Aside from my performance practice, which was included in the University of Brighton's recent Research Excellence Framework, I am currently engaged in a Phd. Below is my initial phd proposal, submitted on 26/8/13.
'Implications and Applications of Flow theory for Arts Practice and Pedagogy'
Introduction – The Problem.
In the 13 years I have been teaching on a Performance and Visual Art degree, I have often observed that some students generally experience greater difficulty staying focused, motivated and productive despite an apparently sincere desire to do so. This trait is often perceived as ‘laziness’, yet it seems almost universally the case that these students aren’t ‘getting away’ with anything, and experience lower self-esteem and enjoyment of life than their more productive colleagues. In my own experience of arts practice also I recognize there are times when I am deeply absorbed and creatively productive, and others when I am disorientated, unmotivated and easily distracted. My concern to understand the factors that determine the quality of engagement in arts practice led me to the field of Flow theory.
Outline of Flow Theory
‘Flow’ is the term coined by Hungarian psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, to describe those states of focused absorption often described as being ‘in the zone’, ‘on form’ or deeply ‘into’ the activity. Beginning with ‘Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play (1975)  he has published a series of books and articles detailing his research into this psychological state. Sports and games provide clear examples of activities primarily designed to induce such states, and are engaged in as much for the intrinsic reward of the positive experience they provide, as for any clear extrinsic reward (e.g. financial gain, status enhancement). The range of activities that can produce ‘flow’, however, is extremely broad, providing the following key conditions are present: the opportunity to focus attention without distraction; clear goals and rules; immediate, unambiguous feedback; and a level of challenge matched to level of skill. Flow is most deeply experienced when the activity pushes an individual to operate at the upper range of their ability, and for this reason it often results in a discernable development of skills or capabilities. ‘Psychic Entropy’ is the contrasting state of disorderly and conflicting impulses in which attention is distracted away from the pursuit of preferred goals and one finds it difficult to ‘get into’ an activity.
The primary aims of my research are: to understand the conditions most conducive to achieving flow states in arts practice and those that prevent or disrupt it; to apply this knowledge to my personal art practices; and explore ways in which the research might inform arts pedagogy. Through this process I hope to develop affective means to enhance both my own and my students’ creative productivity and skills/knowledge development - and quality of life.
RELATED RESEARCH QUESTIONS:
Implications for Art practice and Pedagogy
In ‘Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention (1996), Csikszentmihalyi provides clear suggestions for enhancing flow during creative processes based on his research into the habits of highly creative individuals. These include the suggestion to limit the range of stimuli and focus on specific tasks utilising particular skill-sets in an organised sequence – of particular relevance to an interdisciplinary arts course such as the one I currently teach on. He also makes the simple recommendation to do more of what you enjoy and less of what you do not, stating that escaping the pressure to conform to socially accepted trends is a key factor in developing a more personally rewarding arts practice. Related to this issue he writes of the need to avoid both a lack of rules (Anomie) and the imposition of rules unsuited to personal ambitions or temperament (Alienation). He also highlights two requirements for achieving flow that can be particularly problematic for the artist: Clear Goals and Immediate Feedback. In terms of goals, he suggests there is key balance to be achieved between setting defined objectives, and engaging in the exploratory improvisation and ‘play’ evident in many artistic processes. In terms of feedback, he stresses the importance of developing a personal aesthetic preference:
‘a painter who enjoys painting must have internalized criteria for “good” or “bad” so that after each brush stroke she can say “yes, this works; no, this doesn’t”. Without such internal guidelines, it is impossible to experience flow’ 
A central question in my research, therefore, is how aesthetic preference is formed. In ‘The Art Instinct’ (2009) Dennis Dutton argues that some preferences are genetically determined adaptations, such as images of hospitable natural landscapes and displays of manual or mental dexterity. In ‘Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art’ (1993), Janet Wolff outlines established views within sociology that preference is determined to a significant degree during formative years through immersion in a particular cultural environment which connects certain forms with certain values. As such, it may be that some ‘internal guidelines’ are innate whilst other are acquired, and in this latter category some also appear to be more socially useful. It is a widely recognized characteristic of cultural production and consumption that the display of certain aesthetic preferences confers higher social status than others. This characteristic has been identified and described by Thorstein Veblen (1899) and Pierre Bourdieu (1984) , amongst others, and is echoed in the work of Wesley Shrum (1996):
‘Participation in high art forms [often] involves a status bargain; giving up partial rights of control of one’s own judgment to experts in exchange for the higher status that competent talk about these artworks provides. The status bargain, then, is an exchange of prestige for opinion rights’ 
My experiences teaching Arts practice in higher education have led to a related concern: if a student’s formative years were spent in very a different cultural environment than their assessor’s, they may have widely diverging aesthetic preferences. In their desire to achieve the extrinsic reward of high grades they may seek to appeal to their assessor’s aesthetic preferences rather than their own, giving up their ‘opinion rights’ and foregoing the intrinsic reward of flow experience in the process. Shifting assumptions about the possibility of objective evaluations of art are a central issue in educational approaches. Lee Emery (2002) identifies in Gombrich’s ‘A Story of Art’ (1950) and Janson’s ‘The History of Art’ (1962) the modernist presumption that ‘the history of art is a series of progressive linear movements from the beginning of civilization to modernism.’  From this perspective, estimations of an artwork’s place in relation to this ‘cutting edge’ would appear to form a key criterion for its evaluation. From a postmodern / post-colonial position, however, such narratives of cultural progress are problematic. For this reason, one aspect of my work will be to investigate how different conceptions, values and ideals of artistic quality influence assessment processes and thereby the student’s experience of flow 
One of the most immediately obvious applications of Flow theory for art pedagogy is simply to teach it to students. As I have discovered in my own teaching practice, this can be a powerful and inspiring guiding narrative for students, re-contextualising their struggles and set-backs such that they are less demoralising, whilst providing clear strategies for enhancing their experience of flow and achieving a greater sense of self-actualisation 
‘This information is *extremely* useful. I craved some hard-line psychological tracks to navigate this new and weird experience. If I may suggest this may be useful to introduce very early on to students entering university’ - 1st year student
The relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic reward as a factor in the production of flow is a core element of my interest. ‘Outsider Art’, produced by those working outside of the institutions of art and exemplified by the artwork of children, prisoners and the ‘insane’, provides an interesting example of art often produced with apparently little consideration of extrinsic reward. First espoused as a valid and valuable field of artistic endeavour by French painter, Jean Dubuffet, such work has a compulsive, self-expressive quality that suggests deep flow experience. A related interest is in how the inclination to make art shifts from childhood to adulthood. Piaget’s description of the developmental stages of ‘play’ is reminiscent of flow-producing processes involved in games, art and theatre: the exploratory investigation of the physical materials; engagement with imaginative role-play; and competitive activities structured through rule making. Remaining ‘playful’ may prove challenging amidst the responsibilities of adult life, as Picasso identified - ‘All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once [s]he grows up.’ Keith Johnstone expresses a similar sentiment:
‘Most children can operate in a creative way until they’re eleven or twelve, when suddenly they lose their spontaneity, and produce imitations of ‘adult art’.
Johnstone was the key figure in developing ‘theatre sports’ , a performance form that uses improvisational techniques and a competitive element to provide the impetus and define the parameters to the practice. The extrinsic reward of formally ‘winning’ has a very weak link to the motive for playing, and a similar situation seems to occur in poetry ‘slams’, and break dancing competitions, although here winning is probably a stronger motive. Towards the other end of the scale are ‘sports’ judged on both technical merit and artistic impression, such as ice-dance and rhythmic gymnastics. In my own teaching practice I incorporate many game-like exercises that create states of playfulness as a means to develop improvisational / expressive abilities and generate material, and anther aspect of my research will be to extend and develop this range of exercises through participant-observation in workshops run by others, and continued literature review.
Gauging and recording the quality and degree of flow experience will be of key importance for all of this work, and I will begin by employing the Experience Sample Method as developed and described by Larson & Csikszentmihalyi (1983) . I also want to gain evidence of the breadth of techniques that have proved effective for other artists, through literature review and interview, considering how the medium of practice and characteristics of the practitioner, affect flow experience. I will also seek to develop means of gauging flow also for audience members. Here flow seems typically produced through immersion in narratives (of fiction or concept), empathy with characters and the processes recognition involved in many forms of humour. In this respect I find it interesting to consider how an artwork might be judged by its ability to produce flow in the audience.
I plan for this phd to have 3 main outcomes.
1. A range of original pedagogical tools for performance practice. I will systematically apply the findings of flow research to develop strategies for teaching devised theatre practice. I will initially begin with the forms and content I currently teach, which include lectures in narratology, post-modernism, flow theory; and practical workshops in creative writing, puppetry, and improvisation/clowning. I anticipate that through this process I will develop more specialised areas of focus, perhaps in improvisation techniques for the performer/deviser, and/or the use of performative elements in lecture presentations. I will undertake a literature review of devised theatre processes, and participant-observation in practical workshops lead by established artists/trainers. I will then apply insights gained through these experiences to develop my own techniques conduct through my university teaching practice, through extra-curricula sessions, and at other locations with different communities. Throughout the process I will seek to gather accurate feedback from participants to inform the development of my work. This output will be evidenced in the written element and through video.
2. A series of performance and video works. This process will be closely connected to the pedagogical research since I predominantly teach the skills and processes I use in my own practice. My focus will be on developing creative processes that lead me to experience the deepest and most extensive flow experiences and highest levels of creative productivity . I will initially explore auto-ethnographical  approaches to reflect on my past experiences of flow through creative practice drawing on my journals and aiming to identify common factors that worked for me. I will apply these insights, and those gleaned from published work on flow in creative processes, to a variety of projects of different scales that build upon my existing skills, processes and values (see appendix). Given that this aspect of my inquiry largely investigates the affect of experiential processes on my subjective state, I will explore heuristic research approaches that allow for the inclusion of my ‘opinions, feelings, moods and intuitions‘  as evidence. I will seek to ensure that this process is used to transform my tacit knowledge of creative processes into explicit knowledge with clear application and utility for others. The discipline of maintaining a reflective journal will also be key to linking strategies undertaken to states of mind, and. This output will be evidenced in the written element and through video.
1. A written thesis. This will contain a comprehensive literature review outlining published work relevant to the key research questions, and details of my own qualitative and creative research processes and findings. Included in this will be key passages from reflective journals, and transcripts of interviews with artists/educators and students. I will aim towards the construction of new critical perspectives that will inform the ethos and curriculum design for education programmes in contemporary performance practice, with implications for arts pedagogy more generally.
Bayley, S, Taste; The Secret Meaning of Things, Faber and Faber, London, 1991
Bourdieu, P, (trans.), Distinction, Routledge, Oxon, 1984
Carey, J, What Good are the Arts?, Faber and Faber, London, 2006
Cskiszentmihalyi, M, Creativity; Flow and the psychology of Discovery and Invention’ Harper Collins, New York, 1996
Cskiszentmihalyi, M, Flow; the psychology of optimal experience, Rider, London, 1992
Cskiszentmihalyi, M, , The Evolving Self; A Psychology for the Third Millennium, Harper Collins, New York, 1993
Dawkins, R, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 1989
Diamond, J, , The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Vintage, London, 1991
Dubuffet, J, , Asphyxiating Culture And Other Writings, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1988
Dutton, D, The Art Instinct; Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2009
Emery, L, ‘Teaching Art in a Postmodern World’ Common Ground Publishing, 2002
Johnstone, K. Impro, Improvisation And The Theatre. London, Methuen, 1992
Miller, G, The Mating Mind; How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, Vintage, London, 2000
Robinson, K, , ‘The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything’, Penguin, 2010
Shrum, W, Fringe and Fortune: Role of Critics in High and Popular Art, Princeton University Press, 1997
Veblen, T, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Macmillan, New York (re-published 1994, Dover, Ontario), 1899
Wilson, E. O, On Human Nature, Harvard University Press, 1988
Wolff, Janet, Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art, Palgrave Macmillan Limited, 1993
de Botton, Alain, Status Anxiety, first aired 06/03/04, Channel 4, UK
 Csikszentmihalyi, M. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: The Experience of Flow in Work and Play. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 1975
 Cskiszentmihalyi, M, Creativity; Flow and the psychology of Discovery and Invention’ Harper Collins, New York, 1996
 Dutton, D, The Art Instinct; Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2009
 Veblen, T, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Macmillan, New York 1899
 Bourdieu, P, (trans.), Distinction, Routledge, Oxon. 1984
 Shrum, Wesley Jnr, ‘Fringe and Fortune; the role of critics
 Emery, L, ‘Teaching Art in a Postmodern World’ Common Ground Publishing, 2002
 For example, from my own experience it seems that whilst a Modernist approach can impose rules unsuited to some students’ ambitions, a postmodern lack of rules can lead to the confusing state of psychic entropy.
 As described by Abraham Maslow, and similar to David Riesman’s use of the term ‘Inner-directed’. There are also similarities with Cskiszentmihalyi ideas on the Auto-telic self, the person skilled at turning challenges into flow producing activities.
 Johnstone, K. Impro, Improvisation And The Theatre. London, Methuen, 1992
 Popularized in UK by the television programme ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ and now countless ‘Impro’ groups.
 Described in Conner Christensen, T., Feldman Barrett, L., Bliss-Moreau, E., Lebo, K. & Kaschub, C. (2003). A Practical Guide to Experience-Sampling Procedures, Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 53-78
 My initial concern is to achieve a high quantity of output and high quality of experience, rather than high quality of work.
 As outlined by John Freeman in Blood Sweat and Theory, Research through practice in performance, Libri pub. 2010