How can I make sense and

fieldwork and community art?
with the pressures of the academy? What
about stuff that is accessible??? Texts for audiences beyond the ivory tower??? What about
real social change? WHat about policy? What about art? What about others??????????????

meaning out of qualitative


By Rachel Marie Crane

Can I make work that is congrent

Activism, Ar and Public Scholarship t,
crit ch s t scra



I miss my kids

There I real are some is s ly want t care aboutues that .I o leave them b don’t when I ehi go to work. nd

.5 re 1 ren e a d Ther on chil t in n li pare mil h a wit n o pris

Our Justice system is broken
and or

and or

Can I combine activism, scholarship and artmaking in a way that, “Contribute(s) to the public good and yield(s) artifacts of public and intellectual value” (Ellison &Eatman, 2008)?

Since 1995, I have worked as an artist and scholar in women’s prisons. I can’t imagine not doing this work. Until recently, I never made art work that was about my experiences inside the prison walls. I reserved those experiences for my writing as a scholar. But I have always found the impact of scholarly publications to be frustrating. The number of people that read scholarly publications is limited mostly to people who holdpositions in academia similar to mine. While they might find my research interesting or informative, rarely does it seem to change the way they perceive the world. Years ago, I came to a point where showing my artwork in galleries and museums was not particularly gratifying. People often experience art as precious, off limits, or removed a few degrees from the nitty gritty of everyday life. It might be beautiful or inspiring but rarely are people actually moved beyond the moment of contemplation.

I shouldn’t be painting I should be working on that article

I should be working on that painting not sitting here in the library No one will read this anyway...

This painting won’t change anything

it is hard to paint &write I just can’t focus

what should I do? My life in academia was filled with clouds of doubt-Well... that’s a little dramatic-- but I did lose sleep over how to satisfy the requirements of my job at a research university, make art, and make a worthwhile contribution that might bring about a change in the prison system and the public’s perception of people who are incarcerated.

Then in 2003 it hit me!

I watched American Splendor... Next... I devoured The New American Splendor Anthology: From Off the Streets of Cleveland ...
(and every other non-fiction comic I could find).

two years later...

Maybe I could draw comics?

comics are the perfect way to make the women at the prison visible-literally. I think I can do this... I already teach it! Why not?!

Yep! I have three grandsons and one granddaughter. These are photos from the last time they came for visit. It was almost three months ago. They live in Omaha. One of them just started school.

Omaha is so far from here...

Making comics that bear witness to the lives of women in prison requires an approach to data collection that differs a bit from traditional qualitative methods. I bring in a recording device a pen and paper. I do a number of preliminary sketches and collect lots of stories through sustained interviewing until a theme and images begin to emerge. Sometimes these themes are around common issues such as mothering; other times they are based on an experience taken from my time spent in the prison as a facilitator of arts and humanities classes or gender and Women’s Studies programs.



Comics allow me to succintly share the sounds, sights and even smells of prison, as well as the conversations and body language ofthe women I meet.

1:15 pm Unit 4 8/18/09

She smells like Indian food, and perfume
The common areas of the living units are always crowded and they often smell like popcorn. I am

Tina S.


1:16 pm

hyper aware of my own smell and appearance when I visit the prison. 1:27 pm I love to paint. It really helps me... Prison is stressful.

Sorry, lunch was nasty

ch crun crun ch

Now my family thinks of me as an artist. Not just a tweaker.

Drawing makes my hand “visible” within the text. Image, text, and sequence make the silences visible. They help the viewer feel the time between moments.

1:43 pm 1:44 pm

of me are proud again.


1:45 pm

Ahh ha... Wow. Where did that come from?

Later at home... 10:27 pm

n ave bee Must h I ate ng somethi h! at lunc

After these encounters it often takes me weeks to digest the data I have collected. I often write it up as a way to analyze what happened and what it means. Next I start to break the stories I collect down into discrete and important moments, sentences, gestures, sounds, and expressions. Finally I return to my field sketches and try to create a graphic account that embodies my experience.

Images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent...images are more precise than literature. To say this is not to deny the expressive or imaginative quality of art, treating it as mere documentary evidence; the more imaginative the work, the more profoundly it allows us to share the artist’s experience of the visible.

John Berger

Comics offer so many opportunities to make visible nuances that would be difficult and perhaps less powerful if they were respresented by words alone.

Basic Anatomy of a Comic in Qualitative ResearcH

Narration Panel: The disembodied voice of the researcher. This can be written in past, present, or future tense and might be written in first, second, or third person. But, this work is not without it’s own set of challenges when it is done within the confines of the ivory tower...
I just wanted to talk to you about my promotion dossier...I want to shift the focus of my scholarship to comics. Oh, sure --We have several scholars on campus who write about comics. Uh...well as long as you can get them published in peer-reviewed journals or by reputable university presses.

The Dean’s Office

No... o ant t n I w rite a I me &w draw ics. com

panel 2: the next Significant moment
good luck... with that one!

GUtter= Time

Trying to be a facilitator, artist, abolitionist, activist and scholar in prisons has always been a delicate balancing act between satisfyilng my academic institution, working to shed a critical light on a system that is terribly flawed and maintaining a strong relationship with the institution and the women. My ability to go inside the prison depends on trust and institutional support from my university and the prison. one wrong step... think...balance... breathe

Oh Crap! Crap!


It is Like inching across a tightrope sometimes I waiver, but then I breathe and remind myself to keep trying to slowly and carefully put one foot in front of the other.

Susanne Langer, Suzi Gablik, Jane Addams, Joe Saccco, Howard Zinn, Annie Dillard, Buzz Alexander, Lori Pompa, Tom Barone, Olivia Gude, bell Hooks

Ella Baker, Stephen Hartnett, Shaul Cohen, Lois Ahrens, Mary Cohen, Carolyn Colvin, Steve McGuire, Tim Tyson

In feminist circles, the most common expression of action is found in intention: the aim of feminist research is liberation. This emancipatory impuse can be found in positions ranging from a radical insistence that the purpose of research is total transformation of patriarchy and corresponding empowerment of women, to the more liberal insistence that specific attention be paid to policy implications of research on women

Meda Chesney-Lind, Graeme Sullivan, Lucy Lippard, John Dewey, June King McFee, Ellen Dissanayake, Myles Horton, Carolyn Ellis, Liora B

iot Eisne r Ell

hA .C











tF on ow



Imagination, intention: Neither is sufficient. There must be a transmutation of good will, of what I call wide-awakeness into action. Both demand reflection and praxis, which are inseparable from each other. Both not only imagine things as if they could be otherwise, but move persons to begin on their own initiatives, to begin to make them so.

If we indeed know more than we can tell, then we should try telling what we know with anything that will carry the message forward. I never forget that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. There are lots of scholars and artists who have walked the tightrope before me.

axine G r




Comics challenge what traditional scholarship looks like. I don’t want to divorce my radical politics from my life in academia.

Don’t worry I ’ll be back next week an d can finis we h our mural.

idea ad no uld give a 14 I h co fe hey that t year old a li ! ce senten

Hopefully they will change the law... Think about what we can do to make others aware of situations like hers.

I will always work outside of the university.

I will try to insprie students to make the world a better place.

l wil I . ss ored e gu be b I er nev

I will strive to produce democratic texts that scholars can embrace and people who are not part of academia will want to consume.

People who are incarcerated need people from the outside to bear witness to their struggles, remorse, and endless punishment through our justice and social system. “What is just? What is justice?” What does the spectrum between vengnence and forgiveness look like? All of these things are worthwhile...I guess I better keep my pencils sharp for the time being. Hmmm... I wonder if the IRB will ever return my phone calls about comics and research?

References: Berger, John. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books (p.10). Ellison, Julie & Eatman, Timothy. (2008). Scholarship in public: Knowledge creation and tenure policy in the engaged university. www.imaginingameri Eisner, Elliot. (2008). Art and Knowledge. In J. Gary Knowles and Andra L. Cole eds. Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, (pp. 3-12). Fonow, Mary Margaret, and Judith A. Cook. 1991a. “Back to the Future.” In Fonow and Cook 1991b, 35–59. Greene, Maxine (2010). Prologue. In The Journal of Educational Controversy: Art, Social Imagina tion, Democratic Education, a Special Issue Dedicated to Maxine Greene. (v.5) (1) (Winter). nal/v005n001/. *a special thanks to Lois Ahrens, Jefri Palermo, Sean Kelley, Lori Pompa, Linda Haack, the women at ICIW, and students in GWSS.

Rachel Williams 15NH University of Iowa Art Education Iowa City, IA 52333

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