Dissertation Proposal: Art as Information

Black abstract flower illustration on pale yellow background with title slide text in black and navy blue.
(Graphic of my presentation title slide.)

*Skip to end for description of my dissertation!

As of February 28, 2023 I am now ABD (“all but dissertation”) :D!! Essentially, this means that I have reached the final stage of my PhD program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. From this point forward, I may focus on completing my research, dissertation writing, and final exam.

I successfully defended my dissertation proposal entitled, “Art as Information: Re-reading Quicksand.” MUCH has changed since I last posted…! I’ll share more on this later, but just wanted to document this event as it’s a MAJOR step and accomplishment in my overall development as a thinker, maker, and human being. Posting this also helps me to pause and smell the flowers, which has at times been difficult for me while trying to resist conditioning of grind/meritocracy-culture.

Here’s a link to my past presentation from my school’s calendar: Courtney Richardson’s Dissertation Proposal Defense. This page includes a link to my proposal manuscript, but it will soon expire. (Sorry-not-sorry, gotta wait until the final is published :). However, a copy of my abstract is added to the end of this page!

I am forever grateful for my multiple communities of support along the way:

God/Spirit, Family, and Chosen-Family:
Beyond my immediate family, you know there’s too many of y’all to name at this point…BUT I’ll figure out something with my acknowledgements section <3.

Art Education Comrades:
Paulina Valencia Camacho, Catalina Hernandez-Cabal, Angela Inez Baldus, Shavani Bhalla

Library and Information Science Comrades:
Lettycia Torrones, DeAnza Williams, Jamillah Gabrielle, Posey (Stephanie)

My doctoral committee:

  • Associate Professor Kathryn La Barre, Chair
  • Professor Emerita Linda C. Smith
  • Associate Professor Safiya U. Noble, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Assistant Professor Blair Ebony Smith


Description (Abstract):
[See less academ-icky version here.]

“Art as Information: Re-reading Quicksand” is a micro-study of an African American cultural narrative through artmaking. My subject is the autobiographical and fictional novel, Quicksand by Nella Larsen (1928). Larsen’s life and creative storytelling provide paths for how we may attend to cultural heritage knowledge gaps about African American womanhood by engaging with the works (or informing processes) of art. This especially highlights works concerning self-definition and self-determination while navigating life within a racialized, classed, and gendered body. I intend to re-present Quicksand as an autobiographical artifact and living artwork to invite ongoing inquiry and knowledge production on Black womanhood in intimate and shared spaces. I will approach this research by making artworks that reiterate and interpret knowledges that emerge from reading Larsen’s narrative. I will also document processes and analysis of my annotations and artmaking that emerges—providing an intimate view of how Art as Information (AAI) [via Tonyia Tidline] is engaged to research an artifact for critical and iterative/cyclical exploration.

This dissertation reintroduces AAI as a subfield of Information Sciences that engages artmaking as an information technology. It involves the study of arts’ roles within knowledge production: how we craft, document, process, and circulate information through making art. For my research, I intertwine AAI with cultural-attentive lenses, such as Black Feminist Material Culture (BFMC) [via Sharbreon Plummer] and Culturally Situated Reader Response Theory (CRRT) [via Wanda Brooks, Susan Browne, LaTesha Velez], to examine how we may tend to cultural knowledges that are historically silenced and disfigured—exploring the liberatory aspects of artmaking to intercept and dismantle exploitative depictions (i.e., visual violences) historically committed against marginalized groups under the guise of neutral documentation and curiosity [via Lisa Gail Collins, Christina Sharpe, Saidiya Hartman]. I also lean on scholarship from Art Education (e.g., research creation) [via Natalie Loveless] to explore how AAI engages with auto/biographical knowledge production to navigate tensions between fiction and reality in documenting someone’s life as self-definition or embodiment emerges, evolves, and fluctuates over time [via Toni Morrison, Jamie Ann Lee]. Lastly, my ever-present question while conducting this research interrogates how artmaking may also tend to the psychological impact involved with processing such narratives on Black womanhood that involve traumatic experiences.

–Courtney Richardson, February 2023

*Bracketed texts are inserted above to highlight and credit a few scholars whose prior/current work has greatly helped me with my own thinking and making. There’s MANY others…! But those represented here are my initial selection of folk to recognize. Thank you.