Dolph Petris | November 2018

Arts Research: The World is Your Oyster

Research. There are so many different types! There are those who research purely for self. Then there are those who research for formal educational studies. Problem-solving research. Applied research. (And more!) But in the world of art and arts integration, research is different. You oftentimes can’t find the answer in a book. Because the world is our oyster.

Look around… there is so much around us that is visually stimulating. (So much so, that we do not even see what is right in front of our faces!) We need the opportunity to explore and integrate. If we do not, we become stagnant. By allowing ourselves to become immersed in what is and what could be, we begin to organically model for our students much of what they typically overlook.

The human being is both emotionally and visually motivated. Art has a natural tendency to evoke strong internal and external emotion – as well as intrinsic personal motivation. When combined, these two by-products can be life-changing for the individual. Our students can begin to see clarity into their own future by making career choices. (Or perhaps lead one to make a decision to help a charitable cause.)

Research Resources

One of my favorite resources to peruse for arts research is Google Arts and Culture. Instead of becoming bogged down with a mental topic of study, I literally browse. I saturate my brain for a while. This period of time can become magical – similar to sitting down with a good book. I feel I must warn you, however, that this can easily lead to a rabbit trail that takes you into the black hole of time.

With the available resources in today’s world, it is important to build a foundational framework into your research. The overarching framework can and should also include a focal point: an ‘idea’ of where you would like your research or your student’s research to ultimately lead. Often, students will desire and sometimes require, specific direction on exactly what to do on any particular assignment or project. Pointing students in the right direction is our job as the classroom teacher. However, we also do not want to ‘provide the answers’. As educators, we nurture and look for budding creativity and individualism.

The Right-Brained Hemisphere

Moving into the ‘right-brained’ hemisphere is where we can let go of predictive norms and allow ourselves, and our students, to explore the abstract. One never knows where the parallels and connections of this exciting process can take us in our research process. This is the place where inspiration is born. Uninhibited research.

Please note, however, that uninhibited research is not the same as unhinged research. Unhinged research can easily lead us down the wrong path. Our goal is to provide our students with a solid framework that will assist them in forging their own path toward the end goal of the assignment or project. Modeling this type of research for our students is imperative. Why? So that they can see the organic thought process that is involved.

When students see this type of activity modeled ‘live’, they become part of the experience. They have front row seats to my own thought process. They see what I am seeing, and hear what I am thinking and saying out loud. I start with an idea based on our project. Then I look through my shelves of related material, books and magazines. Even doing just this can springboard tangential ideas and connections for me, so I write everything down and perhaps scribble a small thumbnail sketch.

Better Understanding

During hands-on research, I make note of everything – as if I were in a brainstorming session with others. And of course, during the research process, save everything! Eventually, I end up on the internet. There, the research is enriched and cohesive – integrated, if you will – on just about any aspect of my subject. All the while, I am looking for specific connections to the Elements of Art. (I find these anchor charts always keep me grounded in the art itself. They also and help me better understand the overall picture.)

At this point, I may have written notes, books, magazines, sketches, bookmarked websites, and found objects on the table in front of me. It might look messy, but I now have a lot of hand-selected material… some of which will be used in this artistic endeavor, and some not.

But this, this is what our students need to see. They need to see the process.

Archived research is meaningless unless we seek to find the available information and resources. We cannot, and should not, spoon feed our students! But, we can model the research process to help our students understand that they can find and achieve success within their world of art.

About the Author

Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. He has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education and is currently teaching a 5/6 combo in Fullerton, California. He and his wife have several four-legged kids: Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever litter-mates, a street-rescued stray that looks like ‘Benji’ named Noel, Athena the cat, and two American Quarter horses.