Jo Davies, Plymouth UniversityDaichendt, G. J. (2012), Intellect. ………. With the REF looming ever closer it is interesting and timely to find an authoritative book focusing on the subject of research within the visual arts. This articulates the difficulties inherent in locating art practice within a research model emanating from subjects with an alternative knowledge base. Daichendtintroduces the premise that artists don’t a...
Author: G.James Daichendt
Publication date: 2012
With the REF looming ever closer it is interesting and timely to find an authoritative book focusing on the subject of research within the visual arts. This articulates the difficulties inherent in locating art practice within a research model emanating from subjects with an alternative knowledge base. Daichendtintroduces the premise that artists don’t always create knowledge in the scientific sense and that this impacts on and potentially distorts the description and practice of research, impacting upon how writing is used and quantified within art and design and education. These concerns will currently resonate with many practitioners preparing to match the specific requirements of the REF classification system and they are of pertinence to ongoing debates about theory in practice.
This is a collection of seven well-researched, informative essays cumulatively possessing a clear tone. It provides many useful definitions and is a well-structured analysis reflecting upon the art, research and pedagogy.
One of the author’s main points is that ‘Artists refer to their work as research because it is part of the cultural landscape but often struggle to articulate why it is research and how it contributes to the broader knowledge pool.’
The book focuses also on the position and function of writing in this research context considering how this connects to the practical study of the subject of art within universities predominantly, but not exclusively, referring to American education models.
In the early chapters we find an examination of common research semantics and terminologies and Daichendt’s subsequent suggestion that a more robust and potentially complicated terminology is required to adequately describe and interrogate art practice within the research context. He asserts that the broader shared understanding of what research is may diverge from the expectations of research within a university, for both staff and students.
The author considers the evolution of art education within the broader context of the evolution of arts-based research and practice within institutions. He presents the history of American universities and development of British art education to chart the shift in values to the intellectual and philosophical from the craft and technical origins of art education. Here he identifies how university status has led to what he describes as ‘the legitimisation of art practice’. He describes a paradigm shift with art activity becoming ‘deskilled’ and increasingly regarded as an intellectual activity leading to the formalisation of ‘cultural studies’ and value placed on writing within the curriculum. This section is a surprisingly compelling read and one is left feeling that art education has been a victim and yet is complicit in allowing institutions with discordant agendas to define knowledge in art and design. The author is critical that this has also led to application of the language of research to the various activities of artists’ practice without a consistent theoretical and methodological underpinning.
He suggests that ‘scholarship’ is a term more befitting to encompass aspects of art practice within a university setting. His lucid definitions and notions of research through practice and arts-based research are useful and convincing.
With their rigorous and thought-provoking enquiry these earlier chapters lay solid foundations for the latter section of the book which focuses more specifically upon the author’s observation that the theoretical studies of American Master of Fine Art (MFA) students, ‘are not cutting it.’ His subsequent analysis of how critical writing can connect to creative practice leads to discussion about the connection of knowledge to research and to the notion of ‘understanding’ as an accurate descriptor of certain scholarly discoveries.
These three final chapters are more pragmatic and aimed overtly at postgraduate students and contain practical checklists to assist them constructively in their own written work. These chapters seem uncomfortably placed and slightly incongruous to the earlier discursive content. Here the author is addressing his MFA audience much more directly and there is an element of his reiterating points made more convincingly elsewhere in the book. Whilst the reflection on the functions and processes that writing can perform and examples given are credible, I feel it is structurally and in tone not well situated. Subsequent case studies are too clearly intended to aid students in their own writing practice but again perhaps lack the same immediate appeal or relevance to a wider academic audience.
The bulk of this book is stimulating and informative and the useful bibliographies and references at the end of each chapter lead the curious reader down further intriguing avenues. Its virtues are well endorsed by scholars and I will add to their sincere evaluation of Artist Scholar as a worthy book. This is a valuable resource for students and early career researchers as well as seasoned scholars like myself who haven’t before encountered one such definitive lucid text.
Jo Davies is Associate Professor in Illustration at Plymouth University.