5 Positive Ideas for the PhD

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 After all these notes of skepticism, I want to close on a positive, constructive note. Here are some ideas. These would be on my wish list for future programs.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 1. Determine the strengths of your institution, and articulate them in the literature.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Given the spread of studio-art PhDs, each institution will need to stand out against the increasingly crowded field. It will probably be increasingly important to advertise the specific strengths of your program.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It’s common for official versions of promotional texts to be somewhat bland—“Our institution is in one of the world’s largest and most vibrant cities,” “We offer a wide range of subjects, from anthropology to art,” “Our institution is highly competitive,” and so forth. Given this rhetoric, it should be fairly easy to attract students by formulating more precise and helpful descriptions. Here are some examples, inspired by actual progams: “Our institution brings together regional painting and a research university setting,” or “We feature an unusual combination of historical photography techniques and political theory,” or “Our core faculty are dedicated to environmental art.” Some institutions nourish certain kinds of art, and that could also be advertised. For example (again, inspired by actual programs): “Our academy focuses on text-driven, conceptual art projects that engage science, politics, and natural history,” or “Students in our program are guided though an intensive, evolving series of research proposals and guidelines,” or “Our PhD is invested in the critical reception of Deleuze, especially affect theory.”

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A few institutions are already sharply focused. Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, New York (near the state capital, Albany) has a very unusual program, utilizing the fact that they are in a large technical and engineering university, and also the fact that many of their faculty are politically active. They combine high-tech art projects, such as bioart, with social activism. But their web page—which is hard to find in the university’s web site—does not stress those dual strengths, speaking instead about electronic arts and related issues. I have heard that the Malmö Academy in Lund also has a strong focus in conceptual, process-oriented art, which fits their own developing sense of art research; again that isn’t spelled out in their literature, but it could be attractive for potential students.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In my experience, the main obstacle to this kind of description is disagreement among the faculty. From an administrator’s point of view, definitions are good for publicity and fundraising. A faculty-led reading group could help forge a working definition; and ultimately, with a working profile in place, hiring decisions could be guided by the department’s or the institution’s sense of its purpose.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The same issue affects many departments in the arts and humanities. In my own field, art history, departments generally try to hire in such a way that they can “cover the world.” In the smallest departments, the few faculty members do their best to teach world surveys; typically one person will teach all of non-Western art. If there are on the order of 8 or 10 faculty, new hires proceed in a fairly predictable sequence: a medievalist or specialist on ancient art, a Renaissance scholar, a modernist, a specialist in American art, in East Asian art, in South Asian art, an Africanist, a Latin American specialist, and so on. In western Europe and North America, these sequences are fairly well set. The world is never covered, of course, but the ambition is to teach those parts that have attracted most attention among art historians in western Europe and North America. Much more could be said on this topic; but the result is that large universities have art history departments whose faculty vary but whose range of subjects is approximately equal. Students choose universities by their general reputation and by the individual faculty who work there, not by the how much of the world they cover—because in that respect, they’re nearly indistinguishable. It would be easy for any university or college, even a smaller one, to stand out internationally by specializing. A small state college, or a university in a smaller country, could decide to hire mainly medievalists; if it did, it could very quickly become the world’s premier center for medieval studies in art history. It wouldn’t be necessary for all the faculty to specialize: even four or five out of twenty would be enough to attract the majority of students from around the world who want to study medieval art.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The same principle applies to studio-art PhD programs. Even a modicum of specialization, or a fairly consistent focus, would be enough to raise a program above the competition. Many PhD programs already have a flavor, or particular strengths: it would only be necessary to agree on how to advertise them.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 This sort of emphasis on coherence would also be good for the PhD in general, because it would show the PhD is complex and diverse, and it would bring out distinct potential directions for the degree, fostering conversation about the future of the degree.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 2. Define your key terms.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The usual key words of PhD programs such as research, knowledge, meaning, practice, experiment, criticism, criticality, outcome, embodied, situated, contingent, hybrid, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, subdisciplinary, and postdisciplinary are rarely defined. A common kind of statement is this:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 We are committed to articulating the tacit knowledge in visual works through extended analysis and criticality.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 Most words here are effectively undefined. Such a statement could be expanded to include some analyses of the terms, for example:

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 By “tacit knowledge” we understand not the subsidiary awareness of the world that was first defined as “tacit” by Mchael Polanyi, but the sum total of elements in a visual practice that can be brought into words and presented as knowledge. Our position is that visual media involve some elements that are intrinsically extra-linguistic; we do not consider those part of the knowledge produced by artwork. Our mission is, instead, the articulation of what Nelson Goodman would have called the “nondense” semiotic elements in visual practices, and the arrangement of those elements into forms that can be understood as knowledge.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 That sample explanation is only about the one word “tacit”; to differentiate this program from others, more would have to be said about “knowledge” and the difference between “analysis” and “crticality.” I can’t quite imagine any program wanting to tie itself to Goodman in order to explain what counts as “tacit,” but this imaginary example would have the virtue of taking a clear position on the issue.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 In theory, it would be possible for PhD programs to have strong philosophic positions that might differ widely from one program to the next. The way things are now, sentences like the one I began with to proliferate and effectively lose their meaning.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 In addition to paying close attention to the work we’re asking words like “tacit” to do, it might also be a good idea to have a series of conferences on such words. For example the key words that could augment or replace “knowledge” (including “understanding,” “expression,” and “meaning”) could be the subject of a series of symposia hosted by PhD-granting institutions. If one institution were to become known for initiatives like that, it would quickly stand out. Over the years, various art academies and schools have don something like that, including NSCAD, Frankfurt, SVA, Utrecht, and others; but so far, no PhD program has proposed itself as the place where fundamental terms are rethought. It’s an opportunity waiting to be taken.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 The conferences could also be the basis for a series of books, which would be a wonderful resource for people planning new PhD programs, or revisiting existing ones. With a secure sense of the history, meanings, and usages of a word like “tacit”—or “research,” “knowledge,” “meaning,” “practice,” “experiment,” “criticism,” “criticality,” “outcome,” “embodied,” “situated,” “contingent,” “hybrid,” “interdisciplinary,” “transdisciplinary,” “subdisciplinary,” or “postdisciplinary”—it would become more challenging to write sentences like the one with which I began.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 3. Be as precise as possible about your assessments and requirements.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The assessment of the PhD dissertation and exhibition remain open questions in the majority of programs. (See the last entry on the list.) At all levels, from BA to PhD, studio art many programs have developed their own methods for assessment. In the book Art Critiques: A Guide, I list a number of MFA critique strategies that are unique to different institutions: the silent teacher critique, the rotating assessment, and so forth. At the PhD level, especially in the UK and Australia, the literature on assessment has made the language more uniform, but in my experience the actual scenes of assessment vary widely. Some have a formal thesis defense (the “viva”); some result in written reports; some entail outcome claims by the candidates, and so on.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 There is an opportunity here to distinguish PhD programs by their way of assessing students. For example, you could specify the requirements for the viva:

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 The student will prepare a 25-page paper setting out the exhibition’s principal meanings, justifying, in each case, how those meanings are achieved, how viewers might reasonably be expected to understand and engage those meanings, and what conclusions they might plausibly draw from them. That paper will be discussed in a viva, together with the exhibition. The viva will be assessed by three criteria: how complete and plausible the proposed meanings of the work are; how significant, provocative, or expressive the meanings are; and how the visual nature of the work is necessary for the proposed meanings.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Or, if your institution stresses the separate supervision of the dissertation and the art project, you could have something like this in your literature:

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Our PhD dissertations are assessed according to the standards of the field they most closely approximate. Dissertations presented as art history will be read by an external examiner who is an art historian. They must be up to full professional standards in terms of research, exposition, and claims.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 On the other hand, if you emphasize the imbrication of the dissertation and the work, you could say that:

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 The student’s dissertation is considered as a piece of experimental writing, in line with current theorizing about the line between fiction and nonfiction, as in Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith’s positions on conceptual writing, or Anne Carson’s experiments in translation. Dissertations will be judged by the standards of contemporary discussions on the nature of veracity in non-fiction, such as John D’Agata’s polemic against “objectivity” in essay writing.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 I am making these up, of course. But I think formulations like these would be helpful for students choosing programs, and they would also help institutions stand out from one another.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 4. Promote new kinds of dissertations.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 This is the longest of the suggestions, because it takes a while to explore. Practice-led PhDs have usually been fairly well tied to existing disciplines: usually they’re in art history, aesthetics or other philosophy, political science, anthropology, sociology, and history. Rarely, they’re in other subjects such as chemistry. (More on that later.)

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 But all along, the promise has been that the dissertation could be something other than ordinary research. Some programs have achieved hybrid forms in which the dissertation works as part of the visual art, and others have mixed the research and the practice so they cannot be disentangled at all. But those experiments remain in the minority.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Here I will present an attempt to produce a schema for the kinds of dissertation that might, in theory, be produced in studio-art PhD programs. The notion is to describe the studio-art PhD degree in a neutral fashion, as a philosophic problem. I am leaving aside all the pressing problems of the job market; I’m doing that because it seems very important to consider what the degree might mean for intellectual and creative life in the university. (None of this is to say that the philosophic issues raised by the PhD in studio art can help solve the economic, practical, or political problems, or that those problems are less important than questions of conceptualization.) Can the PhD contribute new ways of thinking about interdisciplinarity? Can it help reconfigure the conventional ways of conceptualizing the difference between making something and studying it? Can it help justify the presence of studio art departments in universities? Can it provide models for bridging history, theory, criticism, and practice—models that might have meaning even beyond the humanities?

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0  

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 This schema was originally a supervisor’s report for a creative-arts PhD dissertation called “Beyond the Surface: The Contemporary Experience of the Italian Renaissance,” written by Jo-Anne Duggan for the University of Technology, Sydney. (You can get an idea of her dissertation by reading the excerpts in Chapter [   ].) Duggan was a candidate for the DCA, Doctorate of Creative Arts. She is a photographer, and her special interest is photographing art inside museums; her dissertation explores the history and theory of that practice. I quote passages from her dissertation in what follows, to give the argument concrete examples.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 And before I begin, a note about “research” and “knowledge”: I wrote the first version of this material back in 2002, and at that time those terms were not as widely discussed as they are now. When I was revising for this book I searched the text for both words; it turns out they are only used to describe other disciplines such as art history, philosophy, and anthropology. I hope this shows that it is possible to go a long way without depending on such words.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 I will propose three configurations that the new PhD degree might take. The first model is relatively common, and the second and third are rare but, I think, preferable. The outline is involved, so here it is for reference:

First Model: The Dissertation is Research that Informs the Art Practice

A. The dissertation is art history

B. The dissertation is philosophy or art theory

C. The dissertation is art criticism

D. The dissertation is natural history, or economics, etc.

E. The dissertation is a technical report

Second Model: The Dissertation is Equal to The Artwork

A. Research and artwork comprise a new interdisciplinary field

B. Research and artwork are wholly separate projects

Third Model: The Dissertation Is the Artwork, And Vice Versa

A. The dissertation is intended to be read as art, and the visual practice as research

B. The research and visual art are fused, and there is no separate dissertation

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0  

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 I don’t mean to suggest that this outline is the only possible arrangement. I’m as allergic to rigid schemata as the next person: but most programs work with mixtures of these options, and that can obscure their conceptual and discursive differences.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 First Model: The Dissertation is Research that Informs the Art Practice

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 I think the most common and the clearest relation between the PhD candidate’s scholarship—the written dissertation or thesis—and her creative work is that the dissertation informs the artwork. The artist positions her scholarship so that it variously supports, modifies, guides, or enables her art practice. The dissertation can be assigned to some nameable specialty, field, or discipline: it’s an art history thesis, for example, which addresses a painting practice.

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 0 Within this first large grouping I think it is helpful to distinguish five alternatives, depending on which department in the university supervises the dissertation. I’ve labeled them A, B, C, D, and E.

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 A. The dissertation is art history. Perhaps the most common option is to write an art historical dissertation, covering the history of practices that lead up to the writer’s own practice. The student would normally have a supervisor in history of art, and one in studio art. I will briefly mention three possible problems with this use of art history; each one is also an opportunity for PhD programs to specify their position.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 (i) A guiding assumption of this configuration is that art history can strengthen, or at least productively inform, art practice. I think the point is often true, but it is debatable as an assumption, if only because so many artists have done so well by intentionally misinterpreting, simplifying, or otherwise distorting or even travestying historical works, ideas, and practices. PhD programs that involve art historians as supervisors should consider this a foundational problem: art history is not built for use, but for understanding.

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 It would not be difficult to raise this question within art history as it is presently constituted, because “reception history” (Rezeptionsgeschichte), especially in the paradoxical and critical forms that it has been given by Michael Holly and Mieke Bal, is well suited to consider problems of indirect, inaccurate, repressed, or illogical influence. Georges Didi-Huberman’s revisionary critique of art history, which follows Warburg and Freud, offers another model.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 (ii) What is more difficult for both art history and studio art is the thought that art history, whether it is diligently studied or intentionally misread, might not always be beneficial for art students. I would say it is generally supposed that knowledge of art history is in itself not a bad thing: but for a working artist, it may also be that too much art historical knowledge might hamper or even ruin ongoing art projects. The second of the reasons to mistrust the PhD goes into this; it would be clarifying if PhD programs were to state what kinds of art history are considered appropriate for their students.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 In Canberra I met Ruth Waller, whose MA thesis was on fifteenth-century painting. (Her work is excerpted in Chapter [   ].) Her own painting, she said, was enriched by her detailed historical knowledge. But in the history of art, artists’ assessments of their influences are notoriously unreliable: artists commonly claim to be influenced by other artists even when those influences turn out to be inscrutable, idiosyncratic, or otherwise unavailable to historians and other viewers. One of the many fascinating questions raised by the new PhD degrees is whether advisors should get involved at that level: should an advisor point out that an increase in historical knowledge might not be good for a given practice? St. Andrews is an example of a program where it is assumed that historical knowledge (in their case, of photography) will be relevant to current practice, and in my experience the official descriptions of PhD-granting programs claim or assume as much. It would seem more prudent, and more historically responsible, to raise the question in each individual case. It may be a good idea to offer special seminars in studio-art PhD programs, in order to continuously explore the relation between the intellectual scope of the PhD-level research and various historical practices of art. Such a seminar might explore, as an ongoing issue, whether or not the art history that the PhD candidate is learning is helping or hindering their art practice.

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 (iii) A third issue with a dissertation supervised in history of art is when it might be appropriate for the student to break out of the art historical way of writing—meaning, roughly, the guiding intention of elucidating some past practice—and speak in her own voice—meaning, here, the desire to use the historical material to effect an ongoing and separate art practice.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 For example Duggan mentions “the Renaissance artist’s quest to truthfully imitate nature—or as I see it, represent vision” (p. 10 of her thesis). The first phrase belongs in art history; the second in criticism or in an artist’s statement. A pure history of art PhD thesis would likely omit the second phrase or justify it in the name of some larger argument, if only because it is anachronistic in a way that the first phrase isn’t. (A Renaissance humanist wouldn’t say he was “representing vision.”) Duggan could have written something like this: “I’ll just note in passing that I am aware that these two interpretations are potentially on either side of a gulf. One one side is a commonly received description of Renaissance practice, and on the other a formula that points to current interests in vision and visuality. That paradox will be an ongoing theme.” That way she could have made a theme of her small break with art historical practice. Yet even an explicit acknowledgment wouldn’t solve the problem of the disjunction between two disparate ways of conceiving the purpose of art history, or ensure that her dissertation would work more effectively as a support for her art practice—but each acknowledgment of the problem would let readers and supervisors have a greater share in the project.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 B. The dissertation is philosophy or art theory. Still under the first heading, “First Model: The Dissertation is Research that Informs the Art Practice,” there is another possibility. An artist’s scholarship can also support her practice if the scholarly component is philosophy rather than art history. The dissertation might be a philosophic investigation of, say, the phenomenology of video practice instead of the history of video. A philosophic thesis, in this context, can be thought of as an organic development of the artist’s statement. It could be supervised in a philosophy department, or in an art department, or in the history of art: but the supervisor would, in this case, be treating the dissertation as philosophy or theory rather than history.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 The same questions of relevance apply here: even though the PhD student might believe her practice is supported by her philosophic inquiry, the relation might appear very differently to her viewers, critics, and (eventually) her historians. Often artists’ theories turn out to be irrelevant to what comes to be taken as most important about the work. And as art instructors know, students who construct elaborate theories about their work sometimes use theory not for its content as much as its rhetorical force: the philosophy or theory of art serve as a smokescreen, hiding what is actually of interest in the work. (Or, in the studio, hiding problems the artists suspects her work may harbor.)

62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0 Parts of Duggan’s second chapter are philosophy, for instance her focus on “the physicality and auratic presence of the Italian museums” (p. 40), and art theory is threaded through her dissertation. When an art historical dissertation is intermittently philosophic (by which I mean, in this context, that it pauses to seriously consider issues of art theory outside of the historical circumstances in which they were originally developed) it might tend to appear that the philosophy helps support the art history. If the purpose is to write a new theory of a period or practice, then it will probably be necessary to bring the philosophy out of its matrix in art history—out of its role as conceptual support for empirical inquiry—in order to have it stand together with the creative work. If Italian museums are to be said to have an “auratic presence,” and if—for example—Walter Benjamin or Rudolf Otto were to be the authors that support the concepts of presence or aura, then the claim is critical and philosophical, and not art historical. In an art historical text, one that is not part of a creative-art PhD, such an interpretation of Italian museums could be justified as part of a wider examination of the history of ideas about Italian museums, and “auratic presence” could occupy a place in twentieth-century theories about museums. In Duggan’s thesis the passage I have just quoted is a temporary departure from art historical writing, because it works as an interpolated truth about museums rather than an idea with a specifiable genealogy.

63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0 It is not immediately clear whether Duggan intends her observation about auratic presence to be read as an observation about Italian museums in general, or if she means to offer it as a historically delimited judgment. The ambiguation is not necessarily productive or meaningful. How much, a reader may ask, does Duggan believe in the auratic presence of Italian museums? Does she believe that sense of presence is also a historical phenomenon, or that it matters that the judgment itself has a history? In art history, the philosophy is assumed to be historically specific (Benjamin’s sense of the aura was developed in response to a certain time and place), but in creative work the philosophy can directly support the art practice no matter how historically distant the philosophic term is from the contemporary art practice. For that reason I think that such philosophic moments are in special need of being made explicit when there is also creative work involved.

64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0 C. The dissertation is art criticism. The student’s scholarship can also support her art practice if the dissertation is art criticism rather than philosophy or art history. This is, I think, the most common form of creative-arts PhD dissertation, and it can also be found outside the visual arts, in PhD creative writing programs, where candidates produce literary-critical essays about their practice.

65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0 In the UK, creative-art doctorates of various kinds have been around long enough to get an uneven reputation; some are not much more than over-extended Master’s theses, with a written component that is essentially critical in nature and an admixture of art history and art theory. Such dissertations are similar to the theses that are written by MA or MFA art students; those texts tend to be mainly art criticism, aimed at elucidating the student’s practice. An challenge to the development of the studio-art PhD in the US is to find ways of preventing it from slumping into a protracted MFA thesis. To that end, it is important to reconsider two issues that are constitutive of art criticism in the academy.

66 Leave a comment on paragraph 66 0 (i) Self-reflexivity. The purpose of the juxtaposition of art criticism and artwork at the doctoral level would presumably be to be more articulate in the description and evaluation of one’s own art, on the reasonable grounding assumption that improving self-reflexivity is a central purpose of graduate study. As far as I know, self-reflexivity is not doubted as a goal in any graduate studio art program, but there are good reasons to wonder about it; this is discussed in the reasons to mistrust the PhD, number 7. A PhD program could take a position on this point in relation to the kinds of criticism, critique, or criticality that are of interest.

67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0 (ii) A second issue with creative art dissertations that take the form of art criticism is that the subject of art criticism is virtually never taught in PhD programs in philosophy or history of art. Art criticism appears as a historical subject in history of art curricula—there are courses on Baudelaire, Diderot, and so forth—but not as a practical subject. (See the books Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism and State of Art Criticism for discussions of this issue.)

68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0 In the absence of sequences of courses on art criticism in university curricula, I am not sure that art-critical dissertations can be effectively read and critiqued on a PhD level. It would, of course, be possible to find philosophers or art historians who could assess such dissertations, but only for their logic (if they were read as philosophy) or historical veracity (if they were judged by an art historians).

69 Leave a comment on paragraph 69 0 D. The dissertation is natural history, or economics, or any number of fields outside the humanities. In this option, the candidate looks further afield than stdio art, history of art, or philosophy. At the 2003 conference David Williams, Chair of Art at the Australian National University in Canberra, said that it’s a popular option among his students to write a “subthesis,” as they are called, in the sciences. The student has an art practice, in any medium, and chooses to obtain a PhD in Biology, say, or in Genetics: whatever field they are qualified to enter. From my perspective, a science or non-art dissertation, set to the purpose of furthering an art practice, is an entrancing prospect.

70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0 If the dissertation is to be assessed according to the protocols of the discipline in question then it will have to be science, economics, medicine, law, or engineering: it will have to exemplify its field as if the candidate were not also an artist. If that criterion is abandoned then the dissertation can be about science, economics, medicine, law, or engineering. Such a dissertation would be the equivalent of a PhD in the history, philosophy, or sociology of science: that is, it would be an interpretation of the particular branch of science.  (For a history of science doctorate, for example, the candidate may have to obtain a PhD in the relevant science.)

71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0 Presumably the option of writing about the science or other discipline would not be open to students whose dissertations are supervised, at least partly, in the different departments in question: but I mention it to underscore that a creative-arts PhD might not be modeled on existing interdisciplinary or dual degrees. If the function of the dissertation is to further the art practice, then the dissertation will necessarily be at least partly a matter of observing, adapting, appropriating, and critiquing the non-art discipline. That relation between art and science, in which the artist borrows whatever she wants from science, is a historically normative one, but it means that the new degree will not be a combination of science and art in the way that a dual degree in biochemistry and genetics would combine those two disciplines.

72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0 (It is worth mentioning here that if this fourth option becomes widespread, then art schools will be left behind. Universities, in the US, will be the best positioned to offer combinations of sciences and visual arts, and art schools will play marginal roles.)

73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0 E. The dissertation is a technical report. There are media and kinds of artmaking that are not fully mastered by students at the MFA level. At Alfred, New York, a school well known for its ceramics program, there is a laboratory that specializes in high-tech, non-art ceramics; they have in the past made the tiles that protected the Space Shuttle. When I visited the laboratory was not utilized by the MFA students as much as it could have been because the students lacked the education in inorganic chemistry. A PhD program in ceramics could remedy that. Printmaking techniques like metal engraving are commonly omitted from the MFA; they could be taught given a few more years’ worth of courses. At the 2003 conference at which I first gave this paper, Christina DePaul, Dean of the Corcoran College of Art, told me about advanced fabric techniques; she noted that an MFA is not usually sufficient to teach them. A PhD in fabric or fiber arts could accommodate the missing techniques. Frayling’s 1993 paper also mentions materials science inquiries as an example of “research through art and design.”

74 Leave a comment on paragraph 74 0 There are many advanced industrial materials that are not taught in art schools, and a PhD would be a way to institute a kind of catch-up in the relevant contemporary materials science. Such a degree would also help meliorate the disjunction between current engineering, with its many sophisticated materials, and art practice, which still keeps mostly to oil, clay, metals, paper, and wood.

75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0 It would be possible to institute a PhD-granting program of the kind I am exploring here, provided that the advanced techniques are documented in written dissertations. Such a program would have a strong historical precedent in the Bauhaus, which made extensive use of contemporaneous industrial manufacturing. In the US, university studio art degrees in the first half of the century often combined research dissertations with art practice. In the early twentieth century, Midway Studios at the University of Chicago turned out theses on the manufacture of public fountains and public sculptures with water features; the students made fountains, and also learned the plumbing and engineering. In that sense, the PhD in “advanced techniques” would be, effectively, a creative-arts PhD with a dissertation in engineering.

76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 These five kinds of dissertations—art history, philosophy, art criticism, science, and technical subjects—are all examples of dissertations that belong to specifiable disciplines. The studio-art PhD becomes more interesting, and also more conceptually confused, when the dissertation no longer belongs to any discipline.

77 Leave a comment on paragraph 77 0 Second Model: The Dissertation is Equal to The Artwork

78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0 In the first model, the dissertation is a repository of research that informs or otherwise aids the art practice. The remaining models don’t work in that way: in them, the dissertation is implicated in the artwork, or even considered as the artwork. That has the advantage of freeing the scholarship from its informational or supportive role, and potentially making the dissertation equal to the artwork—or even making it into the artwork. In this second model, the dissertation is considered as conceptually or experientially equal to the art. The research doesn’t support or inform the art, but complements it, with each one illuminating the other.

79 Leave a comment on paragraph 79 0 The “equality” here is not the “weighted” model prevalent in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere: I don’t mean anything that exact. I just mean that conceptually, or experientially, the thesis and the art practice are more or less equal.

80 Leave a comment on paragraph 80 0 I will divide this second model into two possibilities.

81 Leave a comment on paragraph 81 0 A. Research and artwork comprise a new interdisciplinary field. 

82 Leave a comment on paragraph 82 0 These words, “interdisciplinary” and “field,” might not be right: the student’s practice might be nondisciplinary, postdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or just not about disciplines at all; and the result might not be recognizable as something that could belong to a field, a subject, or a discipline. “Research” and “artwork” might not be right either. The student might think of her dissertation as writing, or conceptual work, or archival work, and she might think of her artwork as a practice, as performative actions, or as experimental configurations—and so forth. I just mean to say that when the two things, the thesis and the visual art, are shown together, they can appear to make something new.

83 Leave a comment on paragraph 83 0 I have reservations about this option when it is conceived as a matter of mixing visual arts with other disciplines, because historically art practice has been excluded or marginalized in university curricula; combining it with academic fields as if it were just one among many equal but different options might obscure deeply rooted differences between studio art and other university departments and faculties. The conceptual disparity between a dissertation comprised of elements of anthropology, film, and art history (to take an example I encountered recently), and a dissertation comprised of anthropology, film, and studio art, is large. Victor Burgin’s essay, Chapter [  ], quotes an illuminating interview in which Derrida tells how he declined to accept visual work in lieu of written work, because the visual work was incompletely conceptualized. Even aside from this issue of conceptualization—even if the visual components of a mixed-media dissertation were themselves highly articulated—the place of studio art in the university is problematic. Visual art juxtaposed with written material should not be regarded as an option that is no different from a written text in anthropology juxtaposed with a written text in sociology. A written dissertation that includes studio art as an equal component is a new kind of creature, requiring a justification different from the theorizing that currently addresses interdisciplinarity, postdisciplinarity, and other configurations.

84 Leave a comment on paragraph 84 0 In any case this form of thesis and art practice is rare: normally, the practice is what matters in the end, and the dissertation supports it.

85 Leave a comment on paragraph 85 0 B. Research and artwork are understood as wholly separate projects.

86 Leave a comment on paragraph 86 0 This possibility is like the previous one, in that the student’s art practice and the associated non-art disciplines are imagined to be equal participants in the overall project of the PhD. The difference is that here, the new configuration of fields is not understood as a potentially coherent project, but as a juxtaposition, whose rationale does not need to be analyzed. Even the candidate herself might not be sure of the pertinence of her scholarly interests; she might just have a strong interest in both video art, for example, and the scholarship of poststructuralism. In this case the function of the faculty is to advise the scholarly and practical parts of the PhD separately, leaving it up to the student to work through the possible connections between them. This is in some measure the model adopted by the Canberra School of art, and it is represented in several of the examples in Part Two of this book.

87 Leave a comment on paragraph 87 0 I find this option the second-most intriguing. [I will get to the most interesting possibility in the next post.] It is interesting to contemplate what an artist might accomplish by keeping two sets of activities separate from one another for the duration of a PhD program, without being asked to formally theorize their connection. It also seems wholly in keeping with the way art is often produced, in the company of many disparate interests that do not, at least for some time, seem to be directly linked to one another. This option avoids the usual academic demands of coherence and intellectual synthesis—which again is appropriate for much of visual art. And it acknowledges that art is a lifetime occupation: the student shouldn’t be held accountable for the connections among her interests. They may become apparent after the PhD is completed: they may even take a lifetime to understand. What could be more appropriate for the project of art?

88 Leave a comment on paragraph 88 0 Incidentally, this model would be directly opposed to the common criterion of MFA programs, that they help nourish the artist’s single voice or style. (As in “Reasons to Mistrust the PhD,” number 8.) This model would also circumvent the assumption that self-reflexivity is an unexceptionable good.  (As in “Reasons to Mistrust the PhD,” number 7.) It would make fascinating use of the resources of the university, by finding new configurations of fields without proposing that they have underlying similarities or points of convergence. And it would remove the difficulty of deciding how advisors in different fields can collaboratively supervise a combined creative-art PhD. (As in “Reasons to Mistrust the PhD,” number 14.) In short, the radicalism of this option is intriguing.

89 Leave a comment on paragraph 89 0 The third and last model is the most interesting to me—and it raises even more difficult philosophic and practical problems.

90 Leave a comment on paragraph 90 0 Third Model: The Dissertation Is the Artwork, And Vice Versa

91 Leave a comment on paragraph 91 0 The final option is to imagine the scholarly portion of the thesis inextricably fused with the creative portion, so that the artwork is scholarly and the scholarship is creative.

92 Leave a comment on paragraph 92 0 There are many experiments along these lines. Some PhD students make their dissertation more like art by printing them in interesting ways, by intercalating fiction and experimental writing, by combining images with text, by breaking various expectations about scholarly argument. There are also PhD projects in which the art practice presents research in the form of texts, graphs, charts, and numerical results. In this open field of experimentation, I think it is helpful to consider two relatively pure and purely radical options. These are not like most real-life projects, but they have the virtue of conceptual clarity; they can be used to help think about the many mixed and hybrid solutions that are currently being explored.

93 Leave a comment on paragraph 93 0 A. The dissertation is intended to be read as art, and the visual practice as research.

94 Leave a comment on paragraph 94 0 There are precedents for reading written dissertations as art. There are for example experiments by scholars such as Michel Serres, whose Five Senses makes claims about phenomenology, but refuses to be as conceptual and tied to philosophic argument as Merleau-Ponty. Late work by John Berger mingles poems and art history, and it would be possible to expand this list to include writers whose work is even more experimental, such as the wonderful Jean-Louis Schefer, whose books can work as scholarship, but are writerly critiques of art history’s narratives. The radical possibility here is that the student says to her advisor, “Please read this dissertation as fiction, or as art,” rather than saying something like, “There are experimental elements in this dissertation,” or “The dissertation is printed and presented formally as an artist’s book.” The conceptually clear and difficult position is that the entire dissertation—researched and written according to disciplinary protocols—is to be understood as art.

95 Leave a comment on paragraph 95 0 The symmetrical move would be to present an exhibition of visual art—say, paintings, or photography, framed and displayed in normative ways—and say, “Please evaluate this as research, exactly as if it were a dissertation.” Again less radical claims are more common, such as “Please consider these paintings as the outcome of research,” or “This is my work, which is a form of research.” The strong form of those claims entails the request to read, interpret, and evaluate visual art as research, rather than to see it as the product of research.

96 Leave a comment on paragraph 96 0 If these two claims were made together, reversing the roles of both the visual and the written work, there would be an additional challenge: could the visual art be seen as research supporting the written dissertation?

97 Leave a comment on paragraph 97 0 I like these thought experiments, because they force the issue of disciplinary habits. An art history professor could certainly evaluate a written art history PhD as poetry. (Although it would be better, at that point, to let the art history supervisor go and give the dissertation to a teacher in a literature department.) Conversely, a studio instructor could evaluate a show of paintings as a dissertation, although it would be better to let the studio instructor bow out, and give the job of evaluation to a scholar.

98 Leave a comment on paragraph 98 0 Both these moments, as experimental as they are, would only pave the way to the most important and intractable question: can anyone read a painting as research that supports the production of a thesis on art history that is itself an art project?

99 Leave a comment on paragraph 99 0 B. The research and visual art are fused, and there is no separate dissertation.  The argument here is basically that visual art practice should not borrow from other academic fields, but remain true to its own media and purposes. It has also been said that the studio-art PhD, in any of the forms I have been listing, is inherently unfair because it requires a student to complete doctoral level work in an academic field and also create doctorate-level visual art. (Both these arguments were proposed by the Plymouth College of Art and Design, the first to radically reduce the written component of the PhD.)

100 Leave a comment on paragraph 100 0 I think this last and most radical possibility is also the most interesting. It is a logical endpoint for the new degree, because each of the foregoing models presupposes that visual art practice can be taken to the level of the doctorate. This last option is also more consistent than the previous models, because it permits the visual art practice to carry the burden of competence that will allow it to be taken as a doctoral-level accomplishment aside from whatever writing might support or augment it.

101 Leave a comment on paragraph 101 1 It goes without saying that this final possibility presents severe problems when it comes to assessment. (See “Reasons to mistrust the PhD,” number 14.) How is a studio-art instructor to determine if the studio practice is at PhD level? And it goes without saying that his possibility forces the question of what knowledge is—how it inheres in artworks. (See “Reasons to mistrust the PhD,” number 12.) By what mechanism, exactly, can a supervisor extract and evaluate the knowledge produced by visual art if there is no separate written component? And this possibility also presses the question of research. (See “Reasons to mistrust the PhD,” number 11.) How is it possible to make sense of the claim that a single object—the visual art on display in the exhibition—is at once a visual object, the knowledge that is produced by that object, and the research by which the visual object produced that knowledge?

102 Leave a comment on paragraph 102 0 With that question, which gives me a slight headache, I will end.

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