Last week I received an email alert which led me to a blog post reviewing my book on creative research methods. It turned out to be a rather lovely review by an artist-researcher, ending, “Whereas my art had previously researched and voices what already is (even if somewhat invisible), now my research uses art to call for a change, even just a little one.”
This kind of feedback is, as you can probably imagine, an absolute joy to receive. I was even more chuffed when I checked out the writer, Janette Parris, online and found out that she is an experienced artist, with her very own Wikipedia page, who has exhibited all around the UK and overseas. She specialises in collaborative work and public engagement, and she makes comics! In fact I must have seen some of her work before, because her online comic was in Comics Unmasked at the British Library, and I went to that excellent exhibition. I may even have met her, if she has attended one of my courses…
Then the very next day I got another email alert saying Janette Parris had published another blog post focusing on my book. I went to read it, and do you know what? She disagreed with a point I had made, and I was SO PLEASED.
Yes, honestly. I was DELIGHTED.
I often encourage students on my courses to argue with me. They rarely do.
There are two reasons I need people to disagree with me. One is, and I hope you are sitting down as you read this, because it will no doubt astonish you to discover: I am not always right. When I am wrong about something, I want someone to tell me. The other is that thinking moves on and I try to keep up. So even when I am right one day, I may no longer be right the next day, or month, or year, and when that time comes, I need to know.
Of course argument needs to be constructive. I don’t relish the kind that goes Did! Didn’t! Did! Didn’t! (unless I’m attending a pantomime, in which case I’m well up for it). The argument put forward by Janette Parris is: my point that the research method should fit the research question is insufficiently nuanced. She privileges the twin roles of passion and practicalities in choosing a research question and then research methods, arguing that there are often several methods which could be used and researchers have to choose between them. I think she makes a solid case here, and I have made a note to revisit her post for more consideration and perhaps citation when I prepare the third edition of my creative methods book.
Janette Parris’ research question is about “whether the requirement to write an academic essay in an art degree is useful and necessary”. Anyone who has read the previous post I published on this very blog will know that there are a few examples of people using alternative formats and techniques at doctoral level, and one or two at masters’ level, in various disciplines. (I haven’t yet come across alternative options at undergraduate level; if you know of any, please tell me in the comments.) Although there are now enough precedents I can advise students to use to build an academic argument if they want to do something similar, this is also still definitely rare enough to be a good reason for Janette Parris to do the research she proposes.
She intends to use an alternative format herself to present her research findings. I hope I get to find out what it is. She isn’t on Twitter, and she doesn’t engage in dialogue on her blog, but maybe she will write about her plans and choices online. Her post says that, with enough time, she could have answered her research question by co-creating a musical. I wonder if she might manage to do that in future. I am not a great fan of musicals, but a co-created research musical is something I would love to see. Maybe one day…
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