Art and Academia

How it possible for the academic and artistic worlds to merge? Impact investigates by interviewing Dr Edward Sellman, someone who is both an academic and an artist.
Dr Sellman is a researcher and lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Human Relation on the Nottingham University Jubilee campus, and will be displaying his exhibition ‘transitions: figures in space’ at the Nottingham Society of Artists Gallery from the 23rd to the 29th of October.

You studied art and education at Exeter University. Can you explain what it means to study art within an educational field?

My course mainly focused on the effective teaching of art in schools. However I also became interested in the educative role of the art gallery. Galleries are very interested in engaging young people and promoting the creative industries. Meanwhile, schools are keen to use the arts to deliver other areas of the curriculum. The arts are particularly helpful to anyone with a learning difficulty and much more motivating to students who are not engaging with learning.

So what do you see as the difference between an academic and an artist?

Whilst both roles involve extensive research and critical self-examination, the chief difference between the two is that academic ideas are often communicated through text and artistic ideas are often represented visually. Academic research focuses on an evidence-based argument whereas artistic practice involves the search for metaphor to represent reality. However, the boundaries between such practices are dissolving. From medicine to metaphysics, visual representation has often been used to represent complex ideas and record valuable data for analysis.

Art is often seen as a non-academic or vocational subject. What are your views on this?

I think a fine artist would reject such a statement. Although I have a PhD, I still think the hardest thing I’ve ever done is an accurate life-drawing. It involves an understanding of anatomy, precise measurement combined with the dexterity to manage mark making. Students of art history know that art has often engaged with serious social issues of the time. So I think art can be a very academic subject.

School leavers today are still pressurized to pursue an academic career at university rather than an artistic one. What would be your advice in this situation?

I understand the pressure on young people to play safe and follow a reliable career path, because in many ways I did that by choosing teaching as a career. However, the creative industries are growing, the future is ‘visual’ and there are increasing opportunities in these areas. You spend a large part of your life at work, so I think you should follow the career that’s likely to give you the greatest fulfillment. It may be realistic to continue your artistic skills alongside something else but this requires discipline and dedication.

As a lecturer how do you fit your role as a painter and an artist into your daily routine on a practical basis?

I usually get up very early and do a couple of hours of artwork before going to work and I combine this with painting at the weekends. You can easily become tired or preoccupied by the end of the day and doing it this way means that my time for painting is protected.

What inspires you to paint? How do you choose your subject matter?

The human face fascinates me and I’m often drawn towards portraiture. In other work, I try to create metaphors that reveal something about the contemporary human condition. These tend to come to me at various times but usually after pondering something in great depth and occasionally when you just see something in real life that suggests a powerful image

Further information about Dr Sellman’s work can be found at The Nottingham Society of Artist’s Gallery is open daily from 10-4.30pm

Anne Moore


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