Monday, April 7, 2008

Conference Re-Cap

I'm up early this morning. After laying in bed for the past 20 minutes, eyes wide open, I decided to just go with it and to start my day. Perhaps it is a good time for me to process the experience of presenting and attending conferences this semester, which has finally reached its conclusion on Saturday (thankfully).

On Saturday I presented here in town at the big R1 public university. My paper was well-received, though I was a bit confused from the discussion following. I have been thinking about it a bit over the last day or so, and I think I've figured out why I've been so confused. First let me explain the gist of the discussions. After my presentation, which was the last of a two person panel, the faculty respondent spoke briefly about the two of our papers and then presented us with questions which we both took turns answering. The respondent didn't really directly address my paper so much except to pull out an essay that I quoted that discusses Jackson Pollock and begin to remind us all of the importance of Jackson Pollock in the discussion of Public Culture which is the topic of the day. I guess you could say that this is a good response as he sees the context in which I placed the quote relevant to the topic at hand. But at the same time, he was not so much addressing my paper as continuing the overall discussion of the conference.

Ok. I think here is my point. I guess i expected a more direct response to my paper, also from the audience. Instead, the paper provoked a lot of discussion around the topic of art and politics, historicizing the 1960s, and the institutionalization of art. These are all relevant topics of course, but I was just confused, because in my mind, I have dealt with these topics, some of which I deal with directly in the dissertation, and others that I find too general and time consuming to be worthy of addressing at all.

While all of these things are important, they have all been discussed at length in the discourse of art history and theory, and I'm not really interested in simply repeating a discussion that has already been had. I'm trying to take these discussions and say something new. So in the end I found some of these conversations very "grad student-ish." This is all fine, especially since it is a grad student conference, and it is a learning experience. Next year I hope to present my work at some professional conferences and it will be interesting to see if there is a difference.

After the panel was finished many people came up to tell me that they really enjoyed my paper, which surprised me because from the discussion, again I was confused. One woman who stopped to talk to me awhile said that she thought it was really well-written and very clear. She said that as she studies for her qualifying exams she finds it challenging to express difficult ideas in a clear way. I thanked her and then told her that I was confused by the discussion. And she assuaged my concerns saying, "Oh no, it was provocative and that is always really good." Huh. I guess I still have a lot to learn.

2 comments:

servetus said...

People almost always want to turn the discussion to something they know about. So if they don't know enough to ask close questions about your paper, they will try to relate it to something they do know about and discuss it that way. Makes them feel less dumb.

eloise said...

Yes, I suppose you are right. When I am presenting I get all caught up in my work, and I forget that the audience consists of a wide range of scholars some of whom are probably very unfamiliar with the historical/theoretical context of my project.
And nobody likes to feel or look dumb.