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Educational Action Research, Volume 13, Number 4, 2005

Art Teachers and Action Research

RACHEL MASON
Roehampton University, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT The qualitative educational research literature is increasingly
advocating the use of literary/artistic techniques. This article describes and
evaluates educational action researches by three art teachers, and questions
why they have not capitalised methodologically on their artistic expertise.
Analysis of commonalities in practitioner-based research in education and
practice-based research in art and design reveals significant differences in
these two paradigms however. Whereas artists and educational researchers
both engage in qualitative problem solving and may use the same kinds of
materials and tools, they develop different kinds of hypotheses, look for
different sorts of evidence and apply different quality controls.

Keywords: action research; art teachers; practice

Introduction
I supervise research dissertations and theses by art teachers studying for
Master’s and doctoral degrees. Although they are introduced to a wide range
of qualitative and quantitative research methods in education, the majority
choose action research. This article reports on three such studies carried
out by research students from Canada, Portugal and Hong Kong who, like
myself, are teachers trained in fine art. In so doing, it reflects on
commonalities in the way art teachers conceptualise and operationalise
educational action research, and on methodological issues. Research
training is a relatively recent phenomenon in art education, and this article
is intended to generate reflection about relationships between practitioner-
and practise-based research.

Art Teacher Training and Research
The concept of art education as distinct from professional training of fine
artists, crafts persons and designers is relatively recent. Prior to the
fifteenth century, the majority of art educational activities fell within the
remit of the craft guilds and took the form of apprenticeship in the

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The development of art education as a distinct academic discipline is closely linked to the growth of specialist teacher qualification programmes in university education departments. 1986). There is a competing model of their professional development based on the assumption that they need support in maintaining their creative practice once they become teachers. In England. Master’s degrees underpinned by educational theory and social science conceptions of research have met with considerable resistance from specialist-trained teachers of art. a substantial amount of doctoral research in the humanities does not conform to the ‘narrow (and probably mythical) definition of a traditional “scientific” model of doctorate research’ (cited in Candlin. Research at Master’s and PhD levels consists of highly specific practice-based investigations into specific forms of art/design making. p. including the artist-teacher schemes promoted by the National Society of Art and Design Education (NSEAD). but not in the same way as educational research. Specialist degrees in art or design differ markedly from other kinds of undergraduate degrees.Rachel Mason production of artefacts. some of them offered specialist Master’s programmes and. The emphasis from the start of the 3-year course is on students developing and practicing their own art or design work. According to Marin (1998). and theory is grounded in scholarship in the humanities and arts. 2000. Schools of art. Theoretical studies are integrated with practice and their purpose is to help students reflect on their creative work and develop a critical stance. Learning outcomes are predominantly image based and assessed in the form of visual displays. a practice-based doctorate in art is distinct in that: 564 . postgraduate art education courses for teachers began in 1965 with the establishment of award bearing advanced diploma courses in polytechnics. Their distinctive feature is common agreement on the central role of studio practice in art-based learning. Knowledge of art and design materials and techniques is acquired in hands-on workshops. In contrast to this traditional model. as well as postgraduate certificate and Master’s degrees. Professional training in this model is interpreted as apprenticeship to practicing artists and cultural workers in galleries and museums. The first such department was founded in the USA at Penn State University in 1940. who continue to identify with an artist-teacher role. there are four dominant modes of teaching in this tradition based on different interpretations of the nature and purposes of art. Later. the so-called academies. They are practice based. and through practical experiments and demonstration. more recently. It exists in a number of forms. 98). At undergraduate level the term ‘research’ signifies ‘investigating art media and ideas’. As the United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education has pointed out. Research in art and design has distinctive trajectories and connotations also. first appeared in Italy around 1500 and subsequently sprang up all over the western world to make provision for teaching and study of theoretical subjects. specialist PhD degrees (Allison.

unease in academia about the capacity of images to function as research has resulted in heated arguments as to whether or not a written component is necessary. for example. experiment. (Räsänen. The stated purpose of the Arts Based Education Research SIG is to ‘provide a community for those who view research through artistic lenses. the majority include a substantial written conceptualisation (critical appraisal or analysis) of the creative work. teacher and researcher roles overlap. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH the significant aspects of the claim for doctoral characteristics of originality. Although some art and design doctorates are exclusively practice based. all have to be systematically documented and reflected on.aera. p. However. 2000. 128). technical choices. (Candlin. action research might involve studying one’s own work as an educator and an artist. He points out that the forms through which knowledge and understanding are constructed and expressed are considerably wider than verbal and written discourse. reflect.net/default aspx?id=344). use a variety of qualitative methodologies and communicate understanding through diverse genres’ (www. The action research spiral is evident in the work of both artists and teachers as they plan. This might help art teachers to recognize how the artist. Teaching can be improved through comparison of one’s own artistic processes with those of students’. p. 98) Practice-based doctorates in art and design expanded rapidly in the 1990s. 1991. In the context of art education. 2005. and verbalizing experience. The American Educational Research Association has two special interest groups (SIGS) devoted to arts-based methodologies. mastery and contribution to the field are held to be demonstrated through the original creative work. p. and act again. This necessitates distancing oneself from the processes of art making or teaching. and finds it odd that.. Researching their own art production but emphasising how teaching affects this and vice versa focuses on identifying and questioning artistic learning. Some educational researchers argue for a synthesis of artistic and educational research. 13) She goes on to say that: It is reflection that connects the artist and teacher role models in artistic action research. Changes in thinking habits. and through 565 . the conceptual tools for studying the arts and criticising them have seldom been used to assess them in education (Eisner. expression etc. Eliot Eisner has written extensively about the image- based nature of qualitative inquiry. although most people regard teaching and educational administration as arts. Räsänen has advised art teachers to improve their professional practice by engaging in ‘artistic action research’: Both art and teaching can be viewed as research.

opportunities for students. I carry out qualitative educational research and convene meetings for the purpose of sharing practises and ideas. Whereas improving art educational practice may refer to a host of things (improving services. and write research reports. in particular contexts we hope to improve. 2005. and use it creatively to improve teaching and facilitate development of a critical stance. We do not limit this to improving practical skills. My students find the social science perspective daunting. etc. analyse and collect data collection instruments. and helping them to interpret and put into practice ideas gleaned from literature on action research.). 2002). When they opt for action research in their individual research projects their understanding of this method is rudimentary. our backgrounds are similar in that our subject knowledge and pedagogy are informed by theory and practice in the arts and humanities. p. practical. we understand educational action research as qualitative. 13) Educational Action Research The Master’s and doctoral students whose individual research projects I supervise are experienced teachers and/or teacher trainers working in schools and universities. As Goldstein (2000) and Johnston (1994) point out. the majority of us interpret it as improving art teaching. There is a sense in which we develop our understanding of action research together therefore. While I do not participate in their projects. design. As a consequence the supervisory role involves much more than simply monitoring or overseeing how they identify research problems. reflective and concerned with social change (Reason. (Räsänen. and are attended by teacher researchers of all school subjects. the students attend courses on educational research methods. We understand action research as ‘participatory’ because it is carried out by a team. but focus our attention also on helping teachers to articulate their underlying curriculum philosophies and rationales. and are offered a brief overview only of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative techniques. Rather it centres on supporting their development and growth as novice educational researchers. Broadly speaking.Rachel Mason questioning the effects of different curriculum interventions. in which university- 566 . and we are practitioners of art and design. Broadly speaking. It is practical in the sense that it focuses on art educational practice. The courses introduce them to social science research principles and methods for the first time. collaborations in which university-based researchers enter into participatory relationships with classroom teachers have become increasingly prevalent in educational action research. As is the case with art and design we consider it important to integrate theory into practice. This model of teamwork. participatory. I do not teach these courses and to the best of my knowledge they do not refer to scholarship or research in the humanities or arts. Because their Master’s and doctorial degree programmes are located in an education department at the university.

is intended to add to practitioners’ functional knowledge of phenomena. 2000) the purpose of this kind of action research is to free educational practitioners from the dictates of tradition and precedent and from self-deception. each of which entail observation. reflexive processes centre on building their capacities to self-evaluate. The teacher practitioners are the ultimate arbiters over what counts as useful knowledge. The texts my students reference most often are: Research Methods in Education (Cohen & Manion. Since the main aim is to bring about changes in practitioner values and beliefs. process-orientated and collaborative. 1994) and Action Research for Educational Change (Elliott. action and evaluation. He stresses how important it is to monitor actions in ways that provide evidence of how well they are being implemented and of 567 . planning. action research and reflective practice have been closely related for at least three decades (Leitch & Day. he explains action research as a process involving a self-reflective spiral of cycles. cited in Leitch & Day. which is more technical and interventionist. According to Grundy (1982. John Elliott’s model is more emancipatory. We have found Schön’s distinction (1983) between ‘reflection-in-action’ (a continual and immediate process teachers engage in) and ‘reflection-on-action’ (carried out after an event or series of events) helpful in developing our ideas about how to collaborate with teacher practitioners in educational action research. 1988). They define action research as: ‘a small scale intervention in the functioning of the real world and a close examination of the effects of that intervention’ (1994. 2000). The action stages are more linear and the method has two main steps. p. and their capacity to identify problems in their own professional contexts. 1991). is the one my students have adopted to date. a hypothesis is tested out by a consciously directed change experiment. In the diagnostic step problems are analysed and hypotheses are developed. 186). while in the therapeutic step. Theory generation is integrated with processes of pedagogical transformation. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH based researchers understand themselves as facilitators of action research carried out by teacher-practitioners. Following Lewin (cited in Kemmis & McTaggart. Designing Action Research Beginning researchers need practical guidelines to assist them design. Leitch & Day (2000) note that the method relies on the exercise of moral and practical judgment by teachers. Cohen & Manion’s approach. The notions of teacher researcher. reflection. implement and evaluate educational actions. Reflection is a familiar notion to us since it is a crucial element in the creation of art and design. Elliott’s methodology is outlined in great detail in Action Research for Educational Change (1991). The role of the university-based researchers they collaborate with is to supply the theoretical resources they need to reflect on and develop their practice. We understand educational action research as a process with reflection at its centre.

which were refined and turned into action plans before any partnerships were set up. the students’ initial ideas. Participants: The research student and 10 generalist elementary teachers. Whereas he suggests the process starts with explanation. On reflection. General idea: At the time the research began. The context for reconnaissance and idea generation in this instance was the development of formal research proposals in line with university research degree regulations. implementing and monitoring cycles of action research. and of triangulating data (ensuring that a variety of viewpoints on what is going on are accessed). the Department of Education in New Brunswick was promoting a global education policy that elementary art education had failed to address. as well as intended effects. 73-74). Assumptions underpinning the action were that ‘global education’ is a good thing. As noted before. The student researchers have read them and agree to their inclusion. in the three cases in question. and because we find this aspect of the method challenging whilst acknowledging the key role it plays in evaluation. The techniques they used for gathering evidence are outlined in detail because of the importance Elliott attaches to this activity in the reconnaissance and monitoring phases of action research. Case Record 1: improving intercultural understanding through critical analysis of visual images (Blatherwick. and informed mainly by searches of literature and discussions with supervisors and peers. employed in higher education institutions with specialist degrees in art. researchers seek to improve. The brainstorming and hypothesis testing that are crucial to this activity tended to be theory driven. This research took place in multiracial elementary schools in the province of New Brunswick. we interpret the ‘reconnaissance and development of research ideas’ somewhat differently from Elliott (1991. Three Case Records I wrote the case records that follow. description and analysis of real-life situations. Focus: Global education and elementary art teaching.Rachel Mason unintended. the students were teacher-educators. pp. and strategies for increasing 568 . The original purpose in doing so was to inform my teaching. Their concern with multicultural issues probably reflects the orientation of my own research interests and that of the research centre in which the studies were located. 1998) Location: Canada. This next part of this article briefly summarises three action researches by my students using Elliott’s conceptualisation of activities involved in planning.

Action steps: Three action steps were initiated. Evaluation: At the end of the last cycle. led by the research student. The research student pointed out that these satisfactory learning outcomes were dependent on the training in visual awareness and global education concepts she had supplied in cycle one. She collaborated with teachers in six multiracial schools to collect drawings from 92 children in response to the themes ‘Who am I’? ‘A favourite family pastime’ and ‘What makes me culturally unique?’ Their cultural meanings and messages were described and analysed. • the research student’s ongoing field notes and written records of informal discussions with participants. The teacher-practitioners were convinced that the method of art criticism had engaged elementary students in meaningful discussion about culture and that their intercultural understanding had improved. • response forms completed by teachers. In the first. monitoring and reflecting on the action was extensive. a working hypothesis emerged that cross-cultural exchanges and critical analysis of children’s cultural images increases their intercultural understanding. Working hypothesis: Based on previous research. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH intercultural understanding among students should be developed and implemented. monitoring and reflecting on action: The data the research team collected for the purposes of recording. Techniques for gathering evidence. the research team concluded that the visual resource was an effective stimulus for global education. visual communication and methods of art criticism. The second action step took the form of professional development sessions for another four teachers. during which they selected twenty drawings for the resource. • audio tapes of professional development sessions and introductions to school lessons. Reconnaissance: This took the form of a review of literature about multicultural art education theory and practice. • the research student’s written reflections on the action cycles. They consisted of: • research student and teacher lesson plans. 569 . The third step took the form of classroom action in which three of the same teachers applied art criticism strategies to discussion of images from the visual resource with their students. cultural identity. the research student created a visual educational resource. received training and developed teaching ideas.

Rachel Mason Case Record 2: prejudice reduction in teaching and learning cultural patrimony (Moura. • professional development sessions for seven VTE teachers that provided them with a foundation in multicultural art education and supported development of curriculum ideas.) General idea: Discrimination against minority groups exists in Portugal. discrimination and racism into patrimony education in Portugal. • lesson plans and written evaluations by the research student and teachers. Reconnaissance and development of idea: The research student undertook a review of international literature on multicultural art education and of intercultural education in Portugal. Practical reform strategies are needed to address this concern. (In the professional development that occurred in a workshop in action step one. Focus: Teaching about patrimony in Visual and Technological Education (VTE). They consisted of: • videotapes of the workshop and school lessons. Techniques for gathering evidence. • learning outcomes from all three cycles (visual and verbal). 570 . combined with collaborative group work and interdisciplinary learning are effective strategies for introducing the concepts of prejudice. Teaching and learning patrimony in VTE is ethnocentric and neglects non- western cultures and arts. reflecting on and evaluating this action was extensive. 2000) Location: Northern Portugal. From this. seven middle schoolteachers and students in two schools. Working hypothesis: Critical analysis of visual images. she identified a prejudice reduction/anti-racist orientation as the most appropriate conceptual framework for curriculum reform. there were a total of 23 participants including teachers. monitoring and reflecting on the action: Again. the data collected for the purposes of recording. HE lecturers and political activists. Participants: The research student. Action: There were three action steps: • a workshop for 23 participants which set out to determine their receptiveness to multicultural education reform. • curriculum interventions in which three groups of teachers collaborated on testing out and evaluating patrimony projects in four classroom settings. The action took place at a higher education institution and two middle schools.

2002) Location: Hong Kong. professional development sessions and lessons (by the research student. 571 . Whereas she understood the school-based model of curriculum development as a strength of action research. will help Hong Kong art teachers to evaluate and improve their own practice. an additional 216 art teachers completed a survey questionnaire. • the research student’s records of informal discussions with teachers. The findings of the review informed the design of the questionnaire survey of secondary art teachers’ perceptions of good teaching and a preliminary study of teacher evaluation policy in Hong Kong. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH • ongoing field notes and evaluations of workshop. Working hypothesis: Organising the content of a professional development module around developing criteria for good art teaching. she concluded that effecting multicultural change throughout the system necessitates extensive retraining of teachers. (In step one of the action. Evaluation: The teacher-participants concluded that the action had successfully uncovered and challenged their own and students’ stereotypes about minority people. There are no clearly defined criteria for the evaluation of art teaching that teachers can use to improve their practice and no consensus on what constitutes good art teaching. Case Record 3: developing criteria for good art teaching (Au. The action took place at the teacher education institution in which the research student was employed. Reconnaissance and development of idea: The research student undertook a review of international literature on evaluation of teaching. The research student’s hypothesis that the prejudice reduction/anti-racism curriculum orientation was an appropriate stance for educational reform in Portugal at the time was confirmed. Focus: Exploring ways in which art teachers can be helped to develop criteria for evaluating art teaching and use them to reflect on and improve their practice. Participants: The research student and 15 secondary art teachers taking part in a 1-year professional development course. • question and answer sheets completed by students. • response forms completed by teachers. and teacher- observers). and on changing conceptions and standards of good art teaching.) General idea: There is a need in Hong Kong to open up discussion about what constitutes a good art curriculum and good art teaching. • her reflexive diary.

Likewise.Rachel Mason Action steps: The action took place during a 1-year professional development course with 15 art teachers. there are numerous papers discussing and proposing criteria for what counts as knowledge in practitioner-based research. p. • metaphor-writing by the teachers and their course assignments. Finally. • tape-recorded interviews by the research student with the teachers. 2002. the teachers experimented with new practises in their school classrooms. with the issue of validation perhaps because it is consistently used by mainstream researchers to disqualify qualitative research modes (Kvale. monitoring and reflecting on action: This research was small-scale. After they had applied the criteria to their own practice. their validity is examined using evaluation criteria developed by Anderson & Herr (1999). Since scientific legitimisation and stature seem to be problems for both practice. Techniques for gathering evidence. I draw implications for my own teaching from a reflection on why and how art teachers engage with action research. Data was collected in the form of: • the research student and the teachers’ curriculum/lesson plans. • interactive dialogue journals between the research student and individual teachers). The research student concluded that developing criteria for good teaching provides a framework for successful professional development and had offered a platform into system-wide evaluation in Hong Kong. Ideas in the international literature on good practice formed the content of the course and the research student worked collaboratively with the class on developing criteria for good art teaching specific to Hong Kong. • evaluation questionnaires incorporating the teachers’ responses to the course. The literature about qualitative educational research method seems to be preoccupied. Moreover. The Action Research Models The Portuguese and Canadian studies veer towards Cohen & Manion’s functional model or what Leitch & Day (2000) call ‘practical action 572 . Evaluation: A practical outcome of the action was that criteria for evaluating art teaching specific to Hong Kong were developed. cited in Denzin & Lincoln. Discussion This part of the article examines the action research models informing the studies and some general problems of method they threw up. but generated a great deal of data. some say obsessed. test out and evaluate new curriculum content and strategies. 301). each teacher had used them to reflect on.and practitioner-based research.

41) The Hong Kong study is more emancipatory in that it deliberately set out to give art teachers control over their own pedagogy. Anderson & Herr’s (1999) five criteria were adopted in this instance because they claim to be rigorous and particularly suited to practitioner research. A recurring criticism of the second model is that is too narrow. self critical and undertaken by the participants of the inquiry. They are practical. • outcome validity: refers to the extent the action leads to resolution of the problem identified for study. quoted in Johnston. focuses and energises participants toward knowing and transforming reality). Broadly speaking. • dialogic validity refers to the extent to which the researchers engage in dialogue with peers about the quality of the research. p. (McCutcheon & Young 1980. rather than collective social action. it is probable that my student researchers’ commitment to transforming individual practice and/or thinking reflects their previous subject training and experience. their understanding of action research is compatible with the following definition by McCutcheon and Young: Action research is characterised as systematic inquiry that is collaborative. The second emphasises the values and processes of the individual. Very briefly: • democratic validity refers to the extent to which researches are done in collaboration with all the parties that have a stake in them. 1994. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH research’. • process validity refers to the extent to which problems are framed and solved in a manner that permits ongoing learning of individuals or systems. and that action has to be directed outwards toward the social or educational system as a whole if it is to effect curriculum change (Leitch & Day. The goals of such research are the understanding of practice and the articulation of a rationale or philosophy of practice in order to improve that practice. The Quality of the Studies The multiple discourses on validation in the social sciences are bewildering for novice researchers as are the diverse criteria available for evaluating the success of qualitative-interpretative studies. rather than technical. 573 . According to Leitch & Day (2000) there are two competing models of emancipatory action research. 2000). In the first. it is understood as a collective. but also on articulating and agreeing related practical curriculum philosophies and rationales. collaborative activity engaged in by a self-critical community committed to transforming the education system as a whole. Since art making tends to be a solitary exercise. in so far as the researchers collaborated with teacher-practitioners not just on action targeted at curriculum change. • catalytic validity refers to the transformative potential of the action research for participants (the degree to which it re-orientates.

It is probably not the case that the views of every party with a stake in the problems under investigation were represented however. in reality these techniques are difficult to effect. there is insufficient evidence to sustain the researchers’ assertions that the problems leading to the studies in the first place have been solved. it is impossible to estimate the transformational (catalytic) potential of the studies or the degree to which they empowered the teacher practitioners to develop and change their teaching or curricula in the long term. However.Rachel Mason It is difficult to apply the criterion of demographic validity rigorously to studies carried out for Master’s or doctorate degrees. It had a mixed-mode design and consisted of a national questionnaire survey. I am not aware that these partnerships between university-based researchers and classroom teachers were skewed by formal inter-institutional arrangements or unequal distributions of power. The Portuguese and Canadian studies were more ambitious in the sense that the research students set up investigative communities of volunteer teacher practitioners on their own and involved them in three cycles of action. The absence of written reflection-on-action by practitioner participants affects outcome validity. I understand these problems as generic not study specific. Democratic validity will always be an issue in university led collaborations as will 574 . the Portuguese and Canadian students experienced difficulty getting colleagues to write anything down. It is this that merits the process of reflection being called a form of research. Were the cases I have summarised truly collaborative? One possible reading is that student researchers who instigated them assumed superior understanding of what curriculum reforms were necessary and persuaded practitioners to carry out their own development plans. The Hong Kong example targeted teacher-practitioners already undertaking a professional development course at the higher education institution where they worked. Whereas the Hong Kong-based research student used dialogue journals very effectively both to elicit and record reflection-on-action. Professional development of teachers was central to all three studies. In the studies in question. This is something we may have to address in future action researches. On the other hand. In the student researchers’ defence. the research students all did a good job of collaborating with teacher-practitioners on effecting reflection-in-action. I would ague that whereas participant validation and triangulation are supposed to inform reflection and evaluation. It is important to point out that the teacher-participants in all three studies described the experience as both educationally and personally rewarding suggesting that that the criterion of process validity was met. According to James (1999). Where action research reports lack multiple perspectives. since there was little evidence of collaboration with stakeholders beyond the internal communities involved. the difference between reflective conversation in action research and other forms of reflective conversation within practical situations is that it is systematic. the practical problems they identified were substantially influenced by their own teaching and a majority of participants were volunteers. followed by a single cycle of action.

Teachers are used to dealing with the immediate and particular. At the same time. Reflection on Why and How Art Teachers Do Action Research Denscombe (1991) has analysed why art teachers tend to prefer qualitative enquiry. Because criteria for evaluation of qualitative research are in a state of flux we are not too discouraged by this limited success. and is multi-paradigmatic in focus. art educators are beginning to build up a tradition of qualitative practitioner research. it is characterised by tension between two modes of research. is that qualitative research and training in art and design share similar phenomenological premises. According to Lincoln (cited in Denzin & Lincoln 2002. in a small way. The significant amount of time and space necessary for reflection and evaluation is difficult to secure in research contexts outside the university. on the other. what surprises me about the action researches in 575 . Both recognise the reflexivity entailed in the act of observation and share a similar epistemological concern with the role of the researcher as a creator. emotion and interpretation. (The paucity of high quality action research reports detailing the processes and outcomes of teacher-practitioner reflection in general testifies to the complexity of this task. hinges largely on matters of subjectivity. 341) there is an emerging consensus among qualitative–interpretative researchers that such criteria are relative and ought to be tailored to meet the needs of local communities of users. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH developing a shared picture of what all the research team members gain. The action research literature consistently reports that teacher practitioners need training in reflective thinking and how to record it. and accept that the process of perceiving reality is complex. rooted in the discipline base. Both attach importance to feeling. Qualitative research techniques enable them to ‘stay in the thick of things’. Denzin & Lincoln (2002. Another. and. This should help us to develop and refine our own standards and criteria. it is impossible to amass evidence that interventions have a sustainable impact on particular contexts or effect long-term changes in practitioners’ attitudes and practices. postmodern. rooted in their role as classroom teachers. x) describe qualitative research as an interdisciplinary field that cross-cuts the humanities and the social and physical sciences. p. interpretative. positivist and post- positive humanistic and naturalistic conceptions of human experience and analysis. reflection-on-action is inherently problematic because it necessitates participants simultaneously being deeply involved in achieving distance from action and remaining relatively free from other people’s research stakes. A third explanation. feminist and critical sensibility. to more narrowly defined. not just a reporter. Moreover.) Finally. it is drawn to a broad. On the one hand. p. On reflection. solving practical problems. 2002). of findings. One reason is that it obviates the need for them to develop a new range of statistical skills for processing data. Action research is predominantly qualitative (Reason. and understanding and interpreting people.

As long ago as 1966. such as dialogical conversations with internal voices. 185) this kind of emancipatory action research is premised on the idea that teachers hold beliefs that are negated or denied. using materials. • Artistic thinking centres on the production of art and the means and ends of artistic production. social science tradition of research. not words. Artists always think in the qualities of particular media and materials. However. he argued for discrimination between scientific and artistic problem solving on the grounds that they are subject to different kinds of quality controls. These techniques are purported to help teacher-researchers become more aware of the values driving their work and to construct ‘living educational theories’. probably because I am not convinced the two paradigms are compatible. Leitch & Day (2000) write that mind-set. 2005. and the linearity of the problem solving models. and that it takes place in the artistic media of line. drawing or collage work that enable them to access the emotional and symbolic dimensions of teachers’ experience. Moreover. This is surprising given recent developments in cognitive theory and qualitative methodology. attitudes and emotions are increasingly coming to be understood as powerful determinants of thinking and holistic. flow of consciousness recordings. such as wood. such as autobiography. Reflection focuses on ‘explaining present practice in terms of an evaluation of our pasts’ and can be effected through literary/artistic techniques. dialogical conversations. rather than analytical approaches are being mooted as the starting point for development and change. he pointed out that artistic problem solving deals with visual signs and images. According to Leitch & Day (2000. fictional stories or reflective writing in journals. p. (Räsänen. Opportunities to capitalise on our subjective expertise abound given our preferred focus on transforming the values and practices of individuals. David Ecker explicated the artistic process as a form of qualitative problem solving embodying all the stages of reflective thinking that characterise scientific thought. 13) However.Rachel Mason this article is the emphasis on analytical thinking and verbalisation. space and colour. 576 . Specifically: • Whereas it is possible to describe both artistic and scientific thought as processes as a series of problems and their controlled resolution there is a continuity of thought in the artistic problem solution–problem continuum that is grounded in artistic tradition. It seems as if the most significant influences shaping our methodology come from discourse associated with the narrower. poetic and artistic expression. motivation. metal and stone. p. Some practitioner research is replacing traditional methodologies with more artistic/literary techniques. This is very close to Räsänen’s notion of artistic action research: distancing oneself from teaching and making art for the sake of objectivity does not kill creativity: research reports can take the form of visual and verbal narrative characterised by personal. I am more cautious than Räsänen about encouraging art teachers to engage in ‘artistic’ action research.

• Their purposive activity may be conducted entirely in qualities or there may be ordering of theoretical symbols that are not found as elements of the artwork itself. whether about art objects or other subject matter. I know that artists primarily focus on their own experience of phenomena and the world. the research committee that scrutinises and regulates student research proposals. Consequently. and are not good at standing back or looking at them through the medium of theoretical symbols. Unlike some qualitative researchers I do not want to dismiss the stance of objectivity from emanicipatory action research on the grounds that it hampers creativity. According to Ecker: None of the laws of formal logic as such seems to be directly applicable to the qualitative thought of artists. • The doing or making is artistic when the perceived result is of such a nature that its qualities as perceived have controlled the question of production. p. they may look for and find evidence of very different sorts in the same materials. So long as the stance of objectivity continues to dominate the majority of educational working conditions and gate keeping of research. in artistic thinking present and possible qualities are taken as a means or ways of proceeding toward the total quality or qualitative (aesthetic) end in view. art teachers operating on a day-to-day basis with visual forms of communication experience difficulty constructing meaning through writing. • Whereas qualitative (aesthetic) and theoretical (scientific) intelligence operate in all areas of human experience. it is not applicable to the qualitative ordering that yields a piece of sculpture. theses and dissertations at my own university challenges even the narrow more traditional modes of qualitative inquiry. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH • Artists have as their subject matter the qualities of things of direct experience unlike educational researchers who look at them at one remove through the medium of symbols that stand for qualities. On the other hand. 66) From my perspective. 1966. (Ecker. but are nevertheless helpful for the solution of a qualitative problem. Recently my attention was drawn to Denzin & Lincoln's Qualitative Inquiry Reader (2002) that outlines ‘new practices of critical 577 . I find ‘artistic action researches’ presented at educational conferences unpalatable because researchers seem to be manipulating artistic symbols. it may be unwise to ignore it for pragmatic reasons. While logic can order the theoretical symbols used in scientific inquiry and control statements and assertions. At the present time. Discovering the concept of objectivity late in my career made me acutely aware of the limitations of artistic thinking for research. media and techniques. and lack the necessary skills to craft aesthetic-qualitative products. artists and educational researchers work with different kinds of hypotheses.

Candlin. More dialogue between educational action researchers and researchers in art and design could prove fruitful. & Manion. Anderson. Candlin. 578 . 12-21. 2000). Correspondence Rachel Mason. Acknowledgements I am grateful to the three art educators concerned for permission to use their studies to reflect on educational action research methodology. There is a growing body of writing about practice-based research in art and design (McNiff. 28(5). M. Centre for Art Education and International Research.ac. Blatherwick. 9. auto-ethnography and performance narrative that my student researchers might find easier to deal with and enjoy. United Kingdom (r. 96-101. (1986) Index of British Studies in Art and Design Education. 1998. The old excuse that the regulation and dominance of verbal symbols and words in educational research militates against art teachers reflecting on visual arts-based actions and ways of reporting outcomes is no longer tenable. (1999) The New Paradigm Wars: is there room for rigorous practitioner knowledge in schools and universities? Educational Researcher. Centre for Art Education and International Research. Roehampton Lane. Roehampton University. pp. Journal of Art and Design Education. & Herr.mason@roehampton. K.uk). M. Au. Faculty of Education. open up exciting possibilities for them to explore ways of integrating their discipline into action research methodology. E. (2000) Practise Based Doctorates and Questions of Academic Legitimacy. is that I should introduce these practices into education research methods courses and debate them with colleagues. The tools and forms of communication being introduced into educational research methodology right now. pp. International Journal of Art and Design Education. such as image making. 10. unpublished PhD thesis. B. Denscombe. (1998) The Potential for Increasing Intercultural Understanding through Critical Analysis of Children’s Cultural Images. metaphor and autobiography. 4th edn. unpublished PhD thesis. London SW15 5PJ. References Allison. (1991) The Art of Research: art teachers’ affinity with ethnography. Cohen. L. 271-280. G.Rachel Mason qualitative inquiry’. (1994) Research Methods in Education. Roehampton University. L. therefore. Roehampton University. (2002) Developing Criteria for Good Teaching In Hong Kong. F. Aldershot: Gower. London: Croom Helm. pp. The conclusion. such as ethnographic poetics.

unpublished PhD thesis. A. R. S. Kemmis. L. (2002) The Qualitative Inquiry Reader. (2000) Prejudice Reduction in Teaching and Learning Portuguese Cultural Patrimony. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. Centre for Art Education and International Research. P. 13(5). & McTaggart. W.W. pp. Eisner. Eisner. (1999) Narratives of Self: reflection from an action research study. Elliott. N. Reason. 8. Moura. in ELIA (Ed. London: Sage. New York: Basic Books. (2000) Action Research and Reflective Practice: towards a holistic view. Ecker. pp. R. (1998) Four Historical Models of Art Education. London: Jessica Kingsley. (2000) Ethical Dilemmas in Designing Collaborative Research: lessons learned the hard way. Educational Action Research. Buckingham: Open University Press. Goldstein. S. (1994) Is Action Research a ‘Natural’ Process For Teachers? Educational Action Research. (1998) Art-based Research. November 1. 1(1). Ecker (Eds) Readings in Art Education. D. 39-48. Geelong: Deakin University. in E. Elliot & D. McNiff. (1966) The Artistic Process as Qualitative Problem Solving. E. Cardiff University. Waltham: Blaisdell.A. Educational Action Research. 3rd edn. International Journal of Education through Art. Y. Marin. & Lincoln. R. ART TEACHERS AND ACTION RESEARCH Denzin. 317-330. Leitch.) Cahiers: art and education. M. & Day. P. S. (1988) The Action Research Planner. Johnston. (1991) The Enlightened Eye: qualitative inquiry and the enhancement of educational practice. 179-193. 85-103. (2005) Multi-rolled and Skilled Teachers of Art. Qualitative Studies in Education. James. pp. 9. pp. pp. J. 7. Roehampton University. Brussels: Hogeschool Sint-Lukas. D. C. Räsänen. Schön. (2002) Unpublished paper. 579 . (1991) Action Research for Educational Change. New York: Macmillan. 53-63. Conference on Action Research.

Rachel Mason 580 .