“Is there a method to die?”
How could this question make sense? For all we know, death will happen to everybody alive; it’s the one condition we all share. There’s no method not to die.
This makes clear that the essential word here isn’t ‘death’ – it’s ‘method’. The common-sense understanding of this word might be something like: ‘a set-up of presumptions and techniques used systematically to arrive at a certain result’. Now, if the result – in this case, physical death – is certain, no matter what, the question may still seem absurd. But stay with it a while…
The Greek origin of the word ‘method’ means ‘way’. Without doubt, the way one takes could be related primarily to a determined goal – that is, result-oriented – which doesn’t necessarily affect one’s existence very much. When going to the airport, one may choose between the highway or the railway; both offer the prospect of a fast and safe arrival (though we all know that things do not always happen the way we plan).
On the other hand: when going into something unknown, one will need to enhance awareness when moving along the chosen direction. Finding one’s way then becomes process-oriented; in each moment, the way outside exists only to the extent that it exists in one’s mind. This is how the concept of method is often adressed in contemporary art and research.
I remember the way I travelled by the side of my mother. I remember the parting of ways.
And the question makes perfect sense.
Second course seminar with professor Liora Bresler from the University of Illinois, USA, together with Swedish hosts Lars Lindström and Eva Österlind (Stockholm University) and some twenty master and doctoral students. Akira Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon from 1949 provides a common ground for discussions about truth on different levels.
Most people agree there exists such a thing as objective reality; in Rashomon, it is represented by a man found dead in the forest. The characters involved are struggling to understand the course of events. Their tales are told and retold in multiple layers: by Kurosawa’s choice of sounds and images in making the film; within the story by the actors acting them over and over, each time from another point of view; and when the movie ends, by our thinking and talking over it. On each level, interpretations are constructed, negotiated and created anew; if there is a true story about what happened, it remains an enigma. Still, the memory stays with us, the gesture of seeking truth and meaning.
So, where is the difference, really, between the researcher’s mode of understanding reality and the artist’s? Is it only a matter of context, of different communities and traditions? Here’s one attempt at an answer, from John Dewey in 1934:
“The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms purposes.
Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total. In contrast with the person whose purpose is esthetic, the scientific man is interested in problems, in situations wherein tension between the matter of observation and of thought is marked.
The difference between the esthetic and the intellectual is thus one of the place where emphasis falls in the constant rhytm that marks the interaction of the live creature with his surroundings.”
John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934)
Text reading seminar at the course – Aesthetic-Based Qualitative Research – which I follow at Stockholm University (see also Archives/January 2009).
Is there really a difference between art and research? I bring the question to the course.
– Art appeals to feeling, is one answer I get. Oh, I’d love to have it that way… but I cannot really hold it to be simple like that. Art is largely conceptual, and has always been – at least visual arts, ever since cave paintings.
– Research is systematical, is another answer. Well, that sounds convincing at first. But then – what about (for instance) the work of Claude Monet? There are artists just as dedicated as the best of researchers in the pursuit of one theme.
– Art is mediated by sensual experience, would be my first attempt to answer myself. As if not research – or any kind of message – is… Tricky one, this.
“Ethos anthropoi daimon” (Heraclitus; and here I will not even attempt to choose a translation among the infinite number of possible ones)… I’ll try another approach; how does my inner attitude change, from making art to doing research? Or, does it?
in all things we learn from those we love
How do we learn?
How is quality recognized?
Bubble foil covering the windows, and a stout electrical heater in the atelier; temperature is climbing slowly. But I still can’t get any connection between camera and computer.
‘Qualitative Research’ may be described as research which is not primarily dealing with quantitative data (such as can be measured and treated stathistically), nor aiming at ‘generalizability’ or ‘objective truth’; it is rather interested in ‘perceived’, ‘constructed’, or ‘created’ truth – though not necessarily denying the value of the ‘objective’ or of quantitative methods.
It may be claimed that art in itself is pure qualitative research.
However, in the context of this course (see previous post) with visiting professor Liora Bresler from the University of Illinois, qualitative research is understood through the theory and practise of academic tradition. There seems to be some confusion about the concept Aesthetic-based; whether it refers to the setting – the site or object of observation – or rather if it points to a mode of perception to be cultivated by the partakers.
I believe this initial – opening – confusion is good.
collage of monochromes on a round disc; wax crayons and watercolour on paper, 121 cms diameter
Taking leave of the land or Mir, returning to the atelier… bringing, among other things, four large coloured discs manufactured from monochrome paintings made by the participants during our days together. And again, I shall not forget to thank the people who shared their time and attention with me these weeks. Hope to see you soon again – let’s say, on September, 4th.
reunion in the castle of Mir
For each of the past two weeks, there has been up to 15 participants, some of them (but far from all) bringing their personal helpers or assistants. In the morning gathering, we start by saying our names – as there is usually one or two new faces among the assistants – and everybody present is given a moment of attention. After that, and having settled the when’s & what’s & who’s of the day, a silence happens in which I light a tiny lantern. In our middle, there is a fairly large heap of sand, which now turns into the land of Mir as I say the beginning of a tale… On Monday morning, the heap of sand is nothing but a dry desert, and the beginning is all I know. But since we all partake, the tale evolves with every day – until, on Friday, it’s completed and the land of Mir has become visible with all its features. The setting and actors are mostly created by the participants during the days: out of modeling clay or papier-mâché or from what could be found in nature, or simply drawn or painted. One week, the tale becomes highly dramatic with the interaction of gods and demons. Next week, with another group of people, it is more of a carefully undertaken expedition ending up with a reunion and a great feast. Apart from the tale, we also turn to the different colours – investigating how they work separately and together – and make self portraits on the walls. And, of course, we eat together and have time for a walk or a bath in the lake outside before returning home in the afternoon.
Now we have done this – with variations, and under varying circumstances – for seven years in a row. I have lost count of how many participants there has been altogether, but most of them return more than once and nowadays there isn’t place for everyone who applicates – unfortunately.
There are so many ways of being human. When we see and appreciate each others just the way we are; when we are together in a playful mood, listening with awareness to ourselves and each other; when we overcome outer and inner difficulties; when we enjoy our sensual perceptions, and develop meaning together; then what is the meaning of the word ‘disabled’?
participants’ self portraits; wax crayons, watercolour on paper
participants’ paintings; black and white swans, colour pattern; watercolour and wax crayons on paper
participants’ self portraits; wax crayons, watercolour on paper