Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Art of Research

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

The Art of Research

Article excerpt

Small Moments of Insight

If there was ever an encounter with an artwork that sparked that momentary thrill when ideas reform around a new insight, it occurred for me on July 25, 2007. At the time, I was visiting the Republic of Azerbaijan pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This was the first time Azerbaijan had participated as an independent country in the Biennale, and the exhibition showcased the work of 12 young artists.' The work that brought on my inner smile was an installation by Rashad Alakbarov. Like any new image, although it was one I had not seen before, it was an idea I thought I had known for a long time, but never quite like this. And, as with many powerful and complex thoughts, it was shown to be deceptively simple.

Rashad Alakbarov's installation (see Figure 1) comprised a flat pedestal pressed into a corner of the gallery. Placed on the pedestal was a collection of everyday domestic objects that we routinely toss away. They were attached in various configurations by clothespins and tape to create an array that had no discernible pattern or structure. It was a collection of form in the raw. Two lamps were placed to the left and right of the pedestal, facing the installation. Alternating at regular intervals, each lamp would turn on and cast a shadow of the flattened profile of the objects onto each wall. On one side, a profile would be cast of the skyline resembling New York City with its vertical horizons of skyscrapers. When the other light came on, the shadow of the same forms would become an irregular horizontal landscape of domes and minarets that resembled a city such as Istanbul. Same source-different place; same forms-different meaning; same raw data-different information. It depended on the point of view.

I have had cause to refer to Rashad Alakbarov's installation on many occasions since then. This is one description from 2010: "[Alakbarov] shows with elegant simplicity how an information source when looked at in a different way, can yield a completely different outcome-much like research data that reveals competing interpretations if analyzed using different methods" (Sullivan, 2010a, p. 226). Comparing the artist's intent in creating an ambiguous reading to the process of data analysis has particular resonance. In this example, we see complex data that occupies real space and time reduced to simple, onedimensional arrays that can be readily interpreted and compared. However, if raw data are manipulated-in this case by simply looking at it from a different angle-and yield different, yet equally plausible information, then this raises doubt about the explanatory power of a singular outcome. If the process of shedding light [pun intended] on particular ideas or issues with the hope of better understanding them is central to human curiosity, yet can yield such conflicting outcomes, how do the inquiry practices we engage in as artists and art teachers help us make meaning from our encounters within the worlds in which we live?

This is a question I have been pondering for a long time. This article2 describes a pattern of practice that has at its heart the enduring belief that as we grow we learn different things, but as artists we learn things differently. Challenging one's perspective about how things are seen and done is a crucial outcome of artistic thinking and making and a most profound way humans deal with the delightful uncertainty of change. The text that follows charts a journey framed by notions of research and art, marked by small moments of insight. It leads to a curious contemporary dilemma where research is being co-opted as an agency of educational control; yet, all around us, the incessant pursuit of knowledge and meaning is breaching many of the disciplinary conventions of inquiry. Furthermore, artists are very much part of this picture. Although reflection has been the main method used to construct this article-and, when used alone, has questionable status as a means of scholarly reference-it is less significant than experience, which, I argue, carries its own warrant. …

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