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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

Arts-based and embodied research reporting (Chapter 10)

Reflections on chapter 10 of 'Creative Research Methods' by Helen Kara



Kara begins this chapter by emphasising that ‘arts practices are embodied practices’ (page 163), because they focus on emotions and experience of our own or other people’s bodies. I think this is especially so for performance art, which uses the human body to physically deliver the creative practice (and in my case vocal chords and hands to create music) but it is also the case for visual artwork which explores emotional responses.

 

Kara states that ‘some quantitative researchers struggle to communicate their research in writing, so too do some artistic researchers. As this book demonstrates, many artistic researchers understand that their artistic practice is a form of research and that it can make a significant contribution to research’ (page 166). If I am honest, I never really considered my creative practice as involving research until I started my ‘Brexiles’ project, which used the conventional research approach of conducting interviews with participants. And it is only through reading and learning about practice-led research that I have begun to understand how much of my creative practice could also be considered as research.

 

Kara focuses specifically on creative writing, explaining how ‘much of the most engaging writing is embodied, because it ‘affirms human life as embedded in the sensual world in which we live our lives’ (Anderson 2001: 83)’ (page 167). As someone who writes song lyrics to express sentiment and emotion, I can really relate to this point. As an English literature student I always preferred to analyse poetry to prose, because the rich imagery, metaphor, rhythm and literary devises which saturate this form of writing connected with me on a deeper level. Kara adds ‘poetry can be formed or extracted from data, like the I-poems constructed by Edwards and Weller (2012)’ (page 173) which is something I specifically want to try from my research interviews – but I also want to consider how my research could inform future song-writing (which is basically the same as writing a poem).

 

 

Kara lists the concept and practice of embodied writing which was developed by US psychologist Rosemarie Anderson, which I aim to consider in the future when writing my song-lyrics, as well as my blog posts:

‘1. It contains true-to-life, vivid depictions intended to invite sympathetic resonance in the readers or audience.

2. It includes internal and external data as necessary to relay the experience.

3. It is written specifically from the inside out, guided by the body’s perceptual matrix to concrete and specific language.

4. It is richly concrete and specific, descriptive of all sensory modalities and often slowed down to capture nuance.

5. It is attuned to the living body and the sensuality of the physical environment.

6. It includes personal narratives, often in the first person.

7. It uses literary devices, although as subordinate to vivid accounts of lived experience.’ (pages 167-168)

 

Kara then goes on to discuss the topic of feedback which felt especially pertinent given that we have just received feedback on our unit 1 assessments, ‘receiving feedback on your research writing… can be a daunting experience… To use feedback creatively, seek it at an early stage, from someone who can and will discuss it with you to help you improve… Try not to be defensive; rather, be open to suggestions and ideas – although of course the final decision is yours. Good feedback, helpfully offered, can help you to improve your writing and your research work far more – and more creatively – than you could achieve alone’ (page 168). I agree with everything she writes here and usually try to practice these suggestions in my working life. I am the first to admit, I don’t always get things right and I am very keen to receive suggestions from people with more experience and understanding on my work. However, as someone who regularly receives unsolicited criticism (usually from older men) of my work on social media, I am also mindful not to value everyone’s opinions, especially feedback from people with no relevant expertise.

 

Kara also gives advice on giving feedback to others, ‘don’t spend ages correcting typos of grammar, just make a passing comment if there are a significant number of errors. Instead, think about what could be improved and how this could be done. Is the narrative coherent? Does it flow well? Do the arguments make sense? Is the structure helpful? Are there any specific flaws such as unnecessary repetition or waffle?’ (page 168). I regularly get sent documents to proofread as a native English speaker, so I think I have an impulse to spell and grammar check everything diligently – so, I need to make sure that I differentiate this process to providing feedback, if I am ever asked to do so.

 

Kara states that ‘finding the right ‘voice’ is part of the creative process of writing’ (page 169) which is something I have considered a lot in my work. Especially recently, I have been editing scripts for a podcast series on AI – in which my voice as a narrator is quite important. I have had to consider in-depth the tone of the podcast, and removed turns-of-phrase which seem out-dated, corny or overused and think carefully about what is an appropriate level of personal narrative to include in the script without becoming too informal. It is also something I consider a lot through my music writing, as authenticity is tantamount to my creative practice.

 

Kara then discusses a fiction writing - which I often struggle to engage with – watching and reading, almost exclusively, non-fiction and documentaries. ‘Stories are an economical way to communicate ideas, emotions and experience directly and vividly, to make sense of complex situations and to share knowledge (Gabriel and Connell 2010: 507-8). There is evidence that reading fictional stories influences the way people feel and think (Djikic et al 2009:27). Yet creative writing has conventionally been seen as separate academic writing but more recently this division has been described as ‘perplexing’ by academic writers (Young and Avery 2006: 97)’ (page 171). It’s not to say I never read or watch fiction; I loved reading Middle England by Jonathan Coe – which deconstructs the social turmoil in the UK around the Brexit vote through a fictionalised narrative; as a child, Animal Farm by George Orwell was one of my favourite films (even though I cried every time they sent Boxer to the glue factory); and I recently watched an incredible gritty social commentary musical, ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ about Sheffield’s Park Hill Estate – which also brought me to tears. But I often find fiction too detached from the messy reality and complexity of our lives to engage with it in any meaningful way. And I myself have written children’s fiction to be used as an educational tool – so it’s not that I can’t see its potential – it’s more that I think it is often done so badly, or in such a trite and frivolous way that I am left feeling disappointed.

 

Kara goes on to say, ‘Some writers argue that conventional academic writing conveys less about human experience than more creative approaches (for example, Tamas 2010: Kara 2013). And it is certainly the case that creative approaches such as fiction evoke more emotion in readers than non-fiction writing, even when the level of interest is the same (Djikic et al 2009: 27). I’m not sure I entirely agree with her, as I am often gripped by non-fiction text and documentaries – but perhaps that is because I have a deep-rooted curiosity to understand the human psyche and behaviour – there is something far more compelling to me about real people’s stories than those of imaginary people. This is probably why I want to examine my participant’s personal stories through my research project to understand the wider social barriers to inclusion in society.

 

Kara writes, ‘the kind of reflexive thinking required to keep a research journal has been found to promote creativity (Cohen and Ferrari 2010: 71), so, for researchers wishing to be more creative, a journal can be very helpful.’ (page 172) Our reflective blogs are a great opportunity for us to interrogate our own thinking and working practices, and part of that process is exposing our flaws, limitations and areas for improvement. So, Kara’s next point made me chuckle a bit, ‘there is a convention in academic writing that authors should reveal some of their uncertainties, such as the problems they encountered during the research process, and some of the limitations of their research. But even this is cloaked in a sense of certainty: as if everything that could be revealed has been revealed. The words ‘author’, ‘authority’ and ‘authoritative’ are closely linked’ (page 171-172). I think for this reason, most people would describe them selves as the “writer of a blog’ rather than the “author of a blog”- because who proudly declares themselves as an “authority” on their own internal ramblings?

 

Kara then elaborates, ‘journals can be entirely private, for the researcher’s own use; entirely public, as in an openly accessible blog; or part private, part public’ (page 173). This point is particularly important for me to consider, as my blog is embedded into my artist’s website and some of my blog posts have reached over 60 views, I am very aware that I am writing for a public audience. However, more recently there have been somethings which I have wanted to write about which I would not be happy to be publicly available and therefore I am censoring myself. So, I am trying to figure out a solution; if it’s possible to make some posts password protected or if there is another way to publish content that is not publicly accessible.  

 

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