Reflecting on making and presenting Arts Informed Research: a biography on the process of creating a doctoral thesis

Document Type


Publication details

Cutcher, A & Ewing, R 2011, 'Reflecting on making and presenting Arts Informed Research: a biography on the process of creating a doctoral thesis', paper presented to Narrative, Arts-based, and "Post" Approaches to Social Research (NAPAR) Conference, Tempe, Arizona, 21-23 June.


Imagine what it’s like to step into unknown territories, in the dark, armed only with a dim flashlight that flickers, sputters and sometimes goes out and a few somewhat vague directions about where you are going. In the distance, you can hear a voice - it’s telling you that you are on the right track, and that you are doing a good job, but the voice is a long way off, and sometimes you can’t hear it.

Imagine what it’s like to often feel alone on your journey through the dark, except when you encounter other travellers who make judgments about where you are going and how you are getting there. You often feel lost, but because you believe that you are heading in the right direction, you struggle onwards.

Imagine what it’s like to finally be in the new territories, standing in the light. You’ve made it to the other side, and a new challenge is before you: your adventure is about to be scrutinized, examined and reported on by some faceless, nameless trio.

When Lex Cutcher started her PhD studies a decade ago in a very prominent, yet conservative faculty in Australia, there were very few, if any, pioneers of non traditional research to emulate. She looked everywhere for examples of inquiry that employed the arts either in the creation, analysis, or representation of research, without success. Despite this, she went on to produce an award winning doctoral thesis that utilises various artistic devices including creative writing, visual and literary metaphors, poetry, narrative, artifacts, digital imaging, photography, collage, painting and printmaking. It is a distinctly idiosyncratic work.

Robyn Ewing became Lex’s primary supervisor. For most of the journey they were separated by a thousand kilometers, and having limited contact through email and by post. Limited opportunities then to discuss, to brainstorm, or to thrash out the issues. How do you supervise a student in such a situation, who can’t really articulate her ideas, who cannot see a target, and who in her naïveté, puts all of her trust in the supervision process? How do you guide the candidate through an emergent and controversial new research territory? How do you defend such a position to the faculty, and negotiate the very real and sometimes imagined institutional constraints?

This paper then, is a biography in 2 voices: a biography of a research process, from start to finish.