Cognitive Comics

A Constructivist Approach to Sequential Art - Research Fellowship Grant from State University of New York at Buffalo. Fellowship recipient and author,


Research Project Final Report

Posted by cognitivecomics on August 25, 2009 at 7:22 PM

Below is a report submitted to the Research Foundation looking back on this summer's experience. While this research project will be an on-going jouney for me both as an artist and educator, the report below brings some closure to the fellowship and provides you with a sense of what I learned along the way:

Final Report

Cognitive Comics: A Constructivist Approach to Sequential Art

Donald Jackson

August 25, 2009


   Both my mentor and I are happy with the results of my Summer research project. At first I was not sure what sort of role he would play but quickly discovered how important that relationship is to both establish structure and provide inspiration. The project, as a whole, was a tremendous leap forward in my own professional development. I am not trying to find ways to fund the continuation of the this project and travel to a few conventions to present my research, particularly the NY State Art Teachers Association.

   Since 2003 I have been involved in teaching and developing comics for the classroom, however this research project was largely based on the content I learned at the Buffalo State Art Education program. Throughout last year I made several connections between what I learned in this program with my knowledge base from teaching and developing comics in the classroom. This research fellowship afforded the opportunity to bring these connections together, explore new ideas and propose new ways of thinking about art education and cognitive development.

   One of the significant contributions I made through Cognitive Comics is a theoretical structure from which art educators can approach teaching art for cognition. By staying focused on cognitive development as the goal of art education, I re-thought Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Domains (a standard guide for contemporary art educators), and used it provide a method of promoting higher order thinking skills.

   Some of the challenges I met throughout the summer was balancing the flow of the book with my desire to add more content. It was quite frustrating having only a Summer to put this project together but eventually I was able to edit down to the essential elements from which I can later expand. Another issue I ran into was the danger of misrepresenting statements that I was quoting. Taken out of context this can change meaning, I was fortunate to have some peer proof readers challenge me to make myself more clear, but in some cases I simply had to edit entire paragraphs and rethink how to express my points. There were ten versions of the research paper prior to the final submission.

   I found myself in a rare and unique place writing this research. There are a growing number of educators looking into comics and graphic novels but the majority of these writings are critical reviews into the literature. Very few approach comics/ sequential art as an art form. Having been mentored in comic book illustration by a seasoned professional, I have a unique education similar to how craftsmen handed down trade skills from generation to generation. This combined with my fine art degree, teaching experience and art education background combined to give me a very strong foundation from which to make my hypothesis. Nevertheless, I took my position very seriously and tried to maintain a sound approach to this project. I have an educated opinion on several matters, these were backed up with examples and arguments. In other cases, I found that there is already so much research written on art and cognitive development that I did not want to try and invent the wheel. The end result, hopefully, was something unique, groundbreaking, informative and inspiring.

   A large part of this research project has to do with the sequential art itself and the accompanying lesson plans. While this is ancillary to the research paper, there were great challenges in deciding how best to provide samples that work in tandem with my concepts. I have several concepts story-boarded for the sequential art and shared them with my mentor over the Summer. Dr. Parks provided a good objective approach that helped me question my own artwork. The sequential art is posted at the web site where the research paper is posted. These works are essential to the overall goals I have with this project because they offer opportunities for viewers to apply my concepts to sequential art that is informed and guided by cognitive development.

   Dr. Parks had mentioned all throughout this research project that metaphor is the highest form of cognition in the appreciation and creation of art. Metaphor can be a broader term to cover iconography, symbolism, analogy and other forms of non-direct expression that lends itself well to open interpretation. Both in my sequential art and in my writing, I acknowledged the importance of cognitive dissonance to the process of cognitive development through art. Pointing out that arts based research is quite different from science based research in that subjective interpretation plays a significant role, I created works of sequential art with several layers and aspects that would allow for different insights and ideas to emerge.


  The potential pitfalls of this research paper are that the ideas may be too broad and the subject matter to far between fields. Sequential art is barely defined by the general public as an art form in itself, publishers and readers of comics and graphic novels may find the paper to academic and aerial to connect with their own experience. It is my hope that a forward thinking publisher of either educational products or comic books will see how Cognitive Comics bridges these two fields. Cognitive Comics is not "edu-tainment" in the sense of what we see on educational television but rather it is a Constructivist approach to viewing all kinds of sequential art as a form of art that can and should be appreciated and created in an art education setting.


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3:11 PM on February 16, 2010; You saved my day again.