Self-Directed Research

TED deserves real credit for changing the face of the ‘researcher’ for my generation from the unknowable, painfully academic, hermit stereotype of the past to progressive, socially aware, entrepreneur of the future. In a [supposed] post-truth age full of pressing economic, cultural, social and personal issues, researchers are healthy and appropriate role models, especially for emerging generations.

In some circles Elon Musk has become the poster boy for an idiosyncratic, future looking, commercial, research based type of problem solving. In the western world at least, there’s often a battle between progress and dissenting voices, militantly comfortable in their habits. From afar it appears that Musk’s tactic is to improve every single aspect of something until there’s nothing logical left to object to. In the manufacturing economy, no matter what you’re making or looking to update, if the product is more efficient, more ecologically sound, lasts longer, looks better and costs less then it’s time to move on, and have some fun doing so. There’s nothing wrong with treasuring elements of the past, quite the contrary, but we need a future that’s worth keeping them in.



However, as Edward Bernays realised; ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ conduct very different emotional charges. Our species are very emotional beings, and it’s these emotions that call us to action like nothing else. Beyond genetics, it’s our environment and experiences that influence us, the stuff that enters our peripheral [field of] vision.

The starting points for my research are born at opposite ends of this spectrum (the poles). At one end are things that you like, want to contribute to and promote. At the other are things that get under your skin, don’t sit right and need re-working. An effort is then made to explore, understand or make discoveries culminating in a conceptually appropriate output to formalise the inquiry.

Self-directed research is concerned with things that grab your attention and the investigation of those leads through a personal curiosity or compulsion. In his talk, Visual (and not so visual) Research, Paul Minott (2017) describes these links and tangents as clues that you explore like a detective, driven by instinct. The work then manifests in one of the following ways; the theory comes before the content, the theory comes after the content, the theory is the content or the content is the theory.

Dinner for Five (2001-2005) was a series presented in a series of Hollywood restaurants by Jon Favreau in which actors, directors and musicians would dine and chat.. Something must have gone wrong at sporadic points during digitisation or upload of several of the episodes to YouTube. This resulted in splurges of data, delays and pixelation (glitches), reminiscent of accidental digital Picasso paintings. I collected and daisy-chained all the glitches from multiple episodes into one video (which has since been removed from YouTube for copyright violation). Individual stills were also collected at the point the distortion was at it’s peak, each made available to the subject of the image via Instagram and Twitter.




Art [in it’s many forms] is a very emotional sport, but [along with video] is still one of the most successful, efficient and romantic ways of showing concepts and ideas to an audience that civilisation has invented so far. This is one reason why ‘modern art’s job is not only to show us who we are, but also to help us’ (School of Life, 2013) . A partnership with research could reposition both in the eyes of many, from an abstract frivolity to a valuable cross-curricular tool.


Century of the Self (2002) Directed by Adam Curtis [TV mini-series]. UK: BBC, RDF Media

Dinner for Five (2001-2005) Created by Jon Favreau [TV Series] IFC

Perry. G (2014) Playing to the Gallery. London: Penguin Books

RSA (2013) How to Change Education – Ken Robinson. Available at

TED (2017) The future we’re building — and boring | Elon Musk. Available at

Tech Insider (2016) Elon Musk unveils Solar Roof by SolarCity. Available at

The School of Life (2013) Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy. Available at:

Minott, P. (2017) Visual (and not so visual) Research [Lecture] Research Methodologies Bath Spa University