In the fashion industry, art directors and designers are often challenged with conducting research that explores contemporary society and its trends.
The inspiration behind a new collection or look could derive from an exploration of the “zeitgeist” or the spirit of the time.
Researching these intangible and subjective feelings poses many challenges, and both researchers (academics) and practitioners (business managers) find that traditional academic research tools are not attuned to this task.
Traditional academic literature or even qualitative research methodologies could be not suitable to tap into feelings, and moods that define a fashion season, or people’s experiences of life.
What can one do to explore these feelings and experiences?
In this post, we’re looking at a way to overcome this challenge by exploring a less traditional division of academic research: art-based research.
This approach is capable of crossing over the formal limitations of academia and assisting designers to collect the evidence they need to create a new lookbook.
With no further ado, let’s look into it.
What Is Art-Based Research?
To start with a definition we can say that the basic principle of art-based research is the incorporation of art-making into the research process.
Art is a language and a form of communication. By using art as a research tool, it’s possible to tap into subjective experiences and find a language to communicate the human dimension very effectively.
Moreover, art can be used as a means of transformation.
Participants in art-based research could paint a picture or express themselves in a more unconventional way.
In some form of artistic expression, the use of art can lead to making the research process, an integral part of the artistic outcome of the project.
Now that we’ve defined what art-based research is, let’s look at some ways in which this research approach can be implemented.
How Does It Differ From More Conventional Research Approaches?
As we start discussing implementation approaches to art-based research, it can be helpful to describe similarities and differences with other research approaches.
Differences between art-based research and other research approaches can be found in 4 distinct stages of research development.
Literature Review. In the stage of the literature review, the one designed to chart and explore a research question by tapping into existing sources, we can see how art-based research expands the breadth of the sources available. These may now include personal documents, self-published literature, creative literature.
This is helpful to navigate artistic production, or artwork that does not fall, traditionally, in the realm of academic literature.
Research Designs. In terms of research designs or graphic representation of the researcher’s perspective or understanding of the subject matter, we see how more visual tools are available, in order to provide a more subjective reading of the information. These designs can include spidergrams, mind maps, timelines.
This can help to emphasize how the focus of the research will be based on the researcher’s individual understanding and reading of the sources analyzed.
Data Gathering. When discussing research methodologies, or the primary data acquisition stage of research, we see that art-based research has a few additional approaches available. Among them we can include: enhanced interviewing, poetic inquiry, journals, mapping, drawing, painting, etc.
Data Analysis. Finally, coming to the analysis stage of the research process we can see art in action, displaying the full potential of the research being conducted, as it is analyzed, processed, and displayed through artistic means such as screenplay writing, poetic inquiry, metaphor analysis, etc.
As this latter stage of research is the one that best captures the innovative and unconventional approach of the subject, we’re going to provide more examples in the next section of the post.
What Are Some Examples of Art-Based Research Approaches?
Looking in more depth into how art-based research can be implemented, what kind of approaches can be included in this research approach?
Let’s list some of the most common examples:
Visual Arts. Art-based approaches could feature drawing, painting, collage, etc.
Performative Arts. e.g. theatre, dance, etc.
Written Arts. e.g. poetry, creative prose
More Mix-Media Examples. e.g. video, photography, film, storytelling
Artists can use art to build a narrative, to find a means for participant self-expression, art could be used as a projective technique or as a means to tap into life experiences.
All in all, we can see that art-based approaches to research are able to broaden the perspectives on self-expression available to creative researchers, but there are some challenges when using these tools as well.
As we’re going to discuss in our next post section, we should be aware of the strengths and limitations that come with this research approach.
What Are Some Of Its Strengths and Weaknesses?
Now that we’ve clarified what art-based research entails, let’s discuss some of its strengths and weaknesses.
Facilitation of description of experiences. Using art-based research can allow broadening the avenues available to describe personal experiences which are hard to address in conventional writing.
Communicate emotional aspects of experiences. Emotional aspects of personal experiences can be hard to communicate and art-based research allows for a broader set of tools for this goal.
It can be providing a voice. Last but not least, the researcher can identify his\her own voice as the research progresses, as looser regulated research can lead to many more insights into the researcher’s identity.
Validity and reliability. Because of the fact that this research structure is looser, it can be hard to make art-based research valid or reliable in comparison to other types of qualitative or quantitative research.
It can be political. Becuase of the personal and experiential self-reflection, art-based research can develop a strong political association, which makes it personal but not objective.
Dismissed by conservative researchers. Despite its potential, at this time, because of the lack of validity (measure what we want to measure) or reliability (making the research provide similar results if conducted in similar circumstances) traditional academia is still dismissive of this practice.
Great! Now that we’ve covered all relevant areas, let’s move towards our conclusive remarks.
There you have it. In this post, we’ve looked at art-based research as a means to explore the intangible “zeitgeist” or spirit of the time that is so essential in fashion.
We’ve discussed how art-based research differs from more conventional forms of research in every stage of the research journey: from the literature review to the data acquisition and analysis, expanding the researcher’s opportunities for self-expression.
As we’ve seen art-based research i’s essentially a qualitative research form, resulting in emotionally evocative expressions, developing empathy.
Even if it is hard to validate, it can be credible and allow methodological pluralism, by building on multiple perspectives.
If you’d like to explore the subject further and read about other approaches to research in fashion and in the creative industries, do not hesitate to look into our blog, where we share a wealth of content on fashion and business research. Enjoy!