Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Toward Connectedness: Aesthetically Based Research

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Toward Connectedness: Aesthetically Based Research

Article excerpt

When the qualitative paradigm assumed prominence in the '60s and '70s in the educational research scene, a major goal and rationale for its existence was verstehen-empathie understanding (e.g., von Wright, 1971). Qualitative research has aimed to portray multiple voices, representing with caring and insight voices that have not been part of the scholarly literature. Forty years later, with the accumulation of qualitative research studies and papers, we note a wide range of success. There are indeed studies that deeply exemplify scholarly, empathetic goals. (Compelling examples in the social sciences, include Barone, 2001a; Behar, 1996; and Myerhoff, 1978; to mention a few.) Many others fall short of achieving this goal.1 In conceptualizing aesthetically based research as I do in this article, I aim to address this central aspect of qualitative research. Focusing on the space surrounding the art experience, I suggest that artistic processes can illuminate significant aspects of qualitative research and that aesthetics2 is at the heart of both artistic experience and qualitative research. Examining the ways in which the arts provide rich and powerful models for perception, conceptualization, and engagement for both makers and viewers, I highlight their potential to cultivate habits of mind that are directly relevant to the processes and products of qualitative research. I conclude with reflections on the complexity of ethical issues involved in aesthetically based research. Specifically, I discuss the requirement that we simultaneously maintain two sets of considerations, often requiring an act of negotiation: caring for our participants, and caring about the message to the scholarly community.

The literature on research methodology of the past three decades has significantly expanded our knowledge and understanding of the philosophical and procedural bases of qualitative inquiry. Still, there are areas at the core of qualitative research that this literature does not address. These areas include the dialogic processes involved in making meaningful connections with what is studied.3 We find indications of these connected processes of generating meaning in biographies and autobiographies of researchers in various scholarly areas, from molecular genetics (Watson, 1968) through anthropology (Gottlieb & Graham, 1994) to math (Aczel, 1996). These connections have not, however, been addressed as a methodological issue in their own right.4 A related aspect of qualitative research that is not addressed in the literature is the presence of the potential audience as intensifying the process of meaning making, creating a three-dimensional connection. In this article, I draw from literature on art appreciation and artmaking to explore the spaces where these processes occur and to characterize what I regard as central qualities in the product of research.

Arts-based research has emerged within the late 20th century worldview of soft boundaries (Detels, 1999). Soft boundaries allow for flow of ideas among domains. Examples of flow between individual academic disciplines that function dialectically to generate new areas of inquiry and scholarship are the hybrid areas of biophysics, computational neuroscience, and psychological economics, among many others. It is in this spirit of border crossing (Giroux, 1992) that I discuss the important lessons that engagement with the arts can teach qualitative researchers.

Given that arts-based research is an umbrella term for a range of orientations and practices, as this volume will undoubtedly testify, I would like to explicate my use of the related term aesthetically based research. Some prominent thinkers within arts-based inquiry regard artistic practices as forms of scholarly inquiry (e.g., Finley & Knowles, 1995; Fox & Geichman, 2001; Sullivan, 2005). Rita Irwin's conceptualizations of a/r/tography, for example, merge research, teaching, and artmaking (Irwin & de Cosson, 2004), regarding these three forms of thought as connected entities. …

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