CULTIVATING ARTS AND MINDS
The Reflective Line
The Reflective Line
All of our arts-inspired experiments involved some kind of reflective element, either written or verbal. The two reflective pieces presented here were both produced in response to the prompt “I am an artist✼academic.” Scholar A offers a carefully theorized academic argument against claiming the label "artist✼academic," while Scholar B weaves together poetry, painting, personal reflection, and scholarly citations into an affirmational Reflective Line: "I am an artist✼academic, standing on the threshold – between the warmth from my images, sounds and poetic words, and the solidity of knowledge and discovery."
What is an artist✼academic? The expression ‘artist✼academic’, with the asterisk that breaks the hierarchy ‘artist (adjective) – academic (noun)’, evokes two meanings for me that could be understood as two sides of the same coin. The first relies on an instrumentalist conception of art (art as a means to knowledge), and refers to an academic who uses art to engage in unconventional explorations of the world. The second denotes a person (artist) who produces a work of art that is understood as a source of knowledge and engages in a conventional conversation to make sense of this knowledge. (Here, the (un)conventionality of the explorations refers to Benjamin’s (1935) idea of the cultural authority of art based on its aura (uniqueness). In both cases, the idea of the artist✼academic is intrinsically linked to processes of knowledge production. Most calls for more serious considerations of these modes of knowledge production respond to what I interpret as a genuine attempt of overcoming the limitations of the scientific method in research and education. In my own work, I have personally advocated for the use of arts-based pedagogies in citizenship education as a way to disrupt conceptions the ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ model of rationality prevalent in most proposals of political education (see Estellés et al., 2022). Yet, from a Foucauldian perspective (1978), we cannot talk about knowledge-production without talking about power. The analysis of the power dynamics embedded in the work of the artist✼academic reveals, in my opinion, an interesting paradox. On the one hand, art as a mode of knowledge production allows for “a subversion of science when it refers to the exclusions inherent in scientific knowledge production […] by showing the extent to which the invisibility of the visible is invisible” (Busch, 2009, p. 4). On the other hand, however, the recognition of art as a legitimate mode of producing accepted forms of knowledge provides a cultural authority to the figure of the subject/producer of such knowledge, the artist✻academic, that benefits from the elitist connotations of both terms (“artist” and “academic”) operating as a mechanism of distinction and exclusion. For this reason, I do not feel comfortable saying that I am an artist✼academic.
What is artist✼academic?
The warmth in images, sound, poetic words
The solid knowledge and hardness in discovery
They protect me to disclose safely and willingly
I see me in all of them
A reflection of who I really am
They touch me and empower me
Inside or outside? Artist and academic, which one is inside or outside? Which one do I want to enter? Do I have to enter one or another? I am standing in the threshold, between artist and academic, with no desire to choose one or another. I stand in the in-between; this threshold between them is the safe and comfortable space for me to feel, to create, to write, to sing, to reflect, to understand, and to generate new knowledge.
Many years ago, when I was struggling in my first academic job as a design lecturer, the door to artist opened for me. Entering this doorway, I learned to face my weaknesses, confusion, doubts and fears through arts-making. Being an artist, I trust the power of art and surrender myself fully to arts with a “willingness to let something be” (Levine, 2015, p.17). Entering the door of artist can be scary sometimes; it can be dark sometimes. Arts-making provides the feeling of safety and comfort I need to face these scary and dark moments. I willingly enter this space of artist within images, words, sounds or movement, and wait until “the sound and the light … become available to consciousness” (Marine Green, 1980, p. 316). This light and sound empower me.
I first entered the other door, academic, after being introduced to arts-based research by my Master of Arts Therapy research project supervisor and my PhD research project supervisors. In this academic space, I explore the relationships between surrender-and-catch (Wolff, 1986). I learn to surrender myself into images, poetic words, sounds and stories, and catch new knowledge within the arts-making process. In the process of arts-based research, I become a knower, an academic, to be ready to catch the known, academic knowledge, in the process of making. I am aware the known cannot be separated from myself as knower in the action of arts-making (Yang, 2005, pp. 58-59). Being an academic enables me to be an awakening thinker, to reflect on research questions in messy colours, chaotic lines, poetic words, rhythmic sounds and in metaphoric imaginings. Being an academic allows me to translate the invisible emotions, senses, memories and feelings into moments, pieces or fragments of realities to discover the truth, to shape into concepts, and to theorise into knowledge.
I am an artist✼academic, standing on the threshold – between the warmth from my images, sounds and poetic words, and the solidity of knowledge and discovery. I do not want to identify what percentage of me is artist or academic. I do not have to choose which one direction to enter. I am willing to enter one or the other when I am ready, but I am more comfortable being freely in-between.
Reflection is a habit of mind, not a formula. The more frequently you pause to reflect on what you're learning from arts-based approaches to teaching, research, and leadership, the more meaningful and valuable those approaches will become.
Consider developing a metaphor for reflective practice that resonates with the kind of arts-inspired inquiry you are undertaking, so that the act of reflection becomes an inevitable part of your discovery process. For example, for the Kinetic Line:
- "Down on the dance floor" (arts-based inquiry)
- "Up on the balcony" (reflection)
For the Sculptural Line:
- "Shaping the clay" (arts-based inquiry)
- "Firing the clay" (reflection)