Twenty Questions with Artist-Scholars Kip Jones and Patricia LeavyShare
"My experiences have made me curious about the kinds of academics that are more likely to take risks, cross borders, adapt the arts and experiment by presenting their work in new ways. I’m curious about the make-up and motivations of other arts-based researchers, and what they can teach us about the creative process." Patricia Leavy
I am a sociologist turned arts-based researcher. This means I adapt the tenets of the creative arts in order to address social research questions in holistic and engaged ways. Arts-based researchers may draw on literary writing, music, dance, performance, visual art, film, and other mediums in their social research. The work is necessarily transdisciplinary. In my own practice, I have taken interview data collected over a decade as well as autoethnographic observations and written novels. As a proponent of public scholarship, my goal has been, among other things, to make social research more accessible to diverse audiences. I am interested in impact. When I first started practicing arts-based research many academics thought I was crazy, although folks outside of the academy seemed to “get it” from the outset. My experiences have made me curious about the kinds of academics that are more likely to take risks, cross borders, adapt the arts and experiment by presenting their work in new ways. I’m curious about the make-up and motivations of other arts-based researchers, and what they can teach us about the creative process.
Kip Jones, based at Bournemouth University in the UK, is an innovative social scientist and award-winning filmmaker who has long been crossing boundaries and creating new forms for creative and public scholarship. Jones is well-known in the field of “performative social science” which is quite similar to arts-based research. Like me, Jones was trained as a sociologist but has long been building research in other, artful forms. He recently received international attention for writing and directing the short, award-winning film Rufus Stone. The film was based on a three-year research project about the identity of older gay people in rural England.
We’ve been on each other’s radars for years and recently had a terrific time having a “conversation” about our work for an online journal. So I approached Kip with the idea of a multi-part meditation on creativity and to my great joy, he accepted. For this piece, which represents parts 1 and 2, Kip and I each came up with twenty questions for the other. With Jones being based in the UK whereas I am in the US, we emailed each other the questions at the same time, not knowing what the other asked. We then returned our responses again at the same time, without benefit of seeing the others’ answer first. The process has been revealing for us and we hope is interesting to others. Our only guideline for each other was not to talk directly about our work, but rather, to focus on who we are as people, scholars and artists. The hope was that by exchanging our responses and then interpreting them as social scientists, we might gain some insights about creative people and their processes and worldviews, at least our own. Below we have the two sets of interviews back-to-back. We plan to reconvene for a conversation between us about creativity and our creative processes, taking prompts from the interviews below. In that conversation, we will use our answers from this “20 questions” to talk about our work and the fields of arts-based research and performative social science. We hope to share the third and final part of this dialogue soon.
Twenty Questions for Kip Jones from Patricia Leavy (these are a combination of some my favorite questions that I have been asked over the years, along with a few that I came up with especially for Kip).
1. What three words best describe your personality?
Creative risk-taker, a romantic and reserved. I like whatever I’m eating to be separate on the plate and I only fall in love with one person at one time.
2. What three words best describe your body of work?
Groundbreaking, Innovative, Misunderstood
3. The one art form you can’t live without.
4. What art form do you think is most underrated?
Puppeteering. I am thinking of making a film using a life-sized puppet as the main character, inspired by Minghella’s ‘Madama Butterfly’.
5. Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
They constantly change. Right now it’s classical pianists: Nicholai Lugansky, David Fray, and Benjamin Grosvenor. I am listening to Ravel and Chopin incessantly at the moment. I am also following the budding career of composer Max Richter (“Recomposed. Vivaldi: The Four Seasons”; “Memoryhouse”)
6. Who are some of your favorite visual artists?
Picasso, Futurists, Dada artists, Relational artists
7. What’s the last movie you saw of note?
I should say RUFUS STONE, but we promised each other not to mention our own work here directly. I don’t see movies in cinemas very often. I finally saw Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo+Juliet” on a screen recently. I was very surprised by how much I liked it. DiCaprio is really beautiful in it, isn’t he?
8. If your life was a movie, who would the director be and why?
Having worked with a professional director myself, it makes it a bit difficult to answer, as I know some of the pitfalls. These collaborations are a lot about personalities. Why not Baz Luhrmann? At least it would be over-the-top, just like my life. I always say, ‘Life is a musical, even when it isn’t’. There is a lot of ‘letting go’ involved in allowing someone else to take your baby and film it. (I have written about this elsewhere).
9. What time period inspires you the most?
Turn of the 20th Century, Paris.
10. What motivates you?
Creative impulses, collaborations, interesting questions and challenges
11. What’s your best talent?
My visual orientation. I’m also a good listener as well as a good observer.
12. What’s your biggest weakness?
Handsome young men. And shoes that I will never wear.
13. If you could invite three people to a dinner party, dead or alive, who would you choose?
Picasso, Ethel Merman, and Rudolph Nureyev.Actually, I’ve already met two of them (EM & RN) briefly. I also knew a cellist who used to hang with Picasso in Paris salons with Cocteau et al. His stories were a wonderful conduit to the past.
14. Best compliment you ever got.
“You’re buff, I’m not.” (From a handsome young architect)
15. Best compliment you ever gave.
“I couldn’t have done it better.”
16. Best advice you ever got.
“It is what it is ‘til it isn’t”
17. What’s your advice to other creative folks?
Really look and make 100 versions first. Be so clever that it makes you laugh out loud.
18. What’s one professional or creative thing on your bucket list?
My next film: a gay, rom-com, coming-of-age, coming-out story. Working title: “PM”. Send money.
19. How do you define creativity?
“The uncanny ability to work within rule boundaries while at the same time changing them.”
20. How do you tap into creativity?
Solitude, travel, music, art and film. Watch people. Find the humor in most things, even the tragic.
Twenty Questions for Patricia Leavy from Kip Jones (mostly culled from magazine interviews on the Internet):
1. Who is your favourite artist and why?
It depends what kind of artist but if you mean visual, then I would say Andy Warhol is high on my list. I love how he was on to something before others. The commentary about commodification and celebrity culture was so on the nose and the art itself is wonderful. I love his color combinations. I admire artists who make a strong statement with their body of work and I think he accomplished that despite his life and career being cut short.
2. Do you get time to travel for pleasure and, if so, where do you go?
My husband Mark and I always try to make time for travel. We love going to NYC and London. We both love theatre, museums and good walking cities. We try to do at least one big trip every summer and this year will be a bit of an adventure. We’re going to Ireland. Neither of us has ever been and so it will be fun to explore it together. We’re staying in four different places to experience as much as we can. You’ll laugh though when I tell you where the inspiration for the trip came from. We were at the Muppet Movie with our daughter and as you may know, the Muppets are world travellers. They were in Dublin for part of the film and when we left the cinema my husband said, “Did you notice how cool Dublin looked?” Within hours we had checked out flights and soon the trip was booked. You can never go wrong taking life or travel advice from the Muppets.
3. If you go on holiday do you prefer to relax, sunbathe, sail, walk, get really stinko drunk, or explore new places?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. I think a combination of those sounds good. It depends where we go. There are some trips we take with the goal of relaxing, and that may involve lounging on the beach with cocktails. Then there are trips we take with the idea of walking around and exploring. I’ve come home from many trips with blisters on my feet because we tried to see as much as we could.
4. How important is music in your life? What genre of music do you like?
Music is very important in my life. I always have music on, whether I am working, cooking or getting ready for the day. The first thing I do when I get out of bed is go to my bathroom to brush my teeth, but first I put music on, truly. I never leave the house without my IPod either. I don’t like to be without music. It’s a constant part of my environment and integral to my creative process. I tend to like female singer-song writers and musicians. I’m most inspired by women who have created their own music, from writing to instrumentation to production.
5. Most of us are aware of your fondness for Tori Amos. If she didn’t exist, what music would you turn to next?
Bjork, probably. Her music can be low-key or very energizing and it’s always creative, unexpected. I like badass women whose ferocity comes from willingness to innovate.
6. Do you listen to music while you work? What kind?
I can’t work without music. The music opens up a creative space. I listen to a lot of Tori Amos. She has a huge catalogue and because of her creativity with structure and the feminist messages, it fuels my work. But on any given day or for any particular project I could be listening to 80s pop hits, classical music or trip-hop. When I need a little kick in the ass I put on Katy Perry or Madonna.
7. Do you find time to go to the cinema or television? Name your top two of each currently. What makes them special for you?
I watch a lot of movies and TV. Right now we’re watching House of Cards on Netflix and I am addicted. It’s clever, dark and a little twisted. I love it because it explores the underbelly of power. We’re also watching the new season of Master Chef. I love cooking competition shows. I like seeing how the pressure inspires creativity. Sometimes you can’t believe the beautiful dishes people create. In terms of movies, I recently saw The Book Thief which I thought was wonderful. It’s a period in history you can never learn enough about but what I really loved was how reading, writing, and words matter, and can change lives. I also responded to the idea that people are not always what they seem. That’s an idea I am obsessed with, appearance versus reality. I just saw Maleficent with my family and I absolutely loved it. It’s another film that plays with appearance versus reality. I enjoyed the play Wicked and this is very much that kind of a story. Maleficent not only gives a new way to look at an old story, but it is decidedly feminist and anti-patriarchy. It’s very powerful to reimagine an old, sexist fairy-tale and reclaim female power and autonomy. Since the film is in theatres now I don’t want to give anything away, but the messages about violence against women, human destruction of the environment, female friendship and what true love really is all resonated with me deeply.
8. Do you have any sisters or brothers?
I have two half-sisters but we aren’t in one another’s lives. I do have a friend since nursery school, Ally, and I consider her a true sister in every sense.
9. What are their opinions of you?
Ally has all of the dirt on me but she doesn’t let it cloud her. I think she feels proud of me. She knows what a wreck I was years ago and I think she’s proud of the choices I have made in my personal and professional lives. I also think she would say I give good advice and that I’m a good friend. I hope so at least.
10. What is your earliest childhood memory?
My maternal grandmother carrying me down the hallway in the apartment I grew up in. I loved her more than anyone in the world. We lived outside of Boston and she lived in the Bronx in New York. When she would visit she would carry me everywhere and let me sit on her lap for ages. I loved everything about how I felt with her.
11. Have you ever eaten real British food? Do you know what it is? Do they? What do you think of it?
I’ve had a wonderful British breakfast but without the sausage. So the eggs, baked beans, tomatoes, and so on. It was great but I have a food allergy so I can’t always try everything.
12. What do you fear the most?
13. If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and what would say to them?
Sylvia Plath. I would tell her not do it; to walk through the dark and find herself in her talent. I’d give her my best “reject low-fat love” speech.
14. What is the scariest situation that you’ve ever put yourself in?
Having my daughter. I was a single mother in graduate school and it was scary as anything. But it also shows some of the best rewards can come from taking risks.
15. Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know.
I sing and dance around my house like a bit of a lunatic. I am totally unburdened by rhythm and I am entirely tone deaf so it is quite torturous for my family, but I love to sing and dance around with abandon.
And finally, a few questions Time Magazine asked the Dalai Lama:
16. Do you ever feel angry or outraged?
Yes. There’s so much injustice in the world. The mistreatment of girls and women on a global scale, human trafficking, the mass violence including the slaughter of boys and the sexual exploitation of girls, the systemic homophobia and racism, illegal occupations, it’s endless. There’s a lot to be outraged about. I do think the saying it quite true; if you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention.
17. Have you ever thought about being a normal person instead of being the Patricia Leavy?
Too funny. I think my husband and daughter would love that but I wouldn’t know how to do it.
18. Have you ever tried on a pair of trousers?
No. But I do have a fondness for men’s tailored shirts.
19. Do you believe your time here on earth has been a success?
Yes. I didn’t always feel that way, but I do now.
20. When do you plan to visit KIPWORLD?
Oh, I hope sooner than later.
About Kip Jones
Reader in Performative Social Science at the Centre for Qualitative Research at Bournemouth University, KIP JONES is an American by birth, and has been studying and working in the UK for more than 15 years. His main efforts have involved developing tools from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider public or a Perfomative Social Science.
Kip has produced films and written many articles for academic journals and authored chapters for books on topics such as masculinity, ageing and rurality, and older LGBT citizens. His groundbreaking use of qualitative methods, including biography and auto-ethnography, and the use of tools from the arts in social science research and dissemination are well known. Jones acted as Author and Executive Producer of the award-winning short film, RUFUS STONE, funded by Research Councils UK.
Media coverage: His work has been reported widely in the media, including: BBC Radio 4, BBC TV news, Times Higher Education, Sunday New York Times, London School of Economics Impact Blog, International Herald-Tribune and The Independent.