Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized. “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. -Wiki
Well HELLO again!
Although I’ve been missing in action here on the blog, I want to assure you that I’ve not been missing from the practice (praxis?) of my research. I’ve been working for some time now on my methodology comprehensive exam (quite some time now..really). I am thrilled to report that, yesterday, I submitted that exam. (Happy, happy me today!)
I have a intelligent supervisor; perhaps that may read as redundant statement but let me explain. As a precondition of research, comprehensive exams are characteristic of many PhD programs. As many of you already know, they are an achievement which the majority of doctoral candidates are required to complete prior to undertaking their official research project. The objective of the exams, is for the candidate to demonstrate to their committees that they are in possession of adequate subject-area knowledge to undertake their planned research. The exam question topics can range widely. They may touch on nearly any subject which the committee perceives to be within the breadth of the candidates intended research field.
My wise supervisor directed my assessors to please craft questions which would – later on – double as draft chapters for my thesis. The first was a literature review question (as many are already aware if you’ve been following for the last year) and the second, a question related to arts-based research methodology. (Brilliant of her, I know!) My supervisor effectively saw to the consolidation of my research efforts. For all intents and purposes, I should be blowing through this PhD, no!?!
I knew from the earliest days of my candidacy that I wanted to use my art practice to lead my research. To use academic terminology, this is called ‘adopting Practice-led Research Methodologies’. Linda Candy (of the Creativity & Cognition Studios at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia) describes what such a combination of art&thesis could look like in doctoral research. The paper is called, Practice-base Research: A Guide, (*note: When Candy refers to “outcomes” at the end of the following quote, she is referring to the design, music, digital media, performance and exhibition examples from earlier in the quote.)
In a doctoral thesis, claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes in the form of designs, music, digital media, performances and exhibitions. Whilst the significance and context of the claims are described in words, a full understanding can only be obtained with direct reference to the outcomes. (Candy, 2006, p. 1)
This is my research question:
How might art students’ sense of community-participation, belonging, and collaboration deepen if “introductory” or ‘survey’ courses in visual arts were to incorporate into the curriculum more feminized materials and making practices such as quilting, cooking?
Through my research, I would like investigate feminized materials and making practices (frequently also referred to as ‘home-based’ crafts, or ‘textiles’ and ‘baking’). This is in large part because of the collaborative and community-minded nature of the work from many of those areas. This is where the work, or word “praxis” comes into my story..
As I undertook the first exam, I made my literature review answer. You might remember ‘Literature Review Quilt’. It took many months of work to complete the exam.
A re-write was requested of me for that first literature comprehensive exam. I had much to learn about academic writing. Below are images of the resulting second package (the USB stick containing the text portion of the exam is wrapped in grey to look like a spool of thread. The ‘folder’ is made from an unfinished -vintage- baby quilt which I found at a thrift store and finished myself).
These responses to the literature exam, both in making and writing, were extremely time consuming for me. This fact was both something that was fulfilling for me at the in time, and conversely, a source of great anxiety as other students from my cohort quickly began to move stages past me with their research. The ‘slowness’ of my chosen methodology, practice-led research, remains a difficult self esteme issue; speed of task completion is so often perceived to be indicative of a student’s intelligence and even the quality accomplishment but I try to remember that the potential rewards are great, and that in the end it is what I believe in doing.
As I continued on with my first comprehensive exam, I was reminded of the paper “A Suitcase as a PhD? -Exploring the Potential of Travelling Containers to Articulate the Multiple Facets of a Research Thesis” by Professor Daria Loi. In this paper Loi warns Arts-based researchers considering Practice-led researcher methodologies that they may be about to “undertake an engaging journey that could be more demanding (in time and effort) than a traditional thesis” (2004, p. 8). She also points out in that paper that researchers engaged in practice-led research methods may find that they are able to,
Expand content beyond what can be expressed in words; unfold and clarify concepts on multilayered levels; [.] construct personal meanings and connections between provided items; develop several layers of meaning that go beyond those fostered by text-based works; be open to the idea of generating an asynchronous dialogue with author and future readers; entertain making as well as reading, thinking and reflecting activities; [.] develop ways to access content which are ad hoc and different from those required by text-based theses [.] (Lois. 2004, pp. 8).
I read these words by Daria Loi as demonstration that things were – in fact – not going ‘wrong’ with my work simply because they are going slowly, and as further affirmation of the necessity for me to continue to employ practice-led research methodology to my research exams.
I am dedicated to researching the ideas of (and opportunities for) community and collaboration in art. I feel that I can best investigate these areas by participating in and with them. In short, this means participating in quilting and knitting groups, working collaboratively, and continuing to insist that creative output does have an important role to play in academic research. Sharing my experiences, knowledge and genuine affection for making with others as I go; praxis. I got it.
This might otherwise also be understood as ‘putting your money where your mouth is’, or ‘seeking to lead by example’. Which is exactly why I was appalled (and admittedly embarrassed) by my initial feelings of being “too busy with my methodology exam” to answer ArtsNB’s recent call for makers to create handmade tuques as gifts for new residents to New Brunswick from Syria. Basically I caught ‘yours truly’ excusing myself from a request to use my knitting skills in support of this community cause because I was “busy” with my research – that’s just too rich, i know.. The duplicitous nature of that initial thought was such a powerful reminder to me of how, at times, a person may become so preoccupied by stress and/or the expectations of others (be they real or perceived) that they run the risk of loosing sight of what they are fundamentally about.
So, that brings me to today; the morning after I’ve handed in my Methodology exam. I’ve just started attending the Friday Knifty Knitters group at the Fredericton Public Library last week, and I’m happy to report that I should be finished this tuque in time for the ArtsNB donations deadline at the end of this month. 😉
And as for the results of my second exam, and my research as it continues on.. Well, maybe just send some encouraging thoughts my way periodically as I plod along. Someday, I’m sure that you’ll hear I’ve defended the PhD! 😉
Oh, and I’d love to see you at the next Knifty Knitters meeting at the library!
Ps. I also grabbed some time today to make these easy-to-hold crayons for my creative little niece Adeline!