"But is it artistic research?"

In presentations of artistic research projects the question "...but is it artistic research..." seems inevitable, raised by audience, peer reviewers, surrounding management or by the artistic researchers themselves. To me this is an unproductive question, begging for unproductive answers. Still, the question comes up on a regular basis, at least here in Norway.

For the recent 7th Sensuous Knowledge conference [1], presenters were asked to consider the following question: "What makes your project an example of artistic/museum research and not (purely) a work of art or a design product?" [2]. Similarly artistic research projects receiving grants from the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme (e.g., the Re:place project) are expected to present their projects at the regular national Artistic Research Forums. The presentations are explicitly requested to discuss how "artistic development emerges through the project - in a form that would be suitable for discussion among the participants". [3]

Looking abroad, the above question appears less omnipresent. The Art & Research Journal "welcomes submissions (...) which seek to engage with all areas of research in Fine Art practice and/or pedagogy. Submissions may take the form of interviews, analytical or polemical essays as well as audio, visual or text-based artworks which seek to address issues in / or are the outcomes of research in Fine Art practice." [4]. Reviewers for the journal are asked to consider if the submission is appropriate to the aims and focus of the journal, and whether is it of sufficient academic/artistic standard. [5] Neither the call for submissions nor the reviewing guideline requests a mandatory discussion of what make the presented work artistic research. Neither does the Austrian Program for Arts-based Research (PEEK) require this question to be explicitly addressed; rather there is an emphasis on research context, clarity of the aims, appropriateness of the methodology, topicality and potential for artistic innovation, as well as more instrumental potentials for increasing international competitiveness and networking. [6]

The guidelines when peer-reviewing expositions for the Journal of Artistic Research (JAR) falls somewhere in-between, explicitly asking if the submission expose practice as research, but further details this question as follows:

In the Research Catalogue, art is exposed, translated, transformed, performed, curated etc. as research. The claim to be research implies a relationship in one way or another to academic criteria for the conduct of research, which include:
1) A description or exposition of the question, issue or problem the research is exploring;
2) Evidence of innovation in the content, form, or technique of the work in relation to a genre of practice;
3) Contextualisation, which includes, or may include, a discussion of social, artistic and/or theoretical issues that the work responds to, a discussion of a range of positions taken by other artists to whom this work contributes a particular perspective, and some documentation of work by the artist that led to the present submission;
4) The (kind of) knowledge, understanding, insight, comprehension or experience the research is trying to enhance and convey;
5) The adequacy and soundness of the methods used and thoroughness of research, analysis, and experiment;
6) A correct use of referencing, following the MHRA author-date citation style. [7]

The question of whether a work constitutes artistic research first warrants a definition of what artistic research is. The question of "what is artistic research" belongs to the discipline of philosophy of artistic science in the same way as the question "what is scientific research" belongs to the discipline of philosophy of science. It is not necessarily the obligation of the artist or artist-researcher to provide academic answers to this question.

In scientific research you seldom hear anyone asking "whether this is scientific research". Works of science are not judged in terms of whether or not they are science. Rather the quality of the work is taken into consideration, as it expresses itself in how the presentation situates the work in a research context, the clarity of the aims, the appropriateness of the methodology, the relevance and importance of topicality, as well as the quality and contributions of results and discussion. It should be no different for artistic research.

Hence the vague question "is it artistic research" should be substituted for more specific questions relating to the above, and a presentation of artistic research implicitly argue for the quality of the research by addressing these questions. This will also lead to more precise questions for further development of the understanding of artistic research as an academic discipline, e.g., what relevant and productive methods can be imagined and applied within artistic research, and how might the methodology of artistic research be further developed?

This will also serve to resolve the equally unproductive need to distinguish between something being artistic research as opposed to "(purely) a work of art or a design product". [2] This discrimination to me seems primarily institutionally motivated, part of an argument to justify artistic research within the institutions (and funding for it) as something else than what is happening in the free professional field.

Scientific research is primarily taking place within research institutions and the research-driven industry. In contrast artistic production and artistic research happens both within the academic institutions and within the free and independent professional field of artists and practitioners. It is my opinion that we cannot and should not make any hard distinction between the activities within and outside academia. It is a prerequisite of artistic research that it produce strong artistic works as one of its outcomes, and possibly the most important one. At the same time the practise of many independent artists have strong elements of artistic research, and should be recognised as such.

A positioning of artistic research as belonging only within the institutions, different in nature to the practice of the free and independent artistic field, encourages a divergence between the practices inside and outside of the academic institutions. This has the potential of leading to a separate strand of academic art, with the danger of it ending up equally irrelevant as the tradition of the French Academy of Fine Arts at the dawn of impressionism.

An important difference between activities within and outside the academic institutions with respect to artistic research is that the institutions generally have more generous resources available. Hence they offer improved opportunities (time, space and funding) for systematic reflection on the artistic practice, and the communication of such reflections. For this reason we can expect and require the institutions to engage with all aspects of artistic research, and provide major contributions to the field, but this should be of equal importance within and outside of the institutions. In contrast many independent artists find that they need to prioritise certain parts of the breath of activities that constitutes artistic research. The systematic communication of reflections is particular challenging to many independent artists as funding for artistic projects seldom leave room for this.


[1] http://sensuousknowledge.org/. Accessed 2013-01-26.
[2] E-mail from "The Sensuous Knowledge Conference Team" to presenting participants January 4 2013.
[3] Letter from the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme to this author as coordinator of the Re:place project on December 5 2012. Translated from Norwegian.
[4] Note to Contributors to Art & Research. Available online: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v4n1/v4n1colophon.php. Accessed 2013-01-26
[5] Peer-Review pro forma for Art & Research. Available online: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v3n2/pdfs/Peer_Review_Pro_Forma.pdf. Accessed 2013-01-26
[6] Program for Arts-based Research (PEEK): Program Document. May 2009. Available online: http://www.fwf.ac.at/en/projects/ar_PEEK_document.pdf. Accessed 2013-01-26
[7] JAR Peer-reviewing guide. http://www.jar-online.net/index.php/pages/view/128. Accessed 2013-01-26


  1. I posted a long comment but it vanished without being published. I have adjusted the settings for commenting and hope this resolves the issue. So let's see if I can remember what I wrote in the first comment.

    You cover a lot of important points in your post, Trond, and it is worth discussing these issues further. Fortunately, the discussion group I was in at SK7 avoided discussion of the "is this...." or "what is..." issues in relation to art research, preferring an open and inclusive approach to definitions, and focussing instead on the actual processes and problems involved. One thing that strikes me very clearly is that it is much more demanding and difficult to engage in a discussion that goes deeply into the (research) practice itself rather than defaulting to a formalistic discussion of the institutional framework which attempts to monopolize definitions in order to retain control over the field of "approved" research practices. As soon as one immerses oneself in the actual processes of a research-based practice, things get complicated and fuzzy, which demands a flexibility of thinking and a willingness to test out ideas through discussion rather than checklisting them against received ideas of criteria of quality. What struck me forcefully, at least in our group discussions, was that there was a strong and clear focus on thinking through doing in the projects that were presented, whether these be artist-driven projects, alone or in collaboration, or curatorial projects that were embedded within a discursive analysis of the museum's role and function and its ability to destabilise the status of the individual artwork, exposing it to a dialogue within the exhibition context.

    There was high degree of self-reflexivity in the presentations within the group and many more questions than conclusions. Hence the group was quite hostile to the Superflex keynote, which was seen as little more than a sales pitch for the Superflex brand rather than an invitation to debate the processes the group works with. It was felt that their approach was in fact diametrically opposed to the ethos of a research discussion as it failed to raise questions, focussing almost entirely on results and products. Most of the presentations and discussions in our group were open-ended, exploratory and based on a willingness to take risks. This is essential. If art research projects are organised around a strict schematic structure that demands regular, quantifiable reporting and evaluation, the chances that discoveries are made is minimal. When we begin to ask unanswerable questions and cast ourselves into unpredictable processes, when we engage dialogically with our surroundings and our collaborators, when we accept that we may be failing more than succeeding to produce "satisfactory" oucomes, then perhaps we are starting to do valuable research. Of course, we hope that down the line, at the end of the research period, we have produced some art that we can stand for and defend on its own terms. But if the process of getting their contains no problems, challenges or difficult questions, the there has not been any research.

    Now, for Re:place, it seems to me that we need a period of intense investigation through doing. Experimentation and real-time evaluation of our working processes, collaboration, discussion and testing. Afterwards, in retrospect, we can determine what has been of value and what has not, what we have learned or discovered and what this may mean for the future evolution of our practices.

  2. Thank you, Trond, for the post. I think it is an important text because it shows those of us that stand outside the Sensuous K-forum some of the questions raised, but most of all important because it underline the relevance of doing the research (art I presume?) before proving the quality/importance of it. The text and the excerpts of the 'rules' for research make me think about the relevance of 'time' and the 'joker'*, time. The most lovely face of art as i see it is its ever changing one; time.

    *Joker; An unforeseen but important difficulty, fact, or circumstance.