Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Are We Asking the Wrong Questions in Arts-Based Research?

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Are We Asking the Wrong Questions in Arts-Based Research?

Article excerpt

Arts-based educational research is founded on the belief that die arts have the ability to contribute particular insights into, and enhance understandings of phenomena that are of interest to educational researchers. As Elliot Eisner (2006) ', die first to articulate a place for the arts in educational research, claims, "The arts provide access to forms of experience that are either un-securable or much more difficult to secure through other representational forms" (p. 11). To him, the most distinguishing feature of arts-based research2 is that it employs aesthetic qualities to illuminate and reveal educational situations and experiences (Eisner, 2008). As a field of inquiry, arts-based educational research has grown significantly in recent years (Barone, 2006). To date, the literature in the field has been mainly concerned wirh describing the conditions of this research approach (see Barone, 2005a, 2006; Barone & Eisner, 2006; Eisner, 1995, 1997, 2006, 2008; Finley & Knowles, 1995; Piantanida, McMahon, & Garman, 2003). Different methodological approaches of engaging the arts in educational research have been advanced, including a/r/tography, arts informed research, and aesthetically based research to mention some (Bresler, 2006; Cole, Neilsen, Knowles & Luciani, 2004; Cole, 2002; Irwin, 2004; Irwin & deCosson, 2004; Springgay, Irwin & Wilson Kind, 2005; Springgay, Irwin, Leggo & Gouzouasis, 2008). Philosophical understandings and rationales for researching in, with, and through the arts have been put forward. Questions about validity, reliability, transferability, and comparability all feature in this literature. And, in the past decade, we have witnessed an increase in the number of articles that deal with the visual in arts-based research (see Cole & Mclntyre, 2004; Irwin, Beer, Springgay, Grauer, Xiong & Bickel, 2006; O'Donoghue, 2007a, 2007b, 2008; Slattery, 2001; Springgay, 2008; Springgay, et al., 2008; Sullivan, 2005, 2006).

To date, many of the rationales advanced for considering the visual arts as a viable alternative to linguistic-based research approaches advocate philosophical understandings of the role and purpose of art. Due attention has not been given to emerging theories and philosophies of contemporary art (such as relational aesthetics, and the altermodern) to critical accounts of artists' lives and practices, or to their auto/biographical writings. This is not to say that philosophers have not made significant contributions to our understanding of art, its purpose, and its educative dimension; it is to point out that we do not tend to draw on, or be influenced by, the positions and perspectives of cultural theorists, sociologists of art, and critical art historians. While it is difficult to argue against such philosophical understandings of art, I think it is important to ask to what extent does the proliferation and celebration of these theories/philosophies (at the expense of socially informed and radically contextualized understandings of art) limit the way art is imagined, understood, and practiced within arts-based research. The argument that I am advancing here is that as arts-based researchers address the epistemologica!, ontological, and existential tensions that reside at the core of arts-based research, they need to work more diligently, at a theoretical level at least, with the practices and theories of art from a wide variety of intellectual traditions. Structuring and shaping the field primarily and almost exclusively in relation to aesthetic theories of art denies the fact, as Elizabeth Chaplin (1994) put it, "[that] the production and reception of visual art works are social processes, and rhey cannot satisfactorily be explained by reference to internal aesthetic factors" (p. 161-162). For Bourdieu (1993), "the work of art is an object which exists as such only by virtue of the (collective) belief which knows and acknowledges it as a work of art" (p. …

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