NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Horizon scanning the creative arts

In step with profound changes in the form and function of universities, creative arts research has been undergoing a process of transformation. While the past decade has been spent consolidating the creative arts into the evolving academy … the landscape we now face promises ongoing dramatic changes.

By Professor Dennis Del Favero

As we move deeper into the disruptive 21st century, it is worthwhile considering the opportunities and risks that face creative arts research within its university setting. In step with profound changes in the form and function of universities (1), creative arts research has been undergoing a process of transformation (2). While the past decade has been spent consolidating the creative arts into the evolving academy through integration of art and design schools, recredentialing programs and legitimating arts practices as valid forms of research, the landscape we now face promises ongoing dramatic changes.

Universities are becoming increasingly dynamic with worldwide growth … of the multi-functional university as the paradigm for post-school education. Concurrently, there is a continuing decline in … single-discipline institutes, and in many cases even schools and whole faculties, clearly evident in domains such as the creative arts.

To begin with, the university as a living and changing form of knowledge practice is currently shifting from a singularly defined agency, predicated on pre-set disciplinary codification and occupational credentialing, into a ‘multiversity’, or multi-functional agency. Existing disciplines are mutating as new ones are forged and their practices digitised. Student and community expectations are diversifying in the face of constantly evolving career streams. The commercial sector is seeking to disengage research, teaching and service, while governments are progressively framing knowledge production in terms of strategic priorities. As multi-agencies for knowledge, training and engagement, universities are becoming increasingly dynamic with worldwide growth in student participation, global expansion in research activity and outputs, and international spread of the multi-functional university as the paradigm for post-school education. Concurrently, there is a continuing decline in the number and role of single-discipline institutes, and in many cases even schools and whole faculties, clearly evident in domains such as the creative arts.

Within this evolving terrain, creative arts research and its corresponding practices are also changing and growing in a number of significant ways: Firstly, collaborative research in the creative arts and the arts more broadly, while starting from a low base compared to STEM’s norm of collaboration across all fields, is now an emergent trend (3) at both higher-degree and faculty levels. Secondly, creative arts’ definition as a practice of investigation that can articulate and address specific research problems is now well established in large part due to the changes initiated through governmental frameworks, such as the Australian Research Council’s ERA that was introduced in 2008. Thirdly, coupled with growth in collaborative activity, this formulation has led to a deeper conceptual definition of creativity, so that rather than speaking of human creativity alone, there is a growing understanding of creativity as an environment that comprises conceptual, material, technological and human agencies (4). Fourthly, in response to student, community and industry drivers, universities are now offering inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary creative arts programs, whether within existing traditional disciplinary frameworks or in tandem with other fields of research.

Driving many of these changes is the digitisation of disciplines and practices. Proceeding at an exponential pace as part of the fourth Industrial Revolution, it sees the integration of the digital into manifold activities and production pipelines. This affords new opportunities for the application of creative arts expertise. However, there is also an element of uncertainty in this venture when it comes to leveraging our strengths to address the demand for ‘non-technical’ skills, including creativity and critical thinking (5).

Examples point the way forward to an expansion of the meaning and function of the creative arts. They supply alternative models that emphasise our ability to engage with multiple agencies and disciplines in a compelling way, shifting from frameworks that revolve around the sole human auteur and stand-alone toolkit.

The proliferating demand for collaborative integration of creativity across the research spectrum poses serious risks to the sustainability of the creative arts because they are often positioned only as enablers rather than leaders or co-partners in innovative art, science and technology practices. This becomes evident in some formulations of ‘STEAM’, where art (A) is to invigorate STEM by contributing a much-needed creative reformulation of human thinking and sensing; with the consequence that the autonomy and status of the creative arts are evaporated through muting of its transformative agency.

Conversely, the powerful opportunities for creative arts’ integration into the fabric of the fourth Industrial Revolution are emblematically realised in the creation of the iPhone, which was realised by Apple’s recruitment of artists and designers to collaboratively address, with engineers, the problem of how such a device can operate as an alluring, indispensable and multi-sensory object. Such examples point the way forward to an expansion of the meaning and function of the creative arts. They supply alternative models that emphasise our ability to engage with multiple agencies and disciplines in a compelling way, shifting from frameworks that revolve around the sole human auteur and stand-alone toolkit. Such expanded models draw on the concept of ‘advanced creativity’ where creation may be the result of say a genuine partnership between an artist, a cognitive scientist and an artificially intelligent algorithm, who jointly create a painting.

Another example would be a stage designer and creative writer virtually prototyping the 3D model of a theatrical production in a full-body immersive theatre, networked across academy and theatre company laptops and workstations. As they move through and shape it, they could use their complete gestural repertoire, robustly testing the 1:1 scale model in real-time with the entire creative team – the director, cast, composer, construction engineer, costume and lighting designers – before exporting the 3D model for physical construction. As seen in these examples, such an advanced creativity demonstrates the capacity to dramatically enhance imaginative decision making processes in the academy and its allied creative industries through innovative partnerships.

 

References

1. Simon Marginson, “The Kantian University: Worldwide triumph and growing insecurity,” AUR 61.1 (2019): 59

2. Tim Barker, “Experimental Research in the Digital Media Arts,” in Handbook of Research on Creativity, eds. Kerry Thomas and Janet Chan (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2015), 294.

3. DASSH, “Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Degrees,” (2017), http://dassh.edu.au/resources/uploads/AGM/DASSH_HASS_and_Future_Workforce_report_Sept_2017.pdf

4. Barker, 293.

5. DASSH, “Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Degrees,” (2017).


Scientia Professor Dennis Del Favero is a Research Artist, Chair Professor of Digital Innovation, Director of the iCinema Research Centre and the Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre at the University of New South Wales. He also is Visiting Professorial Fellow at ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, and at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Visiting Professor at IUAV University of Venice and member of the editorial board of Studio Corpi (Rome). Previously he was Executive Director of the Australian Research Council | Humanities and Creative Arts. He is represented by Galerie Brigitte Schenk, Cologne, and Kronenberg Mais Wright, Sydney).

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Jenny Wilson — This edition of NiTRO was prompted by responses to a survey conducted last year, which asked readers what they would like to see more about in NiTRO. It is also timely, given the recent announcement of results of the ERA exercise and research engagement and impact assessments. We have devoted two editions to an exploration of the state of play for creative arts research.
By Professor Ross Woodrow — More than ten years of ERA (Excellence of Research in Australia) data gives a clear picture of the trajectory of creative arts research in academe. 
By Professor Jeri Kroll — There is no denying that creative arts in the university have been successful over recent decades. Yet Jen Webb still asks, in a July 2018 NiTRO piece,  “Are we there yet?” - the ‘we’ being the collective staff and students of the creative and performing arts disciplines.
By Professor Craig Batty — It was heartening to read QUT Vice-Chancellor, Margaret Sheil, write in support of the arts and humanities in the last edition of NiTRO.
By Professor Vanessa Tomlinson and Charulatha Mani — Drawing on Draper and Harrison’s earlier reflections in NiTRO on doctoral projects at Queensland Conservatorium (QCGU), I met with Charulatha Mani, an artist-researcher who has recently submitted her PhD on intersections between early opera and Karnatik music.
By Professor Carole Gray — In relation to the progress of creative arts research within higher education institutions, Jen Webb asks the important question “Are we there yet?” In this article I would like to partially address this question by focusing on a key component of a practice-led submission for PhD - namely the inclusion and presentation of artefacts as part of the overall argument, about which there has been a long debate. Their status can be ambiguous and the concept of ‘exhibition’ is - I would argue - problematic in this context.

Successful filmmaking requires the filmmakers to be invisible. Any trace of the maker in the film is usually scorned at, particularly in commercial films, that is unless the film requires the filmmaker to be in the film.

“Are we there yet?” is a searching but also ambiguous question posed about creative practice research and the academy. In fact, yes, we are now deeply ensconced in the academic sector and its intersections with ways of governing knowledge and research. Of course, systems need to be developed and conformed to if we are to be able to ‘play the game’ … but ultimately this is also a highly differentiated and differentiating sector … segmented and divided by New Public Management discourse and practices.

I have been deeply involved in creative art and design research since the mid 1990s but have never worked in an art and design faculty. Instead, I found a home in IT and computer science where from the outset, there was a remarkable openness to having artists amongst the mix of people from different disciplines. My very first research grant for studying collaboration between artists and technologists … funded a series of artist residencies over four years.

The UQ Drama Creative Fellowship, piloted in 2014, brings a playwright of national standing to UQ’s School of Communication and Arts each year to provide workshops, masterclasses and lectures. These activities have focussed both on the craft of playwriting and on the dramaturgy, or attributes, of the playtext. In 2019, UQ Drama took a different approach to the Fellowship.