What is arts based research?

Arts-based research is an approach to research that we define as a method designed to enlarge human understanding… the aim is to create an expressive form that will enable an individual to secure an empathetic participation in the lives of others and in the situations studied. (Barone and Eisner, 2012, p. 8-9)

Art helps to unlock stories, perspectives and meaning.

Any form of art can be used. Visual arts, theatre, music, literature, poetry and play are powerful tools to question, investigate and change the world around us. These give a separate space in which (for a moment) everything is possible with the power of imagination, which has its own rules and which is outside of the observed reality. No wonder certain regimes and organizations want to control these resources to safeguard their interests. In an educational context, creative disciplines can help pupils and students explore the world around them and ultimately change it with each other.

How can arts-based research be used in higher education to stimulate students to think and act sustainably?

Our climate is changing, our environment is polluted and biodiversity is declining sharply. All this thanks to human action. Have we reached a tipping point towards a dead world? Is there anything we can do to keep what we have? This is the greatest and most complex challenge humanity has faced in its existence. Which social structures and systems underlie climate change, pollution and loss of biodiversity? Who will benefit from the status quo and who will be affected? What could be different? Which laws and regulations serve whose interests. What if…

ABR can be employed as a means to create critical awareness or raise consciousness. ABR can expose people to new ideas, stories, or images and can do so in the service of cultivating social consciousness. This is important in social justice–oriented research that seeks to reveal power relations (often invisible to those in privileged groups), to raise critical race or gender consciousness, to build coalitions across groups, and to challenge dominant ideologies. ABR is also uniquely capable of cultivating empathy… Art and science bear intrinsic similarities in their attempts explore, illuminate, and represent aspects of human life and the social and natural worlds of which we are a part. (Leavy, 2015, p. 10)

Students are the researchers

The arts provide their own space by making and researching. This gives access to other and creative ways of collecting and sharing knowledge. Both the student and the teacher learn in this process. After all, learning and creating are social processes. A teacher facilitates and asks critical questions to stimulate creativity and enhance the research. The teacher has more knowledge and experience and guides from facts and merits. This is fundamentally different from the usual position of power of the teacher in education based on hierarchy.

Educational model

To arrive at a thorough analysis, the step of research and problematization is an intensive process with those involved. After all, an incorrect or incomplete analysis poses problems in the subsequent steps of dialogue and praxis.
Praxis is the process by which a theory, lesson or skill is enacted, embodied or realized. Paulo Freire defines praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “Reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” This implies that student-researchers are trying to come to the core of the perceived situation. 

Artbased-research.eu as a platform

To investigate and (partly) solve sustainability problems, arts based research, game principles and expressive working methods can be used. Artbased-research.eu is a new platform to publish, connect and share experiences with art educators and researchers in this exciting field.


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  • Fromm, E. (1941) Escape from freedom, New York NY: Farrar & Rinehart
  • Flanagan, M. (2009) Critical Play: radical game design, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
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  • Kahn, R. (2010) Critical pedagogy, ecoliteracy, and planetary crisis: the ecopedagogy movement. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing
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  • Washington, H. (2020) What can I do to help heal the environmental crisis? London UK: Routledge