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By Rachel Marie Crane

How can I make sense and


meaning out of qualitative

fieldwork and community art? Can I make work that is congruent

with the pressures of the academy? What about stuff that is accessible??? Texts for audiences beyond the ivory tower??? What about real social change? WHat about policy? What about art? What about others??????????????

Activism, Art, and Public Scholarship




tch scra



There I reall are some is s want ty care aboutues that .I o le when Iave them be don’t hin go to work. d

I miss my kids

5 re 1. ren e a n Ther n child nt i io mill a pare h wit on pris


Our Justice system is






Can I combine activism, scholarship, and art making in a way that “Contribute(s) to the public good and yield(s) artifacts of public and intellectual value” (Ellison &Eatman, 2008)?

Since 1995, I have worked as an artist and scholar in women’s prisons. I can’t imagine not doing this work. Until recently, I never made artwork that was about my experiences inside the prison walls. I reserved those experiences for my writing as a scholar. But I have always found the impact of scholarly publications to be frustrating. The number of people that read scholarly publications is limited mostly to people who hold positions in academia similar to mine. While they might find my research interesting or informative, rarely does it seem to change the way they perceive the world. Years ago, I came to a point where showing my artwork in galleries and museums was not particularly gratifying. People often experience art as precious, off limits, or removed a few degrees from the “nitty gritty” of everyday life. It might be beautiful or inspiring but rarely are people actually moved beyond the moment of contemplation.

I should be working on that painting not sitting here in the library

I shouldn’t be painting I should be working on that article

This painting won’t change anything

It ‘s hard to paint &write. I just can’t focus

No one will read this anyway...

What should I do? My life in academia was filled with clouds of doubt-Well... that’s a little dramatic-- but I did lose sleep over how to satisfy the requirements of my job at a research university, make art, and make a worthwhile contribution that might bring about a change in the prison system and the public’s perception of people who are incarcerated.

Then in 2003 it hit me!

(and every other non-fiction comic I could find).

Two years later...

Maybe I could draw comics?

20 10

I watched American Splendor... Next... I devoured The New American Splendor Anthology: From Off the Streets of Cleveland ...

Comics are the perfect way to make the women at the prison visible-literally. I think I can do this... I already teach it! Why not?!

Yep! I have three grandsons and one granddaughter. These are photos from the last time they came for visit. It was almost three months ago. They live in Omaha. One of them just started school.


is so far from here...

Making comics that bear witness to the lives of women in prison requires an approach to data collection that differs a bit from traditional qualitative methods. I bring in a recording device a pen and paper. I do a number of preliminary sketches and collect lots of stories through sustained interviewing until a theme and images begin to emerge. Sometimes these themes are around common issues such as mothering; other times they are based on an experience taken from my time spent in the prison as a facilitator of arts and humanities classes or gender and Women’s Studies programs.

Through the stories I create I try to offer the reader insight into the prison system, and the lives of women who are incarcerated. In the work I always try to make my position plainly visible.

Comics are more than stories; this way of presenting experiences also allows me to succinctly share the sounds, sights, and even smells of prison, as well as the conversations and body language.

Yum! 1:15 pm Unit 4 8/18/09

Tina S.


She smells like Indian food, and perfume The common areas of the living units are always crowded and they often smell like popcorn. I am

hyper aware of my own smell and appearance when I visit the prison. 1:27 pm

I love to paint. It really helps me... Prison is stressful.

1:16 pm

Sorry, lunch was nasty

Now my family thinks of me as an artist. Not just a tweaker.

1:43 pm 1:44 pm They of me are proud again.

ch crun crun ch

Drawing makes my hand “visible� within the text. Image, text, and sequence make the silences visible. They help the viewer feel the time between moments.

1:45 pm

Ahh ha... Wow. Where did that come from?

Later at home... 10:27 pm

ve been Must ha I ate ng somethi h! at lunc

After these encounters it often takes me weeks to digest the data I have collected. I often write it up as a way to analyze what happened and what it means. Next I start to break the stories I collect down into discrete and important moments, sentences, gestures, sounds, and expressions. Finally I return to my field sketches and try to create a graphic account that embodies my experience.

Images were first made to conjure up the appearances of something that was absent ... images are more precise than literature. To say this is not to deny the expressive or imaginative quality of art, treating it as mere documentary evidence; the more imaginative the work, the more profoundly it allows us to share the artist’s experience of the visible.

John Berger

Comics offer so many opportunities to make visible nuances that would be difficult and perhaps less powerful if they were represented by words alone.

panel 2: the next Significant moment

GUtter= Time

Basic Anatomy of a Comic in Qualitative ResearcH

Narration Panel: The disembodied voice of the researcher. This can be written in past, present, or future tense and might be written in first, second, or third person. But, this work is not without its own set of challenges when it is done within the confines of the ivory tower... I just wanted to talk to you about my promotion dossier... I want to shift the focus of my scholarship to comics.

The Dean’s Office

Oh, sure --We have several scholars on campus who write about comics.

Uh... well as long as you can get them published in peer-reviewed journals or by reputable university presses.

good luck... with that one!

No... to want an I ite r w I me & draw ics. com

Trying to be a facilitator, artist, abolitionist, activist, and scholar in prisons has always been a delicate balancing act between satisfying my academic institution, working to shed a critical light on a system that is terribly flawed, and maintaining a strong relationship with the institution and the women. My ability to go inside the prison depends on trust and institutional support from my university and the prison. one wrong step... think... balance... breathe


Oh Crap! Crap!

It is Like inching across a tightrope sometimes I waiver, but then I breathe and remind myself to keep trying to slowly and carefully put one foot in front of the other.

Meda Chesney-Lind, Lucy Lippard, John Dewey, June King McFee, Ellen Dissanayake, Myles Horton, Carolyn El-

Ella Baker, Stephen Hartnett, Shaul Cohen, Lois Ahrens, Steve McGuire, Tim Tyson

iot Eisner Ell

Mar y

i th


ok Co Jd


Ma rga ret




Susanne Langer, Suzi Gablik, Jane Addams, Joe Saccco, Howard Zinn, Annie Dillard, Buzz Alexander, Lori Pompa, , bell Hooks

In feminist circles, the most common expression of action is found in intention: the aim of feminist research is liberation. This emancipatory impulse can be found in positions ranging from a radical insistence that the purpose of research is total transformation of patriarchy and corresponding empowerment of women, to the more liberal insistence that specific attention be paid to policy implications of research on women

If we indeed know more than we can tell, then we should try telling what we know with anything that will carry the message forward.

Imagination, intention: Neither is sufficient. There must be a transmutation of good will, of what I call wide-awakeness into action. Both demand reflection and praxis, which are inseparable from each other. Both not only imagine things as if they could be otherwise, but move persons to begin on their own initiatives, to begin to make them so.

e e ne

I never forget that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. There are lots of scholars and artists who have walked the tightrope before me.


a x in e G r

Comics challenge what traditional scholarship looks like. I don’t want to divorce my radical politics from my life in academia.

Don’t worry I ’ll be back ne week and xt can finish we our mural.

I will always work outside of the university.

l wil I . s ed ues e bor g I er b nev

               

Hopefully they will change the law... Think about what we can do to make others aware of situations like hers.

I will try to inspire students to make the world a better place.

I will strive to produce democratic texts that scholars can embrace and people who are not part of academia will want to consume.

People who are incarcerated need people from the outside to bear witness to their struggles, remorse, and endless punishment through our justice and social system. “What is just? What is justice?” What does the spectrum between vengeance and forgiveness look like? All of these things are worthwhile ...I guess I better keep my pencils sharp for the time being. Hmmm... I wonder if the IRB will ever return my phone calls about comics and research?

*a special thanks to Lois Ahrens, Jefri Palermo, Sean, Jack, and Rylie Kelley, Lori Pompa and the Inside Out program, Linda Haack, the women at ICIW, and students and faculty in GWSS and Art. References Berger, John. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books (p.10). Eisner, Elliot. (2008). Art and Knowledge. In J. Gary Knowles and Andra L. Cole Eds. Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, (pp. 3-12). Ellison, Julie & Eatman, Timothy. (2008). Scholarship in public: Knowledge creation and tenure policy in the engaged university. Syracuse, NY: Imagining America. http://www . . .”

Rachel Marie-Crane Williams 416 JB Gender Women’s and Sexuality Studies/ Media Social Practice and Design University of Iowa Iowa City, IA 52242

Fonow, Mary Margaret, and Judith A. Cook. (1991a). Back to the Future. In Fonow and Cook 1991a, 35–59. Greene, Maxine (2010). Prologue. Journal of Educational Controversy [Art, social imagination, democratic education: Dedicated to Maxine Greene. (v.5) (1) (Winter). http://www.wce.wwu. edu/Resources/CEP/eJournal/v005n001/.

Can You Picture This: Activism and Public Scholarship  
Can You Picture This: Activism and Public Scholarship  

This comic published by the Journal of Visual Arts Research ( in 2012 is about my work as a...