Deliberating the Role of Artist as Researcher

Scotland 2009 (9)

(Bautista, Personal Photograph, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2007)

Without poets, without artists, men would soon weary of nature’s monotony.  The sublime idea men have of the universe would collapse with dizzying speed.  The order, which we find in nature, and which is only an effect of art, would at once vanish.  Everything would break up in chaos.  There would be no seasons, no civilization, no thought, no humanity; even life would give way, and the impotent void would reign everywhere.  (G. Apollinaire, 1913, Retrieved January 16, 2004 from

At one time, I understood Arts-based Educational Research (ABER) as my right to collect experiences and create a tapestry of palpable research textures.  I believed that my stories were of life and they must have a form that displayed them.  They demanded for a form that satiates, frustrates, pleases, causes tension, resonates, bewilders, combines, echoes, confines, frees– they needed to be of the arts.

Though lofty, in some ways, I hold true to these notions.  As I look back to about ten years ago when I was a graduate student searching for a way to convey my ideas, I now see my ABER ambitions overshadowing my research work meaning I was, in fact, writing for myself in the hopes that others could find a point of entry.  I was constructing a postmodern educative version of my research but as of today, I am not sure I found an audience.  Yet I suppose that is what an artist does.  One creates a personal work, puts it on display and the response to it is beyond one’s control.

As mentioned in other blog posts, I am currently looking at ABER through the eyes of someone who is a bit older, maybe a little wiser and thinking about my current research writing.  I am considering how well ABER served as a way of welcoming others into a dialogue in terms of my research on diversity and teaching for peace.  When I mention to colleagues lately that I wrote with an ABER intent at one time, the proverbial question arises:  “What is ABER?”  This post is to help me articulate what I thought/think it means.

I was first introduced to ABER in the fall of 2001 when I took a course with Dr. C.T. Patrick Diamond at OISE U/T.  I made it through my first year of the Ph.D., completing my “comps” and soon afterwards, Dr. Diamond asked me to join his class for the upcoming semester.  He had read a few of my “comps” papers and thought my ideas were along the lines of ABER.

From his class, I understood ABER stemming from notions of postmodernism in education, as a form of research that is resistant to traditional researcher/participant roles and the representation of research findings as conclusive.  As Diamond and Mullen (1999) write, “the effectiveness of arts-based postmodern activity depends upon the degree to which it arouses (rather than ‘transmits’) particular feelings and images and the degree to which it momentarily captures and provokes experiential learning” (p. 24).  My beliefs were that ABER moved away from metanarrative constructs. Inevitably, after recently reading my thesis, I think I created a metanarrative especially when I had to write a concluding chapter for the thesis.

Also, I learned that postmodernism in education is an unorthodox way of writing about research.  “Postmodern versions of inquiry … transform the ways in which classrooms, teacher development and inquiry are represented…[It] is indifferent to such concerns for coherence and closure.  Rather than feeling at a loss, artistic researchers can go on by avoiding (or working through to the point of exhaustion or boredom) the prosaic writing style” (Diamond & Mullen, 1999, pp.42-3).  Though I wrote “freely” during the thesis, again, I struggled with putting a final chapter on a piece of art that was to have no final word on identity, diversity and teaching for peace.

And because my thesis ideas were about identity construction, I sought a writing style that would allow for explorations of layered understandings of self something I called “being authentic to my self(ves)”.  I ventured through recovering experiences to create a text infused with both my research inquiry and my artistic style:  “artistic researchers seek language uses that are evocative, metaphorical, figurative, connotative, poetic and playful (Barone cited in Diamond & Mullen, 1999, p. 43).  By experimenting with artistic form, they learn about themselves and their deeper capacities while connecting with the flight paths or dead ends of others.”  I now see that my thesis transformed my words into senses of self(ves) through multiple art forms including poetry, photography, stories and storytelling plus additional artful experiments with form.

But for whom?

As I read the work of postmodern authors like Borges, Barthes and others, I saw how they  “blend literary genres, cultural and stylistic levels, the serious and the playful, that they resist classification according to traditional literary rubrics…Postmodernist writings subvert the foundations of our accepted modes of thought and experience” (Abrams, 1993,120).   Since my thesis sought to know no bounds, I adamantly chose a research (story) writing style that was beyond convention.  My thesis took stylistic risks and as Lyotard (1997) writes, “a postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher:  the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by pre-established rule” (p.407).

But at what cost?

As discussed in my blog posts “Turning Back the Pages”, parts 1 and 2, I am now renegotiating my research past as contributory to my research present.

In hindsight, I think my thesis served its purpose.  I did the best I could with where I was as a research writer.  In fact, what I wrote before has brought me here, back to the classroom and back to research work.

Looking back has been a necessary process but the past is not my now.  Tolle (1999) writes, “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.  Always work with it, not against it.  Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy” (p.36)

So, there is a place for an artist and artistry in research.  From my ABER past, I believe I can move forward.  And though I may not necessarily be an arts-based researcher any longer, I carry the learning experiences in tow.  From Heraclitus and Asimov and many others,  there is a saying that “the only constant in life is change”.  I believe it is time for me to make changes so that my research extends beyond an audience of one.


Apollinaire, G.  (1913). The Columbia World of Quotations. New York: Columbia      University Press, 1996. [Date of Printout]. Retrieved January 16, 2004 from

Diamond, C.T.P.&Mullen, C.A.  (1999).  The Postmodern Educator.  New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Lyotard, J-F. (1997). “The Postmodern Condition” Aesthetics, A reader in the Philosophy of the Arts.  New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Tolle,E. (1999). “The Power of Now” Novato: New World Library & Vancouver: Namaste Publishing.