I am not in a fighting mood. Winners lose and losers win, I don't want to play any more. I assume most people share my dislike for violence whether it be intimate or remote... we do in fact get along. The few who seek out power be it over the individual and or the collective at any cost rally us to play out their costly games. I have no desire to murder your father nor do I want to steal your whatevers. In my mind I see that for others being leaderless is much like the idea of being godless - directionless, pointless and headless. Anyhow, I ended my performance with a suggestion: don't vote. Don't sign away your right to have a direct say... this is a conversation for another day. 

Did I take the decision?” he wondered about the choice to undertake the novel. “Or did the decision take me? The same with the writing: That book wrote me. … I worked and worked and worked definitely under its spell. Achebe

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Studio Time: Pondering "productive procrastination" with Nerf/Kentridge /Soyinka/Sellars

Christian Nerf working inside Goethe on Main
pic by: Brett Rubin

One Sunday, during the popular Arts On Main market at Maboneng, some visitors wandered into Goethe-on-Main looking for food. This wasn’t altogether surprising. With a large cardboard handwritten sign hanging at the entrance boasting the show’s title, Things are Odd, it appeared like a makeshift shop – an extension of the market. In a way, Christian Nerf was delighted that this misinterpretation occurred; he revels in rewriting the function of a gallery and blurring the boundaries between art and life.

It’s not quite an anarchic impulse, but more about transforming a space to suit his idiosyncratic needs. For Nerf galleries, rooms in suburban homes, even seats on an airplane or long-distance buses have become home to his itinerant studios. He treats these diverse settings equally, thereby undercutting the gallery’s status. They are not venues to exhibit work but to make work, a place for an artist to inhabit, rather than occupy fleetingly.

“The idea of arriving here putting some things up on the wall and walking out and leaving it was unthinkable,” he says. The gallery should be a living, breathing space, a place of action rather than (detached) meditation. This facilitates interaction, between Nerf and visitors, a rarity in the rarefied art setting. Whether this has enriched his practice is uncertain, but it has made for some unexpected exchanges with people unfamiliar with contemporary art.
A close up of one of Nerf's attempt to "draw with obstacles"
pic by Brett Rubin

For the duration of his show, Nerf spent his days in the gallery, making work, experimenting and reading – I spot a copy of Susan Sontag’s seminal On Photography on a shelf. On the occasions he worked through the night, he slept on a thin mattress in the corner of the gallery. This makeshift bed appears to be part of what could be termed an installation of sorts, though, of course, it has no meaning other than rooting the space as a living space rather than just a gallery. But because it is a gallery, a table populated by tubes of paint, brushes, and a beer bottle, everything in it is subject to the kind of scrutiny that may be undeserving given they are everyday objects. But there are other kinds of objects in the space that look as ordinary but aren’t – if you inspect them closely or become aware of their history. Like a torn vest hanging from a nail.
It’s a remnant from a phase when Nerf went out and “shot” fashion objects, not with a camera but with a weapon that would destroy the surface. There are also more recognisable art objects such as large white papers with colourful painted lines. They are not finished works, more like preparations for something, or just experiments in of themselves.

Above all, Things are Odd presents a window into the process of art making. As the title suggests, all things have the potential to be “odd”. Maybe this is the lens that artists bring to bear on “things”.
Nerf’s unconventional approach is “odd” in the sense that he has collapsed the space between the process of making work and showing work, which allows the former to become transparent.

For some time William Kentridge has been attempting to bring the activities in his studio into the public realm. Presumably this was prompted by constant queries about his working process as he become more and more famous. Ever the theatre-maker, he turned some of these public presentations into performances, most notably in the piece I am not me, The Horse is not Mine, which showed at the Market Theatre as part of the Refuse the Hour festival in 2011. In this production he “acted” himself, evoking a split self; the irrational character that responds viscerally during the art making process and the logical, analytical one that explains the work.
William Kentridge at the Baxter Theatre during the Rolex
Mentors and Protege Arts Initiative gathering

During an informal talk last weekend dubbed Getting Started at the Baxter Theatre as part of the Rolex Mentors and Protégé  Arts Initiative, Kentridge referred to another divided self that manifests in the studio; the one half is deeply immersed in the work he is making, while the other embodies the critical eye – or the role of the critic – surveying his work from a more detached position. He illustrated this duality with a short film portraying two Kentridges; one was working on a drawing of a rhinoceros while the other stood behind him observing and judging the proportions.
There can be quite a disjuncture between what the artist perceives to be a success and what a detached observer might deem interesting.
“Often the works that I think are amazing people think are complete failures, what do I know?” observes Nerf, who has made peace with displaying everything he makes. Because he has ‘folded’ the studio into the gallery, everything he does is immediately on display. Like his recent “paintings around objects”, a process by which he is prevented from painting a straight line because of a physical impediment – a chair, table placed in front of the canvas – that shifts the line.
“It’s like life, you have to work with obstacles.”
Nerf doesn’t much care how these painterly experiments turn out. “It’s what I learn in the process that matters.”
Perhaps there is more at stake for Kentridge because of his international status, or how he conceives of the value of art as being defined by its end-product, but for him arriving at the point of making the first mark (for a drawing) can be quite a drawn-out process. It is one that he termed “productive procrastination: it’s about gathering the energy before making a mark”, he explained.
For writers, procrastination might involve making a trip to a nearby bar, quipped Wole Sokinya, the Nigerian author, during the final Rolex Mentors panel, Turning the World into Material.
“You have to work with or without a spark. You can’t wait for a divine spark to begin working, though you can’t force it either. The best thing to do is to engage the brain: read,” he advised, while keeping his own struggles private.

The best starting point for artists is to think about what is missing in public and artistic domains, proposed Peter Sellars, an American theatre practitioner who, like Soyinka and Kentridge, has served as a mentor for Rolex’s Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
“So much of what we see is vastly over-represented. Anger too can be the spark. Artists should transform anger into a solution.”

Kentridge views the studio as a place of transformation. He compared the process that occurs in this space to the way the world/reality is digested through a camera; material is gathered through one lens and something different is produced from it. In this way he views art “as a membrane that sits between you and world”. In other words, art is like a filter, a veil that can enhance, exaggerate or create distance between reality. This latter function became the focus of an exchange between Kentridge, Sellars, and Sokinya, in the final panel, Turning the World into Material.

The conversation was sparked after a screening of a short, but powerful animation of an atomised body, torn apart by a violent act. It formed part of Kentridge’s Ubu and the Truth Commission, a production that dealt with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) through the lens of an Alfred Jarry play. The puppets that featured in that production allowed for a kind of separation (from the real) that enabled catharsis, while evoking “the burlesque of the grotesque” said Kentridge.
“Art provides a strategy of distancing that helps us exorcise unbearable memories,” remarked Soyinka. Following on from this idea vis-à-vis the TRC, he suggested that reconciliation is impossible without restitution,  a necessary act in “the archway of healing”. He believes that artists are ideally placed to create symbolic acts of restitution, which he distinguishes from “punishment”.
Soyinka’s suggestion that artists should be involved in creating symbolic acts of restitution resonated with Sellars, who usese theatre  to concoct rituals to come to terms with unspeakable acts. These rituals|needn’t be large gestures, particularly when audiences have become desensitised to mass spectacles, proposed Sellars, referring to a ritual performed during his adaptation of Aeschylus’s Persians, where Martinus Miroto, a Javanese dancer and specialist in spirit possession, hosted the spirits of the thousands of Iraqi soldiers who died in agony on the infamous “highway of death” at the time of the Gulf War.

Nerf doesn’t deal with trauma or violence in his work, nor does he seek anything so grand as cleansing a society of issues weighing on their conscience. He is looking to bridge the gap between reality and art rather than enhance its separation, by using it as a mode of distancing.  This is largely because Nerf doesn’t deal in trauma but in the ordinary vagaries of living and questioning how we live our lives. He does this by living an alternative life himself that is in full view in a gallery space.

By ‘folding’ the studio into the gallery, he not only blurs the line between art and life but work and life. This message echoes through most of the work in the gallery; like the large mindmap pinned to one wall where he has plotted out all the people he knew when he used to live in Joburg and how they are interconnected. It’s a sentimental act too; he often succumbs to nostalgia.

Part of the display on one wall consists of objects from his past; they are either artworks, like a video dubbed Elvis is Alive and in Joburg, a short film he made a while ago where he made Joburgers dress up as Elvis, or a small plastic bag with a styrofoam object that has been packaged and labelled “garbage” and has a bright orange price sticker on it, indicating that it sells for R30. Can art be garbage? Is art garbage? There are almost always moments when you look at Nerf’s “art” and wonder whether it’s all bullshit. These moments are pleasantly surprising, allowing the objects in the show to just be “things” rather than “art things” - his work almost always undermines what art should be; can a life well-lived be art?

Certainly, there seems little point in really focusing on individual objects, but rather the overall impression his installation generates. Because Nerf doesn’t dwell at the level that Kentridge, Soyinka and Sellars do, it’s easier to have doubts about what he does. If Nerf suddenly found world fame, his work would lose its uneasy status.  In some ways it seems unlikely that this would occur, for the simple fact that he doesn’t appear to be driving towards creating resolved finished products.
“Everything is mid-flight,” he says with a grin. He’s maybe permanently caught in the phase that Kentridge so fondly calls “productive procrastination”. Through his short films and performances of his process, Kentridge is indirectly making art from this stage of procrastination – it’s a rich seam, where he admits that moments of failure become the seeds of success. During an informal exchange, Sellars confesses that his best works are those that have denied coherency.
“When something fails to come together, the work is about that failure. That is the most interesting work there is, though critics hate it.” - published in The Sunday Independent, April 14, 2012

  • Corrigall attended the Rolex Mentors and Protégé Arts Initiative at The Baxter Theatre in Cape Town as a guest of Rolex. Nerf will do a “working with obstacles” drawing in situ on Tuesday at 6pm at Housewarming, Atlantic House, Cape Town. It’s viewable by appointment until May 4; e-mail: atlantichuis@gmail.com

I have lost something. To lose things, people, ideas, desires and possessions is the norm. Anyhow, I lost something recently and it has made way for genuine 'uncalled-for newness'. 

(5 questions)

Your artistic practice has been described as “maverick, absurdist, astute, playful, and serious.” With which of these do you agree most, and with which ones least?
I neither agree nor disagree with any of them. I am inclined to think that I am just a person who knows how to do things without money. I want to investigate the world and what makes us human or inhuman. It is fortunate that there is a category called art; I am not quite sure what I would be if I couldn’t be an artist.
I try to be very agile and go into each experiment with as little baggage as possible, so I may be very conservative in one instance and entirely flexible in another. 

You say you strive to create works that encourage not only the art community but the public at large to think. Is art only for a handful of insiders; in other words: is art elitist?
Some of my projects are activated on the street, for instance The Polite Force. The people who encounter it don’t even know it is art. Without that baggage they don’t freak out and think they don’t understand the language of art. Artworks that wouldn’t survive well outside of “the white cube” are elitist to me. I try to avoid this type of art and instead make my work inclusive by using methods to make complex concepts accessible.
Talking to people in the art realm or intellectuals is very different to talking to everyday people. One way I engage with people in the street is by handing them numbered one-dollar-notes or asking them for some of their waste (empty soft drink cans or similar), in order to start a conversation. Not a conversation about art however, but about the economy or the system of voting a political party or a president for instance. I am intrigued by the idea of everyday people giving away their right to have a say by voting someone else, in other words: to choose a boss. I believe we are each our own boss.

You say what you bring to a collaboration is nothing, which allows for anything to happen.
What did you bring to Goethe on Main, and what emerged in these three weeks at the open studio?
I am post-collaborative, I no longer collaborate. Collaboration was a kind of education for me.
Part of my work here at GoetheonMain is a reflection on my old projects, which makes it difficult to bring nothing. Bringing nothing in this context is more about not bringing preconceived ideas. When I came to the GoetheonMain studio I had some ideas about what I wanted to do and how to install things, but then I ended up rearranging these ideas and objects in different ways.
I travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg by bus with very light baggage, carrying all of the exhibition objects along. The bicycle, the flag, and the table you see in this exhibition are all foldable. In my earlier years I used to be an avid collector of things, and then I realised that these things were weighing me down. Consequently, I either gave or threw away almost everything so that I could be open to new possibilities. I found that if I have a studio full of objects they start talking to me, asking me how I am going to install them and balance them with other objects in the exhibition. I want to avoid this so I try to be light in every way.
I also incorporate some of my ongoing work into this exhibition, for instance the plant sculpture, through which I explore the concept of being somebody’s boss, of manipulating another being. Throughout the past eleven years, I have been subjecting the plant to alternating cycles of deprivation of soil and light and observing the resulting growth patterns. The plant sculpture is an experiment in manipulation.
I would describe my work as portable, agile, humorous. While trying to find your way through life is very serious business one needs to find ways to engage with it in a humorous way.

As part of “Things are Odd”, you hosted a braai lunch on a Wednesday noon every week. Who attended the “braai club lunch for the unemployed” as you named it and what is the aim of the project?
A few freelancers attended and people who took half a day of leave. The braai lunch club is about the idea of free time. I want to raise questions like: how much time do we sell and how much of our lifetime is actually ours. The braai lunch club is a reminder for people to reflect on the use of their time and their life.
A huge majority of the population cannot attend an event that is happening on a Wednesday noon because they are not in a position to dispose freely of their own time.

You say for you, working through art is a way of interrogating and revealing the idea of truth.
What is The Truth?
I have honestly no idea. My life’s work revolves around finding the truth, pinpointing the idea of the truth.
I think there is a general consensus that the truth comes in many forms. It’s a bit like it is with belief systems: people agree to disagree. The truth should be quite a definitive concept, but it’s not, it is very slippery.
My personal truth, at least for now, is to spend my time wisely. Time is not flexible; we are born and we die. So the question is: what are we going to do with the time in between.

Miriam Daepp

I look for you in untidy places. 
Wearing gloves has never been an option before
but now if I want to sustain the search
I may need a layer of protection.
I want life to be long,
longer, long enough
to sit comfortably again.
With you,
the Truth.”
Miami FL, 2013

15 (Fifteen)

Over the past few years I have been working on a series of fifteen public sculptures. With these three dimensional works I attempt to share specific texts without the use of words. One could view them as the instrumental tracks versus the songs with words. I see this project as being unending and the primary task being the promotion of public sculpture. Works in public that are not trying to sell you anything, artworks that do not glorify leaders, g_ds and the like. South Africa is not known for an abundance of public art. The texts I am in conversation with are recent works by Alain Badiou, Costas Douzinas, Jacques Rancière, Gianni Vattimo, Antonio Negri and others. These texts all bring to mind the need for common-ground and common-wealth. Alongside promoting a society that demands art in public I am also investigating the potential of turning what is currently private property into public property. 

I woke up having had a very different dream from my usual. I was aware of this and thought it over before I opened my eyes. 
Now, an hour later I am reading something and I remember that I had a very different dream, I try to recall it but it has returned to whence it came from. I leave it there, momentarily pleased that I have been able to forget something.

 3 X blank jigsaw puzzles
3 X blank bound books
3 X unused envelopes
3 X blank legal pads
3 X clutch pencils
3 X folded chairs
3 X projectors
_X ___ ___
_ X ____

republished with permission...

The discursive forces that shape our lives

The 21st-century world, and with it, our lives, are shaped by powerful discursive forces that are distinct from one another, but are nevertheless interrelated in complex ways. Sometimes they intertwine and reinforce one another, and sometimes they conflict, and the clash between discourses often spills over into the lives of ordinary (and sometimes high-profile) individuals who are mostly powerless to control such consequences.
I have written on discourses on this site before, but to recap briefly what it means to say that discourses — or discursive forces — shape us and our world, think of it this way. Most discourse-theorists (and those with the most sophisticated theories of discourse are, to my mind, Foucault, Lacan and, although he tends to use a different idiom, Ranciére) posit a link between language, power and agency, which simply means this: Our subjectivity, including our actions, is configured or “shaped” by the language and related images to which we are exposed from infancy.
Someone who is raised a Christian, for example, learns to view the world and their actions in it through the powerful discursive complex of Christian imagery and language — the death of Christ on the cross and what it means for humanity, backed up and reinforced by images depicting his suffering and the salvation of humankind. On the other hand, someone who grows up in present-day consumer societies (that means most people) are shaped by the discourse of neo-liberal capitalism, probably the most powerful and pervasive discourse structuring people’s behaviour today.
By this I mean that, even if it is intertwined with other discourses, such as that of Christianity, or of technology, the mass media, or of the military-industrial complex, or of patriarchy — and usually these interweavings do function in social relations — it seems to me that the dominant discourse is that of capitalism. This is debatable, of course, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say that certain complex intertwinements comprise the dominant discursive forces in global society today. The ones I would pick out are and amalgam of capitalism, technology, mass media, the military-industrial complex and patriarchy.
Existing in a kind of agonistic tension with this configuration of mutually-reinforcing discourses there are numerous counter-discourses that challenge their dominance. Different strands of feminism combat the excesses of patriarchy, different kinds of culture or religion-based discourses oppose and sometimes violently engage with the dominant discourses of capitalism and global military interventionism (which is driven by, and in turn drives the military-industrial complex). As Hardt and Negri point out in Empire (2001: 146-150), this happens when certain cultures perceive the dominant discursive regimes as threatening the destruction of their life-worlds, and turn to fundamentalist discourses.
What some people, like Paul Roberts, see as a worrying trend in the US, namely to subject its (in many ways still) democratic discursive foundation to increasing “police (or security) control”, is intimately connected to the discursive entanglement of military technological development and capitalism, being driven by the constant need for technological innovation for military purposes as well as for profit through consumerism. A case in point is the enormous recent growth in the development of so-called “drones”, not only for military purposes, but also for commercial and private use.
In Pakistan, where thousands of people have been killed by drone-attacks, constantly hovering US military drones have become such a ubiquitous feature of villagers’ lives that all kinds of detrimental psychological effects may be identified on the part of the villagers. And the military-interventionist discourse is so powerful that this continues, despite no formal permission having been granted to the US under international law. A recent TIME magazine (February 11) features a cover article that explores not only the military uses of drones, but also its use in businesses like real estate and photography. Clearly, what Foucault called “panopticism”, has been taken up a level or two. The point is that these practices of surveillance would not come into being without the discourses which justify and make them possible — and in the US these discourses are so powerful that even a wide spectrum of discursive opposition does not seem to have any impact on their global rule.
In addition to the ones already mentioned, the oldest and probably most pervasive discourse in the world — patriarchy — still exercises its lethal force, with women and children being at the receiving end. And don’t think that it is not connected with the other dominant discourses — the fascination that guns hold for many men is intimately connected to the military-industrial discursive complex, to the valorisation of hunting as a “manly” thing to do, as well as to capitalist profit from rifle, pistol and other arms manufacturing. It is no accident that the National Rifle Association in the US is such a powerful lobby group on Capitol Hill — unless the discourse of “the right to carry arms” were regularly reinforced in debates on gun control, the profits of the manufacturers would dwindle to unacceptable levels.
This discourse — where constitutional rights to carry guns and personal security converge — lurks behind many of the fatal shootings that so puzzle observers in the US. And it operates in South Africa too, for many complex reasons involving the media-valorisation of self-defence by means of guns, and reinforced by the discourse surrounding crime. Consider this: in mainstream Hollywood movies as well as many television series the discursive imperative that comes across explicitly and forcefully, is that problems are best resolved through the use of guns.
A discourse-analysis of films, and even of movie-posters advertising them, makes this unambiguously clear. I recall a recent poster for the film, Jack Reacher, with Tom Cruise staring at the onlooker with a look of implacable resolve, holding a handgun, with a caption suggesting that Reacher (his character) is the one who will “reach” further than anyone to rectify and avenge wrongs and crimes — with a gun, of course.
If this is the image that holds people captive — that interpersonal problems should always be approached with a gun in your hand — is it at all surprising that people with heaven knows what personal grievances and resentments follow its discursive imperative to the letter, going to schools and other places where people gather, and allowing their bodies to become the instruments of these fundamental, inescapable discursive forces by raining bullets on the hapless victims?
Those among us who try to do our share in promoting a humane, tolerant society, where to be caring, reasonable and communicative is valorised — especially where women and children are concerned — and where human solidarity instead of private profit at all costs is promoted, had better speak up and act visibly in accordance with a different discursive complex, one that bears the imprint of what goes by an ancient name: love. Not just love of your lover, partner, wife or husband and children, but of all people, in the sense of care (caritas), and ultimately of all living things according to their natures. After all, we all belong to the same extended family.
For a more substantial treatment of this theme, see my “Discourse, agency and the question of evil” (A discourse-analysis of the so-called “ripper-rapist” case), in Philosophy and Psychoanalytic theory, Collected essays, London and Frankfurt: Peter Lang Publishers, 2009.


performance between Darren English and my plantsculpture.

Whilst living in Johannesburg I begun working with this living being. We have challenged each other over the past decade. Aside from the theoretical, ‘conceptual’ and aesthetic outcomes of this endeavor the impetus behind this experiment was a simple one: I wanted to know first hand what drove some people to be the ‘boss’ of others. To manipulate, bend and beat into shape a being. 

Click here for more about the plantsculpture and other things.  

republished with permission...  "This is a draft chapter for the book 'Artists with PhDs.' The first edition of this book is available on amazon and from New Academia Press; the second edition, with the final version of this chapter, will appear in June. Please direct all comments, questions, complaints, etc., to me via my website, jameselkins.com. Thanks!"

Fourteen Reasons to Mistrust the PhD in Studio Art
James Elkins

There are many reasons to wonder about the PhD for artists. It is spreading around the world, and in a few decades it’s likely it will be the de facto degree for artists who want to become teachers. In some parts of the world it is generally accepted, and in others the PhD is required for anyone who wants to teach at the university level. As the PhD becomes more normative, it is especially important to keep an eye on the principal objections that have been raised.
This list grew organically from a short version published in Art in America (May 2007, pp. 108-9), and in Spanish, translated by Fernando Uhia, in Cuadernos Grises 4 (Bogotà: Departamento de Arte, Universidad de los Andes, 2009), 155–60. Starting on May 9, 2012, I posted it on Facebook. The discussion there was very broad-ranging, and I have acknowledged a number of Facebook comments in this revision.
As the list grew, some entries swelled, and others remained brief. Three entries in particular have grown to the size of short chapters: the ones on self-reflexivity, research, and knowledge. I could have separated those out, but I like the unevenness of the list. In academic publishing, authors aren’t usually permitted to write books in which one chapter is three pages long and the next is thirty. Editors make sure that academic books are well-behaved: they are usually within 400 pages, and they tend to have at least five chapters, which are each roughly the same length. (There are a few counter-examples: I like Peter De Bolla’s book on the sublime, which has a one-page chapter.) I thought that this subject and this publisher are right for something a bit less symmetrical.
There’s one fascinating thing that binds all the entries on this list, all these objections, together. They were all raised, in different forms, against the MFA when it was spreading rapidly in the 1960s. Many of these reasons to mistrust the degree were true then and are still true now: but that didn’t stop the MFA from spreading around the world. Given the inevitability of the PhD, my interest is not to stop it—this list isn’t material for a protest—but rather to rethink it. Otherwise it could end up the way the MFA is: a disordered, largely untheorized collection of practices, open to each of the objections that was raised about it in the 1960s.
When something becomes as widespread as the practice-based PhD, entire academic communities grow up around it: teachers, administrators, art educators, and staff are trained in the PhD. It’s what they know, what they care about. There are instructors teaching now who were themselves taught by people who got PhDs in the 1970’s and 1980’s: that means that there are nearly three generations of people for whom the PhD is entirely natural. In the last five years, a massive literature has sprung up, suddenly, exploring the degree as if its fundamental principles and purposes were largely settled. In light of that I think it is particularly important to continue questioning the degree at the root level.

Reason 1. Students in the new degrees are expected to do scholarly research. 
The length of dissertations varies from around 25,000 to 80,000 words, with a worldwide average of about 60,000 words. How many artists with MFAs can write at that length? How might applicants be assessed for their capacity can produce writing at that scale?
Here are some representative lengths of PhD dissertations. I’m using a common approximation for the number of words per page; most dissertations worldwide are counted in words.
0 words = 0 pp.    —  this was attempted at Plymouth University
15,000 words = 60 pp.    —  minimum at Leeds (2012)
20,000 words = 80 pp.    —  the usual minimum (for example, at Queensland University
25,000 words = 100 pp.  —  minimum at York University (given in pages)
30,000 words = 120 pp.  —  Newcastle, U.K. (2012)
50,000 words = 200 pp.  —  maximum at Leeds (2012)
60,000 words = 240 pp.  —  the norm (for example, at the Slade)
80,000 words = 320 pp.  —  maximum at Hertfordshire (2012)
100,000 words = 400 pp.  —  the usual maximum

For some countries, it is hard to estimate the word count. In Japan, for example, dissertations are printed at 750 characters per page. A computer printed dissertation in the US is about 250 words per page. So it’s possible that the Japanese character count divided by 3 yields the English word count. By that standard, the requirement at Geidai in Tokyo, which is 200,000 characters, would be the equivalent of 66,000 words or 250 pages. But I am not sure: the dissertations I have seen in Japan seem significantly shorter. This book includes samples from two dissertations and provisional word counts.

Reason 2. It is not clear what kinds of art, exactly, are potentially improved by serious research.
PhD-granting programs still lack any extended analysis of what sorts of practices can benefit from the PhD dissertation. A satisfactory answer to that should also include an account of what kinds of art would not benefit. In general, PhD programs will decline to admit applicants whose proposals or practice are still unformed; but aside from those general criteria, what modes, styles, and strategies of art, both in history and in the present, would not, in theory, be appropriate for the PhD? The normative assumption in PhD-granting institutions is that potentially, any student with a cogent research proposal and practice is a potential candidate. But can that possibly be true? Aren’t there art practices that benefit from a lack of clarity about their objectives, or a lack of understanding of historical precedents?
Here are some examples, just to indicate the kind of thing I have in mind. Any number of twentieth-century artists wrote manifestos that have little to do with the reasons their work is valued; if those manifestos has been written in contemporary academia, they would have been thoroughly criticized for overreaching rhetoric, lack of system, lack of argument, and lack of evidence. If Ad Reinhardt had read his own texts closely, as an academic reads, he would have been bothered by their many self-contradictions—or conversely, if his texts had been produced in PhD programs, they would have had to have been edited down to fragments. If Kandinsky had combed through his book looking for logical errors, he might have ended up abandoning it. If I look for artists whose writings could work as contemporary PhD dissertations, I can think of a few, mainly in the Renaissance: Piero della Francesca’s three treatises might work well as examples of thorough research, and Dürer’s book on human proportions might be legible as an example of visual awareness of diversity. But Alberti’s book on architecture is an endless unstructured mess, and Leonardo’s notebooks could not be assessed or even read as research. And this is just considering artists who wrote texts that could be considered as treatises. The majority of artists either haven’t written anything, or they haven’t written sustained, analytic, structured inquiries. Personally, I would like to enlist most of the world’s art practices as examples of kinds of work that would not be suited for PhD-level research.
My examples here would need to be expanded, but I hope it is enough to indicate the general nature of the problem: there have been many times and places in art history in which the art practices depended on not being systematic, on not involving research, on not being clear. Some kinds of art practice can benefit from the kinds of discipline involved in producing research proposals and working systematically: many others might not. When I posted this on Facebook, Jonathan Muehlke noted that “there are some skills that can only be gained under close supervision in a structured academic environment.” The question whether those skills—the ability to form a research program, to gather information thoroughly and systematically, to analyze it clearly—are appropriate to namable art practices, or if they are, in theory, applicable to any art practices.
On Facebook, this question sparked a debate. One writer, Victoria Allen Hanks, mentioned the painter Sue Coe as an example of an artist who would not be appropriate for a PhD program. Hanks said Coe “has been a hands-on practitioner and activist, visiting slaughterhouses and getting the word out about animal abuse… Her work is political and needs a succinct message. A dissertation would kill it for sure.” But Louise Scoville wrote: “I disagree profoundly! Art needs academic scrutiny and investigation to advance and fully realize its potential… I was a university Lecturer and Professor for 9.5 years: only in my current PhD research am I learning and understanding how to really see, feel and think. Art needs inquiry, experiment, and discipline…” These sorts of disagreements depend on the kind of art that’s being discussed. It would be good to have a collaborative effort aimed at revealing which art practices are best suited for research, and that could in turn make PhD programs more focused. In general it seems to me that PhD-granting institutions have an obligation to decide what kinds of art are suited for research, and which aren’t.

Reason 3. The new degree exacerbates the academization of art. 
The PhD will keep students in school between two and four years after their MFAs, not including the time they spend writing their dissertations, which might stretch on—as it does with art history PhDs—another five years or more. Artists will be at least 30 years old before they are out in the world. There are two possible attitudes to this: in the common response, it is said that the PhD artificially accelerates the academic properties of art practices; but it could also be said that the PhD is symptomatic of the decades in which we live, so that it reflects an ongoing tendency in the art world. If the latter is the case, it calls for a special study of the nature of intellectual, conceptual, methodologically explicit art projects, so that institutions can represent and teach those emergent properties of art. If the former is closer to the truth, then PhD-granting institutions also need to consider their complicity in the directions of contemporary art.

Reason 4. The PhD exacerbates issues of class and privilege. 
When I posted versions of these questions on Facebook in spring 2012, several people pointed out that the PhD exacerbates the elitism of the MFA. Writing from the UK, Leila Galloway asked “Is it not now a question of who has and what class has access?” and Jonathan Muehlke wrote that the PhD “tends to be about politics: class and social privilege.” But on the other hand, as Muehkle also acknowledged, art has always been an activity “dominated by the elite.” It is not yet clear whether these programs are unfairly exclusive, because at the PhD level many programs are effectively subsidized by stipends, fellowships, and grants. On the other hand, the PhD definitely requires more years away from full-time employment, and it certainly favors applicants who can write clearly and articulately about their work, in ways that artists with less education might not be able to do. I wonder what kinds of social awareness, what recruiting programs, what kinds of outreach, might possibly address this issue.

Reason 5. The PhD in studio art is unique among nearly all degrees in requiring two bodies of work: the art and the research. 
Administratively, it’s because the art needs to be validated by a kind of labor that the university can reliably assess, but it makes the studio art PhD an awkward hybrid. The University of Plymouth experimented with a minimal writing requirement; that policy was instituted to solve the double-requirement issue, but it also shifted the focus to the PhD exhibition—so that the faculty were responsible for determining what might count as a PhD-level art exhibition. George Smith’s program, the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, is the opposite; the IDSVA does not teach studio, but only visual theory. Those two experiments represent extreme positions: the majority of PhD programs continue to require two bodies of work.
It has been said that the requirement of two bodies of work is not objectionable, because scientists have to publish and also work in the laboratory: perhaps in this sense the studio-based PhD is closer to the sciences than it might seem. Still, as Risa Horowitz points out, scientists don’t have to show their lab work, so the parallel isn’t exact. Also, the rhetoric of most PhD programs stresses the close connection between practice and research, so it’s as if they were one activity.

Reason 6. The new degree is a double threat. 
Students whose dissertations are in history of art or philosophy will get PhDs in those fields, and in addition they will be able to teach studio art. Small colleges and art schools could then employ such people to work in two different departments. The perception has been that people with MFAs could not compete. This is a reasonable qualm, given the self-descriptions of the programs, but as far as I can see it has not materialized. In practice, hiring committees realize which of the two, practice and research, is the candidate’s strong point. Small institutions may well ask new hires to teach both studio and an academic subject (usually art history), but that has always been the case.

Reason 7. In the new degree, students will become more self-reflective than ever.
I love Mick Wilson’s way of putting this in Chapter [   ]. “A key theme in the development of doctoral programs in art practice is that of critical reflection,” he writes: “the enigmatic figure of the reflexive practitioner may be said to stalk the doctoral art studio in search of the equally enigmatic trophy of methodological rigor.” In 2003 the promotional text for the program at Goldsmiths, for example, said the course is for “artists who would like to explore and develop their understanding of their established art practice.” The same confidence in the importance of self-reflexivity can be found in the administrative texts that support the new degree in the UK: self-reflection is mentioned, for example, by Donald Schön, who is discussed in Chapter [   ].
Yet many artists have made compelling work even though they had no idea of the critical matrix to which their work belongs, and despite the fact that they were only minimally reflective about their own practice. It is also true that some artists’ work thrives on self-awareness; for artists of that kind the new PhD degree might be ideal—although there is no account of what kinds of art have been best served by self-awareness. This idea that self-awareness is a desideratum for PhD-level instruction needs to be treated as a problematic assumption, not as a guiding principle. In my experience, the value accorded to self-reflexivity is never questioned. It needs to be.
To some extent, reflexivity (self-reflection, introspection, self-awareness, articulateness, conceptualization—I am referring to a related group of qualities that go under many names) is a general goal of advanced education, or at the least an inevitable by-product. No matter what other goals the studio-art PhD has, it must always assume that a higher degree of reflexivity is potentially good for the student’s art. That is because any research aimed at problems in the student’s art practice will inevitably work to raise her awareness of what she does. Research, writing, seminars, and critical conversations, give students new concepts, historical frameworks, and critical perspectives.
Self-reflexivity is a central—perhaps the most central—criterion of assessment at all levels. Most of the existing literature on BFA, MFA, and MA assessment cycles a series of expressions like “encouraging students to be self-critical,” to “confidently articulate their ideas to others,” helping students to “step outside their work” in order to be able to talk about it. (These are quotations from  Lee Grandjean’s essay in What Am I Thinking? Assessment at the RCA, 2009). Each of these is a criterion of self-reflexivity.
This may seem inaccurate because of the tremendous influx of interest in affect, emotion, embodied practices, non-verbal communication, and performativity, multi-sensory work, and other subjects that have come rushing into art theory since the first decade of the twenty-first century. Certainly PhD programs are places where body-centered work can flourish, where conceptualizations of post-phenomenological experience, of the “redistribution of the sensible,” and of affective politics are all common subjects. And yet the very starting point of phenomenology and poststructuralist thinking, from Sartre and Merleau-Ponty to the present, has been the implication of the observer in the observed, and the new interests of art theory only make the investment in self-awareness even deeper. When it comes to teaching, the very articulation of the subjectivities and positions of viewer and viewed call for more words, more analysis, more self-reflection.
Another way to think of this is that it is not possible to imagine a PhD program in which the student slowly becomes less self-aware, less able to articulate her work, less eloquent, less introspective, less able to analyze what she is doing. On the contrary: the fact that the PhD is the terminal degree also implies that by the time the dissertation is complete, a student will have achieved an optimal or ultimate degree of self-awareness: crucial aspects of her work will be as transparent as possible, and she will be as articulate as the pertinent theoretical discourses permit.
Even though reflexivity isn’t usually mentioned in the administrative and promotional literature, it is an inescapable end result, and unavoidably an implicit goal, of every program. I don’t think there is a program that claims reflexivity is its principal goal, although a number of programs include specific requirements about research proposals (their articulation, their outcomes, their logical structures) that entail a high degree of self-awareness on the part of the candidates.  No program, I think, can avoid working concertedly to increase its students’ reflexivity.
This raises a fascinating and extremely difficult problem. Historically speaking, artists have not always been very eloquent, or even very accurate, about what they do. Entire movements and centuries of art have flourished without the kind of self-reflection that we now value, and if we’re honest we should probably say those movements and periods may not have been possible if the artists had been able to write at length, lucidly, with historical and analytic precision, about what they were doing. Some art is hobbled by awareness.
It seems to me that history is full of examples. The first-generation German expressionists, for instance, were driven by a strong dislike of what they thought of as academic art. But practices like Heckel’s or Schmidt-Rottluff’s were not informed by a scholarly understanding of what they were reacting against. They were more insouciant than programmatic about the practices they despised. Later, when artists like Kirchner began to study particular models (such as late medieval German art, or Picasso, or the painting of the Ajanta caves) their art became more programmatic, more constrained and academic. Whatever happened in the years around 1910 was lost, and expressionism moved into a scholastic phase. For a number of years Kirchner painter Picassoid clichés. It seems to me that a PhD would have been disastrous for the first generation of expressionists, because their practices involved a certain thoughtlessness, a certain impatience and anger, and it matters that they did not focus their anger more precisely. The same, I think, can be said about expressionist practices in general, including the most recent incarnations of neo-expressionism in cartoon art and post-pop.
Here is another example, perhaps more contentious. Cézanne’s letters are full of wonderful observations about nature and reality, but he has nothing to say about the inch-by-inch construction of his canvases. He never mentions that he had started painting foreshortened plates and cups using what are called cat’s eye ellipses instead of proper perspectival ellipses. He never describes how he would break the front edge of a table by painting one side lower than the other, and mending the break by covering it with a hanging tablecloth. He doesn’t think as precisely, as analytically, as his many art historical commentators have. I call this contentious because it could also be said that he did, in fact, think of such things, but didn’t write them out. I am not so sure of that. There are dozens of examples of things he does that could have been easily specified, if he had been clearly aware of them as technical innovations rather than as overlapping, inarticulated, uncognized moments of picture-making. Cézanne needed to be unreflective about the details of what he did, and a PhD program would have disrupted his practice severely and perhaps irreparably, in the name of articulateness and reflexivity.
As in the case of art that does not mesh well with systematic research (that was point number 2 on this list), these examples could be multiplied. I think any number of art practices have been enabled by the artist’s incomplete awareness of what she was doing. This isn’t to say that PhD programs aim to clear up everything, put everything into language, figure forth everything as research: but they necessarily have to claim that crucial aspects of the student’s practice are improved by research.
It would be wonderful to have some conferences, and then some books, on which practices are best served by self-awareness. (And another set of conferences and books on the practices most amenable to research, as in point number 2.) From a philosophic standpoint, two more even more diffcult problems would then follow: Who can measure self-awareness? Who is trained in teaching it?
On Facebook, Iain Nicholls pointed out that “an artist doesn’t know why they are doing something until after they have done it,” and it could be said that from the point of view of contemporary art historians, looking back into history, the overwhelming majority of artists haven’t a clear sense of what they have done. That’s the nature of the activity, and it means that the parts of practice that are theorized and articulated in the PhD may, in effect, be masks protecting a larger, submerged inarticulateness and confusion that remains unremarked. This is different from the common condition of art students who don’t yet understand their work, or haven’t  yet found words for it. Abi Spring read a draft of this point and wrote, “I have a hard time with that idea because where I went to school, both in the US and in Australia, the students who adopted it were the intellectually lazy ones, not just lazy about what they said about the work but lazy about the work itself.” I wouldn’t dispute that; but as Spring also notes, the issue here is different: it’s a question of historical times and places when self-reflexivity would have been inimical to the art practice.
This concern is also different from saying that art’s true nature is irrational, or that the self-reflexivity and hyper-articulateness of PhD dissertations is inherently wrong. As John Tran remarked, “behind the mistrust of art PhDs it seems like there is a nostalgia for some sort of untainted creative process.” I agree that nostalgia for some untrammeled, inarticulate creativity, unhampered by academic reflection, “doesn’t seem historically tenable.” For better or worse, the challenge in studio art education in general, and in PhD programs in particular, is understanding what kinds of art are served by self-reflexivity, what parts of art practice are bypassed in self-reflexivity, and what elements of art making self-reflexivity protects us from thinking about.

Reason 8. No one knows what the MFA is, so the PhD cannot build on it.
That may seem unlikely, because MFAs are ubiquitous.  But I can say with some confidence that it has never been defined, and that matters to the PhD because if no one knows what the MFA is, then there isn’t much chance that the PhD can build on it, or even depart from it.
When the MFA degree was instituted after World War II, it was hastily defined, and even now there is no extended account of the difference between the MFA and the BFA. For an event in 2009 called “What Do Artists Know?”—the book will be coming out November 2012—a group of us did exhaustive research into how the MFA is defined. We had a hard time finding the original 1977 College Art Association definition, and finally a librarian found us a copy—in Australia! The definition turns out to be a half page long, and it is essentially the same as the definition on the CAA website.
Here is part of the version on the website:
The MFA degree demands the highest level of professional competency in the visual arts and contemporary practices… The work needs to demonstrate the ability to conceptualize and communicate effectively by employing visual language to interpret ideas. In addition, the MFA recipient must give evidence of applying critical skills that pertain to meaning and content, ultimately encouraging a comprehensive examination and critique of the function and role of art from a variety of views and contexts.
Almost nothing in these sentences is well defined. What is “the highest level of professional competency”? What does it mean to be able to “conceptualize and communicate effectively”? What is “visual language”? (That expression has been widely debated.) What, exactly, are those “critical skills that pertain to meaning and content”? And for that matter, what is the difference between meaning and content?
For the event and the book What Do Artists Know? we reviewed this and many other documents, including the informal definitions teachers use. Our group looked internationally, at administrative and institutional definitions. We also looked historically, at the earliest programs. What we found is that there are three ways of understanding the MFA:

A. These official definitions, which tend to be both terse and abstract. They are political documents, intended for institutional definitions.

B. The administrative literature (for example, the NASAD in the US, or the Bologna Tuning Documents for the MA in the EU, or the ELIA documents for the EU), which have to do with measurable outcomes and are sometimes more specific. Here are some excerpts from the NASAD definition of the MFA. They say the degree should:
• Demonstrate professional competence in one or more aspects of the creation and presentation of works of art and design, dance, or theatre. • Produce creative and academic work that shows the ability to integrate knowledge and skills in their field and other areas of inquiry and research. • Complete graduate-level studies associated with their discipline in areas such as history, critical analysis, aesthetics, methodologies, and related humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
It seems to me this isn’t any closer to a coherent definition. What counts as “integration”? What are the “graduate-level studies”? The ELIA documents also have longer descriptions; here is part of their list of “second level” criteria:
[The MA should instill the] ability to: further develop and evaluate working processes appropriate to individual creative practices; acquire independent research skills and utilise them effectively; display evidence of professional competencies required for individual creative practice; evolve further strategies and utilise expertise, imagination and creativity in appropriate media…
I am not doing justice to these documents, but I hope these brief excerpts show how much remains to be said: what is “appropriate”? What are “independent research skills”? What, again, are “professional competencies”? And so on.
C. Then there are the informal senses of the MFA that are used by studio instructors and students. Mainly these have to do with the idea that the MFA is the time when a student consolidates her work into a coherent voice, style, approach, or manner. The BFA, in this same informal sense, is often understood as the time for experimentation; the MFA is meant to focus that. This everyday definition makes good sense historically, because the historical roots of the MA and MFA are in German romanticism: that is origin of the idea of the artist’s unique voice, and of the custom of studying with a single master (now an advisor, or instructor) rather than in a group.
I think the day-to-day notion of the MFA makes very good sense, and there is a lot that could be said about the histories that lead up to the present. But in this context, what matters is that this third way of thinking of the MFA is not often spelled out, and none of it is part of the official literature. Several of the participants in the event “What Do Artists Know?” also wanted to propose an anti-romantic, poststructural sense of the MFA and MA, in which they are about social work, collaboration, and other political ideas that are very different from the earlier senses of the MFA.
No matter which of these definitions you use, the MFA is not well understood. It’s more practiced than analyzed, which is fine, up until it becomes necessary to define something else—the PhD—as a continuation or alternate to it.
Because no one knows what the MFA is, it seems unlikely that we can build on it to define the PhD. (And it is pertinent that no one knows what the BFA is, either: but that’s another story.)
A footnote about the PhD, as it is seen by the College Art Association. On thesame page that defines the MFA, there is a footnote. It’s the only footnote on the page, and possibly the only one on the website, so it is quite prominent. It read (as of October 2, 2012):

1. Recently, there has been some discussion in the CAA committees about drafting a standard for a PhD degree in studio art. The CAA Professional Practices Committee (PPC), after discussing it throughout 2008, submitted this statement in September 2008: “At this time, few institutions in the United States offer a PhD degree in studio art, and it does not appear to be a trend that will continue or grow, or that the PhD will replace the MFA. To develop a standard for a degree that has not been adequately vetted or assessed, and is considered atypical for the studio-arts profession, is premature and may lead to confusion, rather than offer guidance, to CAA members, their institutions, and other professional arts organizations.”
Undoubtedly this will change, but it is amazing in light of what is happening throughout the world.

Reason 9. The PhD seems to be driven by money. 
The uneven reputation the PhD has in England, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Australia has partly to do with the fact that in the UK system—where the proliferation of PhDs in the West started—departments get more money if they have PhD programs. In some countries every new PhD program (in any subject) receives funding from the university. The new program might get money for facilities, for hiring lines, or to support students. Funding is often tied to the number of students, so the more PhD candidates a department can attract, the more financial support it receives from the university.
Because of this, it been difficult to escape the suspicion that the practice-based PhD is a transparent, even cynical, engine for academic solvency. This complaint is still common, and I have heard it proposed as the principal reason to doubt the PhD degree. But it is only partly right: it probably does account for the rapid expansion of PhD programs in the UK, but so much time has passed now—almost 40 years since the first programs—that entire generations of artists and teachers have been educated in the PhD system, or have worked in it as instructors. People have dedicated their entire careers to it, and believe in it deeply despite its flaws. In my experience, there is isn’t much cynicism left about the fiscal incentives for such programs, especially in the current economic climate in the EU, where institutions that grant the PhD are not big money-makers!
On the other hand (there’s always another hand in this subject), the downsizing of institutions, especially in the UK and EU following the financial crisis in 2011, has produced a sometimes ruthless instrumentalization of the PhD. Outcomes are now regarded as viable mainly if they can result in jobs; uptake is monitored more carefully;  enrollments overall may be going down; interdisciplinary collaborations are a priority; modularization is expanding (that’s the US-style ordering of “taught courses” according to themes and sequences). Entire programs are changing: in the UK the MA may be metamorphosing from practice-based into more pure practice, like the MFA in the States. These and other developments are hard to trace at the moment, and they may be evanescent: but they certainly show the effects of the bottom line on the curriculum.

Reason 10. There should be no specialized education for artists. 
This is a recurring objection to the new degree; the idea is that the MFA is a generalist degree both in the sense that artists are educated to make any kind of art, and that art itself is increasingly aimed at social and political issues. The PhD, by contrast, looks like an academic specialization.
Here are two responses to that qualm. The first is from Carol Becker, who was Dean at the School of the Art Institute, where I work, and is now at Columbia. This is excerpted from something she wrote around 2008:
The work that artists produce may cover all kinds of issues… globalization, identity politics, feminism, cultural criticism of all types… all issues of art history… There is no one discipline that the work actually addresses as [in] … chemistry which is a secure body of knowledge, constantly evolving. So to say that artists need their own type of doctorate is as if they… need… something which doesn’t put the work into the contexts in fact it might relate to, but rather, secures a different type of degree just for them where their type of production and its focus is the topic of the study. I think that artists get excluded from existing doctorate programs because the field doesn’t take their kind of production seriously as intellectual production. It makes much more sense and is far more subversive and respectful to bring artists into existing programs and force those programs to accept their work as work, [as] serious intellectual investigation and research that addresses a myriad of issues. Artists could just as easily enter into degrees in sociology if the field were flexible enough, which it is not. But to think one has to isolate them into their own program because they will not fit, won’t make it, can’t get recognized in other programs, is to separate the work and to fall into the same problem from a different angle.
Becker is arguing against the specialization of PhDs, but not because artists aren’t themselves specialized. She sees artistic production as a form of cultural production: some might fit into sociology, some into chemistry, some into political theory—except that those disciplines are too conventional to accept artists. In this way of thinking, PhD programs for artists are like a ghetto. There’s a Foucauldian model available for this: in Discipline and Punish, Foucault made the distinction between “discipline mechanism” and “discipline blockade”: the former divided people, one from another, and watched each with an elaborate mechanism of bureaucracy and surveillance; the latter divided people in a simple and crude way, separating healthy from ill, or citizens from criminals. In Becker’s model, artists are subjected to a “discipline blockade,” even while the rest of society enjoys the benefits—for Foucault, a treacherous and mixed blessing—of the “discipline mechanism.” She is saying, in effect, that artists should have the same specialized degrees as other intellectual workers: the same disciplines and divisions, not a different kind of apartheid.
Another interesting response to the claim that artists should not have specialized degrees is an initiative called the “structured PhD,” which I heard about from Timothy Emlyn Jones, Dean at the Burren College of Art in Ireland. Tim tells me the structured PhD:
transforms the beast and changes the game. At NUI Galway [in Ireland] I’ve been teaching a module “Introduction to Creative Difference”; [it is] based on the Studio Research Methods module [class] of our own MFA and [studio-based] PhD. It is a knowledge transfer of the principles and procedures of creative methods in Studio Art, stripped of the mediums and materials, and taught to doctoral students in Biochemistry, Law, Computer Science, Irish Studies, Medicine, Physics, English and many more. The point is that what artists know and do can transform a PhD from a training in scholarship or [in] scientific method into a doing-education in creative process.
Note that this “structured PhD” is not an argument against the specialization of the PhD, but an example of how that specialization might be inverted, “swarmed” out into the community, to use Foucault’s metaphor. “Swarming” is also to be found in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, and the metaphor is from bee-keeping: it refers to the way a hive will suddenly decide to swarm, leaving its hive and moving out into the world to find a new home.
My own take on this is that the PhD is not a specialization at all. It is an extension, an elaboration of the kinds of work that are done in the MFA. The student spends longer, makes more extensive inquiries, and does more exhaustive research, but the subject matter is not necessarily narrower. This is not the same as the sciences or humanities, where PhD topics are typically narrower than MA, MS, BA, or BS research topics. I only know a few PhD dissertations in visual art that actually are specialized in the manner that’s typical of the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. So unless “specialization” means “longer study,” I don’t think the objection has much force.
And it is useful to recall that the objection of over-specialization was also raised against the MFA when it was spreading in the 1960s.

Reason 11. The idea of “research” is still widely contested. 
There is a standard criterion for new academic programs in many countries: they have to demonstrate that they possess a methodology for research and that they generate new knowledge. Here, for example, is a passage from the official “Universities Austria” position paper:
The core component of doctoral training [in any subject] is the advancement of knowledge through original research… all doctorates are doctorates based on research. [“Recommendations by Universities Austria on New-Style Doctoral Studies,” 3 December 2007.]
The two concepts, “knowledge” and “research,” continue to support the introduction of new programs in visual art, despite two important problems: no one knows how best to define the kind of research that leads to art, and no one knows how to think about the knowledge produced by art. Knowledge is the subject of the entry after this one.
Questions regarding research might be provisionally divided into several groups or topics. I will begin with the most fundamental one, the possibility that “research” itself is the wrong word, and that the literature might reorient itself by abandoning the word or reducing its role.
A. Questioning the very idea of research
For the current generation of academics, research is generally taken as a given. People question what it means, how it might be applied, and how research in the arts is related to research in the sciences—those will come up in the next sub-headings—but the pertinence of the concept itself is generally no longer questioned. The largest publication on this subject, The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, begins with a foreword by Hans-Peter Schwartz advocating discussion of competing senses of research; but research itself is taken for granted in the book’s title. He writes, for example, that “It does seem to be high time to stop doubting whether art-based research exists at all and accept that it has long ago become an everyday occurrence in most art universities.” Thinking Through Art (2004), edited by Katy Macleod and Lin Holdridge, the second book on the PhD, begins with the observation that “it continues to prove difficult both for artists to produce art which can be identified as research, and research which can be identified as art”: thus the authors take it for granted that artists have been trying to gain recognition for their work as research.
It seems to me it’s a good idea to continue questioning the very use of the word “research.” After all, this use of research is barely twenty-five years old: not enough time to be sure it is the right word to use as a cornerstone of all studio-art PhD programs.
Because the word “research” is woven into the professional literature, it might be useful to question how widespread it is among students who are not already in such programs. A survey could be made, asking how many art students at the MA and MFA level think of their work as research: many do, but I think many more don’t. It would be especially telling if such a survey was restricted to students who hadn’t considered PhD programs, or didn’t know about them. I suspect that very few would describe their practices as research. The concept could also be questioned by surveying students already enrolled in PhD programs to see what other terms they might use to describe what they do—concepts like “inquiry,” “project,” “practice,” “process,” or “intuition.” The purpose would be to get a sense of whether “research” is the best fit for what happens in teaching and learning contexts.
But given the ubiquity of the concept of research in the literature produced in the UK, EU, Australia, and New Zealand, and given the fact that “research” is an unquestioned starting point both for university program statements and for books, conferences, and essays on the studio-art PhD, I don’t see much hope that research will be questioned at a root level. There are some exceptions: As Victor Burgin says in Chapter [   ], “the word ‘art’ does not appear in dictionary definitions of the word ‘research.’” But exceptions aside, one of the main things that interests me about the PhD is the possibility of rethinking “research” and “knowledge” in the new programs that are appearing in the US, South America, Asia, and other places. But more on that in the next chapter.
What matters in the professional literature is not the nature of “research” itself or its appropriateness, but rather the sorts of questions I have listed: the meaning of research, the pedagogical implementation of research, and the proximity of art research to scientific research. I will consider the last one first.
B. Questioning the proximity of art research to scientific research
There are three main alternatives in the literature:
§  Artistic research can utilize scientific research protocols, methodologies, and forms (in the science literature, those are the conventional categories “Methods,” “Materials,” and  “Results”) even though artistic research is fundamentally distinct from scientific research
§  Artistic research needs to rethink scientific research protocols, methodologies, forms because it is fundamentally distinct from scientific research
§  Artistic research cannot use scientific research protocols, methodologies, forms because it is fundamentally distinct from scientific research.

An example of the first is Timothy Emlyn Jones (see chapter [  ]), who advocates looking to the sciences as a model for the humanities. I will return to this option later.
An example of the second is Helga Nowotny, president of the European Research Council, who writes in the Preface to the Routledge Companion that there is an interest in “the subject and the aims of arts research… from, as it were, first principles,” so that the arts do not repeat “existing research models,” and do not have to do with “exploiting new materials or technologies” or addressing “sociological aspects of arts production or consumption.”
An example of the third is Søren Kjørup’s assertion that “There is no scientific research to which artistic research might have to comply… artistic research should be left alone to develop its own methods.” (Kjørup, “Pleading for Plurality: Artistic and Other Kinds of Research,” in the Routledge Companion, 24, 29; thanks to Erna Fiorentini for pointing this out.)
Michael Biggs and Daniela Büchler, in the Routledge Companion, are even more explicit on this third point:
We suggest that there cannot be a single research model that satisfies both communities [“academic” and “practitioner,” university and art school]. Any collaboration between the two communities would involve negotiation and compromise and this would lead to dissatisfaction. As an alternative, we propose that there is a third and distinct community that is the offspring of the two parent communities… There should be a distinct research model…
One reason this problem of the relation between scientific and artistic research keeps recurring is the hope that the practice-based PhD might be part of a university-wide community of PhDs; in that case, scientists would need to see some common ground with what they do. But a fair amount of the literature is framed in poststructuralist language that would make such dialogue difficult. Here is an example: artistic research, according to Per Nilsson, is not explicitly scientific, but “a form of knowledge in its own right,” an “amphibian” discipline in a “littoral landscape—occupying or traversing the liminal space between plural disciplinary formations, discursively constituted.” Notice the conflation of research and knowledge: in the visual arts community, but not in science, research itself can be a form of expression and a knowledge outcome.  (See Per Nilsson, The Amphibian Stand: A Philosophical Essay Concerning Research Processes in Fine Art [Umeå: Texte & Kultur, 2009], quoted in Michael Baers, “Inside the Box: Notes From Within the European Artistic Research Debate,” e-flux journal 26, 2011)
Descriptions like Nilsson’s give voice to a hope that artistic research can be something outside of science and disciplines in general—something mobile, transdisciplinary, improvisational, personal, tactical. Sometimes this kind of rhetoric reaches the point where the individual claims can’t really be read. Here is part of the web page of Documenta 13, as it was posted in October 2012, after the Documenta ended:
when the exhibition opened in Kassel, we said that dOCUMENTA (13) was dedicated to artistic research and forms of imagination that explore commitment, matter, things, embodiment, and active living in connection with, yet not subordinated to, theory. We said these were terrains where politics are inseparable from a sensual, energetic, and worldly alliance between current research in various scientific and artistic fields and other knowledges, both ancient and contemporary, and that dOCUMENTA (13) was driven by a holistic and non-logocentric vision that is skeptical of the persisting belief in economic growth, a vision that is shared with, and recognizes, the shapes and practices of knowing of all the animate and inanimate makers of the world, including people. And now we add that an exhibition could be thought of as a pre-reflexive consciousness, a qualitative duration of consciousness without itself. A bliss able to go beyond the aporias of the subject and the object—an experience of life no longer dependent on the first, nor submitted to the latter. Art is ceaselessly posed in life. And this indefinite life posed in art allows us to grasp the lived and living, to understand life as carried by the events, and by the singularities actualized in subject/objects. Art does not just come after life, but rather it offers the immensity of a temporality constituting spaces where one sees the event yet to come in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.
In philosophic terms, these are not cogent positions or arguments. What matters instead is the rhetoric: the affect of the writing, what it seems to enable. I think the kind of question to be asked of writing like this is: What are the characteristics of the institutions and concepts that are being proposed as opposites of this text? What about those institutions ad concepts makes it necessary to write in this non-linear, non-logical fashion?
For Henk Slager, one of the principal theorists of poststructural art research (and one of the participants in the Documenta, and a contributor to this book), the stakes are political. Artistic research, he writes, “will be a form of research not swayed by issues dictated by the late-capitalist free market system [or its] knowledge commodification… this will be an authentic research that comes about through an artistic necessity.” He praises the Malmö Art Academy for being an “intellectual sanctuary” in this regard.
Slager is very much in favor of the third of the options I listed. “Many artistic research projects seem to thwart the well-defined disciplines,” he writes. “They know the hermeneutic questions of the humanities (the alpha-sciences); they are engaged in empirically scientific methods (the beta-sciences); and they are aware of commitment (the gamma-sciences).” They point to a “delta-science,” characterized by a “capacity… to continuously engage in novel, unexpected epistemological relations in a methodological process of interconnectivity.” Artistic research, Slager thinks, is “an undefined discipline,” a “‘nameless science,’ directed toward generating flexible constructions, multiplicities, and new reflexive zones.”
Most literature on research is not as radical as this. A useful “discussion paper” called Types of Research in the Creative Arts and Design (2004) identifies four kinds of research:
SCHOLARLY RESEARCH creates and sustains the intellectual infrastructure within which Pure, Developmental and Applied research can be conducted. It aims to map the fields in which issues, problems, or questions are located…
PURE RESEARCH asks fundamental questions in the field and explores hypotheses experimentally. It searches for pure knowledge that may uncover issues, theories, laws or metaphors that may help explain why things operate as they do, why they are as they are, or, why they appear to look the ways they do. It generates significant new facts, general theories or reflective models where immediate practical application or long-term economic, social or cultural benefits are not a direct objective…
DEVELOPMENTAL RESEARCH serves two purposes: (a) it identifies the limitations of existing knowledge as evolved through Pure research by creating alternative models… [and] (b) it harnesses, tests and reworks existing knowledge so to evolve special methods, tools and resources in preparation for the solving of specific problems, in specific contexts, through Applied research.
APPLIED RESEARCH involves a process of systematic investigation within a specific context in order to solve an identified problem in that context. It aims to create new or improved systems (of thought or production), artifacts, products, processes, materials, devices, or services for long-term economic, social and/or cultural benefit. It… applies… or transfers enhanced knowledge, methods, tools and resources from Pure and Developmental research…The outcomes cannot usually be directly applied to other contexts because of the specificity of the situation in which the research has been applied although the
methods/tools evolved are often transferable.
The last of these is potentially a good model for some ideas of the contextual nature of art research.
Of the three positions I listed—that art research be like scientific research, that it rethink scientific research, and that it shouldn’t be anything like scientific research—the second and third are by far the most common in the literature on the PhD, but the first is common in research seminars and in curricula. I will take this up in subheading D, but first it may be helpful to review a set of formulations for art research that has become a kind of lingua franca in the scholarly community.
C. Questioning the meaning of research “through,” “with,” “by,” or “into” art
These prepositions have played an important role in the articulation of studio-art PhD programs. Some of them were first proposed by Herbert Read; they were then elaborated by Christopher Frayling; and they have been amended and enlarged by several other writers. The book What Do Artists Know?rehearses the full genealogy of these terms. This table summarizes the distinctions.

Read’s initial category, “research to art,” is a novel use of the word “research,” because it names what art students were taught in European academies, technical schools, and other settings: methods, media, materials, techniques. Read’s “research through art” is not that easy to understand, but it is part of the general notion of Bildung, a form of education that uses art and also, in a way, produces the student as an artwork (a picture, GermanBild). Happily this practice, which is both widely studied and conceptually entangled, is not pertinent here. What matters instead is how Christopher Frayling expanded Read’s categories. “Research into art” is self-explanatory, and even felicitous, because art historians do say things like “I research into art.”
It’s the last category, “Research for art,” that has been taken up in the literature on studio-art PhD programs. It is new, as Judith Mottram notes in Chapter [  ], and it is still not consistently used. Notice that even the condensed summary I give here contains three potentially different ideas: first, that “research for art” could lead up to the production of art (a common enough idea); second, that “research for art” could lead to art that “embodies” the research (this leads to problems defining artistic knowledge, which I will consider in the next entry); and that this is “lowercase ‘research’” or “searching” (implying it is free of strict Research methodology, but leaving it open how such lowercase “research” might be characterized).
Frayling himself is troubled by “research for art.” As he puts it, “thinking is, so to speak, embodied in the artifact.” The goal is no longer knowledge in the way that the university recognizes it but “visual or iconic or imagistic communication”—more on that in the next entry on this list, on knowledge.
I have added a row at the bottom for the expression “research in art.” On Facebook, the artist Rita Horowitz suggested that her own work might be all three forms of research at once. Perhaps this conjunction should be called “research in art.” At least the preposition “in” is more inviting—it sounds more like embodiment—than “for.” But it’s not at all clear how such a combination could be theorized.
D. Questioning how to teach or learn research
Of the three positions I listed in subheading B—that art research be like scientific research, that it rethink scientific research, and that it shouldn’t be anything like scientific research—the first is the one that operates, de facto, in seminars and syllabi on artistic research.
Increasingly, institutions have been running required courses and taught classes on how to conduct research. In Iceland, which instituted its first MA in fall 2012 (it has no PhDs), there had already been a required seminar on research at the BA level. In most cases, research seminars are held at the PhD level. Several institutions, including The Royal College of Art, have well developed required research seminars (“courses” in North American usage).
The rigor and complexity of research protocols vary widely. In some institutions the requirements are very general. The document Doctoral Degree Characteristics says only that
Whether a candidate is being examined on the basis of a “traditional” thesis, portfolio, artifact(s), clinical practice or other output, the body of work presented must demonstrate the research question and a critical evaluation of the extent to which it has been addressed. [Doctoral Degree Characteristics, 2012, © The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education 2011]
For a number of institutions, this general language is sufficient. An extreme example of the opposite tendency is the application guidelines web page for the Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture, written by Ilpo Koskinen in 2008. It is too extensive to quote here, but I can give a flavor of it with an excerpt. Koskinen advises applicants to decide if their research is “hypothetico-inductive,” “interpretive,” or “constructive.” If it is the first, then, he says, addressing the candidate:
you must describe your research design. How many experiments you plan; what are your independent, dependent, control and intervening variables; how many people you study; how you randomize them; what is your null hypothesis and also alternative hypotheses; what kinds of laboratory procedures you follow; which methods of analysis you use (typically ANOVA, ANCOVA, but usually even t-tests will do), and so forth. In statistical studies, you need to tell where you get your data—secondary sources, or questionnaires—; what are their main sources of errors; which kind of model you aim to test (again, you need to specify independent, dependent, and so forth variables); which method you use (typically some form or regression analysis or logistical regression); sample size; sample selection; analysis of bias; etc.
Most PhD programs fall between the two extremes of abbreviated references to “research questions” and “critical evaluations,” on the one hand, and Koskinen’s very scientific demands. Looser language better accommodates political and poststructuralist revaluations of research like Slager’s; sharper language is more promising for dialogues across different parts of the university.
The general term for the discussion of how research is learned or taught is “method,” or methodology. In 2012 there was a helpful discussion PhD-Design mailing list (a long-running site that often touches on subjects of interest to the studio-art PhD) regarding differences between “method,” “methodology,” and “methodoxy.” “Methodology” is the comparative study of method, and so technically, the literature should ask student to demonstrate a “method for research”: but that isn’t the word that’s usually chosen. The last term is a neologism, as Ken Friedman pointed out on the PhD-Design mailing list on November 9, 2012.
According to that use, the study of how research is learned and taught is itself methodology. Regardless of the terms, there is a need for more detailed studies of exactly what counts as research method in each institution.
E. Questioning whether art research should be defined at all
Much of what I have been saying has to do with attempts to understand artistic research, but there is is also a widespread notion that it is fundamentally unhelpful to try to define research at all. I will return to this in the next entry, on knowledge, because a parallel reticence occurs there.
I think there are two principal positions about whether research should be defined:
§  It should be defined because that is the only way to institute a reliable, repeatable pedagogy, or to give a department or institution a usefully specific profile
§  It should not be defined because art research has an intrinsic openness, which is either the result of its visual nature or of its institutional position

An example of the first is Hans-Peter Schwartz’s idea that a uniform “research infrastructure has to be developed” so that practice-based research can be “carried out in accordance with fixed methodological guidelines.” (Routledge Companion, p. xxix.) Some definitions, however, have been so minimal that it is not clear what pedagogic value they might have. Mika Hannula, Juha Suoranta, and Tere Vadén say that “The basic requirement for any research is that it has a clear objective and approach”—a definition that wouldn’t be enough to engage colleagues in the sciences, or to flesh out a curriculum. (Hannula, Suoranta, and Vadén, Artistic Research: Theories, Methods and Practices, Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet / Art Monitor, 2005.)
An example of the second position is on the “PhDArts” webpage of the School of Visual Arts:
Research in art is characterized by interaction with artistic practice: it is an inseparable part of the work of the artist. With research in art (as opposed to research about art, such as art history, for instance) there is no set goal or expected result, any more than there are predetermined general procedures. The outcome of the research is completely open. This openness is a condition for conducting research in art and design.
(Note here the expressions “research in art” and “research about art”; apparently this paragraph was written by someone who had not read Frayling’s paper. The writer means “research for art.”)
A second example of the second position is Haseeb Ahmed’s introduction to “N52: Art and Research at MIT” (www.n-52.com), which says that “research based practices demonstrate a commitment to the development of their own internal logics and attempt to deliver forms that are faithful to this internal coherence.” That may produce a situation in which “there is no continuity between one person’s practice and another,” but within that discontinuity it is still possible to discern the “overwhelming forward march of ‘technological progress’” exemplified by MIT. Aside from the curious fact that “technological progress” is in scare quotes, Ahmed is arguing that there is a strong coherence provided by the institution, in this case MIT. Yet there is, in this formulation, no hope of discovering what research is, because it is different in each new context. The working spaces Ahmed describes at MIT are “bureaucratic”—students were given office space, not studios—and it seems that the concept of research may be more a placeholder for institutional identity, rather than a set of habits, guidelines, methods, or procedures.
This eleventh entry has been especially long because the subject of research is especially endless. Personally, I find a great deal of the literature I have been calling poststructuralist to be unconvincing and epistemologically incoherent. I don’t think it stands up to close reading, and that is sometimes because its principal purpose is not so much coherence and logic as rhetorical clearing of space. The new programs don’t always know exactly what they are, and there is a tremendous hope invested in the possibility that they might remain in that condition of provisional freedom. Against such a position there is the pressure for uniformity, imposed by the educational reforms in the EU, and the increasing pressure for measurable outcomes and parity. I am not involved in those discussions because I would rather question the entire enterprise at the ground level, by asking whether “research,” in any form, is the right word. I know that kind of questioning is more or less hopeless in parts of the world where the PhD is well established. But there is no reason that the Americas and other parts of the world cannot continue to question everything about these programs, and rethink them in entirely new ways.

Reason 12. There is no consensus about the knowledge that is produced by artwork. 
The common formulation for academic disciplines, that they involve “research” that produces “knowledge,” is not normally problematic because disciplines produce their own understandings of what counts as knowledge. But when it comes to visual art, the question of knowledge is open, and has been since the inception of modernism. Again there are several separable issues. I’ll start the way I did in the last entry, by questioning the term itself.
A. Why use the concept of knowledge at all?
As in the question of research, I think it is prudent to start by asking whether the word  should be the principal engine of administrative and curricular literature, or even whether it should be used at all. There are well-attested alternates; here are some.

(i) Understanding. Jones mentions understanding briefly in Chapter [   ], as a synonym for knowledge, and he advocates a mixture of the two. But the concept was distinguished from knowledge and rejected by Frayling in 1993, as Judith Mottram notes in Chapter 1. As far as I know, there has been no discussion on the differences between knowledge and understanding in studio art. The concept of understanding is promising because it has a much deeper and broader intellectual history than the current administrative uses of research, going back to nineteenth-century German discussions of Verstehen(roughly, understanding) in Wilhelm Dilthey and others. Dilthey’s distinction distinction between Verstehung and Erklärung (roughly, knowledge) is very pertinent here; Dilthey saw them as hallmarks of the humanities and sciences, respectively. It might also be helpful to explore Dilthey’s use of Erlebnis(significant lived experience) alongside Verstehen. Erlebnis has resonance with current interests in phenomenology and performativity. It might even be possible to arrive at a revised sense of Verstehen that could underwrite contemporary studio-art programs: but without serious inquiry, it might not be a good idea to adopt understanding because it would be likely to become an ill-defined stand-in for knowledge.

(ii) Expression. Like “understanding,” “expression” is a common word in art studios and in criticism. It is used widely, outside academia, to describe what art does. There are several places where art theory might find theoretical sources for expression; my choice would be R. G. Collingwood. In his account expression has to do with consciousness and individuation, so it is open enough to address a range of social practices as well as the self-reflexivity of academic art practices.

(iii) Meaning. This is a concept that is well-developed in hermeneutics. A PhD program could center on texts by Hans-Georg Gadamer or Paul Ricoeur, and consider an artwork’s function as the production of meaning. Alternately, there is rich material in Gottfried Boehm’s explorations of the “iconic logos” and “iconic difference”—concepts that he assigns to images in order to characterize their mode of meaning, which is neither logical (as for example language) nor non-logical.

(iv) Feeling, emotion, or affect. These three words are sometimes very different from one another. In Brian Massumi’s work, for example, affect is strongly opposed to feeling, but the same is not true in some scholars who elaborate affect theory such as [   ]. Those differences aside, affect theory in general has become so well elaborated that it might be able to provide a working platform for a PhD. Given the recent interest in affect, institutional accounts of the “knowledge” produced by art can seem out of touch—or to put it differently, they involve a strong distortion of contemporary ideas about art.

These four are, I think, the principal alternatives to “knowledge.” There is another, which may seem different in kind:

(v) Interpretation. Saying that art produces interpretation is a different sort of claim than saying art produces understanding, expression, meaning, or feeling. After all, an artwork can be interpreted as expressing knowledge, but it does not sound right to say an artwork can be interpreted as expressing interpretation. But in another sense this is precisely what happens when thinking is said to be lodged in artworks, and when art is presented as research. I do not know any institutions that claim that interpretation is what art does, but it is not at all incommensurate with the kinds of claims about research I have sampled in the previous entry.

B. What kinds of knowledge are there?

Understanding, expression, meaning, and affect each has a substantial literature and could serve as the goal and outcome of studio-art PhDs in place of knowledge, or in addition to knowledge. Nevertheless, because almost all the literature on studio-art PhDs uses the concept of knowledge, is it useful to ask how knowledge is understood. Sometimes the word “knowledge” is qualified, and people refer to “artistic knowledge” or “visual knowledge” or “practice-led knowledge.” Formulations like those can be obscurantist because they beg the question of what knowledge is, when it pertains to visual art. There are, I think, at least six senses of knowledge in play.

(i) Tacit knowledge: things you don’t quite know yet, but know you may be able to do, or to describe. Tacit knowledge is held in suspension in a medium: it promises that it can be at least partly articulated, extracted from its material and brought into language. Of the possibilities on this list, this is the one that has attracted the most attention, although it isn’t always clear whether tacit knowledge is, finally, a different kind of knowledge from the others on this list.

(ii) Visual knowledge: if visual art has a kind of knowledge that pertains to it, that is its possession and mode of articulation, then that knowledge might be called visual. This would include what modernists are said to have called “optical” knowledge, as well as knowledge that is said to inhere in the material or substance of the art, and knowledge said to inhere in the practice, disposition, or performance of the art. Such knowledge would be non-linguistic; it could only be found in the artwork, and not in the supporting materials for the PhD. Visual knowledge could be pointed to, indicated, paraphrased, analogized, but not articulated in language.
(iii) Affective knowledge: if visual art is primarily concerned with feelings, emotions, moods, and other affective states, then its form of knowledge could be called affective. Recently the various forms of affect theory have attracted growing interest in the art world. Brian Massumi’s theories, the Affect Theory Reader,and the forthcoming book Beyond the Aesthetic and the Anti-Aesthetic are all concerned with kinds of affect theory. Affective knowledge is partly linguistic: it can be described, even if the description is structurally inadequate.

From a philosophic perspective, there are several additional kinds of knowledge that can be contrasted with these. (This list is elaborated in the book What Do Artists Know?.)

(iv) Propositional knowledge: ordinary logical statements, in language, or their equivalents. This is the sense of “knowledge” that appears in university documents outside of the arts. “Proposition” here means the necessary structural component of logical thinking: that is, full sentences as opposed to verbal images, tropes, evocations, and associations.

(v) Practical knowledge: something you know how to do, but can’t put in words. Playing the piano, or riding a bicycle, are examples. This was theorized as “habit” by nineteenth-century French psychologists, and is the subject of a larger twentieth-century literature in cognitive psychology.

(vi) Phenomenal knowledge: things you’ve experienced, that have an intensity in memory. They appear as plenary experiences, but they may not have any good verbal equivalents. An example might be the experience of climbing a mountain.

Each of these six senses of knowledge, except the common definition (propositional knowledge, the fourth one), share a very thorny problem. Each is by nature a mixed substance, partly cognized, and partly inchoate. Part of each one (except propositional knowledge) is nonverbal, extra-linguistic or non-linguistic, non-logical or a-logical, unarticulated, medium-specific, non-conceptual or pre-conceptual, embodied, felt, or otherwise different and separate from language. In each definition, the border between the linguistic and what is taken to lie outside it is drawn differently. In visual knowledge (ii), for example, part of what counts as knowledge must remain beyond a border that has to be identified with the visual. Some aspects of phenomenal knowledge can be communicated: for example, I can follow a guide up a mountain, and learn things the guide has absorbed from previous expeditions. I will not have the guide’s phenomenal knowledge, but parts of it that I can put into words, or put to use.

The second sense, “visual knowledge,” appears in a number of forms in the literature on the studio-art PhD. Haseeb Ahmed’s introduction to the collection “N52: Art and Research at MIT” (www.n-52.com) suggests that the practices of art and research at MIT result in objects and practices that “produce objects of non-reproducible knowledge.” One of his sources is Adorno’s essay “Commitment,” which includes the line that artworks “are knowledge as non-conceptual objects.” Such work, Ahmed writes, “disrupts the continuous reproduction of the ‘world as we know it’ and… renders that world into material for the free production known as an artwork.” The resulting artwork cannot be “easily ignored, repressed, or dissipated into the substrate of the world from which it came.” This position necessarily leaves it unsaid what kind of particularity is at stake, because a pure non-reproducibility would be a pure unintelligibility. Partial communicability is always what is at issue, and programs that rely on it are necessarily unable to describe what counts as “knowledge” beyond disruption of normative communication.

The salient point here is that all six, except propositional knowledge, present a problem for pedagogical and institutional literature on the PhD. Often uses of “artistic knowledge” in the PhD literature are not so much coherent concepts in their own right, as signals that what matters in the PhD programs is something other than ordinary propositional knowledge. Much of the literature on artistic knowledge is tortured because it amounts to an attempt to find a zone of freedom, outside the confines of propositional knowledge, which is at the same time somehow connected to propositional knowledge. The words “understanding,” “expression,” and “meaning” avoid that confusion, so they may be preferable.

C. How is this knowledge extracted from, read into, or interpreted in, visual art?

If “artistic knowledge” is partly outside of language, then it presents a problem for assessment and what are called in the UK “learning outcomes.” The fundamental choice here has to do with how the “artistic knowledge” is imagined to be related to the art object. There are fundamentally two choices here:

(i) “Artistic knowledge” inheres in the visual object or practice, so that the object or practice is itself a form of knowledge, or

(ii) “artistic knowledge” is interpreted to exist in the object or practice, so that discourse reveals the art’s contribution to knowledge.

PhD programs wrestle with this. Possibility (ii) corresponds to part of what is entailed in Frayling’s “research for art” (see the previous entry in this list of reasons, on research). If “thinking is, so to speak, embodied in the artifact,” and what is at stake is some kind of “visual or iconic or imagistic communication,” then it is necessary to say how, exactly, the visual or non-verbal inheres in the work.

Although Frayling does not cite it, there is a large literature on the idea that thinking can take place in and through works of visual art. Paintings, in particular, have been said to embody thought, or to have a kind of thinking proper to themselves. Writers as different as Gaston Bachelard, Hubert Damisch, David Freedberg, Louis Marin, Jean-Louis Schefer, and W.J.T. Mitchell have proposed ideas along these lines.

It wouldn’t quite be right to say this field is contested, because I do not think anyone has attempted to correlate the different theories. There is some talk in visual studies about Mitchell’s notion of picture theory (that pictures produce theory, that they are theory), and there has been some interest in art history about Marin’s ways of reading images (that they elicit thoughts about reading, even though they are not legible). Literature on performativity can also entail the claim that the visual is itself argument, is propositional. So far those conversations are disconnected. If the art object itself is to be the new knowledge, instead of or in addition to the dissertation, a great deal more work will have to be done to define what kind of thought inheres in the object itself, how it inheres in the object, and what place interpretation has.

The usual formulation is that it takes work, eloquence, introspection, critique, and analysis to extract the knowledge from the work. But I wonder if that isn’t a crucial equivocation. This is easiest to see if we adopt the second of the six senses of “artistic knowledge,” which holds that visual art has or is a kind of visual knowledge. Then the two options I am suggesting are:

(i) If a work of visual art is itself a form visual knowledge, then it cannot be made into language. Language—in the form of the PhD dissertation, or the evaluation of the student’s accomplishment—cannot substitute for, express, or translate what happens in the object or practice.

(ii) If the object or practice implies or contains visual knowledge, then that knowledge can be extracted and written up, for example, in a dissertation: but if that is the case, then what remains of the visual object? Are visual objects and practices just containers, out of which knowledge is extracted?

There are no easy answers to these questions. The commonest positions in the PhD literature are that knowledge is the appropriate and necessary concept; that some form of tacit or visual knowledge is what is at stake; and that it requires the structured research environment of a PhD program to bring out the knowledge implicit in the practice. That concatenation of assumption produces, I think, a nearly incoherent literature.

D. Why the very idea of opening questions on this topic can seem misguided

When I have had conversations about this subject with teachers and artists involved in PhD programs, it has been said that the very idea of interrogating the concept of knowledge in this way may be wrongheaded, or may start from a mistaken point of departure. Let me try to evoke those objections with two examples. They both happen to have to do with Mondrian.

I was once invited to discuss a new PhD program in Canada. I was sitting at a table with some of the faculty, and we were reviewing the definition of their proposed program. As I remember it, the conversation went something like this.

I said, “You may want to reconsider the use of the word ‘knowledge’ here, because it might not fit all the students who apply to your program.”
And one of the faculty replied, “But art creates knowledge. My own art is research, and results in art that creates knowledge.”
I said something like, “That may be true.” (I hadn’t seen her work.) “But do you want to put it in the official literature, so that it is true for all artists, or all applicants?”
“Yes,” she said.
“So,” I wanted to know, “if all art produces knowledge, then what knowledge is produced by a Mondrian painting?”
The answer she gave really amazed me, and it is one of the reasons I am interested in this subject. She said, “The reason Mondrian’s paintings do not produce knowledge is that he did not have a consistent research methodology.”

So one reason to doubt the project of doubting that art produces knowledge is that knowledge is always potentially present in art, but only comes out when it is developed using appropriate research. An entirely different reason to doubt the project of doubting  that art produces knowledge came from discussions about an earlier version of this text on Facebook. Here is part of that exchange:

DB: It sounds like you start by separating the visual from knowledge and then try to put them back together again (probably in vain)… I don’t agree, Jim. I think artists have always thought of what they do in terms of knowledge. Sometimes they’ve called it “truth” (for example, Cézanne) and sometimes they’ve called it “truth to materials” (for example, the high modernists) and others have called it “Realism,” “shock,” “progress,” and so on…
JE: I think your reply… gives away the meaning of “knowledge” by spreading it out among neighboring concepts. When “knowledge” is used in the literature on PhD programs, it’s fairly specific. I haven’t heard people talk about “Realism,” “shock,” “truth,” “truth to materials,” or “progress,” and I am not sure I would know how those are related anyway. Basically, I think if you expand “knowledge” in the way I think you’re doing, you don’t have a problem: but PhD programs do have a problem because they don’t expand it that way.
DB: Jim, I don’t think I’m expanding the concept of knowledge, I’m translating it into the idiom of fine art debates… PhD programmes are happy for you to describe your contribution to knowledge in many ways, so long as you define the terms in which the contribution takes place… I don’t think we should restrict the concept of knowledge in the way you are suggesting, and I don’t think we should isolate the concept of knowledge from the actual debates—historical and contemporary—in which knowledge is discussed in art.
JE: Wow, we have a fairly deep difference here. I don’t think I’m restricting the concept of knowledge. In the essay, I propose several terms, including “expression,” and several definitions of knowledge, that are not used in the PhD literature. Is it restricting the concept of knowledge to say that “shock” isn’t knowledge? And may I ask a question: do you think Mondrian paintings produce knowledge?
DB: Mondrian’s paintings, first, must be the result of knowledge (I think we can agree on that). Nobody makes such paintings in the early part of the twentieth century without a profound knowledge of the most advanced and ambitious painting. But we can go further than this, I think. Mondrian’s paintings do not merely reflect the knowledge that Mondrian has acquired by looking at other painters: he makes his own contribution to knowledge and to art history by making them. The qualities of the works ask new questions, make new proposals, point in new directions. So, yes, these paintings “produce” knowledge.
JE: If you were to list some of those “proposals,” like “a lozenge panting should now have stripes that end at 45 degrees to the edge of the canvas, instead of continuing on off the painted surface,” then you could, in fact, produce a list of “new knowledge.” That kind of work has been done by Yve-Alain Bois, and also by his teacher Hubert Damisch… but is that the same as the “knowledge” that includes “shock” or “progress”?

This exchange continued without a clear ending. It’s probably true that if Mondrian were a PhD student, a dissertation on topics like the ones Bois has chronicled—individual moves made between canvases, showing what Mondrian was doing at each moment—would be appropriate. But DB’s larger point is that “knowledge” should be capacious: it should include many things. So from his point of view, what I had thought was an expansion of the meanings and uses of “knowledge” and related terms seemed like a shrinkage or an artificial separation of “the visual” from knowledge.

The first hesitation comes from the idea that knowledge needs to be discussed along with whatever counts as research. (I am not convinced by that, and I’m definitely not on board with the assumption behind it, that all art potentially produces knowledge.) The second doubt comes from the idea that speaking about knowledge in the way I was trying to do is not appropriate—that knowledge needs to be translated into the “idiom of fine art debates” before it can be usefully analyzed. This seems entirely reasonable to me, but if there’s one thing that characterizes the massive literature on knowledge and research in third-level arts, it is its distance from whatever might count as ordinary studio talk, art criticism, or even art theory before the advent of the PhD. Given the state of the literature, it seems important to try to make the terms—as they are being used in the current literature—as clear as possible.

Reason 13. The PhD is expensive. 
Generally speaking, the cost for a studio art education is high for the BFA and MFA, and low for the PhD. That is because PhD programs try to fund their students with grants and stipends; and in the EU, the fee structure is much lower.
But getting to the PhD is definitely expensive. Dave Hickey once said to students where I teach, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, that if he was a beginning student, he would take the $200,000 in student loans that it would take to get him an art degree, and he’d invest in a De Kooning drawing instead. That figure is not far off. In 2011, the BFA at major North American institutions cost between $28,000 per year (Kansas City Art Institute) and $36,000 per year (Rhode Island School of Design), and the MFA cost between $26,000 (Cranbrook) and $42,000 (Columbia University). So that’s roughly $200,000 for an MFA.
There are also living expenses to consider. In the US, living expenses might amount to around $10,000 per year, so that in a 3-year MFA, as Carrie Ann Baade points out, that would be an additional $30,000. Living expenses matter when you are not also earning money: if you add $10,000 per year to the costs in the paragraph above, you end up with $260,000 of debt.

In the EU, non-EU students can expect to pay approximately $12,000 per year for their PhD program, so that’s roughly $30,000 for a three-year studio-based PhD, depending on the length of the program. Here are some other examples. At Wimbledon, the new MFA (going onstream in 2013) is a two-year program, without a dissertation; Mark Sibley informs me it costs £7500 for the two years. The Royal College of Art also posts its costs for non-EU citizens: they would be over £25,000 per annum, depending on what financial assistance the student could get.

Reason 14. No one knows how to asses the PhD.
There are at least four distinct elements of the PhD that require assessment:
A. Evaluating the PhD exhibition. It is difficult to know what counts as a PhD level art exhibition, as opposed to an MA, MFA, or BFA level exhibition.

B. Evaluating the degree. It is hard to decide how to evaluate what students produce: how to measure “learning outcomes,” quantifiable criteria, “benchmarking,” or “transferrable knowledge” are produced by the studio-art PhD.

C. Evaluating the supervisor. It is not easy to describe how studio-art or practice-led supervision should work at the PhD level.

D. Evaluating the academic supervisor. And there are no guidelines for those supervisors who are not themselves artists or studio instructors.

I will comment briefly on the first three, and a bit more on the fourth.
The first responds to the idea that the PhD is a “professional level” or “terminal” degree. That wording is carried over from institutional definitions of the MFA and MA, and in those contexts it was either undefined or assumed to correspond with measurable professional competence (which was not defined beyond “appropriate skills” or “techniques”). Because “professional” competence was never elaborated for the MFA, it remains undefined for the PhD. There is a flavor to PhD-level exhibitions, which can be easy to spot, but it can happen at any level. (It involves, I would say, a large amount of text; visual material that is partly evidence of research; and documentation in the form of books or online resources.) What is missing is a conceptualization of what should count as a “terminal” or “professional” level exhibition.
The second is more a product of the UK literature, which stresses measurable results. The commonest approach is known in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere as “weighting.” For example the 2010 Postgraduate Research Student Handbook, authored by the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University, says “The weighting for the practice component shall be between 40% and 75% of the whole study.” I have sometimes wondered if mathematicians have found this kind of measurement funny. Two things can only be weighted if they are the same kinds of things, and if they are both quantified. Weighting makes it seem as if there is a reliable system in place, but the percentages are meaningless; they postpone the problem of making a quantified assessment of the art practice. At least one PhD program Tokyo Geidai, has explicitly noted this and removed the weighting criterion. Their statement (2012) says that weighting:
is not believed to have any inherent meaning… it is far more realistic and productive in terms of both artistic practice and academic research to conduct an integrated evaluation that focuses on how artistic practice and academic research are linked and complement each other.
Aside from weighting, “benchmarking,” “learning outcomes,” and other criteria are meant to be uniform so that students in a program can be compared with each other, and so that art departments can be compared with non-art departments, and so that art departments in different universities can be compared with one another. That looming issue tends to be addressed by local protocols. In one program, students may be asked for structured reports on their research outcomes; in another, those reports may be generated by the supervisor; in a third, the work itself is considered to be the outcome. So far there is no consensus on these issues—but the consensus on the MFA and MA was only the common usage of words like “professional,” so in countries where national and international standards are not immediately pressing, these issues may remain matters for each department or institution.
The third is a faculty training issue. There is an extensive website on this subject in the UK. (wp.me/POl0u-B) Conversations turn around the idea that supervisors need to be “creative,” that the supervision needs to be mobile, “rhizomatic” (there are a number of essays on Deleuze on the site), and unencumbered by disciplines. One of the few texts that is based on conversations with supervisors is an essay by John Hockey (paywall) that stresses the ad hoc nature of actual supervision, which “is foremost a practical activity learned by trial and error.” Most of the literature—at least 5 books and approximately 50 articles—is concerned with theorizing varieties of nonstandard roles for supervisors. One of the larger initiatives, SuperVision, stresses the need to gather more examples of optimal supervision, collaboration, and assessment. (tinyurl.com/8gepeu2) I am not exploring this literature here, because it seems to me so often dependent on what is meant by “knowledge” and “research.”
The fourth issue is, I think, largely unexplored. If the thesis is ultimately bent on supporting ongoing artistic practice, as opposed to understanding and interpreting that practice (“practice-led,” as opposed to “practice-based”), it is not logical to have the text checked or supervised by experts in different academic disciplines. Why? Because the purpose of the candidate’s exploration of academic disciplines is to mine them in order to further her artwork. Hence normal scholarly criteria of truth, the production of new knowledge, thoroughness, clarity, and scholarly protocol just do not apply. The dissertations can still be checked, and the candidates can be advised as if  they were students of art history, anthropology, and other disciplines: but in fact they aren’t, and the normal protocols of readings by specialists is not logically appropriate.
I have acted as external supervisor for practice-led PhD dissertations, where the students were also supervised by studio art instructors. My role was to direct their dissertations as an art historian. If I had done that job in the normal way, I would have recommended all the scholarship on the student’s subject. But I knew the students, so I knew what sources might interest them. I recommended particular sets of readings—not the entire subject, but particular parts of it. All that seemed very unproblematic, very natural: after all, that’s what studio instructors do when they recommend students look at certain artists, or read certain books.
The problem is that art history, like other academic disciplines, does not include criteria of exclusion. At history does not include training in the selection of sources for creative purposes. I chose based on my own experiences in my MFA program, my sense of the students as artists, and my years of teaching in an art school. And what discipline was that, exactly?
Because this point has been elusive in the literature, let me put it another way. A PhD dissertation on, say, seventeenth-century Dutch group portraits might be impeccable by art historical standards—it might include all the relevant literature, primary texts, restoration reports, and the latest interpretive theories—and yet fail as the support for an ongoing art practice. The art historian who supervises such a thesis must read with an eye to rigor, argument, research, and all the normal criteria of excellence in art history, because as an art historian she has no choice—there is no possibility of improvising different criteria for art historical excellence other than ones determined by the current state of interpretation in the field. And yet such an art historical reading can never be sufficient or even demonstrably appropriate for a practicing artist. What matters for the student, presumably, is something about the historical material that can be used in her own art practice. What is at stake is no longer how the dissertation might contribute to the understanding of the subject, but how the dissertation might illuminate an interest the student has developed.
It’s a simple problem, and it almost seems invisible: but it is enormous, and it has no solution. If a supervisor cannot evaluate a thesis according to the current interests of the field in question, then there is no way to evaluate the thesis short of an improvised critique—and that, aside from bibliographic matters, is something that can be done by any number of readers in different fields. The specialist no longer acts as a specialist in her own field.
Notice, too, that all this assumes the student has control of what she wants and needs, and that she can formulate questions well enough so that the supervisor can just lead her toward the appropriate historical resources. But often in art history that has not been the case. Artists seldom know exactly why they want to see a given image or master a given body of knowledge. And if a studio-art instructor has a hard time figuring out how to direct a student, how much less likely is it that an art historian, a philosopher, or an anthropologist will have a better idea? It seems that the problem of evaluating the studio-art PhD simply cannot be solved unless disciplines give up their shapes and readers step outside their normal interpretive habits: exactly what might make the new degree so interesting, and at the same time ensure it cannot be commensurate with other degrees. I am thinking that from now on I will agree to supervise studio-art PhDs only if the student can explain what she wants from the discipline of art history.
In the end this problem has to be addressed as a paradox, and not with an eye to solving it. It would make sense to put seminars on theories of reading at the heart of the new programs. Translation theory, too, could play a part, and so could anthropological theories of interpretation. In that case the studio-art PhD should be understood a critique of disciplinarity itself, as it is by writers like Henk Slager and Mick Wilson. The only difficulty with that position, I think, is that it makes assessment untenable, and it renders disciplinary expertise—indeed, the idea of supervision itself–incoherent.
If courses on these conceptual problems were built into the new degree programs, then the nearly intractable difficulties posed by the new degrees could be addressed within the dissertations themselves. That would contribute to the problematic issue of self-reflexivity (see [the earlier post]) it would make the new PhD degrees more interesting, and certainly more challenging, for the university as a whole.

This list could be expanded in several directions, but these 14 points are, I think, the principal undecided features of the studio-art PhD.
When I posted these entries on Facebook in 2012, I got several messages, on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress, expressing dismay or dissatisfaction at my critical approach. People asked why I am criticizing an institution that has been around for forty years—that’s two generations of scholars, at least. Why criticize something that is practiced in over 200 institutions in approximately 30 countries around the world? Does it make any sense to doubt a degree that has produced several thousand graduates, and that continues to grow? Can it be sensible to criticize a literature that is so large that no one can read it all? The amount of writing on the PhD is daunting. The PhD Design group has been going since 1998, debating these issues in the field of the design PhD; authors like Graeme Sullivan have written extensively on the subject; there are literally dozens of books on the subject, like the massive Routledge Companion to Research in The Arts. There are numerous international organizations that discuss the PhD, and a number of sessions and special conferences on the subject each year. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of teachers work in these programs throughout the world.
So what kind of sense does it make to question the institution? I have several answers.
First, just because something has been around a long time, and is widely accepted, doesn’t mean it makes sense. I read the literature as widely as I can, and I am still perplexed by the ways words like “research” and “knowledge” are used, and the ways that people theorize the idea of writing dissertations that are entwined with art practice. These are fascinating issues, and I don’t at all mean they should be discarded: the very idea of “research into art” is very interesting precisely because it is so hard to pin down. Outside of the PhD context, it is fair to say few people have developed theories about the relation of visual art to knowledge. It’s an ongoing philosophic problem, and PhD programs shine an unusual light on it.
Second, the studio-art PhD isn’t necessarily the well established thing it appears to be. The surge in writing on the subject in the period from about 2007 to the present has come mostly from the EU. In the UK, it is traditional to complain about these programs; they have an uneven reputation there and in Australia. The PhD isn’t  settled in the way the MA or MFA are. (That isn’t to say the MFA or MA are better understood! But that they are less actively discussed, with some prominent exceptions.)
And third, the administrative literature that defines and guides the PhD programs is largely a product of the UK system.  (Japanese PhD programs have been around as long as those in the UK, and there are as many of them; but they have not had influence outside Japan.) As the programs spread around the world, that literature was adopted, often for expediency’s sake, and used in places where it did not fit. But the UK literature has its quirks, especially the custom of adapting a number of existing philosophical systems, from Descartes to Deleuze, to the exigencies of “research” and “knowledge.” In the Americas, in Africa, and other places where the PhD is relatively new, there is an opportunity to rethink that literature from the ground up.
Those are my reasons for being interested in this subject. I don’t want to stop the programs, or demonstrate that they have some kind of fatal flaw. I want to rethink them, openly, with an eye to producing new forms of the program. The issues the PhD raises are among the most fundamental in our understanding of visual art: the PhD pushes the ideas of creativity, autonomy, research, practice, the visual, and the linguistic—all the most difficult issues of visuality. Because PhD programs are brick and mortar, they make those often abstract problems even more challenging.