Reflections on Noor’s and Dahlia’s projects

Last Monday Noor and Dahlia gave two fantastic presentations about their art-research projects and the themes they’ve been pondering for a while. I left that class both very excited about what they were doing and full of questions. Particularly, I was thinking about the many ways they could approach or continue their research. I don’t want to call those approaches “methods,” because methods sound formulaic, pre-determined and dull when their projects are full of the unexpected, the contingent, and the uncertainty of not knowing even fully where they want to go.

Noor’s project on inter-generational knowledge involves doing collages and collages on collages with others while talking within spaces made for talking (like kitchens). When we think of Pink, this brings to mind what other sensory stimuli are present in those environments (coffee, cooking, maybe pollution and noise from the outside, light from the windows etc.) and if these are important to the research and need to be evoked or described. If the answer is affirmative, how do we do that? I also was curious about not only the transcript of the conversations taking place but the sounds of those conversations, because speech will reveal nuances and meanings that text cannot because of qualities like prosody (rhythm, pitch, volume). There are also facial expressions (remember the expression of La Toya Ruby Frazier’s grandmother in the video we saw?) that are hard to verbally translate though a poet might be able to do so visually with words. I think Victoria Restler’s work (she will be with us in a few weeks) could be very helpful to help us think about how to evoke the conditions that accompany fruitful inter-generational collage making. It could easily involve visuals that include but are not limited to the actual collages made together, and it could include video and sound experiments.

The question of what inter-generational knowledge is and why it’s important is also a present question in Noor’s work. Anything spoken between an elder and a younger is of course inter-generational communication. And maybe knowledge is conveyed even when the words themselves seem banal or inconsequential. Certainly relationship is cemented when you are in with someone else in a way that is nurturing. But what do mean by knowledge and how do we create it and pass it on?

In any case, all of you should be taking field notes all the time (these can be textual, audio, visual) so that you remember what you are saying and thinking and what those you work with are saying and thinking and doing. Do not count on your memory to remember. With every second that passes, you replace what you’ve seen or heard with imaginings (also interesting of course). So take good field notes!!!!!

Dahlia’s maps and the images she showed us struck me on a number of levels. First, there is what maps represent – geography, identity, routes to get from one place to another. In this sense the map that a person might choose to represent them has deep significance whether it is the map of a country, a city, a street, a house or a room that has deep significance for that person. So maps can represent various breadth of vision though even when the map is of something much more meso-level, a room of a house for example, it is infinite in the intimacies it has for the creator. Its visual qualities for the viewer, however, may be very different. Maps are famous for not giving us a feel or telling us what is really going on. We see a map of the US but don’t see from it the poverty that pervades it, the racism, the homelessness, the wealth, the people-power that actually live in the spaces represented by the map, pollution etc (though there are now some people making maps that focus on these very qualities). At best, even when they focus on a particular aspect of the geographic space they tend to be more informative – flat and illustrative- than evocative. There are ways around this, but they need to be contemplated. Furthermore, show me a map of your kitchen and I might likely think of my kitchen rather than yours, and associate with your image the smells, sounds, and conversations that my kitchen has for me. Show me a map of the lower-East Side and I will remember my experiences there – including muggings, mural painting, revolutionary incitement, and the homelessness that pervaded that area when I was in my 20s. So there is connection of some sort, but also certainly difference.

Then there is the visualness of the maps that may contrast to its symbolic representation, the rivers and roads looking like veins that crisscross the body that may transmit a sense contrary to the intimacy intended. How does the visualness of the map, what it looks like and evokes, align or not align with what the map is thought to represent by the maker of those maps? Is that contrast helpful or not helpful to convey what the artist wants to convey? Should she double down on the dissonance to create that rupture that collage is supposed to create (rupture of easy meaning), or alter the map to create a different type of visual power? Does it make sense to have discussions with the makers of the maps to understand their motivations and inspirations (which would make the study more “traditional” in some ways), and if so do we need sound files (or text files) to accompany the visuals? Of course these sound files could be played with as well, layered and jumbled, to jar rather than to explain. How does exhibiting the art by itself represent a stance about research that differs from a stance demanding that text and audio be exhibited together? Does the visual seen by itself just become art? Or because research (certainly of self and other) was central to the production of the maps, should we let the visuals “speak” for themselves and allow them to be vehicles through which the viewer will also examine/research herself? Is our objective disruption leading to examination? Is it understanding? Is it empathy?

As Lamar point out when talking about his work, the creation of the art is self-exploratory for the maker – though often that self-exploration is accompanied by discussion. Does research, to be research on the professional level, need to be exhibited? Does research need to have evocative, persuasive, or informative attributes for a public beyond the writer or maker? Is there a question of assessment that we need to consider, or is assessment old-school, old methods, old approaches for different types of research?

I’m forgetting some of the images that both Dahlia and Noor showed us, so please post them to the Commons site so we can all look at them again and think about them. I remember thinking how proud the figures in Dahlia’s images were, but I can’t remember the iages themselves.







On “With-ness” and Messiness – Dahlia’s Ramblings on 2/11 Readings

A couple of ideas that have been meandering through my mind in relationship to next week’s class (and life, in general, really) are those of “with-ness” and messiness.

The pieces by Pink and Jordan discuss in one way or another, the idea of being with – ethnography being with multimodality, our senses being with each other, a researcher being with those we research, an artist being with those who experience our art, and art being with its environment.  And really, to do any of these things we have to be with ourselves also and not remove ourselves (our biases, our quirks, our intuition) from our researcher persona.

With-ness is an idea that comes up a lot in my research and in my constant self-inquiry.  “Being with and doing things with” as Pink describes is at the heart of my research as we walk and walk and walk through the community, taking pictures and talking, recording videos and sitting together in quiet.  I’m also struck with the idea of producing new knowledge together, rather than just documenting what is there.  But a question that keeps popping up for me relates to the fact that different people can be together differently.  For some, the being with is helpful and for others, being with in certain moments can take away from our experience of a place.  How much can we really be with others, even if we are a few inches away?  How much could Matta-Clark really be with the surrounding community, especially younger people, homeless people and new immigrants?  Being with is relational.  It cannot be just one-sided.  I think of this with my kids – I think of being with them.  But I am still an adult, still the “official” researcher, still their former teacher.  Like the youth and homeless people who worked with Matta-Clark…how do they view our with-ness?

Pink writes about the constant tension between neat discrete categories and the messiness of how we actually experience things in a connected way, senses intertwined with each other and with memory and space.  Yes, the five senses are a neat way to categorize as are different modes.  But they do not reflect how we actually take in a moment even if they help us distill specific aspects of it.  This idea had already been in my thoughts based on a reading for another class – The Wonder of Data in which the author, Maggie MacClure, talks about the constant tension in research between organizing our data into neat themes and codes and the thrill and wonder of the pieces that resist this categorization and force us to really lean in and wonder.  I think of my niece who is almost two and who walks around the world using every sense to experience new (and familiar) things.  She does not put markers into the category of things we touch but don’t taste – for her, every sense is available for experiencing and if you can color with a marker as you bang it on the table and chew on the cap, then life is really grand!

Matta-Clark blurred and blurred and blurred the lines – between artist and activist, art viewer and artist, reality and imagination, art and the world around it.  I feel like many of us are trying to craft identities as researchers that embrace this blurriness and that bring in our whole selves.  I am eager to discuss our work next week in the context of these pieces!

The Dynamics of Researching With – Noor Jones-Bey

“If you have come to help me, then you are wasting your time . But if you have come because your destiny is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Australian Aboriginal Woman

Sarah Pink writes, “The practice of sensory ethnography involves the researchers’ empathetic engagement with the practices and places that are important to the people participating in the research. And by association it does not therefore principally involve the collection of data about them that can later be analyzed. Rather it involves the production of meaning in participation with them through a shared activity in a shared place.”  In this passage the author offers a way to produce knowledge that recognizes that knowledge production is a multi-sensory experience made with and among people. Traditional ethnographers, like Geertz, provided a method which asks for a researcher to collect data, a process that indirectly and directly places a one way relationship between people and therefore, the roles participant and researcher, where the researcher extracts from the experience of the participant in order to understand their actions and life ways. The turn that Sara Pink offers asks for research to expand toward the embodied theory and practices of Theaster Gates and Matta Clark. Pink’s sensorial ethnographic approach begins by engaging in relationship with people as they conduct their lives as a means to understand their full experiences and life ways.  She writes, “In ethnography, interviews might range from the form of a more casual conversation to sitting down with an audio recorder to discuss specific issues in a focused way. Whatever the context, I understand the interview less as a data collecting exercise than as a shared conversation through which new ways of knowing are produced.” These moves reflect on what everyday and theoretical decisions are necessary to shift the traditional approaches of social science research practices toward more humanistic and relational methods that ask for people to work together non-hierarchically to build knowledge and learn from one another.

In terms of Sensory Ethnography, Sarah Pink offers, “By asking a research participant to guide one around a particular locality (in my work this has included homes, a garden and a town) that holds meaning for him/her, and in which he/ she is engaged practically on a regular basis, enables the researcher to move through and be in and part of an environment with the participant. When viewing the subsequent video recording the researcher is thus re-experiencing a route through a material, sensory and meaningful world, as already seen through the viewfinder. This is rather different from the perspective of looking at and reading from video-as-data from which cultural meanings can be interpreted/read.” In this way, Sarah Pink shows how necessary it is for researchers to become fully immersed in the sensorial experience which calls for a deeper connection to the various meaning that are produced across the lifeways of individuals she is learning from. Thus researcher’s are asked to call on their own embodied experiences with the research participant, which is asks for a level of self reflexivity in the analytical process.  Matta Clark was successful in building art spaces, like Food, that became hubs for social life but wasn’t able to address social inequality in the sustained ways Theater Gates has in Chicago. I wonder what this means for research that isn’t interested in just producing theory but aims to support action and social change. Is there a certain rootedness and commitment that is necessary for social change research, whether that is art based or not? What possibilities are visible for Theaster Gates as a artist, designer, developer, researcher who grew, learned and worked with the same community for 20 years versus a visiting artist developing an art center? What relationships (within and outside of the community) were at the foundation of his work and create a fertile ground for sustainable art based social change methods?

Greg: week of 2.11.2019 readings

Jordan, C. M. (2017). Directing energy: Gordon Matta-Clark’s pursuit of social sculpture. In Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect (pp. 36–63). New Haven, CT: The Bronx Museum of the Arts and Yale University Press.

Pink, S. (2011). Multimodality, multisensoriality and ethnographic knowing: social semiotics and phenomenology of perception. Qualitative Research, 11(3), 261–276.

In reading Sarah Pink there is an effort to take the current definitions of sensory modality and expand them.  She writes that Guerts and Howes have demonstrated that the 5 senses we utilize are a western cultural construct, and further illustrates that KL Guerts, in studies of Angolan tribes, found that their perceptions of sensory stimuli did not map directly to our 5 sense modality.  She uses terms like synaesthesia, implying a blending of sensory inputs to create a unique perception, to describe that for which we in our culture do not have an accurate language taxonomy. 

The sensorial  dichotomy between written language and visual art is explored, with both critique of, and expansion on, some of the work of anthropologists. Kress’ assertion that words are in themselves “empty and vague” and that images specific and inherently precise seems a forced binary, and didactic; words can be quite precise and even totemic, while images can be filled with layers of meaning and possible perceptions.  Pink proposes the use of “affordances” a term that allows for both relational sensory perceptions and the inclusion of work of other scholars in broadening the language of meaning.

Revisiting CM Jordan’s piece on Gordon Matta Clark I was able to look at his work in a way that eluded me only a week ago.  In my first exposure to his photography I recognized the journalistic aspect and the gaze of the outsider. There were elements of the political (to me) in images of poverty and urban decay; the lens I viewed it through was that of distance and privilege.  In learning more of his immersion in the communities and environments I found his gaze to be less journalistic and more integrated sociologically. He was illustrating the life of the community in imagery that exists as both a single “journalistic” statement (photo-accuracy),  but allows for meaning to be derived through complete immersion in the social framework of that community in depiction and presentation.  As Matta Clark intended his work to be social anthropologic, and grounded in socialist democratic principle, I found ironic how his work “Graffiti Truck” which was meant to be the work of all the various graffiti artists that embellished the vehicle, wound up being viewed as his singular creation.



Gene Sunday, 2/10, 2:51, response to posts thus far

Both Luis and Lamar discuss modes through which experiences are conveyed and the limits of language to express the fullness of those experiences, what Luis calls the “mix of lived experience.” I think one of Pink’s main contributions to the discussion is her insight that no mode by itself (including the visual mode) is itself sufficient to the task of carrying experience, and yet each mode evokes a sensory response that invokes the other modes because on the level of the body experience is not allocated to only one sense but engages them all. When we talk about experience, because of the “crisis of representation,” we don’t have the language to do it justice. If we did, then we wouldn’t be talking about modes at all.

Of course the sensing of an image is mediated by how the viewer (hearer, reader) has learned to engage with her world, and Lamar points out (as Pink does) that these ways of engaging are culturally mediated. For Lamar to think with his students about the different ways to sense Freedom is a brilliant idea. in addition to the 5 senses, we might probe motion, balance, ethics, and intuition as sensory ways of enriching how we think of our own experiences. And there are certainly other “senses” as well.

I wonder if what Luis is calling “distortion” is what happens when artifacts/art are interpreted by the viewer, because the viewer (hearer, etc) immediately senses through experiential ways of feeling and interpreting that are not identical to those of the “creator.” By “distorting,” the audience to the art/artifact is becoming a creator as well, though when the artist’s goal is very specific that may not be to her liking (but it’s also not within her control). When we are using art to express what “others understand and feel” the discussion obviously becomes more complicated given the impossibility of conveying what we ourselves feel.

When we think about poetry, we think about words, music, rhythm and imagery. This is text as art and multisensory. Has it been used for revolutionary purposes? We could argue that it has been used to at least inspire, something we might say about visual art as well.

Luis asks if Matta-Clark is more of an artist or an activist, and both Luis and Lamar applaud his engagement of the community during his art-based endeavors. Just as we expand the definition of research to include any means through which we explore, we could expand the concept of art to include anything that incites new expereinces, that breaks established boundaries, that breaches established ways of thinking. Maybe we could describe anything that anyone makes as art. Noor, in her previous post, writes about visual arts-based research as a “form of humanization.” Could we think of any research process that puts us in touch with our full human potential as art? Does this blurring of boundaries serve us (as individuals and as societies) or does it muddy the waters in ways that are not helpful to our goals? Do you think Theaster Gates was more successful than Matta-Clark in involving the community in the process of creation, in help the everyday person realize their artistic self?

Luis writes about ethics and ownership in relationship to the Matta-Clark article and how important it was. These are good questions to ask. I was wondering how to read the photo of the homeless person on page 42. The photo was attributed to Matta Clark and exhibited in an important Manhattan gallery. Do you think it was exploitative? And how does it make us think about photographic ethics

Luis’s Response Week 2/11/19- Anthropological Ethnography

Pink, S. (2011). Multimodality, multisensoriality and ethnographic knowing: social semiotics and phenomenology of perception. Qualitative Research, 11(3), 261–276.

Jordan, C. M. (2017). Directing energy: Gordon Matta-Clark’s pursuit of social sculpture. In Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitect (pp. 36–63). New Haven, CT: The Bronx Museum of the Arts and Yale University Press.

In PInk:  “Perception begins in the body and ends in objects”(Csordas, 1990, p. 8, as cited in Geurts, 2003)” (265).  

Theme: The visual in use as a sensory ethnographic evocation in “phenomenological” ethnography, rather than as a traditional recording of data in classical ethnography, can lead to a more comprehensive anthropological ethnography.  Pink reaffirms Merleau-Ponty’s views that the body senses with all its organs simultaneously and in an interconnected manner.  But in the attempt to linguistically express that sensory experience we find restriction by the conventional five-sensory model.  The breadth of sensory experience,  requiring a true “phenomenological ethnography,” cannot, even in moments, fit neatly into the limitations of linguistic-based models. (270)

Not only can Art be used as a tool of expression when the linguistic mode may not be sufficient to the task, a phenomenological ethnography of ”being with” seeks to understand and express what others understand and feel.  The visual, for instance, is not viewed merely as a “photographic” recording of data or evidence as in classical ethnography, but as a means to elicit, empathize, or to evoke a more comprehensive experience of a moment, a true anthropological ethnography.  Imaginative use of even one sensory mode, such as the visual, say, can evoke a multi-sensory experience (synaesthesia). It is intriguing that the visual alone can be more precise than the linguistic:  although Pink disagrees with Kress’s binary schematic between words and images in general, she appears to agree with Kress’s (2005) counterintuitive assertion that images can depict experience with greater fullness of meaning, detail and precision, while words are more “general, ….empty and vague.” (264). Although most would agree that words, by context for instance, are indeed imbued with meaning anew in any instance by the hearer/reader (264), is the visual truly less amenable to that distortion in communication? It is so counterintuitive that it must be true.

I am most intrigued by the use of visual arts as a means of approaching a fuller anthropological ethnography, with its attendant precision, and how this ethnography would manifest in a range of practices, including that of educator, student and researcher.  


So, is Matta-Clark a community activist who employs arts-based research, or an artist who employs community-based research?  Although either description is easily justified, the former may be closer to the core of his identity.  Ultimately, he wanted to realize community engagement and empowerment, the identification of and resistance to socioeconomic inequality and governmental neglect, and a heightened community political awareness.  Matta-Clark’s experience may be emblematic of realizing the potential of this methodology in other vocations that aim to employ arts-based research, including educators who aim to employ arts-based research.  It also highlights possible questions of ownership and ethics.

His arts-based research provides a tool for participants to shape their world.  Ironically, this was most apparent to me in the photo of the four men sitting in a dirt lot with shovels in hand, ready to begin that act of creation upon a blighted, desolate lot.  The shape that it would take was yet to be realized. I wonder what it was going to become. Completed installations, including Pig Roast and restaurants such as Food, Matta-Clark incorporated highly participatory experiences with food in community. He aimed to employ “professional and non-professionals” alike as participants in work valuing inherent “human capital,” not the narrow political or economic capital that is often absent from such communities.  The work characterized the creation of a community that together invests in themselves and addresses together the problems that they face.

Is the question about the attribution and ownership of community-based works of art in fact an important question or not? There is an ethical rub here that Jordan insinuates.  Ownership of many of these works and extant installations were, in the end, attributed solely to the artist, as was the case with Matt-Clark and Beuys, although many community residents together created the work.  Is this important?  If it was their aim, then these great artists were ultimately not successful in that attempt to “…eliminate the hierarchic relationships between [artists] and their audiences”( 53).

The question of durability is related.  After the death of Matta-Clark, and of Beuys, the power of their work would dramatically diminish later for those who were not present firsthand to experience it with the artists’ direction (53).  Evidently, the artist was the lodestar of an ephemeral artefact of community shaping only for an instant in time.  Perhaps the the return of attribution to the progenitor artist also made vulnerable the legacy of that art’s influence.  Nevertheless, the arts-based research in shaping community did in fact impact the community in that time in significant ways.  The fact that such artefacts are not eternal, like great art is supposed to be, does not diminish the fact of what the community created, even if ephemeral, using arts-based research.  Thus, the question, “Was it ever art?” is moot.  So is the question “Whose art was it?” The only answer that matters is that the sensibility of art as a methodology was successful in allowing citizens to create and shape a community, at that instant in time.  It is also crucial that the research project was conducted ethically, with transparency and respect for all who participated. I like that art is not held in reverence here;  the community is.  We do not have to esteem “art” too highly in arts-based research, where we have the right to demote art to take a subordinate role in the service of other higher purposes, even other higher purposes that are ephemeral.

Lamar Ok Weekly Reading Response Due Monday, February 11th , 2019

“Directing Energy: Gordon Matta- Clark’s Pursuit of Social Sculpture” by Cara M. Jordan

“Multimodality, multisensoriality and ethnographic knowing: social semiotics and the phenomenology of perception” by Sarah Pink

Mind blown: our use of determining and casting judgement on environments,objects and people  based on our five senses is a modern western construct!The use of five senses is not necessarily applicable in other cultures.  Due to the fact that the fives sense have been normalized in my life, it is so hard for to imagine a way of looking at the world without necessarily relying on the five senses. In my freedom dreams project, students were asked to answer, “What does freedom look like, smell like, feel like and sound like?” I wonder what other questions I can ask to children  to elicit another part of their imagination to express what freedom means for them beyond the five senses.

For my personal knowledge in keeping track of concepts I learned for reading, the part of the reading that was illuminating to me was: “ …affordances are not fixed in objects or events to be perceived uniformly. Rather they are determined through the nature of the ‘action’ in which the perceiver is currently engaged’ (Ingold, 2000: 166). Paul Priors’s (2005) critical essay offers a way to think about the differences between Ingold’s and Kress’s approach through the notion of ‘affordances’. Prior identities ‘… Kress’ treatment of “affor-dances” as highly determinative, mutually exclusive, and binary.’ By contrast, he points out that ‘Gibson’s (1979) basic notion of affordances was, in fact, intended to avoid turning objective properties of things into such hard categories’ and ‘stressed that affordances are relational, ecological, and tendential (not determinative)’ and recognized the ‘fuzziness of categories.’ (p. 267).

What I appreciated about the Gordon-Matta- Clark article is the recognition and, “belief that art could include the entire process of living-thoughts, actions, dialogue, and objects- and therefore could be enacted by a wide range of people who were not professional artists,” (p. 42; Jordan, 2017).  I think about my beautiful black and brown children and imagine a world that values their potential and possibilities. I imagine a time and place where  black and brown children are given the time, space, resources, but most importantly the inspiration to direct their energy toward bringing about positive changes in their daily lives through art. . My 7, 8 and 9 year old students are deeply aware and conscious of their social surroundings and the oppression that is physically manifested in their neighborhoods. How do we push our students beyond awareness? How do we push their awareness into to social action- in using art and creativity to give back to the community, reshape/rebuild their surroundings, attend to the needs of their own  community, and inspire the uninspired. Imagine the imagination of change of children of color, imagination of plans, structures, and art that would clash, mesh, blend, connect, disconnect, uphold, let go, inspire, and make the world a better place.

What does the reader take away? Noor Jones-Bey’s Response

Eisner writes, “Visual arts are used to communicate the way something feels, that is, its emotional character.” As I was reading this week, I couldn’t help but think about visual arts based research is a form of humanization that flows back and forth through the researcher and the work, in the case of Eisner who allowed his deep love of art to take over the strict training at the University of Chicago. It makes me think of the large growth of Ivy on a building in Berkeley many years ago.  The Ivy made a home in every wall of a building, until the paint and original structure became obscured by years of natural growth. These readings ask us to explore what may be possible, if we allow ourselves to grow beyond the structured design of our own methodological programming. Further, all of the readings address the emotionality which allows the researcher but also those who read the research to be partners, through what Dewey offers as slowing “down perception and invit(ing) exploration” among all people. What is the purpose of static knowledge, if we are in a world that is expansive and ever changing? Like the Ivy plant, what we know can be reduced with sheers or statistical analysis but what of the possibilities when we allow ourselves and the research to flow out and over the tools made for reduction?  What is possible when we research with the purpose of creation? Where is it necessary to reduce and in what ways is this harmful to what we come to know as truth or “fact” thinking of Barone, who writes, that facts are not adequate for telling the whole story?

I really loved thinking of arts based research and methodology as a heuristic and would love to explore how different researchers have done this work. I agree with Eisner and Barone who write that “the borders between art and science are malleable and porous” and further, see how Western society has yet to tap into the potential of interdisciplinary pluralist research. These readings made me think of Sylvia Wynter’s piece, The Sociogenic Principle, which examines how the division between science and art leave major gaps in knowledge. She writes advocating for a deepening of understanding of poetic knowledge as a means to understand all that is not known within “hard sciences” like physics and chemistry, etc. Why is the western conception of science devoid of humanity? I loved how the authors included their personal narratives or what Carol Gilligan might call the roots of their work, and also offer simple and profound questions for researchers.  Some that are sitting with me currently include, “what does the reader take away?” What is the impact of the tools we use on our research but also on ourselves? How does feeling and expression shape our understanding of a person, place or situation? How might we as researchers and educators touch the souls of students as well as measure their sleeve or hat size? How can our research address help readers to learn and notice aspects of the world and further debate or dialogue with another?

Gene’s reflections on the posts so far, 2/3/2019


Hello all:

I thought I would take this time to reflect on the comments that have been posted on our website. I’ve really enjoyed reading them and thinking about them, and I look forward to us continuing the discussion tomorrow.

It seems to be that all who posted responded strongly and mostly favorably to the Barone and Eisner piece, with Luis being a bit skeptical, an attribute of his that will help us all to make sense of what we’re doing. It is interesting to me that when Lamar cited from Wang, he cited Wang’s excerpts from Eisner. This makes total sense, because Eisner, who is really seen as the central founder of arts-based research as an academic “discipline,” looks at arts-based research through a very broad and exhilarating lens. Creativity, disruption, imagination, ambivalence, understanding evocation and exploration are all celebrated by Eisner and Barone; their writing is best in my opinion when they don’t try to define precisely what arts-based research is but concentrate on what it can do. I laughed when Dalia wrote that despite her impulses that seem difficult to constrain, she found Wang’s organized and logical categorizations useful (as did Gregory), and of course Rose is even more analytical and “scholarly”. I, too, find Wang et al., useful for thinking about arts-based approaches to research, but I remain unsatisfied with Wang et al’s definitions (I think the categories are very permeable and their borders unsustainable). Meanwhile Rose presents the many different aspects of any artwork/artifact that mediate how it works and is seen and felt, but as Lamar points out it is unclear to what degree the researcher should try to predetermine the evocative success of any work to others given the impossibility of prediction and the possible negative affect that over-thinking might have on the creative process. Luis goes even further, questioning if art should be theorized at all. After all these exhilarating ideas that Barone and Eisner propose as strengths of arts-based research are all a bit fuzzy, hard to pin down and very subjective. And yet Luis, citing Heidegger, talks about the experience “of unhidden-nees.” In doing so he addresses Lamar’s question, paraphrased here, “Can art help my students discover what they are unaware of. Can drawing help them contemplate their own sense of what freedom means? If so, isn’t that enough?

I think it’s interesting that for Gregory, the categorizations by Wang et al helped him see the artifacts/art produced by Victoria as legitimate self-standing research not merely appendages (or illustrations) to written text. The constraints of categories made it possible to abandon the constraints. If the work on its own gives you insight that written text does not provide, insight that is “beyond” words, then does it count as research? What do we value qualitative research anyhow?

Dahlia ponders how the form we choose contributes to the constraining and shaping of meaning (and of course the affordance and illumination of meanings as well). We want to acknowledge the importance of that insight and consider it when embarking on our own research; I believe Luis makes this point as well. At the same time we want to be humble about our goals, understanding that our purpose is explore not necessarily to find. It is what makes arts-based research so exciting or, as Dahlia emphasizes, we use arts-based methods heuristically to gain a deeper and more complex “understanding of the world.” Luis, if I understand his text correctly, is more interested in art as a practical teaching method. And indeed there are studies of schools that correlate arts infusion with academic achievement, in part I think because of the emotional effervescence that circulates through a school in which creativity and imagination are valued. I’m still thinking about what Luis means by precision in expression, something we will no doubt discuss further. In arts-based “products,” precision might be equated with emotional resonance, but Luis is being more down-to-earth than that.

Lamar, clearly an advocate for his students, deliberates whether the drawings his students make are viable and significant because of what they do for their makers regardless of what others might think. I wonder if the students who make those drawings are using the drawing process heuristically (Dahlia liked that idea), trying to figure out how they feel about freedom through the drawings they make. Are the drawings helping them think about freedom. If so, we could call this “art as research”- using Wang et al.’s term: they are using art to be reflexive, to makes sense of their world. If this is taking place, no other justification for the process is needed. And yet, how do we know that the students are using the drawings that way rather than as maybe doing something simpler (though also legitimate)– quickly deciding what freedom looks like and then documenting that image. If my memory serves me well, the images you showed us Lamar (certainly one of them) were of a nature scenes (I remember flowers and pretty colors). We often, idyllically, associate nature with peace and freedom, and that might be a very surface metaphor for freedom. There is a body of literature (I’m thinking specifically of Lefebvre’s The production of space) that argues that we maintain pockets of nature (parks, national forests) as a symbol of freedom, which allows us to destroy nature writ large. So I am curious if the drawings are followed up with discussion and probing (or does that maybe occur during or before the drawing process)? Are you using the drawings as part of an ethnographic study (i.e. documentation) or/and as a way for students to transform themselves and their world. Purpose needs to be considered here as well when we discuss audiencing. You can be your own audience, your family and friends and classmates can be your audience, and, especially if you are using digital media (going back to Dahlia’s comment about form), then the world can be your audience. As Rose points out, evocation is mediated by a million conditions and you can’t predict what a drawing will evoke to others (especially others not like you). In a brilliant book by Susan Sontag (Regarding the pain of others), she points out that images of dead Vietnamese evoked very different feelings from the Vietnamese and from American soldiers.

Dahlia raises an important question about the effects of an adult researcher choosing an arts-based research method to use with children. Luis also raises the question of ethics in research. If we work with children, we want to be always aware of how we manipulate the research process even when we claim to be fully participatory. In my own work, I worry about exploitation a great deal. We will be definitely discussing research ethics throughout the semester; though it will be front and center in some of my work, it will certainly be present in the work of others as well So it’s something I hope we continue to discuss.

Dahlia also cites LeGuinn’s idea that whole always seems beautiful and Muir’s idea that everything is connected. Hegel famously said, “the truth is the whole.” It all depends though from where you look and who is doing the looking. Sometimes the part is a whole in itself, the parts more complicated than the sum of them. And so scale is really important even while embracing the idea that we all, together (along with all other living and non-living things) comprise the universe.

I look forward to continuing the discussion tomorrow as we look at some videos together.

Thanks so much to all of you. I’m sure there is much you wrote that I did not properly address. If I’ve misrepresented any of you, please make that clear in class.