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How can I make sense and Crane
meaning out of qualitative
fieldwork and community art?
Can I make work that is congrent
with the pressures of the academy? What
about stuff that is accessible??? Texts for
audiences beyond the ivory tower??? What about Activism, Art, and Public Scholarship
real social change? WHat about policy? What about art?
What about others??????????????
Ahem... I real are some is
l s
want ty care aboutues that
o leave .I
t ch
when I them b don’t
h go to ehi
t c work. nd

I miss
my kids

re 1 ren
e a d
Ther on chil t in
pa ren
h a
wit n

system is and and

broken or 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 in-
side 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

I I should
shouldn’t be be working on
painting I that painting
should be working not sitting here in
on that article the library

one will
This it is read this
painting hard to anyway...
won’t paint &write
change I just can’t
anything focus
should I

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.
two years later...
I watched
American Maybe I
could draw


I devoured comics?
The New
Anthology: From comics are the
Off the Streets perfect way to make
Then the women at the
in 2003 of Cleveland
prison visible-literally.
it hit ... I think I can do this...
(and every other
me! non-fiction comic I already teach it!
I could find). 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.

is so far from

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 interview-
ing 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

Tina S.
She smells
like Indian 1:16 pm
food, and

The common areas of the living units are always Sorry, lunch
crowded and they often smell like popcorn. I am was nasty ch
hyper aware of my own smell and appearance crun
when I visit the prison. crun
1:27 pm I
love to paint.
It really helps me...
Prison is stressful. Drawing makes my hand
Now my “visible” within the text.
family thinks of
me as an Image, text, and
artist. Not just sequence make the
a tweaker. silences visible. They help
the viewer feel the time
between moments.

1:43 pm

1:44 pm
of me are proud
1:45 pm

Ahh ha...
Wow. Where
did that
come from?
ave bee
Later at home... Must h I ate
10:27 pm somethi
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

panel 2: the next Significant moment

Narration Panel: The disembodied voice of the researcher. This can be
GUtter= Time
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 Uh...well as long as you can get them
when it is done within the confines of the ivory tower... published in peer-reviewed journals or by
I just wanted to Oh, sure --We have reputable university presses.
talk to you about my several scholars on
promotion dossier...I campus who write
want to shift the about comics.
focus of my scholar-
good luck...
ship to comics. with that one!

No... to
n I want
a ite
I me & wr
dr a w
The Dean’s Office comic
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...



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

Meda Chesney-Lind, Graeme Sullivan, Lucy Lippard, John Dewey, June King McFee, Ellen Dissanayake, Myles Horton, Carolyn Ellis, Liora B
In feminist circles, the most common expression of action is found in intention:
Susanne Langer, Suzi Gablik, Jane Addams, Joe Saccco, Howard Zinn, Annie Dillard, Buzz Alexander, Lori Pompa, Tom Barone, Olivia Gude, bell Hooks
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

iot Eisne
Ell r

k Ma
oo ry


u tF


If we indeed know more

than we can tell,
then we should try telling
Imagination, intention: Neither is what we know with
sufficient. There must be a transmutation of anything that will carry
good will, of what I call wide-awakeness into the message forward.
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, I never
to begin to make them so. 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
Hopefully they will
Comics challenge what traditional
d no idea e a 14 change the law... Think about
scholarship looks like. I don’t want a
I h could giv
to divorce my radical politics from hey fe what we can do to make others
my life in academia. that t year old a li ! aware of situations like hers.
Don’t ce
worry I
be back
week an
can finis we
h our

I will always I will try to insprie

work outside of students to make the
the university. world a better place.

w ill I will strive to

s I d. produce
s e
g ue e bor democratic
texts that
I er b scholars can
nev embrace and
people who are
not part of
academia will
want to
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?

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,

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).
Rachel Williams nal/v005n001/.
*a special thanks to Lois Ahrens, Jefri Palermo,
15NH University of Iowa Sean Kelley, Lori Pompa, Linda Haack, the women at
Art Education ICIW, and students in GWSS.
Iowa City, IA