Creative Practice as Research: Discourse on Methodology


Art, literary, music, and film analysts examine, dissect, and even deconstruct the art that we create in order to study culture and humanity, pulling the techniques and references and motivations apart to develop knowledge of how works of art relate to the culture and society in which they are produced, as well as to the development of particular art forms over time. Practice-related researchers push this examination into a more direct and intimate sphere, observing and analysing themselves as they engage in the act of creation, rather than relying solely on dissection of the art after the fact.

The practice-related method presented here was developed through my research into creative practice, specifically in the field of creative writing. While writers have always been researchers of one kind or another – conducting background research, observing human interaction, analysing literary techniques, etc. – creative writing as a field of academic inquiry is a relatively recent emergence. As a result, when I began my own research in the field, there were few existing methods from which to draw. 

Practice-related research is a tried and tested methodology in medicine, design, and engineering (where it is often called “action research”, referring to field-based research and participatory experiments as opposed to laboratory tests). While it has always been present to some extent in the arts and humanities, in recent years artistic practice has developed into a major focus of research activity, both as process and product, and several recent texts as well as discourse in various disciplines have made a strong case for its validity as a method of studying art and the practice of art. Like Harold Garfinkel’s articulation of ethnomethodology for social science research in 1967, however, this discourse defines an approach, a way of thinking about the research, rather than clearly outlined methods that a new researcher can apply to a given research question about creative practice.

The method described in the following pages is one I devised based largely on this approach to practice-related research, combined with my own knowledge as a one-time researcher in biological anthropology. As a scientist, I developed knowledge about my subject through protocol-based testing and observation, always with clearly defined methods for clearly stated research goals: to study and understand the processes and interactions of life. As a writer, I found parallel processes of experimentation, which in the humanities has long been the remit of the creative practitioner, across various forms of media, text, art, and performance. When we as practitioners pursue our art as research, we not only offer insights into art and the practice of art as it occurs, but can throw new and unexpected light onto a range of topics including cognition, discourse, psychology, history, culture, and sociology.

As creative practice expands as a field of academic research, there is a need to establish an ongoing discourse on and resource for appropriate practice-based methodologies. This project is a living discussion of practice-based methodologies in creative practice research, included as part of the special issue The Disrupted Journal of Media Practice. As such, it includes:
Each section of this project is open to discourse through both the comment features on each page (the gray speech bubble icon at the bottom of each page), as well as (sidebar buttons on the top right of each page - please use the tags disruptedjournal & practicemethods). This is a collaborative project, as readers become authors in constructing this text. Readers are encouraged to comment upon and discuss each section, to propose alternative and expanded methods, and to link to published research that has explicitly employed creative practice methods.

The purpose of this foundation text and ensuing discourse and annotation is to provide a practical resource for creative practice research methods. Ideally, this resource will be ongoing, open to revision and updates, in order to keep up with this continually evolving field of research.

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