Reflecting Artistry

“The arts in general teach us to see, to feel, and indeed to know” (Barone and Eisner, 2011)

Artistry is defined by Schön (1987) as the development of skills to a high professional level.

The use of an Arts-based approach in research can provide the opportunity for the artist to combine all the elements of their practice. The opportunity to explore their creative practice through non-traditional means allows for important self-reflection and provides pathways for further deeper understanding of their artistic process. 

We presented at the 16th International Conference on the Arts in Society 2021 about a case study, Understanding Artistry through Arts-based Methods, investigating the use of Arts-based methods in Art educator/graduate research projects.

The findings suggest that an arts-based approach provides opportunities for the voices of the participants in the research project “to be heard” allowing for an authentic narrative representation.

Key features to emerge from utilising an Arts-based approach include:

  • Engaging with Art to represent student voice and encourage an authentic narrative approach
  • Acknowledging the combination of roles of the Artist as Practitioner/Artist/Educator/Researcher
  • Developing Reflective Practice: reflecting in action and reflecting on action (Schön, 1983)
  • Promoting Flow as part of the creative process (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990)

Combination Hats of the Artist as Practitioner/ Artist

Figure 1 Faces in the Sky Copyright DMC

Responses from eight creative arts educators completing their masters degree at a Higher Education provider were collected and analysed. The cohort was unique in that they have more than 15 years professional industry experience in the performing arts and are also educators at a private creative arts higher education provider. In the focus case study, Dean’s (pseudonym) high-level use of artwork (example Figure 1 above) became a significant feature of their project. Dean has over 25 years experience in the industry and was interested to include a reflective approach to his project. An arts-based narrative approach, allows for the participants’ voices to be heard, seen and acknowledged in the project.

An arts-based approach provides space for practitioner reflection:

…I can put on a hat that is a “combination hat” if you would call it that, so for example sometimes, my performance hat, would be in a combination form 

Responses reflected on the multiple hats of the practitioner/educator/artist/researcher. The use of combination hats draws on the concept of bricolage (Denzin and Lincoln, 2011), and viewing themselves as a bricoleur piecing together various aspects of the research from distinct but connected resources.

Multiple Lens of Reflection (Schön)

An Arts-based approach also provides the opportunity to include reflection from other spaces, similar to Schön’s reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action (Schön, 1983) to include information about the artistic process and the research journey. The multiple lens of reflection can provide more context and depth in order to acknowledge and understand the artistic process. An Arts-based approach acknowledges the “blurred” lines between craft (practice), research (informed), and knowledge (both theoretical and applied).

Figure 2 Example of an Arting from Dean’s journal Copyright DMC

Provides opportunities for “Flow” state

Likewise Arts-based approaches provide opportunities for states of “flow” to occur (as defined by Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). 

“I’ve been keeping a separate journal, and in that journal, I’ve been creating artings, …, and it’s enjoyable… It helps me it makes the flow of writing… the flow of research much more enjoyable …”. (Dean’s response)

Promotes Reflective practice

Arts-based methods provide much needed options for graduate students to reflect on what they are doing and why in order to explore and investigate their own reflective space/s and practice. 

“Having permission to use that kind of thing that’s very exciting to me, I guess it’s formalising what I already do.” (case study response)

Creative artefacts/artings (see Figure 2 above) became a part of Dean’s research journey. Journals and sketchbooks supported the reflective process. “What the reflective sketchbook allows the artist-researcher to do is track their own processes and decision-making” (Prior in McNiff, 2018).

It’s what we do!

Dean’s thesis was about Performance Anxiety. It featured narrative and included the art-works presented which were inspired by the research. The outcomes led to strategies to improve breath control for performers. For Dean, it was a natural fit to select an Arts-based/Arts-informed approach to discuss the findings and the process. Dean’s response is similar to Kossack’s study,  “It’s what we do!” (Kossack, 2012).

“Being introduced to an arts-based approach was an eye-opener for me, and a relief for me, and a really interesting door to walk through but I kind of walked through it already so the arts-based approach was kind of labelling what I do.”  (Dean’s response)


Providing space to engage with the Arts as a means of expression can help to foster creativity and support pathways for the development of non-discursive expression (Barone and Eisner, 2011; Finley, 2008Cole and Knowles, 2011; Fleming, Gibson, and Anderson, 2016).  

An arts-based method, whether that is visual research, arts-informed inquiry, portraiture, performance and a range of others, can provide unique opportunities to explore and gain new insights and knowledge into our areas of specialisation.

Engaging with the Arts provides opportunities for students of all ages to self-reflect in order to explore and investigate their own reflective practice. It can provide a much-needed reflective space to combine and develop the elements of their practice. Developing the skill to reflect on action and in action supports the growth of high level practitioner skills which Schön (1983) refers to as knowing in action. In a rapidly changing work environment being able to reflect on what one has learnt is valuable to future skill development. An artist engages with the world through their art. “The frame of reference through which one peers at the world shapes what one learns from that world” (Barone & Eisner, 2011).


Dr Danielle Eden
Researcher, Business Co-Design
The University of Sydney Business School

Associate Professor Robyn Gibson
Associate Professor, Visual & Creative Arts Education
Deputy Head of School
University of Sydney, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Published by Danielle Eden

An interdisciplinary researcher at the University of Sydney Business school in the Business CoDesign team.

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