NiTRO Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

“Is There An Artist in the Lab?”

By Julie Hare

There are a lot of things that happen in universities that the majority of the population don’t know about. Research is one of them. The average punter – even the average undergraduate – would have little idea as the scope, scale and importance of research that takes place. And having a scientist try to describe it usually doesn’t help. A quick read of successful research grants of the two major granting bodies explains why. This is esoteric stuff. It’s arcane, mystical and cabalistic all at the same time. Not stuff ordinary people like me can even begin to comprehend.

In recent years universities have taken much more seriously their responsibility to explain what it is that they do. The reasons are both financial and brand-building – if you want continued government support, it helps if the community supports your endeavours and understands you do good things for the world. It helps attract smart students to the brands they recognise. It helps put higher education on the political agenda. It helps bring philanthropists on board. Let’s not forget an anonymous American donor with no known connection to the University of Sydney, gave the institution a pretty classy Picasso back in 2011 because he or she liked their ground breaking work in obesity, diabetics and cardiovascular disease. It sold for $20.6 million at Christies in London.

Communicating with general audiences has increasingly been encouraged of academics and researchers in recent years. They are taught to dumb down the conceptual stuff and rid their sentences of shoptalk – not always successfully – for media interviews.

And then there are the wonderful 3 Minute Thesis and Dance your PhD programs, I mean, how good is that!

More recently, I’ve become intrigued by the abundance of artist-in-residence programs, museums and other ways universities are using art and artists to connect with the broader community.

It’s been happening for a few years now, but my ears pricked up in May when Sydney University’s multi-disciplinary Charles Perkins Centre (yes, the very same one that was donated the Picasso) announced a $100,000 writer in residence program. The inaugural winner was the hugely talented Charlotte Wood, who will spend her year thinking about and writing about perceptions of ageing.

As the centre’s director Steve Simpson told the Australian, the fellowship is designed to “shake up conventional thinking on some of the nation’s greatest health challenges and bridge the gap between academia and the world at large”.

And that’s the point, isn’t it. To shake up the way we think about things, and to make us think about things we otherwise wouldn’t.

The University of NSW has recently held exhibitions on quantum physics and the artist as a medical patient. Over at the University of Western Australia, there is the SymbioticA which is a pushing-the-boundaries artistic lab at the intersection of art meets the life sciences. At Melbourne University, the Science Gallery Melbourne, a space where “science and the arts collide”, is due to open in 2018. It will join sister museums in Dublin, London and Belanguru in India. Obviously, there’s a trend happening here.

My own interest in artist-in-residence science and research programs was sparked about five years ago when I saw CERN had appointed their first artist. I mean science doesn’t get much bigger than the Large Hadron Collider. It was also the birthplace of the world wide web and the Higgs Bosun. I mean this is big stuff and the thought of someone dancing an interpretation of the Higgs bosun is unutterably delightful.

The next step, surely, is for more artist academics to step out of their creative arts faculties and into science, business, economics, medical, even dentistry, schools to act as translators. Surely this cross-pollination of ideas would benefit everyone, especially students.  And isn’t that what it’s all about.

Julie Hare is the higher education editor at The Australian.

More from this issue

More from this issue

Independent artists are faced with a challenging and transforming landscape that requires adaptive resilience in order to thrive creatively, today and in the future. How do we, as tertiary educators, empower and enable artists to build strong and flexible, professional contemporary art practices? To address this issue, my current research draws models of praxis from artist-run initiatives (ARI) in the Visual Arts industry, specifically from my experience as director of Boxcopy Contemporary Art Space.

By Dr Jenny Wilson. DDCA’s Research officer Jenny Wilson caught up with Henk Borgdorff in Amsterdam in April 2016, hot on the heels of his recent speaking tour of European and UK universities, art and music schools, to find out more about artistic research and European experiences of the politics of art and higher education.
By Professor Jeri Kroll Since the Strand report (1998), scholars have been unpacking the manifold ways in which creative works can be research. Explaining the usefulness of questions to doctoral candidates not only keeps supervisors honest, but also keeps at the forefront of everyone’s mind why theory is unavoidable.
By Professor Paul Draper and Professor Scott Harrison Communities of profession, the old academy and the new academy, intimately rub up against each other and while some research may still be considered ‘more equal’ than others for now – this evolving mix can only positively impact on the rise of artistic research, its acceptance in society and its measurement by governments and universities.
By Associate Professor Cheryl Stock AM — The narrative of knowledge is almost always underpinned by the cognitive but how we know the world is often through the experiential. Whilst we have moved a long way in redefining knowledge in research terms to include the processes and outcomes of our practices (artistic, creative, professional) and importantly have privileged the artist’s voice as the expert in this recasting of what a knowledge claim might look like, some art forms prove more problematic than others in this endeavour.
By Dr Danny Butt — During the 1990s and 2000s, as readers of NiTRO know well, an intensive debate took place among art and design academics as to whether their practices and those of their graduate students could be called research, and if so what “contribution to knowledge” might be made by the creative output, as distinct from the writing that has traditionally accompanied submissions in higher degrees in creative arts.
By Professor Margaret Sheil — On my last outing in an ACUADS conference, I was described by Flinders University’s Julian Meryick as the “artist’s ideal of a scientist… impatient with the reduction of everything down to short term utility.” So as I venture once again into the creative arts domain, I draw on a scientific analogy. The principle of chemical equilibrium refers to a system in which the rate of consumption of inputs is the same as that at which outputs are produced so that the system is in a stable state of consumption and production.
By Professor Ross Woodrow — The decision by the Australia Research Council (ARC) to achieve the long-mooted merging of the Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) and the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) exercise by adeptly disappearing the HERDC has been welcomed by many discipline leaders, and not just those in the creative arts. With the inclusive ERA becoming the singular evaluation of research quality across Australia, there couldn’t be a better time to rethink the classification of research in universities.
By Associate Professor Robert Burke and Dr. Andrys Onsman — Criticism of the scientific methods of doing research has increasingly pointed out that all experimental research involves some sort of creative leap. In the performing arts such creative leaps are fundamental to artistry.
By Dr Leo Berkeley — The creative practice of filmmaking, understood as a form of academic research, has been growing in scale and significance within Australian universities for several years. While doctorates involving the making of a film have been occurring for decades, it is only relatively recently that the academic screen production community has been seeking to more systematically establish how the production of a film can lead to the discovery of new knowledge.
By Dr Kate Tregloan and Professor Kit Wise — Interdisciplinarity has been widely recognised as a valuable response to the wicked problems of our time. The ability to collaborate across disciplinary boundaries brings together different perspectives and expertise, and allows entirely new approaches and solutions to emerge. To prepare students and graduates for the complex challenges of the twenty first century we need good quality interdisciplinary programs. But how do we know what is ‘good’?
By Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts — At the DDCA annual conference in Adelaide in 2015, a group of 25 leaders in the creative arts engaged in rigorous and expansive discussion following a series of highly astute commentary and presentations by invited colleagues. Our goal was to determine how to advance our profession amidst the volatility of the higher education sector.
By Jenny Wilson — Welcome to the first edition of NiTRO, DDCA’s dedicated space for views and news in the tertiary creative arts community. Every six weeks we explore an issue of particular interest to creative artists practicing in the university sector. Our first edition focuses on the changing higher education landscape as we ask: Watt’s next for creative arts?
By Professor Margaret Gardner AO — The Australian Government’s Federal Budget announcement in May was confirmation that funding for the Office for Learning and Teaching would be discontinued after this year. The news, though not unexpected, represented a blow to funding for teaching and learning scholarship in Australia.
By Dr Tim Cahill and Professor Julian Meyrick — ‘In God we trust. All others bring data,’ quipped US statistician, W. Edwards Deeming. As he implied, measurement is an inherently conservative occupation. Units of appraisal have to be agreed in advance, while the aim of measuring something is usually to compare it with something that already exists.
By Lynn Churchill and Jill Franz, IDEA (Interior Design Interior Architecture Educator’s Association) — IDEA comprises 12 International Institutions providing a minimum four-year Bachelor degree in the disciplines of Interior Design (ID), Interior Architecture (IA) and Spatial Design (SD). Most include an Honours program and the opportunity to undertake further research in Masters and PhD programs in compliance with the object of IDEA - excellence in ID/IA/SD education and research. Academic Research is a significant requirement for most academics in these disciplines.
By Associate Professor Denise Ferris and Professor Marie Sierra, Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools (ACUADS) — The National Innovation and Science Agenda, launched in December 2015, has significant consequences for tertiary institutions, and in particular, for the art and design disciplines, as well as the broader arts, humanities and social science (HASS) fields.
By Dr Lynda Hawryluk, Australasian Association of Writing Programs — The ever-changing higher education landscape affects all disciplines and their related industries in a variety of ways, and the creative arts discipline is not immune to these changes and challenges.
By John Cumming and Craig Batty, Australian Screen Production, Education and Research Association (ASPERA) — Australia is engaged in completing a transition that will result in academic endeavor being placed squarely within the ‘triple helix’ of university-industry-government. Priority research projects will be those that can secure funding from ‘end-users’. The challenge for researchers is now shifting from publication and peer review to benchmarks of impact and industry engagement.