Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Research Acts in Art Practice

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Research Acts in Art Practice

Article excerpt

A positivist legacy expounded so clearly as a research maxim or a curriculum mantra asserts, if you don't know where you're going, how do you know when you get there? The assumption is that clearly defined intentions, whether expressed as hypotheses, research questions, lesson objectives, or standard statements, position the purpose of educational acts within the context of what is already known. Consequently outcomes can be readily assessed according to the conceptual limits imposed as this gives a measure of utility in comparing the new with the old. Knowledge in this sense is expressed as a difference in 'degree' or quantity and is compared to other things we know. This is how we construct probable theory. However, as many in the arts and the sciences have argued, the formal specification of intended outcomes does not necessarily mean that valuable, unintended consequences are not possible-one just has to be open to possibility and curiosity. With this in mind, an interpretivist perspective would assert that if you don't know where you're going, then it is best to surround a problem in order to solve it. Here, research and educational inquiry are based on the assumption that knowledge emerges from an analytic and holistic account through consensus and corroboration where patterns and themes are the elements used to represent complex realities. Knowledge in this sense is explored as a difference in 'kind' or quality, where insights are characterized by their particularity. This is how we construct plausible theory.

But, how do we construct theories of 'possibility'? An arts researcher would more than likely subscribe to the view that if you don't know where you are going, then any road will get you there.1 Rather than seeing inquiry as a linear procedure or an enclosing process, research acts can also be interactive and reflexive whereby imaginative insight is constructed from a creative and critical practice. Oftentimes what is known can limit the possibility of what is not and this requires a creative act to see things from a new view. An inquiry process involving interpretive and critical acts is then possible as new insights confirm, challenge or change our understanding. If an agreed goal of research is the creation of new knowledge, then it should be agreed that this can be achieved by following different, yet complementary pathways. What is common is the attention given to systematic and rigorous inquiry, yet in a way that emphasizes what is possible, for to 'create and critique' is a research act that is very well suited to arts practitioners, be they artists, teachers or students.

In recent years art educators have been exploring these research approaches as the arts disciplines try to claim a foothold in an information-based economy of educational rhetoric. Art educators, however, learned long ago that efforts to isolate human behavior into discrete, observable chunks did not capture the complexity of what it is to come to know something. Following procedures that clearly describe where you are going and what outcomes might be expected is a rational plan for pursuing questions that build on the stock of existing knowledge. Although it is readily acknowledged that hypotheses need to be measurable and testable they need not lack imagination. Research methods, therefore not only need to be systematic and rigorous, but also inventive so as to reveal the rich complexity of the imaginative intellect as it is encountered and enacted and within individual, social and cultural settings.

Art education researchers responded to these changing demands and the search for more adequate methods resulted in the development of a slew of new research practices that take many forms. These approaches are being applied at the level of schooling, where research investigates learning in classrooms and represents it in all its artistic complexity, and in higher education, where the role of art practice within the academic research community is being questioned. …

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