NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Editorial – The Creative Art of Research: An Ongoing Quest for Equality

By Dr Jenny Wilson As many in creative arts grappled with the amalgamation challenges of the 90s, few were aware that the Dawkins reforms also had increased the centrality of research to university funding. This ‘blissful ignorance’ was not to last.

In subsequent decades, as the number of creative arts staff and student researchers grew, research performance increased its influence on school funding and academic careers,  triggering an ongoing quest to equitably and comfortably position creative arts within the university research agenda.  New terminologies for creative arts research endeavour emerged, and evaluation processes and criteria evolved to capture, weight and balance the practice and exegetical aspects of creative arts.  But the relationship between arts practice and research remains unsettled,  and research projects centred on improved artistic practice remain woefully under represented in academic research funding programs.

In This Edition Of Nitro

In this edition of NiTRO, we consider some of the issues surrounding the relationship between creative arts practice and research.

Jenny Wilson quizzes Henk Borgdorff, President of the Society for Artistic Research, on his understanding of artistic research, a term which is gaining traction in Australia as the report on a recent artistic research symposium by Rob Burke (Monash) and Andrys Onsman (Melbourne) demonstrates.

For many,  US scholar Graeme Sullivan (Penn State University School of Visual Arts) will need no introduction. His book ‘Art Practice as Research; Inquiry in the Visual Arts’ has become one of the seminal works on art and research. In a provocatively titled contribution, Graeme argues that the value and strength of the arts is precisely due to the challenge it presents to typical expectations of research.

Closer to home, Leo Berkeley (RMIT) considers the practicalities of peer review in film, Barbara Bolt (VCA) and Estelle Barrett (Deakin) focus on the relationship between research and contemporary art, while Cheryl Stock (NIDA) reveals the particularities of practice and research in dance. Jeri Kroll (Flinders) turns to the question of knowledge creation and transmission in the arts as she asks ‘Do we aim for questions or answers?’ In their article, Paul Draper and Scott Harrison (Queensland Conservatorium) approach the research topic from the position of the postgraduate researcher, while Brad Buckley (Sydney) and John Conomos (VCA) outline the concept of STEM to STEAM as essential to the future of innovation. Ross Woodrow (Griffith) argues that the demise of HERDC criteria should catalyse a more equitable university process for evaluating non traditional research outputs and Danny Butt (VCA) invites us to consider what role the critic can play in the artistic knowledge exposition.

Considering the topic from the university management perspective, Margaret Sheil (Melbourne), draws upon her own academic background as a scientist to observe the relationship between university systems and creative arts as one which can achieve a sustainable balance.

Also in this edition

Your Views?

Has ERA solved the major challenges for creative arts research in Australia or are there still bridges to cross?  Does it help to have specific terms to describe our research? How can we help our university systems to better reflect the nature of creative arts research?

Do you have research that you would like to share, information on past or upcoming events, reviews of new books, websites or articles of interest; or news on issues that are affecting creative arts that you want to raise?

Join the discussion by contributing to our next edition of NiTRO which looks at how the relationship between academia and artistic practice has impacted upon the teaching curriculum, our engagement with practitioners and the nature of art itself.

More from this issue

More from this issue

By Su Baker, President, Australian Council of Deans and Directors of Creative Arts — Over 2 decades the creative art academic community has grown and matured as a sector - so have the questions of method and purpose of publically funded research, that influence the processes of evaluation. Discussions around impact and ‘end-user’ value is a live issue at the ARC and we look forward to the new thinking that will shortly emerge. The creative arts depend almost entirely on end-user experience, and the impact of these experiences aspire to have real and meaningful impact on peoples lives.
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 Graeme Sullivan Visual arts has no singular function because it can be called on to do just about anything. Arts’ usefulness is because it is edgeless and homeless—art is masterful at shape shifting and form fitting
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 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 Professor Brad Buckley and Associate Professor John Conomos — Recently, there has been much discussion in the press and beyond about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects at high school and at university. In particular, the Commonwealth Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda has focused exclusively on STEM disciplines. However, that discussion misses the central importance of creativity, inventiveness and innovation.
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 Estelle Barrett and Professor Barbara Bolt — At a roundtable at the Australian Council of University Art Schools (ACUADS) annual conference in 2014, panelists were asked to address the following question: What impact are higher degree research programs having on emerging trends and themes in contemporary art? Whilst the panel felt that the development of higher degree research programs in creative arts did not lead to better “art” they did agree that it has profoundly affected the way art is framed and understood both within the academy and beyond.
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’?