NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Our Interdisciplinary World

By Jenny Wilson — Is this the future of creative arts or the end of specialised practice?

Interdisciplinarity … is a way of thinking, doing and relating to other knowledges in the world. Disciplines and interdisciplines are historical constructs: their notions change, they co-evolve together, and their borders are always in flux. – R. Frank (1)

As Frank observes, disciplinary borders are always shifting. New breakthroughs come from pushing existing disciplinary boundaries and solutions to problems come from combining knowledge and expertise. But for disciplines themselves, these borders play an important role in preserving the specificity of culture and identity that makes one different from another. As Mark Considine explained:

“Cultures are formed through binaries … to possess the culture means to be an insider. Not to be acculturated in the appropriate way is to be an outsider. Hence the boundaries of cultures are always securely guarded.” (Considine, 2006)

This places creative arts placed in dilemma. The innate drive for creativity naturally leads creative arts disciplines to “boundary riding” and interdisciplinary collaboration is enthusiastically supported by many institutions, but breaking down these borders too much can result in porosity that has the potential to dilute or even destroy disciplinary identity.

This edition of NiTRO considers the topic of interdisciplinarity to explore what collaboration means for creative arts disciplines themselves. What does it “look like” in the contemporary tertiary setting? And what are the benefits and drawbacks of interdisciplinary collaboration? Our contributors share their experiences and perspectives.

Elizabeth Ellison (CQU) explores the practicalities of working within an interdisciplinary context, particularly in a regional setting.

Caren Florance (ANU) describes role of the artist’s book as a tool and technique for achieving successful interdisciplinary outcomes.

Jon Cattapan (Melbourne) explores the ‘beautiful tension’, and timing, between artistic training and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Keely Macarow (RMIT) outlines interdisciplinary collaboration not only as a benefit for creative arts but also a responsibility to address societal challenges.

Jonathan Duckworth (RMIT) shares the enriching effects of interdisciplinary collaboration while observing the realistic challenges faced by those wishing to follow this path.

This edition also features a piece by Ross Woodrow (Griffith), unexpectedly delayed from inclusion in our previous edition, which warns against the adoption of “artistic research” as a way to achieve greater equity and recognition for creative arts in the research system.


[1] Frank, R. (1988). Interdisciplinarity: The First Half Century as quoted in ‘epistemic fluency:  innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge’

[1] Considine, M. (2006) Theorizing the University as a cultural system: Distinctions, Identities, Emergencies. Educational Theory, 56, 255-270.

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Associate Professor Jonathan Duckworth — I am fascinated by research that brings together the arts, design, science and technology having worked collaboratively across these domains for most of my academic career. My own interdisciplinary journey began with two research projects funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Australia Council for the Arts through their Synapse initiative.
By Dr Elizabeth Ellison — At one stage in my academic career, I spent time teaching into a broad postgraduate degree in which my teaching team and I coordinated cohorts of students in study areas. Mostly, these were what we might consider to be traditional discipline areas, such as creative writing or interactive design. I, on the other hand, was the coordinator of the cohort of “Interdisciplinary” students.
By Professor Jon Cattapan — Arts training institutions, and indeed the artworld itself, reflect the complex and rapid shifts of information and technologies available to us. Is it really possible to be immersive and discipline-specific in a world where access to many knowledges provides such rich counterpoints and ruptures to singular practices?
By Associate Professor Keely Macarow — Judging from a quick glance at today’s news cycle, it is clear that we live in uncertain and debilitating times in which our political leaders lack leadership and imagination in addressing climate and humanitarian emergencies that demand human and ecological justice.
By Dr Caren Florance — What do photographers and poets have in common? Despite the contemporary ease of digital publishing, they both yearn for the authority of a physical book. Funnily enough, this is also the case with academics, but here we are thinking about non-traditional outputs, so I won’t go there.
By Professor Ross Woodrow — Creative arts research is probably too widely established in Australian universities to be dislodged by any argument against its validity. Even so, judging from past attempts at exclusion of the creative arts from consideration as research by the Australian Research Council and the OECD with its Frascati Manual, reform will not involve reasoned argument.