According to Patricia Leavy (2018), arts-based research (ABR) “is a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge building that combines the tenets of the creative arts in research contexts” (p. 3). Editors of Arts-Based Research in Education Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor and Richard Siegesmund (2018) elaborate on ABR, which they call “scholartistry,” eloquently:
Scholartistry promotes direct, embodied engagement with the sensory qualities of the world. The arts promote shedding our conventional categorical labeling and experiencing the smells, feelings, sounds, and sites of the world afresh. We feel our researcher-teacher-student bodies moving through space. It is full attentiveness to the movement that counts, not our efficiency (P. 5, emphasis mine).
While at face value, ABR appears to be a way of doing research that primarily uses art as a way of gathering data, ABR is also a stance that recognizes that art is a valid way of deeply learning more about the world in multimodal ways—“sensory, emotional, perceptual, kinesthetic, embodied, and imaginal” (Leavy, 2018, p. 3). ABR goes beyond the mere acquisition of knowledge, however; it is an attentive engagement with knowledge, in all its dynamic and complicated nature. ABR researchers “reject…the illusion of an outwardly appealing aesthetic form that cleverly insinuates a false sense of resolution and satisfaction. [They] believe scholartistry captures this restless project of probing to ever new discovery” (Cahnmann-Taylor and Siegesmund, 2018, p. 5). In short, ABR, through its very methodology, embraces and celebrates the generative nature of research.
Another aspect of ABR that these scholars that I’ve mentioned above haven’t touched on in the introductions of their respective books is its usually collaborative nature. While how ethical this collaboration is varies from research to research, I genuinely appreciate how ABR engages a world beyond the researcher and their books and respects the local expertise of the people they make art-research with.
Particular to my practice is theatre action research (TAR). While applied theatre practitioner James Thompson, who had coined the term, hasn’t explicitly categorized theatre action research under the category of ABR, TAR’s relation to ABR is undeniable (as well as its relationship to participatory action research, which is a form of research wherein the participants are co-researchers). Thompson (2006) defines it as a methodology that uses theatre “as an open means for the discovery of the impact of a full range of social processes and conditions. The act of participatory theatre can ask a community what is working. Theatre here becomes the enquiry, not the object of enquiry” (p.122). I consider most of my applied theatre work as TAR.
The two artifacts in this section are arts-based research/theatre action research projects I’ve worked on in the past three years; namely, a woman in your life, an ethnodrama, and The Bunny Rocket, a five-day process drama for English as New Language early learners.
Cahnmann-Taylor, M., & Siegesmund, R. (Eds.). (2017). Arts-based research in education: Foundations for practice. New York, USA: Routledge.
Leavy, P. (Ed.). (2017). Handbook of arts-based research. New York, USA: Guilford Publications.