Get your glitter gun out! Arts-based accessible research…

Hazel Marzetti  When you tell people you are going to be using arts-based research methods you tend to get one of two reactions.

1. People are incredibly interested!

2. People look at you like you’ve suggested that a unicorn will be assisting you in your research… (wide eyed and in a state of slight disbelief).

me and unicorn

For those people with reaction 2 – I am interested in arts-based research for engaging a wide audience, focusing on individual experiences, and instigating change.  Hear me out….

I recently attended a workshop on arts-based research methods run by Alette Willis from Health in Social Science (her work profile can be found here).  The workshop aimed to give a beginners overview of the whole topic, and as I have only used arts-based methods (poetic inquiry) on one small project, I thought I would like to go along.

The first thing to say is the workshop was brilliant, it had us on our feet most of the time.  I spent the workshop doing as opposed to listening, and as someone who spends a lot of workshops listening this was very much welcomed.  If you have an opportunity to go – go!  It was part of this lecture series here.

The second thing for me to say is that I am interested in arts-based research for its ability to touch those who live outside of the academic bubble.  ‘Arts’ as defined in arts-based research is such a huge subject area: from visual arts to video arts, from literature and poetry to music, from make-up art to photography.  I think that one of the most exciting things about art-based research is it’s ability to stretch across disciplines, offer us a huge range of methods, and allow us to be creative and engaging with them.  It gives us a creative communication tool, and let’s face it, academia is very rarely creatively communicated (if you’ve ever had to delve into hard-copy paper journal you’ll know what I mean).

Alette went over four ways in which we could think about using arts-based methods in our research.

i. Planning our research – whether through collage, mind-mapping, story boards, using art in our planning stage is an exciting method of organising our thoughts in a way that gives us more creative freedom to express our ideas.  It combined glitter, crepe paper, and planning.  Basically Blue Peter but for really organised research.

ii. Methods – where we ask participants to do something arty or bring something arty along to form part of our data collection.

Although this can allow for a more participant led approach as part of the workshop we participated in a ‘sliding scale’ activity to see which us felt comfortable and confident using art (whether that be fashion, photography, painting, poetry).  Lots of people had experienced negative comments in a school setting relating to the arts, whether that was being told they shouldn’t sing, couldn’t draw or that their writing was unimaginative.  These painful memories are often held into adulthood and can be a barrier to participation in arts as adults.  But even for those who had enjoyed art as children and teenagers lots of that art had been abandoned for more ‘serious’ activities in adulthood with lots of people talking about time pressure taking them away from enjoyable activities.

iii. Writing up – this is of course more high risk.  It involves presenting your research as something that is in itself a piece of art, whether a poem, a novel, an exhibition, a play and so on.

iv. Communication – allowing us to communicate something we have written up as a journal article or thesis in a more accessible way that will attract less specialist, academic audiences.  This is something I am very interested in.  Research aims to improve and increase knowledge, and if our research only reaches a very small specialist audience it is very unlikely we will have a large impact on improving and increasing knowledge.

I am not saying that arts-based research methods are suitable for everyone, or for every project. But they can be exciting, interesting and engaging and I would love to see them used a little more. If you’ve used them, let me know how it went!

me baloonHazel Marzetti is a research assistant in the Institute for Academic Development on the Leading Enhancement in Assessment and Feedback (LEAF) Project She is also a postgraduate student on the MSc Educatioal Research at the Moray House School of Education.  You can find her on Twitter @hazelmarzetti (warning… she tends to ramble…).

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