Interviewing over time



In their Preface to their third edition of Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data, Herbert and Irene Rubin (2012) observe:

Qualitative interviews let us see that which is not ordinarily on view and examine that which is often looked at but seldom seen. (p.xv)

Uwe Flick (2014), amongst others, has drawn attention to Herbert and Irene’s use of responsive interviews. In these interviews, the pattern of questioning is flexible … “new questions are designed to tap the experience and knowledge of each interviewee” (Herbert and Irene quoted in Uwe Flick, p. 208).
I was thinking about this kind of approach when I read Richard Meryman’s (2013) Andrew Wyeth: A Spoken Self-Portrait. The book is based on interviews Richard had with Andrew Wyeth from 1964 onwards over four decades.

Four Decades

In the Introduction to his book, Richard writes:

In the fall of 1964, I sat in the living room of Andrew Wyeth’s home … interviewing him … On the floor, my tape recorder was secretly running. After twenty minutes of exploring the wellspring of his art, this famously reclusive, complex man suddenly said, “You know, I won’t be able to say these things again. I confessed that the tape recorder had been on. His response: “Thank God!”

This was the start of four hundred hours of recorded conversations that “explore the subtle intricacies, circumstances, imaginings and emotions that informed his work”.
Richard’s book is beautifully illustrated. Interviews and conversations pervade the book and a drawn from family and friends as well as Andrew Wyeth himself.
Richard notes that once all these interviews are transcribed, catalogued and made available, they are “destined to become a critical source for researchers and scholars”.
They will be a wonderful longitudinal resource too for those interested in responsive interviews.


I have been doing qualitative research since the mid-1980s, ironically about the time I saw my first Andrew Wyeth paining at the Brandywine Museum.
Richard’s book took me back to Chadds Ford and to my varied attempts to interview and chat with teachers, coaches and athletes. I still have many of my audio recordings and boxes of transcripts from my early days.
I am excited that cloud storage now allows us to reposit these resources for others to access with participants’ consent. Richard notes of his conversations with Andrew Wyeth, you hear his human side:

his digressions, colloquialisms, his laughter and anger, his fibs and fears. You realize the force of the emotions he poured into his paintings and hear him talk about his inspirations

What a wonderful approach to sharing and a model for practice about long-term knowing.

Photo Credits

The Wyeth House (Chris G, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Olsen House (Matthew Chamberlain, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Brandywine River Museum (Don Shall, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


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