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Art practice as methodological innovation: is it sustainable?
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Qualitative Research Journal, Volume 15, Issue 4
We developed the idea for this special issue in a context where the arts within education seemed peculiarly under-theorized, understood or, in some cases, non-existent. We both work in education departments and have a background in the arts and humanities (Tarquam as a scholar and theatre practitioner, Kate has a background in English literature and works in community settings across disciplines with a range of artists) however, the prime “discourse” of education continues to be social science. Against the grain, we have developed ways of working that have been open ended, experimental and powerfully different, leading to projects that re-situate “knowledge” and “knowing” within paradigms that remain under-explored in educational settings.
We were concerned to explore the evidence for arts practice as methodological innovation with a particular concern for the ways in which arts education research is funded as well as where it is situated. We wanted to explore, question and debate that conundrum in order to trouble the settled definitions of how arts based educational research could be understood and constituted. We were interested in papers that looked at methodological innovation, emergent/collaborative/improvisatory practice and those that deepened understandings of ways of knowing that could inform educational and community research. We think that these papers are innovative, in that they have a particular focus on emergent, improvisatory and provisional/material knowledge, de-centring the binary between productive and experiential knowledge. Aesthetic experiences and process over product are central to the way of knowing that emerges and the nature of the evidentiary basis of knowing is tentative and multiple as opposed to “certain” and singular. For example, in the papers on “Understanding experimentation as improvisation in arts research” and, “When the workshop is working: The role of artists in collaborative research with young people and communities” the authors explore ways in which artists can work as improvisers, and can dissolve the duality between productive knowledge and experiential knowledge to surface ways of knowing that are emergent and generative of further inquiry.
The following two articles, “In the thick of things: Drama as qualitative inquiry” and, “Seen and unseen: Using video data in ethnographic fieldwork” focus more on the art form as a heuristic to different forms of inquiry. The process and the product are equally valued in the undertaking of the work of inquiry. Processual knowing and product is unique to this form of inquiry. For example, Vicars and McKenna enact the “knowing” they do as drama focused educators and scholars, even while they explore the potential of it as a form. Hackett, Pool and Rowsell explore how film can be process led and used as a tool of inquiry, rather than as a celebratory product, and with honesty and sensitivity, probe into its uses within community-led projects in educational contexts. We can see how applying artful knowing to the field of research inquiry can be generative, but also can develop a lens that unravels the certainty of research endeavour in the field.
We also address the importance of artful knowing as a research methodology through these papers, and we think that there is something about multiplicities of knowing and understanding and the gap between the given and then new which this field addresses that is important. Art by definition and artful practices that inform research are always going to evoke multiple ways of “reading” the scene; interpretation is fluid and open; and this can result in a tension when we are wanting to know what it is that has/is happening through the art forms and their application to research. Not knowing what we are looking for until it emerges is unique to artful inquiry. We are therefore excited about the methodology described as it emerged between an artist and an academic in, “Borderlands: Traversing spaces between art making and research” where the idea of existing in a liminal space, on the margins of meaning, is generative for further research. We also found the article on “Co-designing non-hierarchical community arts research” useful in identifying a methodology for working in an open ended way with community partners.
Finally, the question of “Who owns educational research” is explored by Marshall and Pahl with particular reference to the UK, where the Arts and Humanities Research Council's Connected Communities programme is breaking new ground in encouraging artists to work collaboratively with academics and community partners in cross-disciplinary teams (see www.connected-communities.org.uk).
Our special issue raises deep and troubling questions about the nature of knowledge, and the need to articulate a manifesto for arts-based research in education in a more trenchant, and systematic way. In doing so, we have found it useful to engage with a field that recognizes, “knowing from the inside” from Ingold (2013) and sees artistic research as offering ways of knowing that are experienced bodily, materially and in experience and feeling (Borgdorff, 2010). These articles introduce that field, explore it, and make it come alive in new ways that challenge us to think differently about the potential of the arts in educational research settings.
Professor Kate Pahl, School of Education, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, and
Professor Tarquam McKenna, College of Education, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
Borgdorff, H. (2010), “The production of artistic knowledge”, The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 44-63
Ingold, T. (2013), Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture, Routledge, London