What is Artistic Research?

Paulo de Assis Video On Artistic Research

Dr Paulo de Assis video provides a great introduction to artistic research. In his view, artistic research merges the contrasting activities of the artist and the researcher: whereas the artist is concerned with making, imagination, experience, sensation, and the ‘subjective production of new relationships’, the researcher focus on analysing, measuring and giving meaning towards objectively articulating new knowledge. Artistic research therefore lies at the intersection between making and analysing bringing together two distinct modes of operation (De Assis, 2020).

Artistic research is a field in constant development where many different perspectives co-exist (Arlander and Bonenfant, S1, 2020). It allows for a plurality of possibilities, where each project brings a unique set of potential directions for development and knowledge production. As Annette Arlander poses ‘supporting differentiation actually rather than trying to create consensus, is important and valuable and helps in maintaining a healthy research environment’ (Arlander, S3, 2020). Thus, one of the challenges that doctoral students face is finding an appropriate methodology for their research. Often, students need to develop their own methodologies.

Brad Haseman proposes Performative Research as a methodological paradigm for artistic practice as an alternative to qualitative and quantitative approaches, where practice leads the way for research outcomes to be expressed in performative or presentational forms as opposed to numbers or words (2006). His article (link to article) may provide a good starting point for understanding how artistic research develops. To understand how artistic research is developing in your area, examine other projects in your field. You can find previous projects of your institution in the library, and a wider scope in the Research Catalogue(https://www.researchcatalogue.net). 

Artistic Research is:

  • Full of potential

Artistic Research has the ability to unsettle current narratives of what a piece – written or performed – might be; creates spaces for otherwise hidden voices (Dr Tríona Ní Shíocháin, 2020).

  • The new avant-garde

What once was called the Avant-Garde, that role is now in Artistic Research. To fundamentally rethink, to propose new practices, new ways of thinking about things is in our hands (Paulo de Assis, S2. 2020).

  • A space for failure

If a PhD is pursued with rigor and passion it is very rare that the aesthetic product is ‘bad’. However, when people create bad work, in other words work that isn’t living up to a form of seemingly socially agreed measures of artistic quality, the person articulates the learning from that (Yvon Bonenfant, S1, 2020).

Principles of Artistic Research  

The mindset to try new things and keep trying new things. When I started, I tried to take a very flat path. If I could give myself advice I’d say just be as open minded and experimental as possible. Because it’s just a beginning of a marathon. (stui3)

Three key principles guide the artistic research PhD:

  • Rigour in intellectual and creative practice. Artistic research PhDs follow the same rigorous intellectual standards as traditional desk-based research. They integrate artistic research processes and practices into the overall project, where the practice often embodies the research outcomes. 

(…) it is really important that we can showcase the intellectual rigour of the research. I also think it is important to do that from the outset – to explain to a candidate what’s expected of the PhD – it is a really challenging life experience in many ways.  (stai5)

  • The role of practice in advancing knowledge

An artistic research PhD is best suited to address questions that cannot be answered by other means beyond practice. Whilst the form and role of creative practice can take many shapes, in an artistic doctorate, the practice has a strong input in the advancement of knowledge. Ideally, the practice brings forth a contribution to knowledge ‘in ways that cannot be embodied in words or in traditional writing’ (stai5). Often the process of making and/or the artistic outputs reveal the innovative aspects of the research and embed the contribution to knowledge.

One area I love and am interested in is studio practice, how we integrate the rigour of doctoral study with our creative practice tools. I feel that the artistic practice should inform things like methodology and tools that are used. And that’s where the innovation can often lie. It’s quite an exciting space. (stai6)

  • A process driven by artistic practice

Creative practice can often lead the research process, where each iteration of practice informs and guides the pathway, refining the research and revealing what is essential and what is secondary. Building in time to reflect, to write and to criticality examine the practice before embarking on the next iteration allows the process to unfold productively. 

I think it’s important if that can lead. That this knowledge base [practice] which can be so profound and detailed, that that is the thing that can lead the process to some degree. (stai6)

For an overview of principles of artistic research in performing arts, see Annette Arlander’s rich exposition of tensions within the artistic doctorate: 

Annette Arlander

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