Craving Voice Art Project for Social Change Part II
Written by Dr. Kate Francis Siner on May 23rd, 2009
One might assume, with all the previous supportive literature, that it would be easy to document exactly what makes an art project created to effect social change healing, and with this information to be able to develop and enhance this process in a way that is of benefit to the psychological community. However, this is not the case. Scholarly thought is highly structured; this is its strength and weakness. Academics from different areas, in whose hands the responsibility falls for theoretical documentation of ideas, frequently have a difficult time communicating them to others. For example, artists rarely discuss with psychologists their findings in the field, so that both might more deeply understand the implications of their work.
Although much progress has been made with regard to research on creativity and the expressive arts, one must still span multiple academic disciplines in order to discuss the topic found within this paper. Yet, this is just one small part of a much more involved issue. One factor is that artists are frequently unwilling or unable to document their actions in a way that is useful to psychologists. Many people in the crossover area of the expressive arts are not at all interested in doing research because, for them, tacit knowledge is enough. And many psychologists find it difficult to deal with topics such as art because it is not easy to measure or even discus in a way that sounds intelligent to the rest of their peers.
In this project, I used what I will from now on be calling “informed artistic inquiry” to gather information both about participants in the project and about the nature of the project itself. If there was a definition for the expression informed artistic inquiry it would most likely be: Aan open-ended approach to data collection based in curiosity and a desire to know (similar to heuristic research), where the intent of the researcher is to translate the information collected into both an artistic creation (i.e. dance, painting, song) and research narrative, while recognizing that all known information prior, during, and after the inquiry develops the final outcome of anything produced. As an artist studying psychology, I believe that artistic inquiry has much to contribute to the psychological community. In addition, art is able to break through conceptual boundaries. Informed artistic inquiry could be of incredible benefit in finding new and beneficial ways to deal with social problems.
An additional benefit is that as an artist, I do not need to have any other objective with my interviews other than to understand deeply. As I sit here, the overturned book on the table says: “Artists, with their humanizing holistic approach, are challenging the specialists, the tunnel-vision experts who have put humankind on the brink” (O’Brien, 1990). Because I can remain truly open to the individuals that sit in front of me, because I do not need to have my research questions prepared, I am in a better situation to understand them. Informed artistic inquiry is paralleled in psychology by phenomenological and heuristic research; however, these methods require that the topic being researched is determined before the interviews or observations take place. This prioritizes the phenomenon being observed before the event prioritizes them for the researcher. Therefore, these methods are still directive and imply a failure at understanding the entire person.
There are additional reasons, as well, to continue on with this approach. The community of humanistic psychologists might benefit from hearing phenomenological accounts of artists’ work which facilitates social change and healing so that it can develop the much-needed documentation and methods of research necessary to account for such phenomenon. Eugene Taylor and Fredrick Martin in their article, “Humanistic Psychology at the Crossroads,” state:
The single most important contribution that humanistic psychologists can make to modern psychology is to bring the attention of experimentalists to focus on the phenomenology of the science-making process and, once the attention of the discipline is focused on that point, to articulate a phenomenological rather than positivistic epistemology as the basis of new experimental science (Martin &Taylor, 2001, p. 26).
Although it is not at all the intent of this paper to refocus the attention of experimentalists, it remains in my power to support a method of inquiry that has a phenomenological orientation, thereby creating a knowledge base on which a new type of experimental science can be based. This appears to me to not only be a means of promoting humanistic psychology, but also a potential means of creating peace.
Before continuing the discussion about the project, “Craving Voice,” it is important to create a general profile of the population with which it was done in order to be able to clearly understand the context in which the following observations were made. The predominant characteristics of the population of the clinic at the time of the project were the following: there were approximately 500 clients. They had a high-school education or less. They were at or below the poverty line upon entering the clinic. They were frequently between the ages of 30-50. They predominantly came from rural areas. They had been using opiates heavily for 5-10 years. They were mostly white.
While these characteristics were probably the most common of the community, the program contained people from all different backgrounds. However, the population was all over the age 18, with the exception of two members. Since approximately 60% of the population was receiving state funding because they were below the poverty line, 40% of the population was not receiving state funding, which implies that they were above the poverty line. In addition, two population characteristics were on the rise: the number of younger people between the ages of 18 and 25 years old with reported significant histories of substance abuse, and the number of pregnant women attending the clinic.