Process and Product
by Myrna Packard
Alverno College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Shape and Color of Research Project is nearly unique in its effort to make evident the relationship between research and the artistic process. My task in this project has been to interview the participating artists and to investigate with them the influences that Special Collections at the Golda Meir Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has had on their art making. These interviews have revealed emerging categories of influence. By exploring the resulting works of the fourteen artists in this exhibit, the links between the artists' visions and the role of research become more evident.
While the focus of this exhibit is unusual, the use of illustrated texts as a resource for research in art making is not. As an elementary school art teacher for over 15 years, I carefully collected such resources for my young students. Using picture books of a narrative nature as well as illustrated books concerned with media and process, my students could answer many questions that arose as they worked with art materials each week. So I began my own research on cognitive development through visual arts in a study replicating the work of Michael Parsons and his colleagues. The Parsons study resulted in a description of the aesthetic development of students from kindergarten through twelfth grade using reproductions of selected museum art works for responses to a range of prompts. In my study, I limited the participants to a small group of first and second graders and substituted five picture books for responses to the original prompts. The results of the research showed a remarkable increase in cognitive level as displayed by my young students. My conclusion was that the richness of the picture book as well as its appropriateness for the young students greatly influenced their responses.
When I began working with undergraduates, the use of illustrated texts continued. My own use of Special Collections at the Golda Meir Library often focused on artists' books. Class trips to the library were arranged at times when fine-press or artists' books were being exhibited. These served as a resource for assignments involving bookmaking in my art education courses.
More specific to this exhibition was an experience involving journal writing in an Art Survey Course. I have done research (Packard, 1992) on the process of using dialogue journals to promote cognitive development, particularly in art education. My colleague, Leslie Vansen, invited me to offer her students the opportunity to engage in journaling with me. These journals involved a written dialogue between the student and the researcher/professor through the use of prompts. As part of the journal-writing experience, I directed students to spend time viewing a Special Collections exhibit of famous texts, including Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Canterbury Tales, and Dante's Inferno. These texts were illustrated by noted artists and in each case there were at least two different examples. Students could compare the use of media, style, and subject matter in the illustrations as we wrote back and forth about their observations and opinions about the illustrations. In every case, I insisted that the students give well thought out reasons for their opinions. Often the dialogues helped students develop their reasons and made apparent a number of perspectives exhibited in different artists' interpretations. At the invitation of Max Yela, Special Collections Librarian, I presented my research process to the university community using the section of the journals that focused on the Special Collections exhibit. The process was fairly straightforward and involved revisiting the data and 'listening for emerging categories' from all the participants. I have used the same process in reviewing the data collected from artists whose works are featured in this exhibit.
The categories that have emerged are: resources that inform renderings of images; resources that were copied for reproduction; resources to expand knowledge of process/media; resources for content; and resources that serve as models. With these categories in mind, I returned to the original resources listed by the artists to personally observe the connections that had been brought to my attention during the interviews. In many cases, artists used the resources in more than one way. I have made every effort to confine my writing to resources that came from Special Collections, although the artists often used resources from the library's general collection and from sources outside the Golda Meir Library.