CULTIVATING ARTS AND MINDS
A Review of the Scholarly Literature
on Arts-based Research and Teaching
by Gabrielle McCulloch
[This literature review was undertaken by Gabrielle McCulloch, an undergraduate Summer Research Scholar at the University of Auckland, under the supervision of Professor Helen Sword].
I. The Artist-Academic as Researcher
1. Performative Research
2. Practice-based and Practice-led Research
II. Grounding Artist-Academic Research Methods
1. A New Research Paradigm?
2. Philosophical Traditions
3. Beyond the Arts
III. Arts-based Pedagogy: The Artist-Academic’s Classroom
1. The Student Becomes the Teacher
2. Arts-based Pedagogy and Indigenous Pedagogy
3. Partitioned Disciplines and Posthuman Pedagogies
Artist-academic is one of many terms used in the higher education research literature to describe a new breed of researcher and educator. A search for the term artist-academic on the EBSCOhost database revealed 191 search results but little consensus as to its definition.
As a noun, artist-academic often designates a person with a dual professional identity, both artist and academic (Bennett et al., 2009; Lam, 2020; Wright et al., 2010). As an adjective, it sometimes refers to not one but two people, an artist and academic working in collaboration (Pfoser & de Jong, 2020, p. 5). Artist can be narrowly defined as an artist practitioner (Lam, 2020, p. 839) or expanded to include anyone who produces creative or experimental work (Saarnivaara, 2003, p. 582), while academic may refer to students, teachers, researchers, or someone who embodies all of those roles at once.
Only one thing remains fairly constant among all these definitional variations: the artist-academic engages in an emerging artistic research or educational methodology that privileges the arts as a means of unearthing and sharing knowledge. The artist-academic deploys art as a mode of research, education, and leadership.
Far from being the only term used to describe a person who straddles artistic and academic domains, however, artist-academic is not even the most popular. A glance at the literature reveals a plethora of alterative titles: ‘creative practitioner’ (Stewart, 2006, p. 1), ‘a/r/tographer’ (Irwin et al., 2006, p. 75), ‘artist-scholar’ (Daichendt, 2011), ‘practice-led researcher’ (Knowles, 2020, p. 218), ‘arts-informed researcher’ and more (Sullivan, 2006, p. 23). Although often used interchangeably, each of these labels can be wielded in different ways.
In this literature review, I explore some of the more popular of these arts-based research and pedagogical methodologies. Following in the footsteps of fine arts educator James Daichendt (2011), I refer to all of these artistic methodologies under the umbrella term ‘arts-based research’ or ‘arts-based pedagogy.’ Unless I reference someone in particular who engages in a specific arts-based methodology, I refer to all arts-based academics as ‘artist-academics’.
In the first section of the review, I outline different conceptions of art-based research methods. Next, I explore the history and theoretical grounding of these concepts. Finally, in the third section, I look at artist-academic pedagogy and ask why so there is so little focus on it in mainstream tertiary education. Artist-academic leadership, another potentially fertile area of inquiry, lay outside the scope of this review.
My review seeks to answer two fundamental questions: What is an artist-academic, and what do artist-academics actually do in their work as researchers and teachers?
I. The Artist-Academic as Researcher
Many papers on the topic of arts-based research actively resist any clear definition of artist-academic; their authors prefer to ask not what arts-based education is but rather what arts-based education does, thereby leaving the concept unrestricted in its creative development (Irwin, 2013, p. 198). Other papers seek to nail down a more precise definition of arts-based methodological practice, often with the aim of to standardising academic assessment and increasing recognition for arts-based research within academia (Candy & Edmonds, 2018). The combination of these conflicting motives creates a confusing definitional landscape for terminology surrounding the artist-academic.
1. Performative Research
Brad Haseman (2006), in “A Manifesto for Performative Research”, champions a new research paradigm: ‘performative research’, sometimes called ‘practice-led research’. Its name is inspired by philosopher J. L. Austin’s ‘performative utterance’ in speech act theory, whereby sentences not only describe but also create a reality. Haseman describes the desire for a new research methodology that privileges praxis throughout the research process:
There has been a radical push to not only place practice within the research process, but to lead research through practice. Originally proposed by artists/researchers and researchers in the creative community, these new strategies are known as creative practice as research, performance as research, research through practice, studio research, practice as research or practice-led research (Haseman, 2006, p. 100).
There are no set criteria that constitute performative research. For Haseman, performative research is ‘intrinsically experimental’ and involves the creation of artistic forms such as performances, exhibitions, and possibly even counselling services. Performative research is not centred on finding a solution to a problem but instead on ‘diving into’ practice and seeing what emerges. It is a highly responsive and flexible methodology that encourages new lines of inquiry at all points of the research process. Performative research often produces knowledge which is symbolic in form; the end result of performative research is unlikely to look like a traditional research paper but may involve creative writing or works of art instead (Haseman, 2006, p. 101).
Performative research is not limited to arts educators or humanities researchers; the artist-academic who engages in performative research can come from any field. Boland and Lyytinen (2017) use a performative research paradigm to develop a conversation among six philosophers, enabled by a hypothetical Artificial Intelligence (AI) form of Vannevar Bush’s Memex machine. Their paper is performative in the sense that it is made by ‘doing’ a roundtable discussion. The authors relinquish full authority over the text, allowing it to become heterogeneous through a back-and-forth exchange of ideas (Michel et al., 2017); the multiple voices leave room for reader to interject thoughts and engage in an open conversation. As enacted in Boland and Lyytinen’s article, performative research thus shifts academic writing away from a coherent sequence of arguments building to a conclusion justified by qualitative or quantitative research; instead, it provides a smorgasbord of ideas that lead readers to make surprising new connections.
2. Practice-based and Practice-led Research
Performative research is built on the foundation of practice-led research (Haseman, 2006, p. 104), or which artist-academics Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds (2018) call research that ‘leads primarily to new understandings about practice’, as opposed to practice-based research, in which the ‘creative artefact is the basis of the contribution to knowledge’ (p. 64). Their paper seeks to develop a standard to evaluate practice-based PhDs and to discard the popular terms ‘research-as-practice’ and ‘practice-as-research’ which they view as conflating practice and research too closely.
However, Candy and Edmond’s definition of practice-led research by no means represents the academic consensus. Graeme Sullivan (2006), for instance, does not distinguish between practice-led and practice-based research, while Haseman (2006) uses the terms performative research and practice-led research interchangeably. When Hazel Smith (2009), editor of Practice-led Research, Research-led Practice in the Creative Arts, uses the term ‘practice-led research’, she refers ‘both to the work of art as a form of research and to the creation of the work as generating research insights which might then be documented, theorised and generalised’ (emphasis in the original, p. 7). Indeed, for many researchers, practice-led research is an umbrella term that encompasses all other arts-based research methodologies within it (Daichendt, 2011; Hawkins & Wilson, 2017, p. 54; Mäkelä, 2006; Smith, 2009).
A/r/tography is an arts-based methodology for pedagogy and research (Sullivan, 2010, p. 58) developed by Rita Irwin, Sylvia Wilson Kind, Stephanie Springgay and others (Barney, 2019, p. 620). Unlike performative research or practice-led research, a/r/tography is usually thought of as a complementary practice rather than as arts-based research itself (La Jevic & Springgay, 2008). The first three letters of a/r/tography form an acronym representing the triple identity of a/rtist, r/esearcher, and t/eacher. A/r/tography thus indicates the multiple roles of inquiry that a/r/tographers follow to develop their work. The slashes in a/r/tography disrupt the normalised meaning of the word ‘art’ to create a wider conception than usually applied (Schultz & Legg, 2020, p. 245).
The scholarly literature concerning a/r/tography is not as fraught with conflicting definitions as that surrounding practice-led research. This is, perhaps, because a/r/tography encourages ambiguity, doubling, and plurality. Conflicting views are a natural part of a/r/tography. Springggay et al. (2005) explain:
To be engaged in the practice of a/r/tography means to inquire in the world through a process of art making and writing. It is a process of double imaging that includes the creation of art and words that are not separate or illustrative of each other but instead are interconnected and woven through each other to create additional meaning. (p. 899).
Similar to the performative researchers Boland and Lyytinen (2017), a/r/tographers must also relinquish control over their research and become comfortable with the concept of open conclusions. As Schultz and Legg (2020) note, the role of the a/r/tographer is not to provide a neatly wrapped-up argument but to allow for multiple, sometimes even contradictory interpretations of their work. A/r/tographic research moves in the liminal spaces between ‘art’, ‘graphy’, ‘artist’, ‘researcher’ and ‘teacher’; like other forms of arts-based research, it critiques the assumed roles of researchers as well as the mode in which that research occurs (Springgay et al., 2005, p. 901). For a/r/tographers, arts-based research is ‘open and ongoing as the reader enters’ (emphasis in original Schultz & Legg, 2020, p. 248).
Springgay et al (2005) call this refusal of absolutes a form of living enquiry (p. 902), one of the six ‘renderings’ that they use to characterise a/r/tography. Renderings represent neither criteria nor methods; rather, they are ‘theoretical spaces through which to explore artistic ways of knowing and being research’ (Springgay et al. 2005, p. 899). The other five renderings identified by Springgay et al. are continuity, metaphor and metonymy, openings, reverberations, and excess. Contiguity refers to the interactions between the prefix ‘art’ and the suffix ‘graphy’ (writing) as well as to the contiguous roles of artist/researcher/teacher. The goal of continuity is not to reinforce the artificial categorisations that these roles fall into, as Patrick Slattery (2003) notes, but rather to problematise them—positioning all as intertwined and interrelated, separate and yet whole. Metaphor and metonymy, likewise, are positioned by Springgay et al. (2005) as core elements of a/r/tography; this type of non-literal language does not seek to contain or classify but to permeate boundaries and disturb order (p. 905). Openings – moments of knowledge and meaning – serve not as windows to truth but as uncomfortable ‘tears, ruptures, and slits’ through which the reader can enter (Schultz & Legg, 2020, p. 245). Such openings are created by reverberations: movements of energy in the research and text. The final rendering identified by Springgay et al. (20050 is excess: an embracing of unpredictability in research and the loss of authorial control.
La Jevic and Springgay (2008) propose a seventh rendering: embodiment. This term does not merely describe the physical movement of the body; it also indicates an ‘interconnection between consciousness and materiality (mind and body)’ (p. 85). A/r/tography is ‘never isolated in its activity but always engaged with the world’ (Springgay et al., 2005, p. 899). Embodiment thus includes the destruction of traditional writing boundaries and the breakdown between the researched and researcher: participants become researchers themselves, engaged as co-collaborators
The lofty goals of a/r/tography are not always easily fulfilled. Rita Irwin et al. (2006), in their a/r/tographic project “The City of Richgate”, attempted to create openings for the immigrant families they were working with to become a/r/tographers themselves (p. 76). Along with interviews, they organised walks and events and consulted the families on artistic choices at all stages. However, they found that the families had less commitment to a/r/tography than university-based researchers and were often consumed by other commitments (Irwin et al., 2006, p. 77).
II. Grounding Artist-Academic Research Methods
There is an ongoing debate amongst artist-academics about the progenitors of arts-based research. One branch of scholarly literature places arts-based research not as an independent methodology but as an offshoot within the qualitative tradition. Other artist-academics look to philosophical traditions – from Aristotle to Deleuze – for influences, metaphors, and forebears. Meanwhile, a few intrepid researchers from outside the social sciences and humanities have sought to extend the reach of arts-based research into fields such the life sciences, engineering, and business.
1. A New Research Paradigm?
In her autoethnographic paper ‘Art as Inquiry’, Marjatta Saarnivaara (2003) self-identifies as a ‘qualitative researcher’ (p. 587), while James Daichendt (2011) similarly declares that ‘arts-based research is a qualitative method’ (p. 51). For Daichendt, the ‘qualitative connection’ both legitimises arts-based research methodologies and grounds them in tradition (2011, p. 51).
However, the view of such researchers is far from universal. Others acknowledge the indebtedness of arts-based research to the social sciences but seek to position it as a third paradigm, one that reaches beyond the boundaries of qualitative and quantitative traditions (Haseman, 2006, p. 98; Heaton et al., 2020, p. 65; Springgay et al., 2005, p. 898; Stewart, 2006, p. 3). Arts educator Stephanie Springgay (2005), for example, seeks to establish arts-based research methodologies as ‘methodologies in their own right’ that deserves to ‘be taken seriously’ as ‘emerging fields within educational research’ (p. 898). Haseman (2005) advocates for a similar emancipation; he claims that the ‘fresh crop of emerging research methodologies’ developed by artist-academics differ from even the most practice-based research strategies found within qualitative research (pp. 99-100). Like Springgay, Haseman calls for arts-based research to be recognised as a new research paradigm.
2. Philosophical Traditions
Some advocates of arts-based research, meanwhile, seek to ground the idea of the artist-academic in philosophical traditions. Schultz and Legg (2020), for example, outline the Aristotelian influence in a/r/tography and arts-based research; they argue that Aristotle’s ‘three ways of interpreting experience—theoria (knowing), praxis (doing), and poesis (making)—are inextricably intertwined in a/r/tography’ (p. 244). Peter Gouzouasis (2006), in “A Reunification of Musician, Researcher, and Teacher”, makes a similar observation: Gouzouasis thinks of ‘artist-researcher-teacher’ as ‘thought-action-outcome’ and ‘theoria-praxis-poiesis’ (p. 25). Sullivan (2010) nods towards the influence of Derrida’s interstitial space and aesthetics of Nicolas Bourriaund (p. 58), while Smith (2009) points out that arts-based research, a/r/tography in particular, draws from feminist and poststructuralist theory (p. 22).
A substantial body of literature locates a/r/tography and other arts-based research methods as Deleuzian rhizomatic structures (Irwin et al., 2006; La Jevic & Springgay, 2008, p. 83; Malilang, 2018; Schultz & Legg, 2020, p. 245; Smith, 2009, p. 21). A rhizome is a root-system that moves under the ground or up to the surface; it can attach to other root systems and grow horizontally. In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari describe rhizomes as reducible neither to ‘the One nor the multiple’; they have no beginning nor end, only a middle. The rhizome ‘connects any point to any other point’ by growing in all directions (Deleuze & Guattari, 2008, p. 21). Malilang (2018), like many other artist-academics, employs the rhizome as a theoretical basis for a/r/tographic methodology:
Being a rhizome . . . puts a/r/tography on a different ground from other research methodologies. A/r/tography accounts for the movement to all directions instead of following the linear, arboreal, hierarchical tracing commonly used by more traditional research methodologies. Without a seemingly organized and hierarchical order, a/r/tography ‘starts’ the inquiry in the middle. In fact, the lack of definite origin or end point gives license to a/r/tography to start the practice in any point. After all, rhizome is an interconnected network system in which everything is connected (pp. 80-81).
Irwin et al (2006) argue that once a/r/tography is conceived as rhizomatic, the “renderings” of a/r/tographic research as living inquiry and embodiment truly come to life. Theory intertwines with creating, teaching, learning, and research—none privileged over the others. Irwin et al (2006) encourage readers to engage with their text as a rhizome, ‘moving in and out, and around the work, making connections in a personal way’ (p. 72). This hermeneutic strategy has also been employed pedagogically by La Jevic and Springgay (2008) to develop a deeper personal connection and understanding in course readings amongst students. They invited students to create an artistic response to texts in a visual journal each week and found an increased responsibility among students for their own learning along with a deepened appreciation of the texts (La Jevic & Springgay, 2008).
Although the rhizomatic model has mostly been applied to a/r/tography, it has also seeped into discussions of other arts-based methodologies. Hazel Smith’s (2009) ‘iterative cyclic web’ model, for example, also draws from Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome. Her model posits a connected cycle between ‘practice-led research’, ‘research-led practice’, ‘creative work’, and ‘basic research’ in which the researcher can start at any point, moving forwards or backwards (p. 20). Like any other rhizomatic structure, the ‘iterative cyclic web’ allows the researcher to move between many different research possibilities. The researcher can select processes from the iterations that are most useful for their project and discard processes which are not.
While many artist-academics have compared arts-based research to familiar research paradigms and philosophical traditions, others actively seek to defamiliarize it. For example, in his paper “Troubling the Contours of Arts-Based Educational Research”, Patrick Slattery (2003) encourages a separation of arts-based research from any prior academic methodology: qualitative, quantitative or otherwise. Slattery takes issue with the categorisation of arts-based research methodologies, preferring to advocate for ‘multiplicity in educational research to ensure fresh insights and to subvert exclusionary boundaries’ (p. 193). He quotes Audre Lorde’s famous statement: ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’. The master’s tools, for Slattery, include ‘scientific models of education’ and ‘arts as a basis for the logic of truth claims within the tradition’ (p. 195).
3. Beyond the Arts
Even as social scientists and humanities scholars debate their classification and origins, arts-based research methods have extended into the fields including engineering, management, and medicine (Gibb, 2004; Lazarus & Rosslyn, 2003; Penny, 2000). Lazarus and Rosslyn, who successfully used arts-based research methods to develop soft skills in medical students, call for further research into the application of arts-based teaching and research methodologies in the medical field. However, studies such as theirs remain a minority. Despite the potential of arts-based research methodologies to extend into other fields, academic discussion and practice remains primarily within the fields of social sciences, creative arts, and humanities. Further narrowing the field, the vast majority of those theorising and developing arts-based research come from a fine arts background and, consequently, privilege visual art above other artistic media and practices. Despite proclamations affirming its potentially interdisciplinary nature, arts-based research thus remains largely the domain of fine arts educators and practitioners.
III. Arts-based Pedagogy: The Artist-Academic’s Classroom
The pedagogical role of the artist-academic in tertiary education remains underexplored in the literature. Many scholarly papers focus on arts-based pedagogy in primary and secondary education, but few go beyond (Chemi & Du, 2017; Ewing, 2019; Lage-Gómez & Cremades-Andreu, 2019; Stafford, 2019). Those that do approach arts-based pedagogy from a tertiary perspective often focus on tertiary training for early childhood, primary, and secondary school teachers (Burke et al., 2014; Liu & Wang, 2021; Wiebe & Smith, 2016). The artist-academic-teacher is largely relegated to teacher education.
1. The Student Becomes the Teacher
Artist-academic pedagogies go against western content-delivery modes of education that assume education is one expert delivering information to many passive recipients (Chappell & Chappell, 2016, p. 293). Top-down teacher methods don’t fit into a rhizomatic understanding of education. According to Deleuze, teaching a course should be ‘like a research laboratory: you give courses on what you’re investigating, not on what you know’ (Deleuze, 1995, p. 139). For the artist-academic, teaching and research cannot be separated. They are inherently entwined.
In a 2009 paper, Daniel Barney explores how artist-academics can break down western pedagogical hierarchies within tertiary education. Writing autobiographically, he writes of how his supervisor, Rita Irwin, took him on regular walking meetings. Barney’s walks with Irwin subverted traditional understandings of mentor and mentee and positioned both as learners. Barney later developed a tertiary curriculum around walking with students; walking became a site of learning. These walks informed the students’ artwork as well as Barney’s own artistic practice. Barney suggests that walking and learning alongside students blurs the boundaries between research and teaching, student and teacher.
Heaton et al (2020) finds something similar. They took a class of doctoral students, and used arts-based pedagogical methods such as interpreting images, drawing, making prints, collages, and collaborative art to get the students to better engage with their thesis topics. They found their students increased in confidence with their thesis ideas and developed a stronger sense of academic identity (p. 56). Heaton et al’s paper also blurs the line between research and teaching in tertiary education. The teachers simply facilitated this learning experience, deferring to the students’ topic knowledge. The class itself became a part of the teachers’ research and learning experience. In this process, didactic roles of teacher, student, and researcher became muddled.
Case study: ‘Both-ways’ pedagogy in Australia
This breakdown of didactic roles between teacher and student is not solely found in arts-based education; it also has a wide following in postcolonial and indigenous education methods (Spring, 2008). The Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE) in Australia’s Northern Territory has put this pedagogy into action. BIITE provides post-secondary education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. All their courses operate under the ‘both-ways’ philosophy of education, which developed from shared knowledges of Aboriginal peoples. Both-ways is best understood through the metaphor of Ganma: a place where salt water and freshwater meet to form a lagoon. Fresh water (knowledge of the Yolngu people) and salt water (non-aboriginal knowledge) mix to create a beautiful rich environment (Bat et al., 2014, p. 875). Under both-ways pedagogy, there is no need to compromise the epistemological outlook of one culture for the other; both come together equally to bring about new knowledge and understanding. Ober and Bat (2008) give an example of ‘both ways’ in action:
You are teaching in CSWE (Certificate in Spoken and Written English) and someone at the council office is learning to use the digital camera to document local sites of significance. You negotiate a group project, with the CSWE students making talking books from the pictures (p. 65).
In this example, both-ways includes collaboration between one’s own community, local council, university, and peers. It connects ontological and epistemological traditions that many thought irreconcilable (Verran, 2013). Both-ways even encourages the creation of talking picture books in an English language certificate course.
In both-ways pedagogy as in arts-based pedagogy, the student is treated as a carrier of knowledge just like the teacher. As we have seen with arts-based research (Irwin et al., 2006), collaboration between disciplines and with communities beyond the university become a crucial part of education. Osborne et al (2019) found that the both-ways program was necessary to strengthen Australian Aboriginal participation in university programs, both in the arts and STEM (p. 62). The both-ways pedagogical framework has been adapted by Charles Darwin University to increase indigenous enrolment (Osborne et al., 2019, p. 60).
2. Arts-based Pedagogy and Indigenous Pedagogy
The echoes between indigenous pedagogy and arts-based pedagogy are not limited to Australia. In the early 1990s, a book from the Ministry of Māori Development in Aoteaora New Zealand sought to challenge tradition pedagogy for mathematics (Te Puni, 1993). The authors rejected the common practice of simply transplanting Māori words and phrases as examples in mathematics programs. They advocated for an unearthing of Māori mathematics which focused on art, carving, architecture, nature, sports, navigation, and the body (p. 20). They also demanded research into traditional Māori mathematical concepts and advocated for an increase in Māori teachers (p. 10). Championing a collaborative model of learning, they asked teachers to empower Māori by involving students in decisions pertaining to their own learning process (p. 32). All of these practices share strong similarities with arts-based pedagogy.
For all their similarities, however, it is important to note the differences between artistic-academic and indigenous pedagogies. Indigenous pedagogy has a sustained focused on cultural identity, which arts-based pedagogy sometimes lacks (Adds et al., 2011, p. 544). Many indigenous educators do not used the language of the artist-academic, and purposefully so. They come from their own indigenous traditions of thought and the language they choose emphasises this fact. Indigenous education must draw on its own cultures, traditions, history, and epistemology (Vallejo, 2019). Arts-based and indigenous pedagogies cannot be conflated, and indeed various indigenous pedagogies should not be confused with each other. However, Some indigenous artist-academics do combine arts-based or arts-influenced pedagogy with their own cultural, research, and pedagogical traditions (Pearse-Otene, 2020; Van Bewer et al., 2021).
This overlap between indigenous-based and arts-based education may have something to do with the shared ability of both pedagogical models to disrupt traditional hierarchies through art. Chappell and Chappell (2016) suggest that arts-based pedagogies can help develop a sense of classroom community and facilitate social inclusion in tertiary institutions (p. 292). Chappell and Chappell set their humanities students the task of creating art installations on important problems faced by bicultural youth in America. They found that these art installation projects allowed space for marginalised perspectives to come to the forefront and created platforms for new voices to be heard in an institutional setting (Chappell & Chappell, 2016, p. 307).
A similar position is backed by academics Moshoula Capous-Desyllas and Karen Morgaine (2018), who see arts-based research as inherently anti-oppressive. Their 2018 book, Creating Social Change Through Creativity: Anti-Oppressive Arts-Based Research Methodologies, although largely focused on arts-based research methodologies, also includes examples of artist-academic pedagogy wielded for social change. Programs that seek to support marginalised communities often deploy arts-based research and teaching methods (Arai, 2018; Kuttner, 2016; Pearse-Otene, 2020). This is largely because, when used well, artist-academic pedagogy can open room for indigenous voices, Black voices, female voices, queer voices, and other marginalised voices that might otherwise go unheard.
3. Partitioned Disciplines and Posthuman Pedagogies
Unsurprisingly, arts-based pedagogy has many advocates in the field known as ‘posthuman humanities’, a response to the ubiquity of anthropomorphism and methodological nationalism in the human sciences (Beck, 2006; Braidotti, 2013, p. 152). As postcolonial scholar Edward Said (2004) argues, ‘humanists must recognise with some alarm that the politics of identity and the nationalistically grounded system of education remain at the core of what most of us actually do, despite changed boundaries and objects of research’ (p. 153).
Philosopher Rosi Braidotti’s (2013) solution to such human-and-nation-centrism is a reinvention of the modern university. Her proposed ‘multi-versity’ moves away from a Fordist model of information delivery and towards a transdisciplinary teaching curriculum that aims to decentralise the human subject. As Braidotti explains:
If the proper study of mankind used to be Man and the proper study of humanity was the human, it seems to follow that the proper study of the posthuman condition is the posthuman itself. This new knowing subject is a complex assemblage of human and non-human, planetary and cosmic, given and manufactured, which requires major re-adjustments in our ways of thinking. (p. 159)
Braidotti also calls for transdisciplinary studies to develop a new relationship between the arts and science. In an increasingly interconnected world, the partition of humanities from the sciences and other disciplines serves no one (Lazarus & Rosslyn, 2003). Posthuman humanities seeks to develop transdisciplinary curricula around digital humanities, cognitive humanities, sustainable humanities, and bio-genetic or global humanities (Braidotti, 2013, p. 183).
According to academic Annouchka Bayley (2018), arts-based posthumanism is key to twentieth-century education. She calls for a paradigm shift in university education, which will lead towards new thinking strategies that better suit the ‘complexities, entanglements and differences’ engendered by a globalised world (p. 36). Bayley advocates a move from using artist-academic methods to learn about a particular topic in a classroom—like writing a play about economic principles—to practicing arts-based learning for its inherent skills: creativity, performative practices, non-linear thinking, and so forth (p. 59). Bayley argues that the arts should not be ‘borrowed from’ but acknowledged as an existing and integral part of other disciplines. Borders of studies are fluid; they speak to each other (p. 62).
In contrast to Bayley, Braidotti (2013) does not look at artist-academic processes in the classroom. She approaches posthuman humanities pedagogy on a wider scale, noting that a posthuman humanities pedagogy cannot be achieved within the university setting under a focus on profit. She argues that if the humanities are to be saved from redundancy, the university must adapt to more arts-based transdisciplinary teachings and structures on an institutional level.
Case study: Transdisciplinary Studies in Finland
One university is putting arts-based pedagogy into practice on a wide scale: Aalto University in Finland. The tertiary institute has opened a range of transdisciplinary courses on design, writing, film, and arts-based group work—no prerequisites required. This transdisciplinary pedagogical approach mirrors the university’s approach to research; one of the first links we see on Aalto University’s website is ‘research and art’, which is described as ‘a unique combination of science, art, technology and business’. The university also fosters transdisciplinary art-making, facilitating experimental student-spaces and curating galleries for alumni and student art (Tavin et al., 2018, p. 246). Their new direction, as Tavin et al explain,
does not merely seek for transdisciplinary applications of art for non-art students… but mobilizes art as an open question towards the present: What is it that we are doing here at the university, or generally, in the society? What are the limits of out epistemologies and what does it mean to test their limits? (Tavin et al., 2018, p. 250)
Transdisciplinary programs invite students to rethink their relation to their field of study. In one arts-based transdisciplinary course at Aalto, course convenors assigned students the task of bringing in imagery from their area of study. The students then shared these images with the class, pointing out visual pedagogies found within the images. The course proved popular; one student even stated that they learned more from the course than from all their traditional studies in business (Tavin et al., 2018, p. 253).
Aalto University were able to achieve this institutional change with support first from external stakeholders and then from university leadership (Tavin et al., 2018, p. 245). The shift towards artist-academia in both research and pedagogy was achieved, despite the concerns of Braidotti and other advocates of posthuman humanities, within a university that had a focus on profit. However, this might not be as radical a change as it first appears. Aalto University is new. It draws on values of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship (Tavin et al., 2018, p. 248), so adapting to new pedagogies and shifting towards education for a posthuman, globalised world is not too much of a stretch. For both BIITE and Aalto, moreover, external monetary support and a push for inclusion of marginalised communities were needed to shift entire institutions towards the space of artist-academic pedagogy.
Buried within definitional debates and methodological manifestos, one can see two clear threads running through the scholarly literature on arts-based research and pedagogy: (1) a deep awareness of the limitations of the dominate methodology in pedagogy and research; and (2) a strong desire for change.
The terminology around arts-based methodologies is unstable, shifting, and still emerging. Of the established terms used to discussed artist-academic research, a/r/tography has the most focus in the scholarly literature. It is closely followed by practice-led research (which overlaps with performative research). Other formulations such as practice-as-research, research-as-practice, and arts-informed research all have their ardent advocates as well.
Art-based pedagogy in higher education, meanwhile, remains an under-researched field. The majority of research into arts-based pedagogy is on early childhood, primary, and secondary education and/or teacher education. There is little research into artist-academic pedagogy in the tertiary space, though one can find similarities to pedagogical approaches stemming from indigenous and posthumanist education. The research literature suggests that artist-academic pedagogy may create a more inclusive tertiary environment, foster student’s personal investment in their studies, and help them develop new ways of thinking. Arts-based programs are being successfully implemented in a few universities around the world. I have no doubt that new artist-academic terminology, methodologies, theories, and practices, both in academic research and in higher education teaching, will continue to emerge in the years to come.
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