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Below are keywords and subject terms (standardized vocabulary) to consider using when you are searching databases, catalogues, or print indices for information. Standardized subject vocabulary can be used in the subject field of the Novanet Catalogue to find materials classified under a specific subject heading. These searches are narrower and more specific. Keywords can be used in the keyword field of the Novanet Catalogue and allow you to search using words that are not part of a standardized vocabulary. Searches are broader and more flexible.

Both subject terms and keywords can be used to search the internet and electronic databases. Note that language is culturally and geographically determined; keywords may vary between Canada, the US, and Britain, etc. These terms are examples of words or concepts that are pertinent to arts-informed research.

Subject Terms:

arts-informed research

arts-based research

poetic inquiry


performative inquiry


lyric inquiry

visual inquiry

image-based research


The following features or qualities of arts-informed research show how the arts contribute to knowledge advancement. They also can serve as means to judge the quality of an arts-informed inquiry.

• Intentionality. Consistent with the broad agenda of social science research to improve the human condition, arts-informed research has both a clear intellectual and moral purpose. Arts-informed research representations are intended as opportunities for transformation, revelation, or other intellectual and moral shift. They must be more than good stories, images, or performances. The transformational potential must be evident.

• Researcher Presence. As in most qualitative research the subjective and reflexive presence of the researcher is evident in the research text in varying ways depending on the focus and purpose of the inquiry. In arts-informed research, however, the researcher’s artistry is also predominant. Artistry includes conceptual artistry, imagination, and creative and aesthetic sensibilities as well as technical skills and perhaps an externally sanctioned title of “artist.” Extending the idea from qualitative inquiry of “researcher as instrument,” in arts-informed research the “instrument” of research is also the researcher-as-artist. A researcher’s presence is evident in a number of ways throughout an arts-informed research “text” (in whatever form it is presented and, by implication, throughout the entire researching process). The researcher is present through an explicit reflexive self-accounting; her presence is also implied and felt, and the representational form clearly bears the signature or fingerprint of researcher-as-artist. While the presence and signature of the researcher are clearly evident in arts-informed research, the researcher is not necessarily the focus or subject of study. Although much qualitative research is based on the assumption that all research is inherently autobiographical – a reflection of who the researcher is and what drives her work – an explication of autobiographical beginnings is usually only a small, albeit defining, part of an arts-informed study.

• Aesthetic Quality. The central purpose of arts-informed research is knowledge advancement through research – not the production of fine art works. Art is a medium through which research purposes are achieved and, indeed, fine art works may be produced. The quality of the artistic elements of an arts-informed research project is defined by how well the artistic process and form serve research goals. Attention to the aesthetics of a particular genre are, therefore, important; aesthetics of form are integrally tied to communication. To paraphrase Elliott Eisner, the form needs to inform.

• Methodological Commitment. Arts-informed research reflects a methodological commitment through evidence of a principled process, procedural harmony, and attention to aesthetic quality. The methodological integrity of the research is determined in large part by the relationship between the form and substance of the research text and the inquiry process reflected in the text. The rationale for the use of photography, for example, as the defining art form guiding the inquiry or representation must be readily apparent by how and how well it works to illuminate and achieve the research purposes.

• Holistic Quality. From purpose to method to interpretation and representation, arts-informed research is an holistic process and rendering that runs counter to more conventional research endeavours that tend to be more linear, sequential, compartmentalized, and distanced from researcher and participants. A rigorous arts-informed “text” is imbued with an internal consistency and coherence that represents a strong and seamless relationship between purpose and method (process and form). The research text also evidences a high level of authenticity that speaks to the truthfulness and sincerity of the research relationship, process of inquiry, interpretation, and representational form.

• Communicability. Research that maximizes its communicative potential addresses concerns about the accessibility of the research account through the form and language in which it is written, performed, or otherwise presented. Accessibility is related to the potential for audience engagement, meaning making, and response. Depending on the complex interaction between research purposes, representational form, and intended audiences communicability of arts-informed research representations is variously defined by its evocative, empathic, embodied, provocative qualities of engagement and transformative potential.

• Knowledge Advancement. Research is about advancing knowledge however “knowledge” is defined. The knowledge advanced in arts-informed research is generative rather than propositional and based on assumptions that reflect the multidimensional, complex, dynamic, intersubjective, and contextual nature of human experience. Accordingly, knowledge is broadly defined to encompass rational, non-rational, emotional, embodied, and spiritual ways of knowing. The use of the arts in research is explicitly tied to moral purposes of social responsibility and epistemological equity. Thus, research representations are “open” texts intended to involve the reader / audience in an active process of meaning making that is likely to have transformative potential. These texts are presented with sufficient ambiguity and humility to allow for multiple interpretations and reader response.

• Contributions. Tied to the intellectual and moral purposes of arts-informed research are its theoretical and practical contributions. Sound and rigorous arts-informed work has both theoretical and transformative potential. The former acknowledges the centrality of the So What? question and the power of the inquiry work to provide insights into the human condition, while the latter urges researchers to imagine new possibilities for those whom the work is about and for. Researchers’ responsibilities are toward fellow humans, neighbours, community members, and society at large.


Arts-based inquiry uses the aesthetics, methods, and practices of the literary, performance, and visual arts as well as dance, theater, drama, film, collage, video, and photography. Arts-based inquiry is intertextual [and] it crosses the borders of art and research... When grounded in a critical performance pedagogy, arts-based work can be used to advance a progressive political agenda that addresses issues of social inequity.  (The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 3rd edition, Eds. Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln, 2005, pp. 642).

Arts-based practices are particularly useful for research projects that aim to describe, explore, or discover... The use of arts-based representational strategies brings academic scholarship to a wider audience [because it is] free from discipline-specific jargon and other prohibitive... barriers. (Method Meets Art: Arts-based Research Practices, Patricia Leavy, 2009, 12-14).

Australian scholar Jill Franz also has developed notions of research as a craft, linking to research in design disciplines. Franz suggests that the value of such an arts-based process is in its admittance of issues such as creativity, intuition, and a degree of serendipity that are normally excluded from the conventional research text  [Anchor] [4]. She also emphasizes the need for a strong reflexive element as a key part of this methodology, referencing Zeisel’s descriptions of design as ‘iterative cycles of imagining, representation and testing’  [Anchor] [5].  (Recite's key terms)