Reflexive Practitioner

Strategies for Reflexive Practice

What does Reflexive mean?

Australian artist and  art theorist Graeme Sullivan, stated in 2010 that ‘Art practise has long been a critical and creative means of inquiry, that encourages new ways to think about what it is to be human within the uncertain worlds in which we live.’

Reflexivity is the ability to reflect.  Reflection is contemplation, reviewing, meditation, pondering.  Reflexivity is a reflection on how you are thinking, the impact of your thinking on future thinking and the impact of your thinking on the way you do things.  There is a much more forward looking proactive in reflexivity.  Turning back to yourself, acutely aware of how your thinking affects what you do.  A sense of stepping back to have a more distanced position, a third person view of self.

In the 1980’s Donald Schon produced a seminal work called The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action.  Michael Eraut, Emeritas Professor at Brighton University stated that ‘Reflexivity is an essential aspect of independent learning and being a professional practitioner.  Most learning happens informally during normal working processes and that there is a benefit to be had by recognising and enhancing this learning by being reflexive.’

In summary:

Being reflexive is thinking about your thinking.

A reflexive practitioner is a learning practitioner.

As a fine artist you need to be reflecting on the way you make work, what influences you, knowing where to position yourself in relation to other artists, and being conscious of yourself in the broader discipline.

‘Reflexive practise is a sort of research activity that uses different methods to work against existing theories and practices, and offer the possibility of seeing things from a new perspective.’  (Sullivan 2010).

A good example of this is the Pompidou Centre in Paris, designed by Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini inthe 1970s.  The services are on the outside of the building , creating an uninterrupted space for viewing art work.

Artists and  How They Have Come to Understand Their Own Work (Interviews-Artists 2010)

James Aldridge

Significantly when he allowed things that have meaning to him, that he didnt think were worthy of the label ‘art’ into his work, a spark ignited and the door to everything else opened.

Tracey Emin

She treads a very fine line between confessional work and a self referential bubble.

Sean McCleaf (art therapist) believes it is important for an artist to keep a critical distance from their work.

Langlands & Bell

In 2003 they were commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to create a work in Afganistan.  They created the House of Bin Laden. Inspired by real events, they found the work challenging.

They follow their curiosity and feel it is necessary to do something meaningful.  The question hangs over whether it is ethical or moral.

Christiane Baumgartner

Her work reflects the lives we lead, the faster we move, the less we see.  A time consuming process that the artist wishes to appear handmade.

Look at Other People’s Work

Emily Ball

After seeing Rose Wylie’s ‘Cloven Shoes’, Emily Ball questioned her own playfulness.  If colour is stripped away, what is left?  She felt that there was something in Rose Wylie’s work that wasn’t present in her own.  She felt exposed.

Keeping a journal helps release unconstructive habits, a journal allows you to see how they were resolved.

John Skinner

Study historic works.  John Skinner had repeatedly drawn Paul Veronese’s Scorn , the four allegories of love (1575 at the National Gallery) and wanted to make a transcription.  He felt the task too great and settled on a small detail, producing Two Scornful Women.  The original 5′ canvas he planned to use, he painted Homage to HC based on Helen Chadwick’s series the Vanity of Life, a Brighton contemporary he followed with envy.

The emotions you feel towards another artist’s work are an indication of where you want to be.

Your Space

Is your studio fit for purpose?  For what you do now?  For what you want to do?  Is it serving or holding you back?

Observe & Reflect

Stage 1





Plan new ideas

example:  exploring tension between the scale/robustness/aggression/violence of a North Sea oil rig and the fragility of the marine environment.

Repeat stage 1 until satisfied.  Repetition with changes – iterations.

Observe and reflect – contemplate from different perspectives, draw from observation, photograph, draw on photocopy, ask questions, describe in metaphors, touch, smell, taste, question what would it be if it were a… , place in a different environment, place next to other work.

Evaluate – How do you know if it’s finished?  How do you know it works?  What is my criteria for working?  What would it look like if it didnt work?  Intuition.

Outside of Your Studio

Understand what it means to be working in the field of Fine Art.

The American Art historian and critic James Elkins (1955), said that Fine Art is a value judgement.

Fine Art should communicate, critique, evoke contemplation, reveal, explore emotion.  The context can be cultural, philosophical, educational, social, political.

The German philosopher Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) stated nothing can be taken for granted.

Who does it?

Artists, assistants.

Where is it experienced?

Galleries, cinemas, books, advertising, products etc in physical and    virtual forms.

How is it evaluated?

Art world commentarty, critics, specialist and general    publications, auctions, gallery sales, media commentary,   advertisements.

How does it differ from Craft?

Different intentions.  Different art history and art theory.  Fine Art    doesn’t solve real world problems.

Medicine is both an art and a science.  Fine Art and medicine can     offer healing and well being, and have the common intention of    doing good.


Where am I in the Art World?

I need to be clear where I sit in the art world and how this relates to other disciplines.  John Skinner is clear in his mind that his work sits between the old masters and his contemporary.

Graeme Sullivan says that you need to be open to new and multiple interpretations of artworks.  It is necessary to  debate and discuss processes and meanings.

Also consider the context in which the work is produced and what rights the artist ultimately has over their work.

It is necessary to recognise and acknowledge whose work you are building on.  Be transparent in your methods and about your methodology.  Be rigorous in your recoding,  Justify your methods.  Dont confuse effort and quantity with quality.  Be careful of using theory to justify your work.  Be modest in your claims.  Be honest with yourself.  Don’t lose your curiosity or courage.






Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: