Research, Art, and Emotions

Noa Yaari, CRRS 14/30 (detail), 2021. Mixed media. 21 x 28 cm. Toronto

An article on the RAND website explores the use and effectiveness of art-based approaches to public engagement with research. It argues that:

“When designing arts-based engagement approaches, it is important to consider that they can bring out experiences in stakeholders that may be challenging to process at an emotional level. Mitigations and management mechanisms to deal with potential unintended consequences should be included in the approach.”

The brief article from which I quoted this conclusion, doesn’t give examples. Thus, I can only guess what the author means by “unintended consequences.” What could they be? I recall myself being engaged with artworks of various kinds and reacting to them emotionally. I don’t remember myself experiencing “intended consequences;” they all seem independent of my wish whether to experience them or not and, in my memory, I’m fine with that. 

The assumption that “unintended consequences” should be “managed” suggests that they entail a negative feeling, or perhaps a positive one, which may be inappropriate. Am I right? Otherwise, what could be the reason to manage them? Perhaps these consequences are sadness, anger, fear, disappointment, agitation, and other kinds of pain. If the results of research are painful, and the art-based approach delivers them in a creative and engaging way, what is the problem with experiencing that pain? Isn’t that unpleasant experience a condition for further ideas, conversations, activism, and change?

Lastly, the recommendation to include “management mechanisms” in the art-based approach raises the questions: What are these mechanisms? Who should design them; the researcher, artist, or other kind of expert? And would it be risky to trust the audience that it can deal with its emotions as it encounters reality, research, and art? 

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