The below is a reposting of a post I have just added to the Re:place blog. There are possibilities for adding comments at that blog.
In presentations of artistic research projects the question “…but is it artistic research…” seems inevitable, raised by audience, peer reviewers, surrounding management or by the artistic researchers themselves. To me this is an unproductive question, begging for unproductive answers. Still, the question comes up on a regular basis, at least here in Norway.
For the recent 7th Sensuous Knowledge conference1, presenters were asked to consider the following question: “What makes your project an example of artistic/museum research and not (purely) a work of art or a design product?”2. Similarly artistic research projects receiving grants from the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme (e.g., the Re:place project) are expected to present their projects at the regular national Artistic Research Forums. The presentations are explicitly requested to discuss how “artistic development emerges through the project – in a form that would be suitable for discussion among the participants”.3
Looking abroad, the above question appears less omnipresent. The Art & Research Journal “welcomes submissions (…) which seek to engage with all areas of research in Fine Art practice and/or pedagogy. Submissions may take the form of interviews, analytical or polemical essays as well as audio, visual or text-based artworks which seek to address issues in / or are the outcomes of research in Fine Art practice.”4. Reviewers for the journal are asked to consider if the submission is appropriate to the aims and focus of the journal, and whether is it of sufficient academic/artistic standard.5 Neither the call for submissions nor the reviewing guideline requests a mandatory discussion of what make the presented work artistic research. Neither does the Austrian Program for Arts-based Research (PEEK) require this question to be explicitly addressed; rather there is an emphasis on research context, clarity of the aims, appropriateness of the methodology, topicality and potential for artistic innovation, as well as more instrumental potentials for increasing international competitiveness and networking.6
The guidelines when peer-reviewing expositions for the Journal of Artistic Research (JAR) falls somewhere in-between, explicitly asking if the submission expose practice as research, but further details this question as follows:
In the Research Catalogue, art is exposed, translated, transformed, performed, curated etc. as research. The claim to be research implies a relationship in one way or another to academic criteria for the conduct of research, which include:
1) A description or exposition of the question, issue or problem the research is exploring;
2) Evidence of innovation in the content, form, or technique of the work in relation to a genre of practice;
3) Contextualisation, which includes, or may include, a discussion of social, artistic and/or theoretical issues that the work responds to, a discussion of a range of positions taken by other artists to whom this work contributes a particular perspective, and some documentation of work by the artist that led to the present submission;
4) The (kind of) knowledge, understanding, insight, comprehension or experience the research is trying to enhance and convey;
5) The adequacy and soundness of the methods used and thoroughness of research, analysis, and experiment;
6) A correct use of referencing, following the MHRA author-date citation style.7
The question of whether a work constitutes artistic research first warrants a definition of what artistic research is. The question of “what is artistic research” belongs to the discipline of philosophy of artistic science in the same way as the question “what is scientific research” belongs to the discipline of philosophy of science. It is not necessarily the obligation of the artist or artist-researcher to provide academic answers to this question.
In scientific research you seldom hear anyone asking “whether this is scientific research”. Works of science are not judged in terms of whether or not they are science. Rather the quality of the work is taken into consideration, as it expresses itself in how the presentation situates the work in a research context, the clarity of the aims, the appropriateness of the methodology, the relevance and importance of topicality, as well as the quality and contributions of results and discussion. It should be no different for artistic research.
Hence the vague question “is it artistic research” should be substituted for more specific questions relating to the above, and a presentation of artistic research implicitly argue for the quality of the research by addressing these questions. This will also lead to more precise questions for further development of the understanding of artistic research as an academic discipline, e.g., what relevant and productive methods can be imagined and applied within artistic research, and how might the methodology of artistic research be further developed?
This will also serve to resolve the equally unproductive need to distinguish between something being artistic research as opposed to “(purely) a work of art or a design product”.2 This discrimination to me seems primarily institutionally motivated, part of an argument to justify artistic research within the institutions (and funding for it) as something else than what is happening in the free professional field.
Scientific research is primarily taking place within research institutions and the research-driven industry. In contrast artistic production and artistic research happens both within the academic institutions and within the free and independent professional field of artists and practitioners. It is my opinion that we cannot and should not make any hard distinction between the activities within and outside academia. It is a prerequisite of artistic research that it produce strong artistic works as one of its outcomes, and possibly the most important one. At the same time the practise of many independent artists have strong elements of artistic research, and should be recognised as such.
A positioning of artistic research as belonging only within the institutions, different in nature to the practice of the free and independent artistic field, encourages a divergence between the practices inside and outside of the academic institutions. This has the potential of leading to a separate strand of academic art, with the danger of it ending up equally irrelevant as the tradition of the French Academy of Fine Arts at the dawn of impressionism.
An important difference between activities within and outside the academic institutions with respect to artistic research is that the institutions generally have more generous resources available. Hence they offer improved opportunities (time, space and funding) for systematic reflection on the artistic practice, and the communication of such reflections. For this reason we can expect and require the institutions to engage with all aspects of artistic research, and provide major contributions to the field, but this should be of equal importance within and outside of the institutions. In contrast many independent artists find that they need to prioritise certain parts of the breath of activities that constitutes artistic research. The systematic communication of reflections is particular challenging to many independent artists as funding for artistic projects seldom leave room for this.
2 E-mail from “The Sensuous Knowledge Conference Team” to presenting participants January 4 2013.
3 Letter from the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme to this author as coordinator of the Re:place project on December 5 2012. Translated from Norwegian.
4 Note to Contributors to Art & Research. Available online: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v4n1/v4n1colophon.php. Accessed 2013-01-26
5 Peer-Review pro forma for Art & Research. Available online: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v3n2/pdfs/Peer_Review_Pro_Forma.pdf. Accessed 2013-01-26
6 Program for Arts-based Research (PEEK): Program Document. May 2009. Available online: http://www.fwf.ac.at/en/projects/ar_PEEK_document.pdf. Accessed 2013-01-26
7 JAR Peer-reviewing guide. http://www.jar-online.net/index.php/pages/view/128. Accessed 2013-01-26