Why is artistic research so disliked? The scorn comes from all quarters, and in particular from academia. Arguably, the most comprehensive attack is the Manifesto of Artistic Research: A Defense Against Its Advocates (Henke et al.). Without mercy, the authors of the Manifesto assault the whole field of artistic research. Their first line of attack is to state that, from its inception, artistic research was politically driven and institutionalized by EU’s Bologna Reform, and thus, not a result of any genuine commitment to research. Their next line of attack is to question the competence of the artist researchers, claiming they lack necessary skills both as artists and researchers, which they see as evident in the incompetent use of theory and the inability to communicate in text. In sum, wrong people, wrong theory, wrong language.1 And yet, is it really the unfortunate attempts to integrate academic theories and methods in artistic research, or the ‘impressionistic’ use of trendy philosophical writings that can explain the outspoken dislike?2
As far as I have been able to ascertain, most of the criticism of artistic research has come from professionals well established within their own academic (or artistic) fields. From the perspective of the academician, it is easy to see how he or she can feel defied and disregarded by artistic research; by a fresh pioneering research discipline that is based on a (practical) skill set that the academician rarely has. And added to this defiance comes the nagging doubt (and in some cases, the evident truth) that conventional academic art research is losing position, relevance and students.
But the antagonistic attitude to artistic research is more than simply a conflict of interests and professions. Again, the Manifesto is revealing. The subtitle of the book gives away the keyword ‘defense’, (cf. Manifesto of Artistic Research: A Defense Against Its Advocates). The title is brilliant, as it leaves no doubt about the (combative) purpose of the book.3 In fact, the Manifesto’s polemic against the artist research seems to reveal a darker play. What is at stake is the quest for power and control, the right to defend or define what is art research.4 And what the authors of the Manifesto have well understood is that the institutionalization of artistic research has the potential of radically re-figurate art research; hence the need for a ‘defense’.
So, even if we accept the claim that the development of artistic research has been politically driven, institutionalized and/or has become a way of financing art projects under cover of being research, none of these objections change what is really at stake: artistic research has the potential to create a radical shift in art research. And arguing for this shift is not difficult. The revelatory (and epistemological) question we need to ask is whether there is a knowledge relevant to art that is best acquired through a competence and practice inthe arts. In other words, is there a knowledge that benefits from a practitioner’s perspective, competence and ‘hands’ in order to be developed? The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’. The alternative is unthinkable. The clarity of this answer is important as it reveals what can be overlooked; that artistic research is not in a weak position. Its legitimacy lies in acknowledging that art is largely extending the limits and categories posed by conventional academic research.
How to learn to love the ugly duckling called Artistic Research
‘I wish I could have slipped surreptitiously into this discourse which I must present today, and into the ones I shall have to give here, perhaps for many years to come. I should have preferred to be enveloped by speech, and carried away well beyond all possible beginnings, rather than have to begin it myself.’
In preparing the survey ‘Artistic research. Where are we today?’ for the journal Music & Practice, we (the editors) noticed that many of the potential participants who had earlier been outspoken advocates and ‘ideologues’ for artistic research, now politely declined and expressed a profound lassitude with the whole debate. Now is the time to do artistic research, they said, not to re-enter the conceptual maze in which the reflection on artistic research had for too long been wandering. Of course, it is easy to sympathize with these answers.
Still, I cannot quite reconcile myself with the idea that the solution to the conceptual maze is to do research.6 In fact, one cannot simply do research. ‘Research’ is not a ready-made tool that one picks up and uses. In principle, all research is grounded in some sort of systematicity or ‘science’. All research depends on, or extrapolates – consciously or not – an epistemology; a theory of what is knowledge. Choosing ignorance is to succumb to conventional thinking and predictabilities.
Citing the opening lines of Michel Foucault’s inaugural lecture at the College de France has nearly become a cliché, but what it illustrates so well is this urge for being embraced by a discourse without having to reflect, take initiative or scrutinize the system in which your speech becomes a token and a product. But as the totality of Foucault’s work illustrates extensively, what we then surreptitiously let ourselves slip into is a system of control and power – a discursive practice – that creates an order that conditions every enunciation.
In ontological terms, art as a phenomenon is rather unique. Why should this distinctive phenomenon be offered a second-hand epistemology? Or in other terms, if we insist on the unique character of art and on the necessity to ground research in the arts, in the artistic practices and in the artistic performances, why do we even entertain the idea that we can reuse methods, theories, categorizations and terminologies from other sciences and academic disciplines, or even from conventional academic research?
The problem of adopting models from other disciplines is not primarily the incompetent use of these by the artist researcher (as declared in the Manifesto, see above), but their irrelevance. There is no point to artistic research if it simply adopts the conventional academic models and formats. In other words, does not the future of artistic research depend on our ability to carve out a new and relevant epistemology?
Most likely there will never be a single entity or definition that fully answers to the term ‘artistic research’. Still, I hope we can agree that the role of artistic research is to be subversive, and that we must try to fulfill its promise of provoking a paradigmatic shift in art research. Frankly, it is about time. And let us not misunderstand what is at stake. A paradigmatic shift in art research is not only paving the way for artistic research, it also provides an opportunity for all art research to (re-)connect with art as a living phenomenon. We need to rethink research from the standpoint that art is articulated in and through acts and not by facts. This simple turn may be the first step towards a new ‘joyous science’ between and betwixt art and academia, a step that may also rouse an ugly duckling in hope that it will find the swan’s way.
Erlend Hovland (1963), is currently professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo. After music studies, mainly orchestral conducting, in Trondheim, Oslo, Paris, Basel and Salzburg, and studies in philosophy and literature, he began his doctoral studies in 1990 at IRCAM, Paris. Hovland defended his thesis on the orchestration of Gustav Mahler at the University of Oslo, where he later worked as a post doc. fellow on contemporary opera. He has been working at the Norwegian Academy of Music (NAM) since 2002 as teacher, tutor, leader for research networks, and has headed the Pd.D-program at NAM. His main research fields are musical practices, performance studies, performance practice, philosophy of science.
- 1For a more detailed review of the Manifesto, see https://www.musicandpractice.org/death-in-bologna-an-essay-on-a-manifes…
- 2Undoubtedly, the artist researcher may lack competence in academic methods and theories. In fact, anything else would be a surprise, as artist researchers are primarily educated as artist. But even if these shortcomings may cause irritation, they do not explain the downright scorn that constitutes the core of the criticism against artistic research, as clearly demonstrated in the Manifesto. Let us not forget that incompetent and inconsequential use of theories, methods and terminology is also abundantly present in the academia.
- 3It is in this regard that the Manifesto earns the subtitle ‘a defense’. The Manifesto wants to defend real artistic research, (which is confined to the practice of real artists), real art (which is under siege from the Bologna-reformed research) and real art research, (which is a topic best represented by the field of aesthetics).
- 4The Manifesto’s position is conservative and clearly opposed to any new order of art research. It holds that artists should be artists, and that the real artistic research is the task of great artists as can be demonstrated by studying the real inventions in arts. Moreover, the word ‘aesthetic’ is time and again presented as the salvage of both art and research, but also as the sole (or soul) protector against the desecrating processes of the institutionalized academization of art. In other words, the institutionalization of artistic research does not bring anything to the party.
- 5The opening paragraph in Michel Foucault: The Order of Discourse, Inaugural Lecture at the Collège de France, given on the 2nd of December 1970.
- 6The harsh polemic against artistic research manifested in the Manifesto, will easily turn into an aloof condescendence if the quest for a new epistemology is aborted, in which case conventional academic research will have nothing to fear from artistic research. The artist researcher will simply become someone making art on an institutional payroll, and any aspiration of radically changing art research will slowly fade into a faint memory.