Defining my Research Question

Featured Image: close up of Summertime in the Bussage by Leigh

19 Nov 2019

My question was born out of me wanting to use my skills as a mixed media artist to inspire people to take action to make our world more just. I wanted to do this through an art exhibition but I’m an artist, not a curator and though I had curated my own solo exhibitions, they were never on the scale that I was imagining doing this exhibition. I felt I needed to produce a large-scale exhibition in order to effect large-scale change. On top of that, I had also never tried to elicit action from an art audience before. I had some ideas about how I might go about this but they were vague and foggy. I thought my SIP research might be the best opportunity to chip a little bit of the iceberg and at least figure out what direction to set off in. At least that would be one less thing to figure out.

Question Definition Exercise over several weeks (Click to enlarge)

You can see from the way my question dump (above) progresses that I am trying to get specific about what information I’m seeking but there is so much I don’t know that it’s hard to settle on one thing. I thought I’d found the question very early on (shaded in peach) but as I began to plot the action plan, it became clear that the scope of that question was way too big for the SIP time frame. At first, I struggled to develop a linear action plan as the ideas of what I needed to do only seemed to flow when I let it all hang out in a spider map.

Action Plan, Map 1

When I found myself considering redrawing the map on a new page to make room for expanding the Funding, Execution, Budget and IP sections, I had to pull myself back. Drawing too big a map and having to scale it back did help me to understand that what I was really looking for was a structure, a way to approach this exhibition, not a way to see it through to full production… yet. In listing my assumptions (below) I seemed to understand that I was looking for a route rather than a full production plan and so the action plan got slimmed down to make it fit the SIP course timing.

Slimmed-down Action Plan

Which is why a little over a month in, I found myself refining my question again (to the question in orange shading). It felt like a much better fit when I settled on the question in orange.

Having said that, as I type up some of the final notes for my workflow page, I realise that even this question is pretty big. I was not able to really dig into the nature of how art inspires its viewer, nor was I able to explore with any depth the idea of art that leads to action. Then I might have found myself knee-deep in propaganda posters and war art, I simply didn’t have the time to get to that. I should have crossed a few more things off that action plan! So I’m thinking given the time I had, it would have been better if my question had simply asked –

How do I curate a large-scale social change art exhibition?

I will need to embark on further research projects in future to cover my lack of knowledge about methods of inspiration and ‘call-to-action’ art. Alas, you live and you learn. That’s the point of research, is it not?

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