Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 11.26.18

6 Simple Ways to get Started Doing Arts-Based Research

By Patricia Leavy, PhD

If you’re interested in exploring arts-based research (ABR) in your own practice, perhaps inspired by this month’s blog posts or perhaps long interested in merging your creative and scholarly work, the question is: How do I begin? Here are my top suggestions:

Read about ABR. (My book Method Meets Art provides an introduction and overview, but there are other books available)

Consume art in your medium. So, if you’re interested in ethnodrama (playwriting), read many plays, including some on the subject area your research explores, and, if you’re able, go to theatre. Or if you’re interested in collage-making, look at examples in books, and, if you’re able, visit museums, art galleries, or stores.

Consume arts-based research in your medium. So, if you’re interested in writing fiction, read examples of research transformed into fiction (short stories, novellas, and novels). Search online journals and the Social Fictions book series for examples. If you’re not sure how to find examples in your genre, read journal articles and books about ABR. Note the scholars mentioned in the text as well as the reference list.

Take note of what you enjoy. If you’re interested in creating a short film based on your research, and you’ve just watched several short films, here are questions to consider: What stylistic choices did you respond to? What did you like about the writing? What did you notice about the cinematography? Ultimately you will want to develop your own unique style, but learning what you’re drawn to will help.

Read about the craft of art-making in your genre. So, if you’re interested in writing poetry, read books about poetry. If you’re interested in a visual art medium, look at online tutorials.

Start experimenting. Take your research (e.g., interviews, ethnographic observations, literature review) and start dabbling with art-making. Start small. So if you’re interested in writing a novel based on your interview research, begin with an in-depth character profile, perhaps based on a composite of your interviewees. Or, create a writing prompt by taking a key sentence from your data and use it as an opening sentence for free writing. Or if you’re interested in representing your research through visual art, start with sketching out some ideas. This is just about learning, finding your voice, and developing a feeling for integrating your scholarly and arts practices.

- PL

Author’s Note: For a comprehensive introduction to ABR please see my book Method Meets Art Second Edition and for a comprehensive review of the field please see the Handbook of Arts-Based Research. Visit Guilford Press for discount details.

Monday 11.19.18

Arts-Based Research as Pedagogy

By Patricia Leavy, PhD

It’s probably fair to assume that all educators aim for lasting learning. No teacher or professor wants their students to forget all that was covered as soon as the course ends. The arts can help. While the arts are important to learn for their own sake, that’s not the focus of this blog. Rather, as proponents of arts integration advocate, the arts can be useful in the teaching and learning of other subject matter.

In last week’s blog, “The Science of Art,” I reviewed some of the neuroscientific research on how we consume art. To recap, people become immersed in art, forming deep impressions. For example, the whole brain is transformed as people read novels. Given the positive pedagogical benefits of engaging with art, bringing art into the classroom to teach other subject matter, seems like, well, a no brainer. Using arts-based research (ABR) in the classroom may be particularly beneficial as ABR is art that is based on research, often created specifically to teach a particular subject. For example, in an education elective, instead of using a research article or monograph to cover a specific topic, one might use a novel, film, or play based on an education researcher’s scholarly research on the topic. If it’s good art, it will be engaging and provocative, but because it’s ABR, it will also be informative.

There are some topics that are particularly difficult to address in classrooms, and yet, we often think they’re among the most important. For example, for years I’ve been writing about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to research and problem-solving. Despite my extensive research on this subject, I’ve found it difficult to help students understand the importance of these practices, how they come to bear in real-world research contexts, and why any of it matters. These topics are often abstract and can be perceived as boring. Students can read a book or listen to a lecture, but do they really grapple with the issues at hand and will they care once the course is over? These questions motivated me to write my latest novel, Spark, which explores interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, problem-solving, and critical thinking, all through a fictional adventure story set in Iceland. I’ve included further engagement so the novel can function as a class text.

Many of us know from our daily lives that a novel we enjoy can be instructive, educational, inspirational, and challenging. Moreover, characters can linger on our minds for years after we’ve turned the last page. This is true of art across media. Herein we find the promise of bringing ABR into classrooms.

- PL

Author’s Note: For a comprehensive introduction to ABR please see my book Method Meets Art Second Edition and for a comprehensive review of the field please see the Handbook of Arts-Based Research. Visit Guilford Press for discount details.

Tuesday 11.13.18

The Science of Art

By Patricia Leavy, PhD

Arts-based research (ABR) is powerful in part because the arts engage people more deeply than academic prose. While most people intuitively understand that the arts can reach and move us in unique ways, there is actually science behind this.

Beginning with fiction, there is a growing body of scholarship on the relationship between neuroscience and literature referred to as literary neuroscience. Natalie Phillips and her colleagues (2012) used Jane Austen’s fiction in a study about how reading affects the brain. They found that the whole brain appears to be transformed as people engage in close readings of fiction. Moreover, there are global activations across a number of different regions of the brain, including some unexpected areas, such as those that are involved in movement and touch. This research helps to explain how we become immersed in novels, actually feeling as though we are within the story and that the house could burn down and we wouldn't notice. For another example, Gregory Berns (2013) led a team of researchers in a study published in Brain Connectivity that suggests there is heightened connectivity in our brains for days after reading a novel. Research on music and visual art has similar implications.

Daniel J. Levitin (2007, 2008) has written extensively about the cognitive neuroscience of music. He suggests that music is distributed throughout the brain, in both hemispheres, and that in essence, music is hardwired into our brains.

There is also an emerging field called neuroaesthetics that considers how our brains make sense of visual art. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel (2012) explains that visual art activates many distinct and at times conflicting emotional signals in the brain which in turn causes deep memories.

While the preceding examples focus on consuming or experiencing the arts, it is important to note that recent research on the activity of art-making has yielded similar results.

So whether we are consuming art or involved in art-making ourselves, art impacts us in profound ways, engaging us on deep levels, making lasting impressions. There are serious implications for how we might teach, learn, conduct, and share research most effectively.

 - PL


Berns, G. S., Blaine, K, Prietula, M. J. and Pye, B. E. (2013). Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain. In Brain Connectivity. 3(6): 590-600.

Kandel, E. (2012). The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. New York, Random House

Levitin, D. J. (2007). This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession. New York: Plume.

Levitin, D. J. (2008). The world in six songs: How the musical brain created human nature. New York: Dutton.

Thompson, H., & Vedantam, S. (2012). A lively mind: Your brain on Jane Austen. NPR Health  Blog.  Available at


Author’s Note: This blog was adapted from my 2014 blog Our Brains on Art which appeared in The Huffington Post and The Creativity Post. For a comprehensive introduction to ABR please see my book Method Meets Art Second Edition and for a comprehensive review of the field please see the Handbook of Arts-Based Research. Visit Guilford Press for discount details.

Thursday 11. 1.18

Arts-Based Research 101

By Patricia Leavy, PhD

The scholar seeks, the artist finds

—Andre Gide

I’m a sociologist but I spend much of my professional life in the world of art educators and artists. I’m not alone either. Increasingly, scholars across the disciplines are turning the arts. I’ll share a little of my own journey.

Early in my career I became frustrated with the traditional ways of conducting research and the limitations of traditional forms to best share research findings. Academic articles rarely follow the attributes of engaging writing. Academic articles are jargon-filled, difficult to access (they circulate in peer-reviewed journals inaccessible to anyone outside of academia), and have a highly limited audience even within academia. The vast majority of articles published in the social sciences have an audience of 3-8 readers, including their author. It’s pretty bleak for those of us interested in sharing our work with those inside and outside of the academy. This is what led me to a different research paradigm: arts-based research (ABR). This month’s mentor blog will focus on ABR. For those unfamiliar, here’s a basic overview.

In short, ABR is an arts approach to research in which art-making is integral to the research process. ABR exists at the nexus of the arts/humanities and the social sciences/sciences. ABR involves researchers in any discipline adapting the tenets of the creative arts in order to address research questions. An arts practice may be used during project conceptualization, data collection, data analysis, and/or to represent research findings. These approaches to research are useful for producing new insights and learning; description, exploration, discovery, or problem solving; forging macro-micro connections; evocation and provocation; raising critical consciousness or awareness; cultivating empathy; unsettling stereotypes; applied research; asking new questions or getting at old questions in new ways; and, contributing to public scholarship.

- PL

Authors Note: For a comprehensive introduction to ABR please see my book Method Meets Art Second Edition and for a comprehensive review of the field please see the Handbook of Arts-Based Research. Visit Guilford Press for discount details.