of perfectionism or fear, that students formalize their writing and have a hard time getting creative with it.

Research is best when it is a form of play. I try to encourage research games with students, but too often we are focused on outcomes and students miss the change to play with research. One of my favorite research games comes from the early days of good search engines. Search on two disparate topics at once and try to get the smallest result set. Such a game can impose a sense of serendipity on research that enhance the fun.

When students learn that research can take them down interesting rabbit holes, they become more comfortable with the entire process.

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