Michael Schwab’s recent essay ‘Contemporary Research’, published in the inaugural issue of HUB - Journal of Research in Art, Design and Society (https://i2ads.up.pt/hub), is an excellent, timely, and thought-provoking essay that resumes conceptual discussions about artistic research in a manner that has not been seen in the last decade. The text is both an invitation to revisit some of the fundamentals of artistic research as well as a strong plea for remaining intellectually active, also (and especially) as an artist-researcher.

The essay can be found here: https://doi.org/10.22501/hub.2190234


In the last twenty years, the broad field of artistic research has been through different phases or periods, and there have been many different actors in the field, each with their own perspective, focus, sense of direction, and claims. There was a foundational period, roughly between 2004 and 2012, within which conceptual, theoretical, and institutional work predominated. The discussions during this period catalyzed the field’s growing acceptance in terms of academic respectability and artistic legitimation. This period saw the creation of the Research Catalogue and the increasing recognition of artistic research as a novel mode of knowledge production and aesthetico-epistemic practice by art schools, universities, and funding agencies.

A pivotal figure during this period was Henk Borgdorff, whose numerous essays, written between 2004 and 2012 and later collated in his 2012 book The Conflict of the Faculties, remain indispensable for anyone engaged in or interested in the wide field of artistic research. The book speculated on the potential place of artistic research in academia and highlighted significant historical shifts that fostered this new mode of research in and through artistic practice. These shifts included a general epistemological reevaluation of what constitutes knowledge, an openness to novel modes of knowledge production and reception (mode 2), academia’s transformation to incorporate non-discursive forms of knowledge, the adoption of unconventional research modes and practices, the evolution of artistic practices into artistic research, and the escalating demand for doctoral programs in artistic disciplines. Borgdorff’s book, as a pars pro toto, encapsulated many of the central questions surrounding artistic research at that time.

Concurrently, Florian Dombois and Michael Schwab worked out the basis for a novel medium specifically designed to meet the emergent needs and requirements of the expanding community of artist researchers. This medium comprised an open online platform—the Research Catalogue—and the Journal for Artistic Research, a peer-reviewed periodical built on the RC platform.

Thus, around 2012, the community of artist researchers had a sense of theoretical situatedness and an evolving tool to express and publish their work. This initial, foundational phase was pivotal for the field’s development, granting visibility, providing context, and forging plausible artistic and epistemic connections. Without this seminal phase, artistic research might not have attained the level of institutionalization and recognition necessary for the subsequent establishment of various doctoral programs in artistic research. This phase also set the stage for the creation of new journals entirely dedicated to artistic research, such as JAR, Ruukku, Vis, Sonic Studies, among others. Moreover, it created a conducive environment that enabled artist researchers to successfully apply for funding from major agencies, including the European Research Council, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Austrian PEEK program, and various Scandinavian programs.

Next, roughly from 2013 onwards, artistic research entered another phase in which the focus shifted from theoretical debates to the concreteness of what was effectively being done. As the emphasis moved to concrete research projects (with goals and outcomes) and to output-oriented doctoral trajectories (producing a PhD and a portfolio of ‘art’ works), both funding agencies and universities pragmatically evaded the question of definitions, of what is and what is not artistic research. While this was per se positive (artistic research should not be territorialized in any way), it also led to a problematic expansion of the field, enabling opportunistic appropriations of artistic research by actants clearly positioned outside the field. Artistic research became everything and anything. Almost like in a speech act, the declaration of a project as being artistic research seemed enough proof of its effective appertenance to the field. All over Europe, but also in other geographical contexts such as Australia, South-Africa, and Brazil, definitions of artistic research entered a process of prismatic diffraction, where the absence of a consensual definition started working against those eager to implement artistic research in their academic milieu.

With hindsight, I think that in our well-intentioned wish to embrace as many modes of expression as possible, we fell victim to excessive relativism. While diversity is per se positive and enriching for definitions, what happened was a critical dilution of concepts surrounding artistic research that led to a situation in which everything and anything became acceptable. For someone like me, who has been involved in the theoretical debates and in the concrete making of artistic research in music since 2008, the situation reached a critical point where the ‘anything goes’ approach became dominant, dismissing theoretical, conceptual, and philosophical contextualizations. Given the expansion of artistic research to all kinds and levels of artistic activity, I feared that a considered reflection on its conceptual underpinnings would never take place again, or that it would fall victim to superficial or parochial understandings thereof. Honestly, I was about to give up any attempt to explain the importance of maintaining a clearly articulated connection between what we do and what we say. With great disillusionment and a certain sense of failure, I didn’t think this would be interesting to anybody anymore. It was, thus, with great surprise and even greater joy that I came across Michael Schwab’s ‘Contemporary Research’.

Artistic Research: Beyond Contemporary Art

The essay is a compelling contribution to the theoretical framing of artistic research today. It offers fundamental reflections on its historical situatedness, its relations to other fields of thought and practice, and its potential to move beyond established forms of knowledge production and disciplinary partitions.

The essay is dense, replete with references to complex topics, authors, and modes of knowledge production. In my view, this historical, epistemological, and artistic complexity, while challenging to parse on a first reading, is a significant strength. This is particularly true in an era of speedy knowledge acquisition that often reduces complex thought to a few lines shared on social media. Schwab explicitly states that “the intellectual knot presented [around artistic research] is not sufficiently dense,” declaring his aim “first of all to advocate increased densities of concepts, regardless of the specific preferences.”

Importantly, ‘Contemporary Research’ is neither an introduction to artistic research, nor an explanation of what it is, nor a quick overview of its historical and epistemological implications. Difficult to read or not (depending more on the reader than on Schwab's intricate style), the essay is a tour de force journey through the interconnections of art, knowledge, and research. It offers a deep analysis of the profound linkage between various aspects of artistic practice, knowledge production, and historical change. Seamlessly, it weaves together diverse strands of thought, reflecting a profound understanding of the intertwined histories of art and science, their differences, and their potential for future development.

The essay provides important insights into the nature of knowledge and its representation, while its critiques and propositions challenge readers to reassess established norms in both art and science. Furthermore, it presents a highly valuable perspective on the history, development, and impact of artistic research. In this sense, the complexity and density of the argumentation do not permit reductive simplifications. Actually, the essay reads very much like a preliminary or introductory chapter to a full-fledged book, which would be an excellent contribution to the entire field.

Before proceeding, I would like to stress that Schwab is not only a leading voice in the field of artistic research. He is a trained philosopher and an artist, and I believe that despite the significant density of his thought and writing, it is his artistry and his in-depth understanding of creative artistic processes that make his reflections so compelling. The essay, declared as “an invitation for further engagement,” reads like an urgent appeal for taking artistic research seriously and not succumbing to superficial understandings and practices thereof. His point is not to define what artistic research is, but to discuss and problematize the critical and creative affordances of this “as yet under-defined concept”. Importantly, Schwab is not fixated on the term ‘artistic research’ per se, but much more on the discussion of some sort of reconstitution of artistic forms that he doesn’t see happening anywhere else outside artistic research, and certainly not in the world of global ‘contemporary art’.

Artistic Research: History, Challenges, and Aesthetico-Epistemic Potential

Among the many topics addressed by Schwab in ‘Contemporary Research’, three seem to me particularly relevant for further thought: (1) the notion of ‘artistic research’ and its history; (2) the challenges of artistic research and the dangers of instrumentalization; and (3) the aesthetico-epistemic potential of artistic research, and its relation to contemporary epistemologies and science and technology studies.

On the notion of ‘artistic research’ and its history, the essay explores the different concepts and terms used to describe epistemically oriented art practices and their historical trajectories. Artistic research does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of the history of art-making and of the history of knowledge at large. Thus, artistic research is historically situated, and it is important to understand the confluence of artistic and epistemological movements. Artistic research emerged at a very specific historical confluence in which artistic practices approached epistemic considerations, and scientific methodologies focused on hands-on experimental settings. Therefore, the use of a term like ‘practice-based research’ is problematic for its inevitable association with ‘applied research’, a mode of research that has a completely different history and genealogy. Given its historical context, the label ‘artistic’ in artistic research points to unconventional practices outside the canonical norms of art history, musicology, or any other kind of established studies on the arts. The concepts of ‘artistic research’, ‘practice-based research’, ‘recherche création’, and ‘künstlerische Forschung’ might seem related. However, they vary significantly in their geopolitical, linguistic, and institutional nuances. It is important to stay aware of these differences.

Next, the essay discusses some of the challenges of artistic research, particularly questioning the role of representation in this field. It delves into the difficulties associated with interdisciplinary collaboration and the instrumentalization of research, especially considering the epistemic turn in contemporary art. Highlighting the major shift from systems based on ‘knowledge’ to those grounded in ‘research'’ and the evolving balance between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art forms, the essay underscores that the trajectory of art is not linear but layered. Various historical movements, such as Romanticism and postmodernism, have significantly shaped the notion of ‘high’ art. In this context, the transition from ‘modern art’ to ‘contemporary art’ in the fine arts around 1970, alongside its connections with avant-garde movements and ‘end of art’ theories, emerges as a pivotal moment that could be reconsidered in relation to the history leading to the emergence of artistic research. What this reconsideration implies, is that artistic research is committed to creating new modes of expression and innovative formal solutions in artistic practices. It is an endeavor oriented towards future practices, not a mere celebration of past forms or achievements.

One of the essay’s most striking statements, in my view, is a crucial remark on the difference between ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ modes of conducting artistic research. Schwab chooses these terms for their historical rather than political connotations. In this context, ‘conservative’ refers to a relation to existing knowledge that acts as a reference point, while ‘progressive’ implies a relation to a future, not-yet-achieved knowledge, whose unity may extend beyond any traditional notion of ‘truth’. This perspective strongly resonates with my own, and I believe it is vital to emphasize this view, especially considering the prevalence of conservative approaches in artistic research today. In Schwab’s expressive words: ‘We must recognize how knowledges of the past are failing us, leading to extreme if not fanatical forms of conservatism.’

Furthermore, from an epistemological perspective, he underscores the significance of time, history, and historicity in current research practices. He details how his artistic practice is shaped by the history and theory of scientific knowledge, particularly through the lens of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger’s concept of ‘experimental systems’ (1997). Here, and in line with his earlier publications on the topic, Schwab discusses the appropriation of Rheinberger’s perspective. He promotes an analysis of the ‘practices’ of artists and scientists, rather than the study of their verbal accounts. The focus on ‘practice,’ and on site- and time-specific experimental setups, is pivotal in discerning shared creative origins in both art and scientific research. Advocating for the integration of Rheinberger’s ‘experimental systems’ within artistic processes, he envisions a synthesis that merges art’s historical roots with avant-garde trajectories. Emphasis is placed on Rheinberger’s ‘graphematic’ approach, which prioritizes material traces with knowledge implications over traditional representational models. In this view, knowledge is perceived as a complex conglomerate of spatiotemporally distributed inscriptions and traces, necessitating novel modes of representation in both the arts and science. Introducing his own notion of ‘expositionality’ as a prospective avenue for art and science, he envisions a shift from age-old representation to novel formats more suited to contemporary challenges.

Lastly, but notably, Schwab proposes a parallel between artistic research and Science and Technology Studies (STS). He highlights STS’s role in decoding the societal aspects of science and suggests that artistic research could be to art what STS is to science—a reflective and creative extension that challenges assumptions and offers novel insights. Obviously, artistic research and STS relate to completely different fields of practice and have different goals (see Borgdorff, Peters, and Pinch 2019). Thus, it is not about creating bridges between artistic research and STS, but to stress a parallelism in their relation to their fields, namely art for artistic research and science for STS. Artistic research could mirror the societal-reflective role of STS, examining the diverse practices of artists beyond mere verbal articulation.

In conclusion, ‘Contemporary Research’ presents a compelling contribution to the theoretical framing of artistic research. It delves into the historical context of artistic research, its challenges, and its aesthetico-epistemic potential. Schwab’s complex and highly elaborated analysis reflects his profound understanding of the intertwined histories of art and science, offering significant insights into the nature of knowledge and its representation. The essay acts as an urgent call to take artistic research seriously, steering clear of superficial understandings and opportunistic appropriations. It underscores the need for richer conceptual densities and encourages further engagement with the critical and creative affordances of artistic research. It reminds us of the importance of maintaining a clear connection between what we do as artist researchers and what we say about our work. Through his thought-provoking analysis, Schwab encourages us to remain intellectually active and to continue pushing the boundaries of knowledge production in artistic research.


Given the depth and richness of the presented arguments, the outcomes of this essay should not be seen as terminal points, but rather as springboards for future developments in the field. Linking back to my initial narrative about the different phases of artistic research, its theoretical underpinnings, and its practical manifestations, it seems critical to me to stress the potential of ‘Contemporary Research’ to trigger novel thoughts, to challenge current modes of dissemination, and to rethink the very notion of artistic research.

Firstly, this essay ignites a call for a subsequent publication, eventually a book, that not only consolidates the ideas presented but also extends the conversation into new realms of artistic inquiry. The necessity of a new book is not merely a scholarly pursuit but an artistic imperative. It would potentially serve as a beacon, helping artist-researchers through the labyrinth of conceptual densities and opening up new avenues for aesthetico-epistemic exploration. Since Henk Borgdorff’s 2012 book, much artistic research has been conducted, for example, in relation to Rheinberger’s experimental systems. Schwab has published substantially on this topic, and revisiting past and future potentials of this framework for artistic research could contribute to better understanding, and hopefully generate new stimulating use-cases. Additionally, a profound, critical, and open-ended discussion of different definitions of artistic research would be highly beneficial to the whole community. Moreover, the relations between ‘knowledge’ and ‘research’, between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, between ‘aesthetic’ and ‘artistic’ criteria, which are touched upon in the essay, deserve a more expanded discussion. This would really help us all in better situating our practices and clearly articulating our thoughts.

Next, I think this essay could have positive consequences for the Research Catalogue. While I still don’t know of any other online tool better suited for artistic research than the Research Catalogue, it is not user-friendly and its user interface is cumbersome and obsolete. In a time when high-quality digital and online tools proliferate at lightspeed, when AI fundamentally impacts web design, it is imperative to revamp the Research Catalogue. Schwab’s renewed perspective on artistic research should go hand in hand with a renewed online platform for practical work, potentially leading to a ‘Research Catalogue 2.0’. The platform must evolve to reflect the dynamic changes within the field. The interface must integrate advancements in user-interface design and harness the capabilities of artificial intelligence to streamline and enhance both the research experience and the dissemination of ‘expositions’. This evolution would ensure the platform remains an indispensable tool for artist-researchers globally. Otherwise, other platforms with less curated thoughts, perspectives, and artistic know-how will probably emerge and take over the field.

Lastly, I think this essay could also have important consequences for the Journal for Artistic Research (JAR). Schwab’s considerations provide a foundation upon which JAR can rethink its mission, vision, and goals. As the peer-reviewed leading journal in the field, JAR should constantly reflect on its long-term goals, on its purpose and primary objectives, and on quality control issues. The focus on aesthetic and/or artistic quality is central, and it would be timely to discuss the extent to which other criteria have possibly jeopardized this focus. On the other hand, JAR could also initiate a forward-looking debate on what it wants to be in the future, and what impact it aspires to have on the area of artistic research and beyond. The journal must seize this opportunity to re-evaluate its role as a curator of discourse and a critical space for the intersection of art and research. Schwab’s reflections on these topics, as delineated above, enable a stimulating reconsideration of the field, thereby positively contributing to the rethinking of artistic research.



Borgdorff, Henk. 2012. The Conflict of the Faculties. Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia (Leiden University Press).

Borgdorff, Henk, Peter Peters, and Trevor Pinch. 2019. Dialogues Between Artistic Research and Science and Technology Studies (Routledge).

Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. 1997. Toward a History of Epistemic Things (Stanford University Press).

Schwab, Michael. 2023. ‘Contemporary Research’, HUB - Journal of Research in Art, Design and Society, 0 (2023) https://doi.org/10.22501/hub.2190234



Paulo de Assis is a research fellow at the Orpheus Institute, Ghent (BE). He leads MetamusicX, an experimental and transdisciplinary research group that investigates three key areas: (1) experimental performance practices, (2) posthumanism in music, and (3) the impact of AI and blockchain on musical creativity. As a pianist and an experimental performer/researcher, his wider interests encompass composition, aesthetics, and contemporary philosophy. He is the author of 'Logic of Experimentation: Rethinking Music Performance through Artistic Research' (2018) and the editor of the DARE trilogy ('The Dark Precursor: Deleuze and Artistic Research' (2017), 'Aberrant Nuptials' (2019), and 'Machinic Assemblages of Desire' (2021)). Additionally, he edited 'Virtual Works — Actual Things: Essays in Music Ontology' (2018) and co-edited 'Futures of the Contemporary' (2019), among other works. His artistic projects include 'Beethoven 5+2,' focusing on Beethoven's piano concertos; 'Rasch X,' which features music by Schumann and texts by Barthes; 'Unfolding Waves,' departing from music by Luigi Nono; 'Diabelli Machines,' based on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations; and 'Nietzsche N,' intertwining music and texts by Nietzsche. Active as an evaluator, he serves as the President of the Panel Arts at the Swiss National Foundation (SNF) and is an elected member of the SNF Research Council.