1: Using arts-based methods to explore existential issues around ageing

This chapter presents an arts-based research method enabling the study of existential dilemmas regarding ageing by using the visual artwork as a medium to evoke a profound dialogue between researcher and respondent. The application of the method will be shown in an arts-educational setting – focusing on the existential dimensions of life. The method is based on Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS: Housen, 1997; Yenawine, 2013), an art education method for conducting conversations on attentive and conscious perceptions of visual artworks. To further enhance the focused engagement with artworks, VTS has been expanded with a set of eXisTential Reflective Additional questions (XTRA: Bruijn & Jansen, 2019). This allows the VTS XTRA method to be applied in social work settings for use by workers and researchers to gain insight into older people’s existential questions making use of visual artworks. The research setting for our case example is the application of VTS XTRA with ageing visitors of the ‘Special Award’ exhibition in the Dutch Nicolaïkerk in Utrecht. The Special Award is a national competition for visual artists with a disability, organised by the Special Arts foundation. In its peripheral programme, ageing visitors were invited to participate in conversations by looking at the artworks during a VTS XTRA session. These discussions generate data for an ongoing doctoral study of the first author (PB) on the pedagogical utility of art with respect to existential questions.

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