Art-based research

Art-based research

Art-based research

Art-based research is a mode of formal qualitative inquiry that uses artistic processes in order to understand and articulate the subjectivity of human experience.[1][2][3]

The term was first coined by Elliot Eisner (1933 - 2014) who was a professor of Art and Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and one of the United States' leading academic minds.[4][5] Eisner used the term 'art-based research' as the title of a conference presentation held at Stanford University in 1993.[6][7][8][9]

Subsequently, the concept of art-based research was defined by Shaun McNiff, professor of Creative Arts Therapies at Lesley College, as 'the systematic use of the artistic process, the actual making of artistic expressions in all of the different forms of the arts, as a primary way of understanding and examining experience by both researchers and the people that they involve in their studies.'[10] It was later additionally defined as 'research that uses the arts, in the broadest sense, to explore, understand, represent and even challenge human action and experience'.[11]

Many practitioners of art-based research trace the origins of their approach to the work of German arts theorist and psychologist Rudolf Arnheim,[12][13] and American philosopher Susanne Langer,[14][15] both of whom elucidated the use of artistic experimentation and production as a means by which to acquire and document knowledge about the art, the artist, and its audience, inspiring a range of academic programs that facilitated students in using the process of making art, including performance, painting, and music as the means by which to understand the nature of human experience, teaching, and learning.[16]

Arts-Based research is closely related to and is often paired with Action Research, Participatory Action Research and Community-Based Participatory Research methodologies.[17]  

Feminist Arts-Based Research

Feminist arts-based research draws on the principles of the feminist movement and feminist art, committed to gender equality as it intersects with the vast array of social life and social justice issues. Feminist arts-based research requires researchers to critically reflect on their practice and positionally as artists and researchers. As Karen Keifer-Boyd states, feminist arts-based research “examines gender inequalities manifested in different forms of privilege and oppression, and exposes the pervasiveness of gender entangled with race and class in structuring social life.”[18]

Queer Arts-Based Research

Drawing on queer studies and theory as well the historical artistic activism of the LGBT movements such as Act Up or the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, queer arts-based research seeks to question and deconstruct normative binaries, hetero- and cis-normativity, and make space for queer ways of knowing and being in the world. The Oxford Research Encyclopedias on Communication state that queer arts-based research “allows individuals to question the taken-for-granted conventions that shape social understanding of gender, sex, and sexuality in a subjective and participatory way."[19]

Disability Arts-Based Research

Disability arts-based research focuses on addressing negative ideology regarding disability through building knowledge from and with people with disabilities, and challenge discourses about disabled people without their involvement. Following the values of the disability rights movement, researchers and participants engaging in disability arts-based research are committed to maintain voice, agency, and dignity for disabled people.


Expanding on Eisner's ideas, researchers in Canada developed a discipline they named 'a/r/tography', a hybrid form of practice-based research within education and the arts.[20][21][22] A/R/Tography stands for (a)rtmaking, (r)esearching, and (t)eaching. It is a popular methodology for artists, teachers and makers in which A/R/Tography transforms information and the relationships between art-making, research and theory in order to inform the public on various issues. For example, Australian artist, art theorist, and educator, Graeme Sullivan, states that, “Arts-informed researchers, [Artographers], and the like, have a similar interest in schools, community and culture, but their focus is on developing the practitioner-researcher who is capable of imaginative and insightful inquiry”[23]

Further developments in arts-based approaches as a means of communicating complex research ideas from diverse research sources have been a component of this innovation, merging the domains of arts-based research and knowledge translation research in the health science and the social sciences. This domain of arts-based knowledge translation has been developed by Mandy Archibald, assistant professor and interdisciplinary artist at the University of Manitoba and others.[24]

Today, art-based research is employed not only in arts education, but also in health care, management, the social and behavioral sciences, and the technology sector.[25][26][27][28][29][30]


  1. Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln. Strategies of qualitative inquiry. Vol. 2. Sage, 2008.
  2. Savin-Baden, Maggi, and Claire Howell-Major. Qualitative Research: The Essential Guide to Theory and Practice. Routledge (2013).
  3. Baden, Maggi Savin, and Katherine Wimpenny. A practical guide to arts-related research. Springer, 2014.
  4. Vanderbilt University News, 'Artist Educator Elliot Eisner to Speak at Vanderbilt'. Nashville, TN, USA. Vanderbilt University News. September 13, 2006.
  5. Tampa Bay Times Bulletin Board, 'School Reform Lecture', St. Petersburg, FL, USA: St. Petersburg Times Newspaper. 21 January 1999. p43.
  6. Wang, Qingchun, Sara Coemans, Richard Siegesmund, and Karin Hannes. "Arts-based methods in socially engaged research practice: A classification framework." Art/Research International 2, no. 2 (2017): 5-39.
  7. Archibald, M., & Scott, S. (2019). Learning from Usability Testing of an Arts-Based Knowledge Translation Tool for Parents of a Child with Asthma. Nursing Open, 6(4).
  8. Archibald, M., & Kitson. A. (2019). Using the Arts for Awareness, Communication and Knowledge Translation in Older Adulthood: A Scoping Review. Arts and Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice. 10.1080/17533015.2019.1608567
  9. Archibald, M., Hartling, L., Caine, V., Ali, S., & Scott, S.D. (2018). Developing “My Asthma Diary”: A process exemplar of a patient-driven arts-based knowledge translation tool. BMC Pediatrics, 18(1).
  10. McNiff, Shaun. Art-based research. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1998.
  11. Baden, Maggi Savin, and Katherine Wimpenny. A practical guide to arts-related research. Springer, 2014.
  12. Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and visual perception: A psychology of the creative eye. Univ of California Press, 1965.
  13. Arnheim, Rudolf. Toward a psychology of art: Collected essays. Vol. 242. Univ of California Press, 1966.
  14. Langer, Susanne K. Philosophy in a new key: A study in the symbolism of reason, rite, and art. Harvard University Press, 2009.
  15. Langer, S. "Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art/Langer S." New York: Charles Scribner’s (1953).
  16. Knowles, J. Gary, and Ardra L. Cole. Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues. Sage, 2008.
  17. Seppälä, Tiina; Sarantou, Melanie; Miettinen, Satu, eds. (2021). Arts-based methods for decolonising participatory research. New York: Routledge, Taylor Francis Group. ISBN 978-0-367-51327-6.
  18. Keifer-Boyd, Karen (2011). "Arts-based research as social justice activism: Insight, inquiry, imagination, embodiment, relationality". International Review of Qualitative Research. 4 (1): 3–19. Retrieved March 22, 2024.
  19. Faulkner, S. L., & Pollino, M. A. (2022). "Arts-Based Queer Communication Studies". Oxford Research Encyclopedias.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. Irwin, R., & de Cosson, A. (Eds.)(2002). a/r/tography: Rendering self through arts‐based living inquiry. Vancouver, BC: Pacific Educational Press.
  21. Springgay, S., Irwin, R. L., Leggo, C., & Gouzouasis, P. (2007). Being with a/r/t/ography. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers BV.
  22. Gouzouasis, P., Irwin, R.L., Miles, E. and Gordon, A., 2013. Commitments to a community of artistic inquiry: Becoming pedagogical through a/r/tography in teacher education. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 14(1). Available at
  23. Sullivan, Graeme (2006). "Research Acts in Art Practice". Studies in Art Education. 48 (1): 19–35. doi:10.1080/00393541.2006.11650497. ISSN 0039-3541. S2CID 141077512.
  24. Archibald, M., Caine, V., & Scott, S.D. (2014). The development of a classification schema for arts-based approaches to knowledge translation. Worldviews on Evidence Based Nursing, 11(5), 316-324.
  25. Butler-Kisber, Lynn. Qualitative inquiry: Thematic, narrative and arts-informed perspectives. Sage Publications, 2010.
  26. Chilton, G., & Leavy, P. (2014). Arts-based research practice: Merging social research and the creative arts. In Leavy, Patricia, ed. The Oxford handbook of qualitative research. Oxford University Press, USA, 2014.
  27. Coemans, Sara, and Karin Hannes. "Researchers under the spell of the arts: Two decades of using arts-based methods in community-based inquiry with vulnerable populations." Educational Research Review 22 (2017): 34-49.
  28. Fraser, Kimberly Diane, and Fatima al Sayah. "Arts-based methods in health research: A systematic review of the literature." Arts & Health 3, no. 2 (2011): 110-145.
  29. Daria Loi 2008, 'A thought per day: my travelling inside a suitcase', in Knowles, G. & A. Cole (Eds.) Creating Scholartistry: Imagining the Arts-Informed Thesis or Dissertation, Backalong Books, Halifax, NS.
  30. Arar, Raphael (October 2018). "Nostalgia: A Human-Machine Transliteration". 2018 IEEE VIS Arts Program (VISAP). pp. 1–5. doi:10.1109/VISAP45312.2018.9046055. ISBN 978-1-7281-2805-4. S2CID 214691152.

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