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4 Fourteen Reasons to Mistrust the PhD

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 [Note to WordPress readers: this site doesn’t support footnotes, so they have been omitted.]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 1 There are many reasons to wonder about the PhD for artists. It is spreading around the world, and in a few decades it’s likely it will be the de facto degree for artists who want to become teachers. In some parts of the world it is generally accepted, and in others the PhD is required for anyone who wants to teach at the university level. As the PhD becomes more normative, it is especially important to keep an eye on the principal objections that have been raised.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 2 This list grew organically from a short version published in Art in America (May 2007, pp. 108-9), and in Spanish, translated by Fernando Uhia, in Cuadernos Grises 4 (Bogotà: Departamento de Arte, Universidad de los Andes, 2009), 155–60. Starting on May 9, 2012, I posted it on Facebook. The discussion there was very broad-ranging, and I have acknowledged a number of Facebook comments in this revision.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 As the list grew, some entries swelled, and others remained brief. Three entries in particular have grown to the size of short chapters: the ones on self-reflexivity, research, and knowledge. I could have separated those out, but I like the unevenness of the list. In academic publishing, authors aren’t usually permitted to write books in which one chapter is three pages long and the next is thirty. Editors make sure that academic books are well-behaved: they are usually within 400 pages, and they tend to have at least five chapters, which are each roughly the same length. (There are a few counter-examples: I like Peter De Bolla’s book on the sublime, which has a one-page chapter.) I thought that this subject and this publisher are right for something a bit less symmetrical.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 1 There’s one fascinating thing that binds all the entries on this list, all these objections, together. They were all raised, in different forms, against the MFA when it was spreading rapidly in the 1960s. Many of these reasons to mistrust the degree were true then and are still true now: but that didn’t stop the MFA from spreading around the world. Given the inevitability of the PhD, my interest is not to stop it—this list isn’t material for a protest—but rather to rethink it. Otherwise it could end up the way the MFA is: a disordered, largely untheorized collection of practices, open to each of the objections that was raised about it in the 1960s.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 When something becomes as widespread as the practice-based PhD, entire academic communities grow up around it: teachers, administrators, art educators, and staff are trained in the PhD. It’s what they know, what they care about. There are instructors teaching now who were themselves taught by people who got PhDs in the 1970’s and 1980’s: that means that there are nearly three generations of people for whom the PhD is entirely natural. In the last five years, a massive literature has sprung up, suddenly, exploring the degree as if its fundamental principles and purposes were largely settled. In light of that I think it is particularly important to continue questioning the degree at the root level.

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8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Reason 1. Students in the new degrees are expected to do scholarly research. 

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The length of dissertations varies from around 25,000 to 80,000 words, with a worldwide average of about 60,000 words. How many artists with MFAs can write at that length? How might applicants be assessed for their capacity can produce writing at that scale? See the chapter “Remarks on the PhD Around the World” for more on this.

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11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Reason 2. It is not clear what kinds of art, exactly, are potentially improved by serious research.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 PhD-granting programs still lack any extended analysis of what sorts of practices can benefit from the PhD dissertation. A satisfactory answer to that should also include an account of what kinds of art would not benefit. In general, PhD programs will decline to admit applicants whose proposals or practice are still unformed; but aside from those general criteria, what modes, styles, and strategies of art, both in history and in the present, would not, in theory, be appropriate for the PhD? The normative assumption in PhD-granting institutions is that potentially, any student with a cogent research proposal and practice is a potential candidate. But can that possibly be true? Aren’t there art practices that benefit from a lack of clarity about their objectives, or a lack of understanding of historical precedents?

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Here are some examples, just to indicate the kind of thing I have in mind. Any number of twentieth-century artists wrote manifestos that have little to do with the reasons their work is valued; if those manifestos has been written in contemporary academia, they would have been thoroughly criticized for overreaching rhetoric, lack of system, lack of argument, and lack of evidence. If Ad Reinhardt had read his own texts closely, as an academic reads, he would have been bothered by their many self-contradictions—or conversely, if his texts had been produced in PhD programs, they would have had to have been edited down to fragments. If Kandinsky had combed through his book looking for logical errors, he might have ended up abandoning it. If I look for artists whose writings could work as contemporary PhD dissertations, I can think of a few, mainly in the Renaissance: Piero della Francesca’s three treatises might work well as examples of thorough research, and Dürer’s book on human proportions might be legible as an example of visual awareness of diversity. But Alberti’s book on architecture is an endless unstructured mess, and Leonardo’s notebooks could not be assessed or even read as research. And this is just considering artists who wrote texts that could be considered as treatises. The majority of artists either haven’t written anything, or they haven’t written sustained, analytic, structured inquiries. Personally, I would like to enlist most of the world’s art practices as examples of kinds of work that would not be suited for PhD-level research.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 My examples here would need to be expanded, but I hope it is enough to indicate the general nature of the problem: there have been many times and places in art history in which the art practices depended on not being systematic, on not involving research, on not being clear. Some kinds of art practice can benefit from the kinds of discipline involved in producing research proposals and working systematically: many others might not. When I posted this on Facebook, Jonathan Muehlke noted that “there are some skills that can only be gained under close supervision in a structured academic environment.” The question whether those skills—the ability to form a research program, to gather information thoroughly and systematically, to analyze it clearly—are appropriate to namable art practices, or if they are, in theory, applicable to any art practices.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 On Facebook, this question sparked a debate. One writer, Victoria Allen Hanks, mentioned the painter Sue Coe as an example of an artist who would not be appropriate for a PhD program. Hanks said Coe “has been a hands-on practitioner and activist, visiting slaughterhouses and getting the word out about animal abuse… Her work is political and needs a succinct message. A dissertation would kill it for sure.” But Louise Scoville wrote: “I disagree profoundly! Art needs academic scrutiny and investigation to advance and fully realize its potential… I was a university Lecturer and Professor for 9.5 years: only in my current PhD research am I learning and understanding how to really see, feel and think. Art needs inquiry, experiment, and discipline…” These sorts of disagreements depend on the kind of art that’s being discussed. It would be good to have a collaborative effort aimed at revealing which art practices are best suited for research, and that could in turn make PhD programs more focused. In general it seems to me that PhD-granting institutions have an obligation to decide what kinds of art are suited for research, and which aren’t.

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17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Reason 3. The new degree exacerbates the academization of art. 

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 1 The PhD will keep students in school between two and four years after their MFAs, not including the time they spend writing their dissertations, which might stretch on—as it does with art history PhDs—another five years or more. Artists will be at least 30 years old before they are out in the world. There are two possible attitudes to this: in the common response, it is said that the PhD artificially accelerates the academic properties of art practices; but it could also be said that the PhD is symptomatic of the decades in which we live, so that it reflects an ongoing tendency in the art world. If the latter is the case, it calls for a special study of the nature of intellectual, conceptual, methodologically explicit art projects, so that institutions can represent and teach those emergent properties of art. If the former is closer to the truth, then PhD-granting institutions also need to consider their complicity in the directions of contemporary art.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Buzz Spector recalls that Joel Feldman said there was a category of exhibiting artists “whose institutional recognition was entirely through shows at university or college art galleries.” Feldman’s view, Spector writes, “was that there was a circuit of academic-centric master artists, mainly unknown to the mainstream foundation / municipal museum / commercial gallery nexus. I was skeptical of this view at the time, but now I’m not so sure.” (Facebook, June 2013) It’s probably true that the PhD for artists is positioned to produce art that stays mainly in the university circuit: but then again, people said that about the MFA.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 What matters in such claims is what “academization” is taken to mean. If it means inexpressive intellectualization, then it needs also to be said that a retreat from overt affect and a focus on conceptualization are part of what interesting art has done since the 1960s: in other words, what is demonized might be just a name for the preponderant  postwar avant-garde.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 As a postscript, I note that a particular kind of “academization” may be taking place in the studio-led PhD program. In 2013 I became aware of several very specialized PhDs and postdocs, which took as their subject the PhD itself. A Danish artist, Thomas Altheimer, who has a PhD from Goldsmith’s, wrote to tell me he is considering a postdoc on methodology in artistic research—but not as an art education specialist. His interest is more practical, and so his subject is a higher-level reflection on artistic research: “research through research,” as it were, as opposed to research on research in art education. An Australian PhD candidate, Colleen Boyle, gave a paper in Chicago on the subject of photography as an allegory for the conceptualization of artistic research. Because photography is the subject of her PhD, this paper is an allegorization of her subject, and the object of the allegory is the methodology of her subject. [I am waiting for a copy of her final paper; I’ll enlarge this section then.] At about the same time I corresponded with Peter Anderson, who is doing a creative writing PhD in Australia; but his thesis is an imaginary exhibition catalogue and its surrounding discourse, so it is a fictional mirror or allegory of what happens in practice-led PhD programs with actual visual art.

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 These are examples of a trend that may be developing that is exactly what critics of academization fear, because (I imagine) they think art about academic subjects is empty. Again I’m not so sure. It’s true that art about the conditions of academic production may often be uninteresting: but that’s what Art & Language, and conceptual art in general, were often about. This may just be the next stage.

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24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Reason 4. The PhD exacerbates issues of class and privilege. 

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 When I posted versions of these questions on Facebook in spring 2012, several people pointed out that the PhD exacerbates the elitism of the MFA. Writing from the UK, Leila Galloway asked “Is it not now a question of who has and what class has access?” and Jonathan Muehlke wrote that the PhD “tends to be about politics: class and social privilege.” But on the other hand, as Muehkle also acknowledged, art has always been an activity “dominated by the elite.” It is not yet clear whether these programs are unfairly exclusive, because at the PhD level many programs are effectively subsidized by stipends, fellowships, and grants. On the other hand, the PhD definitely requires more years away from full-time employment, and it certainly favors applicants who can write clearly and articulately about their work, in ways that artists with less education might not be able to do. I wonder what kinds of social awareness, what recruiting programs, what kinds of outreach, might possibly address this issue.

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27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Reason 5. The PhD in studio art is unique among nearly all degrees in requiring two bodies of work: the art and the research. 

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 1 Administratively, it’s because the art needs to be validated by a kind of labor that the university can reliably assess, but it makes the studio art PhD an awkward hybrid. The University of Plymouth experimented with a minimal writing requirement; that policy was instituted to solve the double-requirement issue, but it also shifted the focus to the PhD exhibition—so that the faculty were responsible for determining what might count as a PhD-level art exhibition. George Smith’s program, the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, is the opposite; the IDSVA does not teach studio, but only visual theory. Those two experiments represent extreme positions: the majority of PhD programs continue to require two bodies of work.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 1 It has been said that the requirement of two bodies of work is not objectionable, because scientists have to publish and also work in the laboratory: perhaps in this sense the studio-based PhD is closer to the sciences than it might seem. Still, as Risa Horowitz points out, scientists don’t have to show their lab work, so the parallel isn’t exact. Also, the rhetoric of most PhD programs stresses the close connection between practice and research, so it’s as if they were one activity.

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31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Reason 6. The new degree is a double threat. 

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 2 Students whose dissertations are in history of art or philosophy will get PhDs in those fields, and in addition they will be able to teach studio art. Small colleges and art schools could then employ such people to work in two different departments. The perception has been that people with MFAs could not compete. This is a reasonable qualm, given the self-descriptions of the programs, but as far as I can see it has not materialized. In practice, hiring committees realize which of the two, practice and research, is the candidate’s strong point. Small institutions may well ask new hires to teach both studio and an academic subject (usually art history), but that has always been the case.

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34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Reason 7. In the new degree, students will become more self-reflective than ever.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 I love Mick Wilson’s way of putting this in Chapter [   ]. “A key theme in the development of doctoral programs in art practice is that of critical reflection,” he writes: “the enigmatic figure of the reflexive practitioner may be said to stalk the doctoral art studio in search of the equally enigmatic trophy of methodological rigor.” In 2003 the promotional text for the program at Goldsmiths, for example, said the course is for “artists who would like to explore and develop their understanding of their established art practice.” The same confidence in the importance of self-reflexivity can be found in the administrative texts that support the new degree in the UK: self-reflection is mentioned, for example, by Donald Schön, who is discussed in Chapter [   ].

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 Yet many artists have made compelling work even though they had no idea of the critical matrix to which their work belongs, and despite the fact that they were only minimally reflective about their own practice. It is also true that some artists’ work thrives on self-awareness; for artists of that kind the new PhD degree might be ideal—although there is no account of what kinds of art have been best served by self-awareness. This idea that self-awareness is a desideratum for PhD-level instruction needs to be treated as a problematic assumption, not as a guiding principle. In my experience, the value accorded to self-reflexivity is never questioned. It needs to be.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 To some extent, reflexivity (self-reflection, introspection, self-awareness, articulateness, conceptualization—I am referring to a related group of qualities that go under many names) is a general goal of advanced education, or at the least an inevitable by-product. No matter what other goals the studio-art PhD has, it must always assume that a higher degree of reflexivity is potentially good for the student’s art. That is because any research aimed at problems in the student’s art practice will inevitably work to raise her awareness of what she does. Research, writing, seminars, and critical conversations, give students new concepts, historical frameworks, and critical perspectives.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 Self-reflexivity is a central—perhaps the most central—criterion of assessment at all levels. Most of the existing literature on BFA, MFA, and MA assessment cycles a series of expressions like “encouraging students to be self-critical,” to “confidently articulate their ideas to others,” helping students to “step outside their work” in order to be able to talk about it. (These are quotations from  Lee Grandjean’s essay in What Am I Thinking? Assessment at the RCA, 2009). Each of these is a criterion of self-reflexivity.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 This may seem inaccurate because of the tremendous influx of interest in affect, emotion, embodied practices, non-verbal communication, and performativity, multi-sensory work, and other subjects that have come rushing into art theory since the first decade of the twenty-first century. Certainly PhD programs are places where body-centered work can flourish, where conceptualizations of post-phenomenological experience, of the “redistribution of the sensible,” and of affective politics are all common subjects. And yet the very starting point of phenomenology and poststructuralist thinking, from Sartre and Merleau-Ponty to the present, has been the implication of the observer in the observed, and the new interests of art theory only make the investment in self-awareness even deeper. When it comes to teaching, the very articulation of the subjectivities and positions of viewer and viewed call for more words, more analysis, more self-reflection.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 Another way to think of this is that it is not possible to imagine a PhD program in which the student slowly becomes less self-aware, less able to articulate her work, less eloquent, less introspective, less able to analyze what she is doing. On the contrary: the fact that the PhD is the terminal degree also implies that by the time the dissertation is complete, a student will have achieved an optimal or ultimate degree of self-awareness: crucial aspects of her work will be as transparent as possible, and she will be as articulate as the pertinent theoretical discourses permit.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Even though reflexivity isn’t usually mentioned in the administrative and promotional literature, it is an inescapable end result, and unavoidably an implicit goal, of every program. I don’t think there is a program that claims reflexivity is its principal goal, although a number of programs include specific requirements about research proposals (their articulation, their outcomes, their logical structures) that entail a high degree of self-awareness on the part of the candidates.  No program, I think, can avoid working concertedly to increase its students’ reflexivity.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 This raises a fascinating and extremely difficult problem. Historically speaking, artists have not always been very eloquent, or even very accurate, about what they do. Entire movements and centuries of art have flourished without the kind of self-reflection that we now value, and if we’re honest we should probably say those movements and periods may not have been possible if the artists had been able to write at length, lucidly, with historical and analytic precision, about what they were doing. Some art is hobbled by awareness.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 It seems to me that history is full of examples. The first-generation German expressionists, for instance, were driven by a strong dislike of what they thought of as academic art. But practices like Heckel’s or Schmidt-Rottluff’s were not informed by a scholarly understanding of what they were reacting against. They were more insouciant than programmatic about the practices they despised. Later, when artists like Kirchner began to study particular models (such as late medieval German art, or Picasso, or the painting of the Ajanta caves) their art became more programmatic, more constrained and academic. Whatever happened in the years around 1910 was lost, and expressionism moved into a scholastic phase. For a number of years Kirchner painter Picassoid clichés. It seems to me that a PhD would have been disastrous for the first generation of expressionists, because their practices involved a certain thoughtlessness, a certain impatience and anger, and it matters that they did not focus their anger more precisely. The same, I think, can be said about expressionist practices in general, including the most recent incarnations of neo-expressionism in cartoon art and post-pop.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 Here is another example, perhaps more contentious. Cézanne’s letters are full of wonderful observations about nature and reality, but he has nothing to say about the inch-by-inch construction of his canvases. He never mentions that he had started painting foreshortened plates and cups using what are called cat’s eye ellipses instead of proper perspectival ellipses. He never describes how he would break the front edge of a table by painting one side lower than the other, and mending the break by covering it with a hanging tablecloth. He doesn’t think as precisely, as analytically, as his many art historical commentators have. I call this contentious because it could also be said that he did, in fact, think of such things, but didn’t write them out. I am not so sure of that. There are dozens of examples of things he does that could have been easily specified, if he had been clearly aware of them as technical innovations rather than as overlapping, inarticulated, uncognized moments of picture-making. Cézanne needed to be unreflective about the details of what he did, and a PhD program would have disrupted his practice severely and perhaps irreparably, in the name of articulateness and reflexivity.

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 As in the case of art that does not mesh well with systematic research (that was point number 2 on this list), these examples could be multiplied. I think any number of art practices have been enabled by the artist’s incomplete awareness of what she was doing. This isn’t to say that PhD programs aim to clear up everything, put everything into language, figure forth everything as research: but they necessarily have to claim that crucial aspects of the student’s practice are improved by research.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 2 It would be wonderful to have some conferences, and then some books, on which practices are best served by self-awareness. (And another set of conferences and books on the practices most amenable to research, as in point number 2.) From a philosophic standpoint, two more even more diffcult problems would then follow: Who can measure self-awareness? Who is trained in teaching it?

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 On Facebook, Iain Nicholls pointed out that “an artist doesn’t know why they are doing something until after they have done it,” and it could be said that from the point of view of contemporary art historians, looking back into history, the overwhelming majority of artists haven’t a clear sense of what they have done. That’s the nature of the activity, and it means that the parts of practice that are theorized and articulated in the PhD may, in effect, be masks protecting a larger, submerged inarticulateness and confusion that remains unremarked. This is different from the common condition of art students who don’t yet understand their work, or haven’t  yet found words for it. Abi Spring read a draft of this point and wrote, “I have a hard time with that idea because where I went to school, both in the US and in Australia, the students who adopted it were the intellectually lazy ones, not just lazy about what they said about the work but lazy about the work itself.” I wouldn’t dispute that; but as Spring also notes, the issue here is different: it’s a question of historical times and places when self-reflexivity would have been inimical to the art practice.

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 This concern is also different from saying that art’s true nature is irrational, or that the self-reflexivity and hyper-articulateness of PhD dissertations is inherently wrong. As John Tran remarked, “behind the mistrust of art PhDs it seems like there is a nostalgia for some sort of untainted creative process.” I agree that nostalgia for some untrammeled, inarticulate creativity, unhampered by academic reflection, “doesn’t seem historically tenable.” For better or worse, the challenge in studio art education in general, and in PhD programs in particular, is understanding what kinds of art are served by self-reflexivity, what parts of art practice are bypassed in self-reflexivity, and what elements of art making self-reflexivity protects us from thinking about.

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50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 Reason 8. No one knows what the MFA is, so the PhD cannot build on it.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 That may seem unlikely, because MFAs are ubiquitous.  But I can say with some confidence that it has never been defined, and that matters to the PhD because if no one knows what the MFA is, then there isn’t much chance that the PhD can build on it, or even depart from it.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 When the MFA degree was instituted after World War II, it was hastily defined, and even now there is no extended account of the difference between the MFA and the BFA. For an event in 2009 called “What Do Artists Know?”—the book will be coming out November 2012—a group of us did exhaustive research into how the MFA is defined. We had a hard time finding the original 1977 College Art Association definition, and finally a librarian found us a copy—in Australia! The definition turns out to be a half page long, and it is essentially the same as the definition on the CAA website.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Here is part of the version on the website:

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 The MFA degree demands the highest level of professional competency in the visual arts and contemporary practices… The work needs to demonstrate the ability to conceptualize and communicate effectively by employing visual language to interpret ideas. In addition, the MFA recipient must give evidence of applying critical skills that pertain to meaning and content, ultimately encouraging a comprehensive examination and critique of the function and role of art from a variety of views and contexts.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Almost nothing in these sentences is well defined. What is “the highest level of professional competency”? What does it mean to be able to “conceptualize and communicate effectively”? What is “visual language”? (That expression has been widely debated.) What, exactly, are those “critical skills that pertain to meaning and content”? And for that matter, what is the difference between meaning and content?

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 For the event and the book What Do Artists Know? we reviewed this and many other documents, including the informal definitions teachers use. Our group looked internationally, at administrative and institutional definitions. We also looked historically, at the earliest programs. What we found is that there are three ways of understanding the MFA:

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58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 A. These official definitions, which tend to be both terse and abstract. They are political documents, intended for institutional definitions.

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60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 B. The administrative literature (for example, the NASAD in the US, or the Bologna Tuning Documents for the MA in the EU, or the ELIA documents for the EU), which have to do with measurable outcomes and are sometimes more specific. Here are some excerpts from the NASAD definition of the MFA. They say the degree should:

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 • Demonstrate professional competence in one or more aspects of the creation and presentation of works of art and design, dance, or theatre. • Produce creative and academic work that shows the ability to integrate knowledge and skills in their field and other areas of inquiry and research. • Complete graduate-level studies associated with their discipline in areas such as history, critical analysis, aesthetics, methodologies, and related humanities, sciences, and social sciences.

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 It seems to me this isn’t any closer to a coherent definition. What counts as “integration”? What are the “graduate-level studies”? The ELIA documents also have longer descriptions; here is part of their list of “second level” criteria:

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 1 [The MA should instill the] ability to: further develop and evaluate working processes appropriate to individual creative practices; acquire independent research skills and utilise them effectively; display evidence of professional competencies required for individual creative practice; evolve further strategies and utilise expertise, imagination and creativity in appropriate media…

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 I am not doing justice to these documents, but I hope these brief excerpts show how much remains to be said: what is “appropriate”? What are “independent research skills”? What, again, are “professional competencies”? And so on.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 C. Then there are the informal senses of the MFA that are used by studio instructors and students. Mainly these have to do with the idea that the MFA is the time when a student consolidates her work into a coherent voice, style, approach, or manner. The BFA, in this same informal sense, is often understood as the time for experimentation; the MFA is meant to focus that. This everyday definition makes good sense historically, because the historical roots of the MA and MFA are in German romanticism: that is origin of the idea of the artist’s unique voice, and of the custom of studying with a single master (now an advisor, or instructor) rather than in a group.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 I think the day-to-day notion of the MFA makes very good sense, and there is a lot that could be said about the histories that lead up to the present. But in this context, what matters is that this third way of thinking of the MFA is not often spelled out, and none of it is part of the official literature. Several of the participants in the event “What Do Artists Know?” also wanted to propose an anti-romantic, poststructural sense of the MFA and MA, in which they are about social work, collaboration, and other political ideas that are very different from the earlier senses of the MFA.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 No matter which of these definitions you use, the MFA is not well understood. It’s more practiced than analyzed, which is fine, up until it becomes necessary to define something else—the PhD—as a continuation or alternate to it.

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 Because no one knows what the MFA is, it seems unlikely that we can build on it to define the PhD. (And it is pertinent that no one knows what the BFA is, either: but that’s another story.)

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 A footnote about the PhD, as it is seen by the College Art Association. On the same page that defines the MFA, there is a footnote. It’s the only footnote on the page, and possibly the only one on the website, so it is quite prominent. It read (as of October 2, 2012):

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71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 1. Recently, there has been some discussion in the CAA committees about drafting a standard for a PhD degree in studio art. The CAA Professional Practices Committee (PPC), after discussing it throughout 2008, submitted this statement in September 2008: “At this time, few institutions in the United States offer a PhD degree in studio art, and it does not appear to be a trend that will continue or grow, or that the PhD will replace the MFA. To develop a standard for a degree that has not been adequately vetted or assessed, and is considered atypical for the studio-arts profession, is premature and may lead to confusion, rather than offer guidance, to CAA members, their institutions, and other professional arts organizations.”

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 Undoubtedly this will change, but it is amazing in light of what is happening throughout the world.

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74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 Reason 9. The PhD seems to be driven by money. 

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 The uneven reputation the PhD has in England, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Australia has partly to do with the fact that in the UK system—where the proliferation of PhDs in the West started—departments get more money if they have PhD programs. In some countries every new PhD program (in any subject) receives funding from the university. The new program might get money for facilities, for hiring lines, or to support students. Funding is often tied to the number of students, so the more PhD candidates a department can attract, the more financial support it receives from the university.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 Because of this, it been difficult to escape the suspicion that the practice-based PhD is a transparent, even cynical, engine for academic solvency. This complaint is still common, and I have heard it proposed as the principal reason to doubt the PhD degree. But it is only partly right: it probably does account for the rapid expansion of PhD programs in the UK, but so much time has passed now—almost 40 years since the first programs—that entire generations of artists and teachers have been educated in the PhD system, or have worked in it as instructors. People have dedicated their entire careers to it, and believe in it deeply despite its flaws. In my experience, there is isn’t much cynicism left about the fiscal incentives for such programs, especially in the current economic climate in the EU, where institutions that grant the PhD are not big money-makers!

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 On the other hand (there’s always another hand in this subject), the downsizing of institutions, especially in the UK and EU following the financial crisis in 2011, has produced a sometimes ruthless instrumentalization of the PhD. Outcomes are now regarded as viable mainly if they can result in jobs; uptake is monitored more carefully;  enrollments overall may be going down; interdisciplinary collaborations are a priority; modularization is expanding (that’s the US-style ordering of “taught courses” according to themes and sequences). Entire programs are changing: in the UK the MA may be metamorphosing from practice-based into more pure practice, like the MFA in the States. These and other developments are hard to trace at the moment, and they may be evanescent: but they certainly show the effects of the bottom line on the curriculum.

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79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 Reason 10. There should be no specialized education for artists. 

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 This is a recurring objection to the new degree; the idea is that the MFA is a generalist degree both in the sense that artists are educated to make any kind of art, and that art itself is increasingly aimed at social and political issues. The PhD, by contrast, looks like an academic specialization.

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 Here are two responses to that qualm. The first is from Carol Becker, who was Dean at the School of the Art Institute, where I work, and is now at Columbia. This is excerpted from something she wrote around 2008:

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 The work that artists produce may cover all kinds of issues… globalization, identity politics, feminism, cultural criticism of all types… all issues of art history… There is no one discipline that the work actually addresses as [in] … chemistry which is a secure body of knowledge, constantly evolving. So to say that artists need their own type of doctorate is as if they… need… something which doesn’t put the work into the contexts in fact it might relate to, but rather, secures a different type of degree just for them where their type of production and its focus is the topic of the study. I think that artists get excluded from existing doctorate programs because the field doesn’t take their kind of production seriously as intellectual production. It makes much more sense and is far more subversive and respectful to bring artists into existing programs and force those programs to accept their work as work, [as] serious intellectual investigation and research that addresses a myriad of issues. Artists could just as easily enter into degrees in sociology if the field were flexible enough, which it is not. But to think one has to isolate them into their own program because they will not fit, won’t make it, can’t get recognized in other programs, is to separate the work and to fall into the same problem from a different angle.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 Becker is arguing against the specialization of PhDs, but not because artists aren’t themselves specialized. She sees artistic production as a form of cultural production: some might fit into sociology, some into chemistry, some into political theory—except that those disciplines are too conventional to accept artists. In this way of thinking, PhD programs for artists are like a ghetto. There’s a Foucauldian model available for this: in Discipline and Punish, Foucault made the distinction between “discipline mechanism” and “discipline blockade”: the former divided people, one from another, and watched each with an elaborate mechanism of bureaucracy and surveillance; the latter divided people in a simple and crude way, separating healthy from ill, or citizens from criminals. In Becker’s model, artists are subjected to a “discipline blockade,” even while the rest of society enjoys the benefits—for Foucault, a treacherous and mixed blessing—of the “discipline mechanism.” She is saying, in effect, that artists should have the same specialized degrees as other intellectual workers: the same disciplines and divisions, not a different kind of apartheid.

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 Another interesting response to the claim that artists should not have specialized degrees is an initiative called the “structured PhD,” which I heard about from Timothy Emlyn Jones, Dean at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. Tim tells me the structured PhD:

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 transforms the beast and changes the game. At NUI Galway [in Ireland] I’ve been teaching a module “Introduction to Creative Difference”; [it is] based on the Studio Research Methods module [class] of our own MFA and [studio-based] PhD. It is a knowledge transfer of the principles and procedures of creative methods in Studio Art, stripped of the mediums and materials, and taught to doctoral students in Biochemistry, Law, Computer Science, Irish Studies, Medicine, Physics, English and many more. The point is that what artists know and do can transform a PhD from a training in scholarship or [in] scientific method into a doing-education in creative process.

86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 Note that this “structured PhD” is not an argument against the specialization of the PhD, but an example of how that specialization might be inverted, “swarmed” out into the community, to use Foucault’s metaphor. “Swarming” is also to be found in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and the metaphor is from bee-keeping: it refers to the way a hive will suddenly decide to swarm, leaving its hive and moving out into the world to find a new home.

87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 My own take on this is that the PhD is not a specialization at all. It is an extension, an elaboration of the kinds of work that are done in the MFA. The student spends longer, makes more extensive inquiries, and does more exhaustive research, but the subject matter is not necessarily narrower. This is not the same as the sciences or humanities, where PhD topics are typically narrower than MA, MS, BA, or BS research topics. I only know a few PhD dissertations in visual art that actually are specialized in the manner that’s typical of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. So unless “specialization” means “longer study,” I don’t think the objection has much force.

88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 And it is useful to recall that the objection of over-specialization was also raised against the MFA when it was spreading in the 1960s.

89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0  

90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 Reason 11. The idea of “research” is still widely contested. 

91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 There is a standard criterion for new academic programs in many countries: they have to demonstrate that they possess a methodology for research and that they generate new knowledge. Here, for example, is a passage from the official “Universities Austria” position paper:

92 Leave a comment on paragraph 92 0 The core component of doctoral training [in any subject] is the advancement of knowledge through original research… all doctorates are doctorates based on research. [“Recommendations by Universities Austria on New-Style Doctoral Studies,” 3 December 2007.]

93 Leave a comment on paragraph 93 0 The two concepts, “knowledge” and “research,” continue to support the introduction of new programs in visual art, despite two important problems: no one knows how best to define the kind of research that leads to art, and no one knows how to think about the knowledge produced by art. Knowledge is the subject of the entry after this one.

94 Leave a comment on paragraph 94 0 Questions regarding research might be provisionally divided into several groups or topics. I will begin with the most fundamental one, the possibility that “research” itself is the wrong word, and that the literature might reorient itself by abandoning the word or reducing its role.

95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0 A. Questioning the very idea of research

96 Leave a comment on paragraph 96 0 For the current generation of academics, research is generally taken as a given. People question what it means, how it might be applied, and how research in the arts is related to research in the sciences—those will come up in the next sub-headings—but the pertinence of the concept itself is generally no longer questioned. The University of Hertforshire School of Creative Arts Research Degrees in Art and Design page begins:

97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0 A research degree is characterized by the sustained, rigorous, critical, and systematic investigation of a defined subject… and by the contribution to knowledge and interpretation of its outcome.

98 Leave a comment on paragraph 98 0 One of the immediately following sentences is an exceptionally clear formulation of the disinterest in aesthetics, expression, and other traditional goals of the MFA:

99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 The degree is not awarded as an expression of the aesthetic value, social worth or cultural significance of particular achievements, i.e., for high professional competence and peer reception alone.

100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0 The Hertfordshire text continues by quoting the AHRC (the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council) definitions of research in art and design, which emphasizes “research questions,” “research context,” and “research methods.” In this way the concept of research is taken as a given, even if—or better, especially because—it is open to adjustment in every case.

101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 0 (There are exceptions to this custom of beginning with research as a given if malleable term, including a very careful review by Michael Wilson, “Summary of the ‘State of Play’ in Practice-Led Research in Art, Design and Architecture for AHRC/CHEAD Joint Initiative,” accessed March 11, 2013.)

102 Leave a comment on paragraph 102 0 The largest publication on this subject, The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, begins with a foreword by Hans-Peter Schwartz advocating discussion of competing senses of research; but research itself is taken for granted in the book’s title. He writes, for example, that “It does seem to be high time to stop doubting whether art-based research exists at all and accept that it has long ago become an everyday occurrence in most art universities.” Thinking Through Art (2004), edited by Katy Macleod and Lin Holdridge, the second book on the PhD, begins with the observation that “it continues to prove difficult both for artists to produce art which can be identified as research, and research which can be identified as art”: thus the authors begin from the experience that artists have been trying to gain recognition for their work as research. The Journal for Artistic Research (2011–) opens with an editorial by Michael Schwab, saying it is “a good thing” not to know “what exactly artistic research is”: but at the same time research is presupposed throughout, as the next sentence makes clear when Schwab notes that not knowing “reminds us of artistic research’s transdisciplinary character.” I would have rather read something like “Not knowing what artistic research is reminds us of art’s transdisciplinary character.” How much can something be questioned when it is always already present?

103 Leave a comment on paragraph 103 0 It seems to me it’s a good idea to continue questioning the very use of the word “research.” After all, this use of research is barely twenty-five years old: not enough time to be sure it is the right word to use as a cornerstone of all studio-art PhD programs.

104 Leave a comment on paragraph 104 0 Because the word “research” is woven into the professional literature, it might be useful to question how widespread it is among students who are not already in such programs. A survey could be made, asking how many art students at the MA and MFA level think of their work as research: many do, but I think many more don’t. It would be especially telling if such a survey was restricted to students who hadn’t considered PhD programs, or didn’t know about them. I suspect that very few would describe their practices as research. The concept could also be questioned by surveying students already enrolled in PhD programs to see what other terms they might use to describe what they do—concepts like “inquiry,” “project,” “practice,” “process,” or “intuition.” The purpose would be to get a sense of whether “research” is the best fit for what happens in teaching and learning contexts.

105 Leave a comment on paragraph 105 0 But given the ubiquity of the concept of research in the literature produced in the UK, EU, Australia, and New Zealand, and given the fact that “research” is an unquestioned starting point both for university program statements and for books, conferences, and essays on the studio-art PhD, I don’t see much hope that research will be questioned at a root level. There are some exceptions: As Victor Burgin says in Chapter [   ], “the word ‘art’ does not appear in dictionary definitions of the word ‘research.’” But exceptions aside, one of the main things that interests me about the PhD is the possibility of rethinking “research” and “knowledge” in the new programs that are appearing in the US, South America, Asia, and other places. But more on that in the next chapter.

106 Leave a comment on paragraph 106 0 What matters in the professional literature is not the nature of “research” itself or its appropriateness, but rather the sorts of questions I have listed: the meaning of research, the pedagogical implementation of research, and the proximity of art research to scientific research. I will consider the last one first.

107 Leave a comment on paragraph 107 0 B. Questioning the proximity of art research to scientific research

108 Leave a comment on paragraph 108 0 There are three main alternatives in the literature:

  1. 109 Leave a comment on paragraph 109 0
  2. Artistic research can utilize scientific research protocols, methodologies, and forms (in the science literature, those are the conventional categories “Methods,” “Materials,” and  “Results”) even though artistic research is fundamentally distinct from scientific research
  3. Artistic research needs to rethink scientific research protocols, methodologies, forms because it is fundamentally distinct from scientific research
  4. Artistic research cannot use scientific research protocols, methodologies, forms because it is fundamentally distinct from scientific research.

110 Leave a comment on paragraph 110 0  

111 Leave a comment on paragraph 111 0 An example of the first is Timothy Emlyn Jones (see chapter [  ]), who advocates looking to the sciences as a model for the humanities. I will return to this option later.

112 Leave a comment on paragraph 112 0 An example of the second is Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, who writes in the Preface to the Routledge Companion that there is an interest in “the subject and the aims of arts research… from, as it were, first principles,” so that the arts do not repeat “existing research models,” and do not have to do with “exploiting new materials or technologies” or addressing “sociological aspects of arts production or consumption.”

113 Leave a comment on paragraph 113 0 Nowotny was also a contributor to the book The New Production of Knowledge: The Dynamics of Science and Research in Contemporary Societies (1994), which proposed a novel form of scientific knowledge production known as “Mode 2.” Michael Gibbons, Nowotny, and their co-authors argue that “Mode 2” research is driven by its context and interdisciplinary, in contrast to “Mode 1” research, which is restricted to disciplines. A similar distinction was made by John Zilman in Real Science (2000) between “academic” and “post-academic” science. “Mode 2” science has been widely debated. Among its critics are Arie Rip (“Science for the Twenty-First Century,” in The Future of Science and the Humanities, 2002) and Steve Fuller (The Governance of Science, 2000). Fuller argues that “Mode 1” and “Mode 2” have shallower histories than their advocates propose; he dates both to the second half of the nineteenth century, while they say “Mode 1” began in the seventeenth century. The most thorough review of the literature is Laurens Hessels and Harro van Lente’s “Re-Thinking New Knowledge Production,” Innovation Studies Utrecht Working Paper #08.03. Hessels and van Lente review a large literature and conclude “Mode 2” “suffers from severe conceptual problems.” Nevertheless it is one of the most visible attempts to reformulate science research, which makes it in turn one of the most pertinent potential models for reformulations of art research.

114 Leave a comment on paragraph 114 0 An example of the third is Søren Kjørup’s assertion that “There is no scientific research to which artistic research might have to comply… artistic research should be left alone to develop its own methods.” (Kjørup, “Pleading for Plurality: Artistic and Other Kinds of Research,” in the Routledge Companion, 24, 29; thanks to Erna Fiorentini for pointing this out.) Examples like this could be multiplied outside the confines of discussions about the PhD; for example Simon Critchley’s position in essays like “The Infinite Demand of Art” (Art and Research 3 no. 2, summer 2010) is partly compatible with Kjørup’s position.

115 Leave a comment on paragraph 115 0 Michael Biggs and Daniela Büchler, in the Routledge Companion, are even more explicit on this third point:

116 Leave a comment on paragraph 116 0 We suggest that there cannot be a single research model that satisfies both communities [“academic” and “practitioner,” university and art school]. Any collaboration between the two communities would involve negotiation and compromise and this would lead to dissatisfaction. As an alternative, we propose that there is a third and distinct community that is the offspring of the two parent communities… There should be a distinct research model…

117 Leave a comment on paragraph 117 0 One reason this problem of the relation between scientific and artistic research keeps recurring is the hope that the practice-based PhD might be part of a university-wide community of PhDs; in that case, scientists would need to see some common ground with what they do. But a fair amount of the literature is framed in poststructuralist language that would make such dialogue difficult. Here is an example: artistic research, according to Per Nilsson, is not explicitly scientific, but “a form of knowledge in its own right,” an “amphibian” discipline in a “littoral landscape—occupying or traversing the liminal space between plural disciplinary formations, discursively constituted.” Notice the conflation of research and knowledge: in the visual arts community, but not in science, research itself can be a form of expression and a knowledge outcome.  (See Per Nilsson, The Amphibian Stand: A Philosophical Essay Concerning Research Processes in Fine Art [Umeå: Texte & Kultur, 2009], quoted in Michael Baers, “Inside the Box: Notes From Within the European Artistic Research Debate,” e-flux journal 26, 2011)

118 Leave a comment on paragraph 118 0 Descriptions like Nilsson’s give voice to a hope that artistic research can be something outside of science and disciplines in general—something mobile, transdisciplinary, improvisational, personal, tactical. Sometimes this kind of rhetoric reaches the point where the individual claims can’t really be read. Here is part of the web page of Documenta 13, as it was posted in October 2012, after the Documenta ended:

119 Leave a comment on paragraph 119 0 when the exhibition opened in Kassel, we said that dOCUMENTA (13) was dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. We said these were terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary, and that dOCUMENTA (13) was driven by a holistic and non-logocentric vision that is skeptical of the persisting belief in economic growth, a vision that is shared with, and recognizes, the shapes and practices of knowing of all the animate and inanimate makers of the world, including people. And now we add that an exhibition could be thought of as a pre-reflexive consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without itself. A bliss able to go beyond the aporias of the subject and the object—an experience of life no longer dependent on the first, nor submitted to the latter. Art is ceaselessly posed in life. And this indefinite life posed in art allows us to grasp the lived and living, to understand life as carried by the events, and by the singularities actualized in subject/objects. Art does not just come after life, but rather it offers the immensity of a temporality constituting spaces where one sees the event yet to come in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.

120 Leave a comment on paragraph 120 0 In philosophic terms, these are not cogent positions or arguments. What matters instead is the rhetoric: the affect of the writing, what it seems to enable. I think the kind of question to be asked of writing like this is: What are the characteristics of the institutions and concepts that are being proposed as opposites of this text? What about those institutions ad concepts makes it necessary to write in this non-linear, non-logical fashion?

121 Leave a comment on paragraph 121 0 For Henk Slager, one of the principal theorists of poststructural art research (and one of the participants in the Documenta, and a contributor to this book—see chapter [   ]), the stakes are political. Artistic research, he writes, “will be a form of research not swayed by issues dictated by the late-capitalist free market system [or its] knowledge commodification… this will be an authentic research that comes about through an artistic necessity.” He praises the Malmö Art Academy for being an “intellectual sanctuary” in this regard.

122 Leave a comment on paragraph 122 0 Slager is very much in favor of the third of the options I listed. “Many artistic research projects seem to thwart the well-defined disciplines,” he writes. “They know the hermeneutic questions of the humanities (the alpha-sciences); they are engaged in empirically scientific methods (the beta-sciences); and they are aware of commitment (the gamma-sciences).” They point to a “delta-science,” characterized by a “capacity… to continuously engage in novel, unexpected epistemological relations in a methodological process of interconnectivity.” Artistic research, Slager thinks, is “an undefined discipline,” a “‘nameless science,’ directed toward generating flexible constructions, multiplicities, and new reflexive zones.”

123 Leave a comment on paragraph 123 0 Most literature on research is not as radical as this. A useful “discussion paper” called Types of Research in the Creative Arts and Design (2004) identifies four kinds of research:

124 Leave a comment on paragraph 124 0 SCHOLARLY RESEARCH creates and sustains the intellectual infrastructure within which Pure, Developmental and Applied research can be conducted. It aims to map the fields in which issues, problems, or questions are located…
PURE RESEARCH asks fundamental questions in the field and explores hypotheses experimentally. It searches for pure knowledge that may uncover issues, theories, laws or metaphors that may help explain why things operate as they do, why they are as they are, or, why they appear to look the ways they do. It generates significant new facts, general theories or reflective models where immediate practical application or long-term economic, social or cultural benefits are not a direct objective…
DEVELOPMENTAL RESEARCH serves two purposes: (a) it identifies the limitations of existing knowledge as evolved through Pure research by creating alternative models… [and] (b) it harnesses, tests and reworks existing knowledge so to evolve special methods, tools and resources in preparation for the solving of specific problems, in specific contexts, through Applied research.
APPLIED RESEARCH involves a process of systematic investigation within a specific context in order to solve an identified problem in that context. It aims to create new or improved systems (of thought or production), artifacts, products, processes, materials, devices, or services for long-term economic, social and/or cultural benefit. It… applies… or transfers enhanced knowledge, methods, tools and resources from Pure and Developmental research…The outcomes cannot usually be directly applied to other contexts because of the specificity of the situation in which the research has been applied although the
methods/tools evolved are often transferable.

125 Leave a comment on paragraph 125 0 The last of these is potentially a good model for some ideas of the contextual nature of art research.

126 Leave a comment on paragraph 126 0 Of the three positions I listed—that art research be like scientific research, that it rethink scientific research, and that it shouldn’t be anything like scientific research—the second and third are by far the most common in the literature on the PhD, but the first is common in research seminars and in curricula. I will take this up in subheading D, but first it may be helpful to review a set of formulations for art research that has become a kind of lingua franca in the scholarly community.

127 Leave a comment on paragraph 127 0 C. Questioning the meaning of research “through,” “with,” “by,” or “into” art

128 Leave a comment on paragraph 128 0 These prepositions have played an important role in the articulation of studio-art PhD programs. Some of them were first proposed by Herbert Read; they were then elaborated by Christopher Frayling; and they have been amended and enlarged by several other writers. The book What Do Artists Know? rehearses the full genealogy of these terms. This table summarizes the distinctions, with some additions from an essay, “Research Through Creative Practice” (2000) by Daro Montag. (In 2012, the essay was posted on the University of Hertfordshire website; it was presented as a “model PhD” for their program.)

129 Leave a comment on paragraph 129 0  

Form of research Herbert Read Christopher Frayling
to art 1. Education for the professional artist, including techniques and materials.
through art 2. Using art to learn about fields outside of art, such as “social relationships,” problem-solving, “independence of mind, flexible thinking,” “learning to see” 1. Research in the field of art and design, for example MPhils and PhDs. This is uppercase “Research”: systematic, disciplinary inquiry. It is the interesting, contested category.
into art 2. Art history, perhaps aesthetics
for art 3. Research leading to the production of art, so that the art embodies the thinking. This is lowercase “research”: non-professional “searching”(In a later text this was changed to “as art.”)
in art ? ?

130 Leave a comment on paragraph 130 0  

131 Leave a comment on paragraph 131 0 Read’s initial category, “research to art,” is a novel use of the word “research,” because it names what art students were taught in European academies, technical schools, and other settings: methods, media, materials, techniques. Read’s “research through art” is not that easy to understand, but it is part of the general notion of Bildung, a form of education that uses art and also, in a way, produces the student as an artwork (a picture, German Bild). Happily this practice, which is both widely studied and conceptually entangled, is not pertinent here. What matters instead is how Christopher Frayling expanded Read’s categories. “Research into art” is self-explanatory, and even felicitous, because art historians do say things like “I research into art.”

132 Leave a comment on paragraph 132 0 It’s the first and last categories, “research through art” and “research for art,” that have been taken up in the literature on studio-art PhD programs. “Research for art” can be thought of as a common notion of the MFA, in that it is about artistic originality, and it is not sufficient for PhD research. Whatever knowledge might be construed to be part of the practice is entirely in the artworks, rather than produced as knowledge.

133 Leave a comment on paragraph 133 0 “Research for art” is new, as Judith Mottram notes in Chapter [  ], and it is still not consistently used. Notice that even the condensed summary I give here contains three potentially different ideas: first, that “research for art” could lead to the production of art (a common enough idea); second, that “research for art” could lead to art that “embodies” the research (this involves problems defining artistic knowledge, which I will consider in the next entry); and that this is “lowercase ‘research’” or “searching” (implying it is free of strict Research methodology, but leaving it open how such lowercase “research” might be characterized). The first of these is unproblematic, but it makes “research for art” more or less equivalent to “research through art.” The second and third are more difficult.

134 Leave a comment on paragraph 134 0 Frayling himself is troubled by “research for art.” As he puts it, “thinking is, so to speak, embodied in the artifact.” The goal is no longer knowledge in the way that the university recognizes it but “visual or iconic or imagistic communication”—more on that in the next entry on this list, on knowledge.

135 Leave a comment on paragraph 135 0 And finally, “research through art” is the category that pertains to the PhD: in it, knowledge, evidence, and experience in the world are brought into the art practice, into the artwork—and from there, so it is said, they can reappear as knowledge “through” the art. (Frayling’s examples of “research through art” are different from many that have been proposed since his paper. He mentions Bridget Riley, saying her work reflected on theories of perception. But Riley’s practice involves apparently scientific hypotheses about perception, which are answered by paintings instead of experimental results: it’s a problematic example.)

136 Leave a comment on paragraph 136 0 I have added a row at the bottom for the expression “research in art,” which hasn’t been used in these discussions. On Facebook the artist Risa Horowitz suggested that her own work might be all three forms of research at once. Perhaps this conjunction should be called “research in art.” At least the preposition “in” is more inviting—it sounds more like embodiment—than “for.” But it’s not at all clear how such a combination could be theorized.

137 Leave a comment on paragraph 137 0 Two more notes. Recently there has been a separate development that is compatible with Frayling’s distinctions, and, I think, dependent on them: the HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area) Joint Research Program, a collaboration between NUI Galway, KUVA (the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts), and KHiB (the National Academy of Fine Arts, Bergen). Their interest is in “the transferability of creative strategies and creative culture from art schools to personal, organizational, and business contexts.” In Frayling’s terms, this would only be possible if “research through art” itself makes sense. “Research for art” or “as art” would be, in effect, an argument against such transfer.

138 Leave a comment on paragraph 138 0 And finally, to be thorough, I should add another table of the amalgams that have been proposed by Graeme Sullivan.

139 Leave a comment on paragraph 139 0  

Form of research Graeme Sullivan
“in” and “about” “when a structural interest is central… and… forming contexts influence how artefacts are created and critiqued”
“in” and “with” when “the interpretive contexts that inform the relationship between the artist, artwork and the viewer is [sic] vital to the ideas and responses sparked by an artistic encounter”
“in” and “through” when “the critical contexts surrounding purposeful artistic inquiry helps [sic] give meaning to the role artefacts can play as a form of social action”

140 Leave a comment on paragraph 140 0  

141 Leave a comment on paragraph 141 0 I list these from “Artefacts as Evidence Within Changing Contexts,” Working Papers in Art and Design, 2006, but I cannot expand on them because I don’t find them entirely comprehensible. In the end, they defer the question of what “in” itself means.

142 Leave a comment on paragraph 142 0 D. Questioning how to teach or learn research

143 Leave a comment on paragraph 143 0 Of the three positions I listed in subheading B—that art research be like scientific research, that it rethink scientific research, and that it shouldn’t be anything like scientific research—the first is the one that operates, de facto, in seminars and syllabi on artistic research.

144 Leave a comment on paragraph 144 0 Increasingly, institutions have been running required courses and taught classes on how to conduct research. In Iceland, which instituted its first MA in fall 2012 (it has no PhDs), there had already been a required seminar on research at the BA level. In most cases, research seminars are held at the PhD level. Several institutions, including The Royal College of Art, have well developed required research seminars (“courses” in North American usage).

145 Leave a comment on paragraph 145 0 The rigor and complexity of research protocols vary widely. In some institutions the requirements are very general. The document Doctoral Degree Characteristics says only that

146 Leave a comment on paragraph 146 0 Whether a candidate is being examined on the basis of a “traditional” thesis, portfolio, artifact(s), clinical practice or other output, the body of work presented must demonstrate the research question and a critical evaluation of the extent to which it has been addressed. [Doctoral Degree Characteristics, 2012, © The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education 2011]

147 Leave a comment on paragraph 147 0 For a number of institutions, this general language is sufficient. An extreme example of the opposite tendency is the application guidelines web page for the Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture, written by Ilpo Koskinen in 2008. It is too extensive to quote here, but I can give a flavor of it with an excerpt. Koskinen advises applicants to decide if their research is “hypothetico-inductive,” “interpretive,” or “constructive.” If it is the first, then, he says, addressing the candidate:

148 Leave a comment on paragraph 148 0 you must describe your research design. How many experiments you plan; what are your independent, dependent, control and intervening variables; how many people you study; how you randomize them; what is your null hypothesis and also alternative hypotheses; what kinds of laboratory procedures you follow; which methods of analysis you use (typically ANOVA, ANCOVA, but usually even t-tests will do), and so forth. In statistical studies, you need to tell where you get your data—secondary sources, or questionnaires—; what are their main sources of errors; which kind of model you aim to test (again, you need to specify independent, dependent, and so forth variables); which method you use (typically some form or regression analysis or logistical regression); sample size; sample selection; analysis of bias; etc.

149 Leave a comment on paragraph 149 0 Most PhD programs fall between the two extremes of abbreviated references to “research questions” and “critical evaluations,” on the one hand, and Koskinen’s very scientific demands. Looser language better accommodates political and poststructuralist revaluations of research like Slager’s; sharper language is more promising for dialogues across different parts of the university.

150 Leave a comment on paragraph 150 0 The general term for the discussion of how research is learned or taught is “method,” or methodology. In 2012 there was a helpful discussion PhD-Design mailing list (a long-running site that often touches on subjects of interest to the studio-art PhD) regarding differences between “method,” “methodology,” and “methodoxy.” “Methodology” is the comparative study of method, and so technically, the literature should ask student to demonstrate a “method for research”: but that isn’t the word that’s usually chosen. The last term is a neologism, as Ken Friedman pointed out on the PhD-Design mailing list on November 9, 2012.

151 Leave a comment on paragraph 151 0 According to that use, the study of how research is learned and taught is itself methodology. Regardless of the terms, there is a need for more detailed studies of exactly what counts as research method in each institution.

152 Leave a comment on paragraph 152 0 E. Questioning whether art research should be defined at all

153 Leave a comment on paragraph 153 0 Much of what I have been saying has to do with attempts to understand artistic research, but there is is also a widespread notion that it is fundamentally unhelpful to try to define research at all. I will return to this in the next entry, on knowledge, because a parallel reticence occurs there.

154 Leave a comment on paragraph 154 0 I think there are two principal positions about whether research should be defined:

  1. 155 Leave a comment on paragraph 155 0
  2. It should be defined because that is the only way to institute a reliable, repeatable pedagogy, or to give a department or institution a usefully specific profile
  3. It should not be defined because art research has an intrinsic openness, which is either the result of its visual nature or of its institutional position

156 Leave a comment on paragraph 156 0  

157 Leave a comment on paragraph 157 0 An example of the first is Hans-Peter Schwartz’s idea that a uniform “research infrastructure has to be developed” so that practice-based research can be “carried out in accordance with fixed methodological guidelines.” (Routledge Companion, p. xxix.) Some definitions, however, have been so minimal that it is not clear what pedagogic value they might have. Mika Hannula, Juha Suoranta, and Tere Vadén say that “The basic requirement for any research is that it has a clear objective and approach”—a definition that wouldn’t be enough to engage colleagues in the sciences, or to flesh out a curriculum. (Hannula, Suoranta, and Vadén, Artistic Research: Theories, Methods and Practices, Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet / Art Monitor, 2005.)

158 Leave a comment on paragraph 158 0 An example of the second position is on the “PhDArts” webpage of the School of Visual Arts:

159 Leave a comment on paragraph 159 0 Research in art is characterized by interaction with artistic practice: it is an inseparable part of the work of the artist. With research in art (as opposed to research about art, such as art history, for instance) there is no set goal or expected result, any more than there are predetermined general procedures. The outcome of the research is completely open. This openness is a condition for conducting research in art and design.

160 Leave a comment on paragraph 160 0 (Note here the expressions “research in art” and “research about art”; apparently this paragraph was written by someone who had not read Frayling’s paper. The writer means “research for art.”)

161 Leave a comment on paragraph 161 0 A second example of the second position is Haseeb Ahmed’s introduction to “N52: Art and Research at MIT” (www.n-52.com), which says that “research based practices demonstrate a commitment to the development of their own internal logics and attempt to deliver forms that are faithful to this internal coherence.” That may produce a situation in which “there is no continuity between one person’s practice and another,” but within that discontinuity it is still possible to discern the “overwhelming forward march of ‘technological progress’” exemplified by MIT. Aside from the curious fact that “technological progress” is in scare quotes, Ahmed is arguing that there is a strong coherence provided by the institution, in this case MIT. Yet there is, in this formulation, no hope of discovering what research is, because it is different in each new context. The working spaces Ahmed describes at MIT are “bureaucratic”—students were given office space, not studios—and it seems that the concept of research may be more a placeholder for institutional identity, rather than a set of habits, guidelines, methods, or procedures.

162 Leave a comment on paragraph 162 0 This eleventh entry has been especially long because the subject of research is especially endless. Personally, I find a great deal of the literature I have been calling poststructuralist to be unconvincing and epistemologically incoherent. I don’t think it stands up to close reading, and that is sometimes because its principal purpose is not so much coherence and logic as rhetorical clearing of space. The new programs don’t always know exactly what they are, and there is a tremendous hope invested in the possibility that they might remain in that condition of provisional freedom. Against such a position there is the pressure for uniformity, imposed by the educational reforms in the EU, and the increasing pressure for measurable outcomes and parity. I am not involved in those discussions because I would rather question the entire enterprise at the ground level, by asking whether “research,” in any form, is the right word. I know that kind of questioning is more or less hopeless in parts of the world where the PhD is well established. But there is no reason that the Americas and other parts of the world cannot continue to question everything about these programs, and rethink them in entirely new ways.

163 Leave a comment on paragraph 163 0  

164 Leave a comment on paragraph 164 0 Reason 12. There is no consensus about the knowledge that is produced by artwork. 

165 Leave a comment on paragraph 165 0 The common formulation for academic disciplines, that they involve “research” that produces “knowledge,” is not normally problematic because disciplines produce their own understandings of what counts as knowledge. But when it comes to visual art, the question of knowledge is open, and has been since the inception of modernism. Again there are several separable issues. I’ll start the way I did in the last entry, by questioning the term itself.

166 Leave a comment on paragraph 166 0 A. Why use the concept of knowledge at all?

167 Leave a comment on paragraph 167 0 As in the question of research, I think it is prudent to start by asking whether the word  should be the principal engine of administrative and curricular literature, or even whether it should be used at all. There are well-attested alternates; here are some.

(i) Understanding. Jones mentions understanding briefly in Chapter [   ], as a synonym for knowledge, and he advocates a mixture of the two. But the concept was distinguished from knowledge and rejected by Frayling in 1993, as Judith Mottram notes in Chapter 1. As far as I know, there has been no discussion on the differences between knowledge and understanding in studio art. The concept of understanding is promising because it has a much deeper and broader intellectual history than the current administrative uses of research, going back to nineteenth-century German discussions of Verstehen (roughly, understanding) in Wilhelm Dilthey and others. Dilthey’s distinction distinction between Verstehung and Erklärung (roughly, knowledge) is very pertinent here; Dilthey saw them as hallmarks of the humanities and sciences, respectively. It might also be helpful to explore Dilthey’s use of Erlebnis (significant lived experience) alongside VerstehenErlebnis has resonance with current interests in phenomenology and performativity. It might even be possible to arrive at a revised sense of Verstehen that could underwrite contemporary studio-art programs: but without serious inquiry, it might not be a good idea to adopt understanding because it would be likely to become an ill-defined stand-in for knowledge.

(ii) Expression. Like “understanding,” “expression” is a common word in art studios and in criticism. It is used widely, outside academia, to describe what art does. There are several places where art theory might find theoretical sources for expression; my choice would be R. G. Collingwood. In his account expression has to do with consciousness and individuation, so it is open enough to address a range of social practices as well as the self-reflexivity of academic art practices.

(iii) Meaning. This is a concept that is well-developed in hermeneutics. A PhD program could center on texts by Hans-Georg Gadamer or Paul Ricoeur, and consider an artwork’s function as the production of meaning. Alternately, there is rich material in Gottfried Boehm’s explorations of the “iconic logos” and “iconic difference”—concepts that he assigns to images in order to characterize their mode of meaning, which is neither logical (as for example language) nor non-logical.

(iv) Feeling, emotion, or affect. These three words are sometimes very different from one another. In Brian Massumi’s work, for example, affect is strongly opposed to feeling, but the same is not true in some scholars who elaborate affect theory such as [   ]. Those differences aside, affect theory in general has become so well elaborated that it might be able to provide a working platform for a PhD. Given the recent interest in affect, institutional accounts of the “knowledge” produced by art can seem out of touch—or to put it differently, they involve a strong distortion of contemporary ideas about art.

172 Leave a comment on paragraph 172 0 These four are, I think, the principal alternatives to “knowledge.” There is another, which may seem different in kind:

(v) Interpretation. Saying that art produces interpretation is a different sort of claim than saying art produces understanding, expression, meaning, or feeling. After all, an artwork can be interpreted as expressing knowledge, but it does not sound right to say an artwork can be interpreted as expressing interpretation. But in another sense this is precisely what happens when thinking is said to be lodged in artworks, and when art is presented as research. I do not know any institutions that claim that interpretation is what art does, but it is not at all incommensurate with the kinds of claims about research I have sampled in the previous entry.

174 Leave a comment on paragraph 174 0  

175 Leave a comment on paragraph 175 0 B. What kinds of knowledge are there?

176 Leave a comment on paragraph 176 0 Understanding, expression, meaning, and affect each has a substantial literature and could serve as the goal and outcome of studio-art PhDs in place of knowledge, or in addition to knowledge. Nevertheless, because almost all the literature on studio-art PhDs uses the concept of knowledge, is it useful to ask how knowledge is understood. Sometimes the word “knowledge” is qualified, and people refer to “artistic knowledge” or “visual knowledge” or “practice-led knowledge.” Formulations like those can be obscurantist because they beg the question of what knowledge is, when it pertains to visual art. There are, I think, at least six senses of knowledge in play.

(i) Tacit knowledge: things you don’t quite know yet, but know you may be able to do, or to describe. Tacit knowledge is held in suspension in a medium: it promises that it can be at least partly articulated, extracted from its material and brought into language. Of the possibilities on this list, this is the one that has attracted the most attention, although it isn’t always clear whether tacit knowledge is, finally, a different kind of knowledge from the others on this list.

(ii) Visual knowledge: if visual art has a kind of knowledge that pertains to it, that is its possession and mode of articulation, then that knowledge might be called visual. This would include what modernists are said to have called “optical” knowledge, as well as knowledge that is said to inhere in the material or substance of the art, and knowledge said to inhere in the practice, disposition, or performance of the art. Such knowledge would be non-linguistic; it could only be found in the artwork, and not in the supporting materials for the PhD. Visual knowledge could be pointed to, indicated, paraphrased, analogized, but not articulated in language.

(iii) Affective knowledge: if visual art is primarily concerned with feelings, emotions, moods, and other affective states, then its form of knowledge could be called affective. Recently the various forms of affect theory have attracted growing interest in the art world. Brian Massumi’s theories, the Affect Theory Reader,and the forthcoming book Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic are all concerned with kinds of affect theory. Affective knowledge is partly linguistic: it can be described, even if the description is structurally inadequate.

180 Leave a comment on paragraph 180 0 From a philosophic perspective, there are several additional kinds of knowledge that can be contrasted with these. (This list is elaborated in the book What Do Artists Know?.)

(iv) Propositional knowledge: ordinary logical statements, in language, or their equivalents. This is the sense of “knowledge” that appears in university documents outside of the arts. “Proposition” here means the necessary structural component of logical thinking: that is, full sentences as opposed to verbal images, tropes, evocations, and associations. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott has divided all knowledge into “technical” and “practical”: for him, the former is statistics, facts, dates, recipes, formulas, rules—whatever can be put in words, taught, and learned. “Propositional knowledge” is also close to Aristotle’s idea of technē, transmissible knowledge.

(v) Practical knowledge: something you know how to do, but can’t put in words. Playing the piano, or riding a bicycle, are examples. This was theorized as “habit” by nineteenth-century French psychologists, and is the subject of a larger twentieth-century literature in cognitive psychology. (Oakeshott’s “practical knowledge” is similar, but he stresses the idea that such knowledge cannot be reduced to rules. Instead, he says, it is a matter of skills: it is absorbed through practice. For him “technical knowledge” is rules, while “practical knowledge” is skills. The difficulty in using this distinction is that in art instruction techniques, materials, and media-specific knowledge include both rules and skills.)

(vi) Phenomenal knowledge: things you’ve experienced, that have an intensity in memory. They appear as plenary experiences, but they may not have any good verbal equivalents. An example might be the experience of climbing a mountain.

184 Leave a comment on paragraph 184 0  Each of these six senses of knowledge, except the common definition (propositional knowledge, the fourth one), share a very thorny problem. Each is by nature a mixed substance, partly cognized, and partly inchoate. Part of each one (except propositional knowledge) is nonverbal, extra-linguistic or non-linguistic, non-logical or a-logical, unarticulated, medium-specific, non-conceptual or pre-conceptual, embodied, felt, or otherwise different and separate from language. In each definition, the border between the linguistic and what is taken to lie outside it is drawn differently. In visual knowledge (ii), for example, part of what counts as knowledge must remain beyond a border that has to be identified with the visual. Some aspects of phenomenal knowledge can be communicated: for example, I can follow a guide up a mountain, and learn things the guide has absorbed from previous expeditions. I will not have the guide’s phenomenal knowledge, but parts of it that I can put into words, or put to use.

185 Leave a comment on paragraph 185 0 The second sense, “visual knowledge,” appears in a number of forms in the literature on the studio-art PhD. Haseeb Ahmed’s introduction to the collection “N52: Art and Research at MIT” (www.n-52.com) suggests that the practices of art and research at MIT result in objects and practices that “produce objects of non-reproducible knowledge.” One of his sources is Adorno’s essay “Commitment,” which includes the line that artworks “are knowledge as non-conceptual objects.” Such work, Ahmed writes, “disrupts the continuous reproduction of the ‘world as we know it’ and… renders that world into material for the free production known as an artwork.” The resulting artwork cannot be “easily ignored, repressed, or dissipated into the substrate of the world from which it came.” This position necessarily leaves it unsaid what kind of particularity is at stake, because a pure non-reproducibility would be a pure unintelligibility. Partial communicability is always what is at issue, and programs that rely on it are necessarily unable to describe what counts as “knowledge” beyond disruption of normative communication.

186 Leave a comment on paragraph 186 0 The salient point here is that all six, except propositional knowledge, present a problem for pedagogical and institutional literature on the PhD. Often uses of “artistic knowledge” in the PhD literature are not so much coherent concepts in their own right, as signals that what matters in the PhD programs is something other than ordinary propositional knowledge. Much of the literature on artistic knowledge is tortured because it amounts to an attempt to find a zone of freedom, outside the confines of propositional knowledge, which is at the same time somehow connected to propositional knowledge. The words “understanding,” “expression,” and “meaning” avoid that confusion, so they may be preferable.

187 Leave a comment on paragraph 187 0  

188 Leave a comment on paragraph 188 0 C. How is this knowledge extracted from, read into, or interpreted in, visual art?

189 Leave a comment on paragraph 189 0 If “artistic knowledge” is partly outside of language, then it presents a problem for assessment and what are called in the UK “learning outcomes.” The fundamental choice here has to do with how the “artistic knowledge” is imagined to be related to the art object. There are fundamentally two choices here:

(i) “Artistic knowledge” inheres in the visual object or practice, so that the object or practice is itself a form of knowledge, or

(ii) “artistic knowledge” is interpreted to exist in the object or practice, so that discourse reveals the art’s contribution to knowledge.

192 Leave a comment on paragraph 192 0 PhD programs wrestle with this. Possibility (ii) corresponds to part of what is entailed in Frayling’s “research for art” (see the previous entry in this list of reasons, on research). If “thinking is, so to speak, embodied in the artifact,” and what is at stake is some kind of “visual or iconic or imagistic communication,” then it is necessary to say how, exactly, the visual or non-verbal inheres in the work.

193 Leave a comment on paragraph 193 0 Possibility (i) is tricker, and (ii) logically depends on it, because if meaning doesn’t inhere in the artwork, then it wouldn’t make sense to say it can be extracted. Although Frayling does not cite it, there is a large literature on the idea that thinking can take place in and through works of visual art. Paintings, in particular, have been said to embody thought, or to have a kind of thinking proper to themselves. Writers as different as Gaston Bachelard, Hubert Damisch, Hanneke Grootenboer, David Freedberg, Louis Marin, Jean-Louis Schefer, and W.J.T. Mitchell have proposed ideas along these lines. It is one of Derrida’s four senses of “the truth in painting,” which he uses to frame his own argument in The Truth in Painting. Graeme Sullivan sometimes writes about thinking “in” art, for example when he says “artists periodically ‘think in a medium,’” although for him that is one of a triad (there is also “thinking in a language” and “thinking in a context,” a set that none of these authors would subscribe to). (“Artefacts as Evidence Within Changing Contexts,” Working Papers in Art and Design, 2006, accessed March 11, 2013.)

194 Leave a comment on paragraph 194 0 It wouldn’t quite be right to say this field is contested, because I do not think anyone has attempted to correlate the different theories. There is some talk in visual studies about Mitchell’s notion of picture theory (that pictures produce theory, that they are theory), and there has been some interest in art history about Marin’s ways of reading images (that they elicit thoughts about reading, even though they are not legible). Literature on performativity can also entail the claim that the visual is itself argument, is propositional. So far those conversations are disconnected. If the art object itself is to be the new knowledge, instead of or in addition to the dissertation, a great deal more work will have to be done to define what kind of thought inheres in the object itself, how it inheres in the object, and what place interpretation has.

195 Leave a comment on paragraph 195 0 The usual formulation is that it takes work, eloquence, introspection, critique, and analysis to extract the knowledge from the work. Sullivan, for example, says that is a visual work is “created as the result of visual arts research,” then it has the “capacity to be interpreted as evidence in a range of robust ways.” (“Artefacts as Evidence Within Changing Contexts,” Working Papers in Art and Design, 2006, accessed March 11, 2013.) In other words, if the work is appropriately structured (as the result of “visual arts research”) then it is possible to demonstrate how it “embodies ideas.”

196 Leave a comment on paragraph 196 1 It has also been argued, less frequently, that it does not take work, eloquence, introspection, critique, or systematic analysis to produce the knowledge embedded in the artwork, but rather that the knowledge can be revealed, shown to exist, brought into the light. This model derives from Heidegger’s reading of Plato, and the concept of aletheia (although it is not always attributed to Heidegger). (Altetheia is advocated, for example, in Daro Montag’s “Research Through Creative Practice,” 2000, University of Hertforshire website, accessed March 11, 2013.)

197 Leave a comment on paragraph 197 0 But I wonder if both of these formulations aren’t a crucial equivocation. This is easiest to see if we adopt the second of the six senses of “artistic knowledge,” which holds that visual art has or is a kind of visual knowledge. Then the two options I am suggesting are:

(i) If a work of visual art is itself a form visual knowledge, then it cannot be made into language. Language—in the form of the PhD dissertation, or the evaluation of the student’s accomplishment—cannot substitute for, express, or translate what happens in the object or practice.

(ii) If the object or practice implies or contains visual knowledge, then that knowledge can be extracted and written up, for example, in a dissertation: but if that is the case, then what remains of the visual object? Are visual objects and practices just containers, out of which knowledge is extracted?

200 Leave a comment on paragraph 200 0 There are no easy answers to these questions. The commonest positions in the PhD literature are that knowledge is the appropriate and necessary concept; that some form of tacit or visual knowledge is what is at stake; and that it requires the structured research environment of a PhD program to bring out the knowledge implicit in the practice. That concatenation of assumption produces, I think, a nearly incoherent literature.

201 Leave a comment on paragraph 201 0  

202 Leave a comment on paragraph 202 0 D. Why the very idea of opening questions on this topic can seem misguided

203 Leave a comment on paragraph 203 0 When I have had conversations about this subject with teachers and artists involved in PhD programs, it has been said that the very idea of interrogating the concept of knowledge in this way may be wrongheaded, or may start from a mistaken point of departure. Let me try to evoke those objections with two examples. They both happen to have to do with Mondrian.

204 Leave a comment on paragraph 204 0 I was once invited to discuss a new PhD program in Canada. I was sitting at a table with some of the faculty, and we were reviewing the definition of their proposed program. As I remember it, the conversation went something like this.

I said, “You may want to reconsider the use of the word ‘knowledge’ here, because it might not fit all the students who apply to your program.”

And one of the faculty replied, “But art creates knowledge. My own art is research, and results in art that creates knowledge.”

I said something like, “That may be true.” (I hadn’t seen her work.) “But do you want to put it in the official literature, so that it is true for all artists, or all applicants?”

“Yes,” she said.

“So,” I wanted to know, “if all art produces knowledge, then what knowledge is produced by a Mondrian painting?”

210 Leave a comment on paragraph 210 0 The answer she gave really amazed me, and it is one of the reasons I am interested in this subject. She said, “The reason Mondrian’s paintings do not produce knowledge is that he did not have a consistent research methodology.”

211 Leave a comment on paragraph 211 0 So one reason to doubt the project of doubting that art produces knowledge is that knowledge is always potentially present in art, but only comes out when it is developed using appropriate research. An entirely different reason to doubt the project of doubting  that art produces knowledge came from discussions about an earlier version of this text on Facebook. Here is part of that exchange:

DB: It sounds like you start by separating the visual from knowledge and then try to put them back together again (probably in vain)… I don’t agree, Jim. I think artists have always thought of what they do in terms of knowledge. Sometimes they’ve called it “truth” (for example, Cézanne) and sometimes they’ve called it “truth to materials” (for example, the high modernists) and others have called it “Realism,” “shock,” “progress,” and so on…

JE: I think your reply… gives away the meaning of “knowledge” by spreading it out among neighboring concepts. When “knowledge” is used in the literature on PhD programs, it’s fairly specific. I haven’t heard people talk about “Realism,” “shock,” “truth,” “truth to materials,” or “progress,” and I am not sure I would know how those are related anyway. Basically, I think if you expand “knowledge” in the way I think you’re doing, you don’t have a problem: but PhD programs do have a problem because they don’t expand it that way.

DB: Jim, I don’t think I’m expanding the concept of knowledge, I’m translating it into the idiom of fine art debates… PhD programmes are happy for you to describe your contribution to knowledge in many ways, so long as you define the terms in which the contribution takes place… I don’t think we should restrict the concept of knowledge in the way you are suggesting, and I don’t think we should isolate the concept of knowledge from the actual debates—historical and contemporary—in which knowledge is discussed in art.

JE: Wow, we have a fairly deep difference here. I don’t think I’m restricting the concept of knowledge. In the essay, I propose several terms, including “expression,” and several definitions of knowledge, that are not used in the PhD literature. Is it restricting the concept of knowledge to say that “shock” isn’t knowledge? And may I ask a question: do you think Mondrian paintings produce knowledge?

DB: Mondrian’s paintings, first, must be the result of knowledge (I think we can agree on that). Nobody makes such paintings in the early part of the twentieth century without a profound knowledge of the most advanced and ambitious painting. But we can go further than this, I think. Mondrian’s paintings do not merely reflect the knowledge that Mondrian has acquired by looking at other painters: he makes his own contribution to knowledge and to art history by making them. The qualities of the works ask new questions, make new proposals, point in new directions. So, yes, these paintings “produce” knowledge.

JE: If you were to list some of those “proposals,” like “a lozenge panting should now have stripes that end at 45 degrees to the edge of the canvas, instead of continuing on off the painted surface,” then you could, in fact, produce a list of “new knowledge.” That kind of work has been done by Yve-Alain Bois, and also by his teacher Hubert Damisch… but is that the same as the “knowledge” that includes “shock” or “progress”?

218 Leave a comment on paragraph 218 0  This exchange continued without a clear ending. It’s probably true that if Mondrian were a PhD student, a dissertation on topics like the ones Bois has chronicled—individual moves made between canvases, showing what Mondrian was doing at each moment—would be appropriate. But DB’s larger point is that “knowledge” should be capacious: it should include many things. So from his point of view, what I had thought was an expansion of the meanings and uses of “knowledge” and related terms seemed like a shrinkage or an artificial separation of “the visual” from knowledge.

219 Leave a comment on paragraph 219 0 The first hesitation comes from the idea that knowledge needs to be discussed along with whatever counts as research. (I am not convinced by that, and I’m definitely not on board with the assumption behind it, that all art potentially produces knowledge.) The second doubt comes from the idea that speaking about knowledge in the way I was trying to do is not appropriate—that knowledge needs to be translated into the “idiom of fine art debates” before it can be usefully analyzed. This seems entirely reasonable to me, but if there’s one thing that characterizes the massive literature on knowledge and research in third-level arts, it is its distance from whatever might count as ordinary studio talk, art criticism, or even art theory before the advent of the PhD. Given the state of the literature, it seems important to try to make the terms—as they are being used in the current literature—as clear as possible.

220 Leave a comment on paragraph 220 0  

221 Leave a comment on paragraph 221 0 Reason 13. The PhD is expensive. 

222 Leave a comment on paragraph 222 0 Generally speaking, the cost for a studio art education is high for the BFA and MFA, and low for the PhD. That is because PhD programs try to fund their students with grants and stipends; and in the EU, the fee structure is much lower.

223 Leave a comment on paragraph 223 0 But getting to the PhD is definitely expensive. Dave Hickey once said to students where I teach, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, that if he was a beginning student, he would take the $200,000 in student loans that it would take to get him an art degree, and he’d invest in a De Kooning drawing instead. That figure is not far off. In 2011, the BFA at major North American institutions cost between $28,000 per year (Kansas City Art Institute) and $36,000 per year (Rhode Island School of Design), and the MFA cost between $26,000 (Cranbrook) and $42,000 (Columbia University). So that’s roughly $200,000 for an MFA.

224 Leave a comment on paragraph 224 0 There are also living expenses to consider. In the US, living expenses might amount to around $10,000 per year, so that in a 3-year MFA, as Carrie Ann Baade points out, that would be an additional $30,000. Living expenses matter when you are not also earning money: if you add $10,000 per year to the costs in the paragraph above, you end up with $260,000 of debt.

225 Leave a comment on paragraph 225 0 In the EU, non-EU students can expect to pay approximately $12,000 per year for their PhD program, so that’s roughly $30,000 for a three-year studio-based PhD, depending on the length of the program. Here are some other examples. At Wimbledon, the new MFA (going onstream in 2013) is a two-year program, without a dissertation; Mark Sibley informs me it costs £7500 for the two years. The Royal College of Art also posts its costs for non-EU citizens: they would be over £25,000 per annum, depending on what financial assistance the student could get.

226 Leave a comment on paragraph 226 0  

227 Leave a comment on paragraph 227 0 Reason 14. No one knows how to asses the PhD.

228 Leave a comment on paragraph 228 0 There are at least four distinct elements of the PhD that require assessment:

A. Evaluating the PhD exhibition. It is difficult to know what counts as a PhD level art exhibition, as opposed to an MA, MFA, or BFA level exhibition.

B. Evaluating the degree. It is hard to decide how to evaluate what students produce: how to measure “learning outcomes,” quantifiable criteria, “benchmarking,” or “transferrable knowledge” are produced by the studio-art PhD.

C. Evaluating the supervisor. It is not easy to describe how studio-art or practice-led supervision should work at the PhD level.

D. Evaluating the academic supervisor. And there are no guidelines for those supervisors who are not themselves artists or studio instructors.

233 Leave a comment on paragraph 233 0  I will comment briefly on the first three, and a bit more on the fourth.

234 Leave a comment on paragraph 234 0 The first responds to the idea that the PhD is a “professional level” or “terminal” degree. That wording is carried over from institutional definitions of the MFA and MA, and in those contexts it was either undefined or assumed to correspond with measurable professional competence (which was not defined beyond “appropriate skills” or “techniques”). Because “professional” competence was never elaborated for the MFA, it remains undefined for the PhD. There is a flavor to PhD-level exhibitions, which can be easy to spot, but it can happen at any level. (It involves, I would say, a large amount of text; visual material that is partly evidence of research; and documentation in the form of books or online resources.) What is missing is a conceptualization of what should count as a “terminal” or “professional” level exhibition.

235 Leave a comment on paragraph 235 0 It might be helpful here to compare different arts. Assessment is not usually discussed outside of individual media and arts, but there are a few such projects. Mark Callahan’s comparative study at the University of Georgia, for example, compares assessment in writing, art education, dance, theater, film studies, and even sports.(ideasforcreativeexploration.com) Even if comparative studies like this turn out to be comparisons of incommensurate things, or of different kinds of under-theorized criteria, they might still be useful in revealing each field’s assumptions.

236 Leave a comment on paragraph 236 0 The second, the issue of evaluating the degree, is more a product of the UK literature, which stresses measurable results. The commonest approach is known in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere as “weighting.” For example the 2010 Postgraduate Research Student Handbook, authored by the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University, says “The weighting for the practice component shall be between 40% and 75% of the whole study.” I have sometimes wondered if mathematicians have found this kind of measurement funny. Two things can only be weighted if they are the same kinds of things, and if they are both quantified. Weighting makes it seem as if there is a reliable system in place, but the percentages are meaningless; they postpone the problem of making a quantified assessment of the art practice. At least one PhD program Tokyo Geidai, has explicitly noted this and removed the weighting criterion. Their statement (2012) says that weighting:

237 Leave a comment on paragraph 237 0 is not believed to have any inherent meaning… it is far more realistic and productive in terms of both artistic practice and academic research to conduct an integrated evaluation that focuses on how artistic practice and academic research are linked and complement each other.

238 Leave a comment on paragraph 238 0 Aside from weighting, “benchmarking,” “learning outcomes,” and other criteria are meant to be uniform so that students in a program can be compared with each other, and so that art departments can be compared with non-art departments, and so that art departments in different universities can be compared with one another. That looming issue tends to be addressed by local protocols. In one program, students may be asked for structured reports on their research outcomes; in another, those reports may be generated by the supervisor; in a third, the work itself is considered to be the outcome. So far there is no consensus on these issues—but the consensus on the MFA and MA was only the common usage of words like “professional,” so in countries where national and international standards are not immediately pressing, these issues may remain matters for each department or institution.

239 Leave a comment on paragraph 239 0 The third is a faculty training issue. There is an extensive website on this subject in the UK. (wp.me/POl0u-B) Conversations turn around the idea that supervisors need to be “creative,” that the supervision needs to be mobile, “rhizomatic” (there are a number of essays on Deleuze on the site), and unencumbered by disciplines. One of the few texts that is based on conversations with supervisors is an essay by John Hockey (paywall) that stresses the ad hoc nature of actual supervision, which “is foremost a practical activity learned by trial and error.” Most of the literature—at least 5 books and approximately 50 articles—is concerned with theorizing varieties of nonstandard roles for supervisors. One of the larger initiatives, SuperVision, stresses the need to gather more examples of optimal supervision, collaboration, and assessment. (tinyurl.com/8gepeu2) I am not exploring this literature here, because it seems to me so often dependent on what is meant by “knowledge” and “research.”

240 Leave a comment on paragraph 240 1 The fourth issue is, I think, largely unexplored. If the thesis is ultimately bent on supporting ongoing artistic practice, as opposed to understanding and interpreting that practice (“practice-led,” as opposed to “practice-based”), it is not logical to have the text checked or supervised by experts in different academic disciplines. Why? Because the purpose of the candidate’s exploration of academic disciplines is to mine them in order to further her artwork. Hence normal scholarly criteria of truth, the production of new knowledge, thoroughness, clarity, and scholarly protocol just do not apply. The dissertations can still be checked, and the candidates can be advised as if  they were students of art history, anthropology, and other disciplines: but in fact they aren’t, and the normal protocols of readings by specialists is not logically appropriate.

241 Leave a comment on paragraph 241 0 I have acted as external supervisor for practice-led PhD dissertations, where the students were also supervised by studio art instructors. My role was to direct their dissertations as an art historian. If I had done that job in the normal way, I would have recommended all the scholarship on the student’s subject. But I knew the students, so I knew what sources might interest them. I recommended particular sets of readings—not the entire subject, but particular parts of it. All that seemed very unproblematic, very natural: after all, that’s what studio instructors do when they recommend students look at certain artists, or read certain books.

242 Leave a comment on paragraph 242 0 The problem is that art history, like other academic disciplines, does not include criteria of exclusion. At history does not include training in the selection of sources for creative purposes. I chose based on my own experiences in my MFA program, my sense of the students as artists, and my years of teaching in an art school. And what discipline was that, exactly?

243 Leave a comment on paragraph 243 0 Because this point has been elusive in the literature, let me put it another way. A PhD dissertation on, say, seventeenth-century Dutch group portraits might be impeccable by art historical standards—it might include all the relevant literature, primary texts, restoration reports, and the latest interpretive theories—and yet fail as the support for an ongoing art practice. The art historian who supervises such a thesis must read with an eye to rigor, argument, research, and all the normal criteria of excellence in art history, because as an art historian she has no choice—there is no possibility of improvising different criteria for art historical excellence other than ones determined by the current state of interpretation in the field. And yet such an art historical reading can never be sufficient or even demonstrably appropriate for a practicing artist. What matters for the student, presumably, is something about the historical material that can be used in her own art practice. What is at stake is no longer how the dissertation might contribute to the understanding of the subject, but how the dissertation might illuminate an interest the student has developed.

244 Leave a comment on paragraph 244 0 It’s a simple problem, and it almost seems invisible: but it is enormous, and it has no solution. If a supervisor cannot evaluate a thesis according to the current interests of the field in question, then there is no way to evaluate the thesis short of an improvised critique—and that, aside from bibliographic matters, is something that can be done by any number of readers in different fields. The specialist no longer acts as a specialist in her own field.

245 Leave a comment on paragraph 245 0 Notice, too, that all this assumes the student has control of what she wants and needs, and that she can formulate questions well enough so that the supervisor can just lead her toward the appropriate historical resources. But often in art history that has not been the case. Artists seldom know exactly why they want to see a given image or master a given body of knowledge. And if a studio-art instructor has a hard time figuring out how to direct a student, how much less likely is it that an art historian, a philosopher, or an anthropologist will have a better idea? It seems that the problem of evaluating the studio-art PhD simply cannot be solved unless disciplines give up their shapes and readers step outside their normal interpretive habits: exactly what might make the new degree so interesting, and at the same time ensure it cannot be commensurate with other degrees. I am thinking that from now on I will agree to supervise studio-art PhDs only if the student can explain what she wants from the discipline of art history.

246 Leave a comment on paragraph 246 0 In the end this problem has to be addressed as a paradox, and not with an eye to solving it. It would make sense to put seminars on theories of reading at the heart of the new programs. Translation theory, too, could play a part, and so could anthropological theories of interpretation. In that case the studio-art PhD should be understood a critique of disciplinarity itself, as it is by writers like Henk Slager and Mick Wilson. The only difficulty with that position, I think, is that it makes assessment untenable, and it renders disciplinary expertise—indeed, the idea of supervision itself–incoherent.

247 Leave a comment on paragraph 247 0 If courses on these conceptual problems were built into the new degree programs, then the nearly intractable difficulties posed by the new degrees could be addressed within the dissertations themselves. That would contribute to the problematic issue of self-reflexivity (see [the earlier post]) it would make the new PhD degrees more interesting, and certainly more challenging, for the university as a whole.

248 Leave a comment on paragraph 248 0  *

249 Leave a comment on paragraph 249 0 This list could be expanded in several directions, but these 14 points are, I think, the principal undecided features of the studio-art PhD.

250 Leave a comment on paragraph 250 0 When I posted these entries on Facebook in 2012, I got several messages, on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress, expressing dismay or dissatisfaction at my critical approach. People asked why I am criticizing an institution that has been around for forty years—that’s two generations of scholars, at least. Why criticize something that is practiced in over 200 institutions in approximately 30 countries around the world? Does it make any sense to doubt a degree that has produced several thousand graduates, and that continues to grow? Can it be sensible to criticize a literature that is so large that no one can read it all? The amount of writing on the PhD is daunting. The PhD Design group has been going since 1998, debating these issues in the field of the design PhD; authors like Graeme Sullivan have written extensively on the subject; there are literally dozens of books on the subject, like the massive Routledge Companion to Research in The Arts. There are numerous international organizations that discuss the PhD, and a number of sessions and special conferences on the subject each year. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teachers work in these programs throughout the world.

251 Leave a comment on paragraph 251 0 So what kind of sense does it make to question the institution? I have several answers.

252 Leave a comment on paragraph 252 0 First, just because something has been around a long time, and is widely accepted, doesn’t mean it makes sense. I read the literature as widely as I can, and I am still perplexed by the ways words like “research” and “knowledge” are used, and the ways that people theorize the idea of writing dissertations that are entwined with art practice. These are fascinating issues, and I don’t at all mean they should be discarded: the very idea of “research into art” is very interesting precisely because it is so hard to pin down. Outside of the PhD context, it is fair to say few people have developed theories about the relation of visual art to knowledge. It’s an ongoing philosophic problem, and PhD programs shine an unusual light on it.

253 Leave a comment on paragraph 253 0 Second, the studio-art PhD isn’t necessarily the well established thing it appears to be. The surge in writing on the subject in the period from about 2007 to the present has come mostly from the EU. In the UK, it is traditional to complain about these programs; they have an uneven reputation there and in Australia. The PhD isn’t  settled in the way the MA or MFA are. (That isn’t to say the MFA or MA are better understood! But that they are less actively discussed, with some prominent exceptions.)

254 Leave a comment on paragraph 254 0 And third, the administrative literature that defines and guides the PhD programs is largely a product of the UK system.  (Japanese PhD programs have been around as long as those in the UK, and there are as many of them; but they have not had influence outside Japan.) As the programs spread around the world, that literature was adopted, often for expediency’s sake, and used in places where it did not fit. But the UK literature has its quirks, especially the custom of adapting a number of existing philosophical systems, from Descartes to Deleuze, to the exigencies of “research” and “knowledge.” In the Americas, in Africa, and other places where the PhD is relatively new, there is an opportunity to rethink that literature from the ground up.

255 Leave a comment on paragraph 255 0 Those are my reasons for being interested in this subject. I don’t want to stop the programs, or demonstrate that they have some kind of fatal flaw. I want to rethink them, openly, with an eye to producing new forms of the program. The issues the PhD raises are among the most fundamental in our understanding of visual art: the PhD pushes the ideas of creativity, autonomy, research, practice, the visual, and the linguistic—all the most difficult issues of visuality. Because PhD programs are brick and mortar, they make those often abstract problems even more challenging.

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