Artistic research! Where are we today?

by Anders Førisdal & Christina Sofie Kobb

Music & Practice, Volume 10

DOI: 10.32063/1001


During the last 10 to 15 years, artistic research has established itself as an important feature in higher musical education in Europe. This is something to celebrate, of course, but the rapidity by which it has gained notoriety and influence has not always been abetted by candid clarity or outspoken agreement. Frequently steered by personal ambitions, tacit acceptance and political dexterity, the development of artistic research has created a short history that is worth a reflective view. This is why we opted for dedicating this tenth issue of M&P to questioning the status quo of artistic research in presenting an Enquête based on a set of 10 questions.

In the following Enquête, we tried to include a broad church of active artist-researchers, musicologists, scholars in performance practice from different age groups, genders and nationalities. A set of 10 questions (see below) were sent to a selection of people we hoped could provide different answers and perspectives. They surely have.

A quick reading through these 10 questions may suggest an adverse or even ‘dark’ attitude to artistic research. This is not the case. The contrary is the editorial policy of M&P. However, we do think that artistic research will benefit from adapting a practice deeply imbedded in the humanities, in which the internal criticism and ‘tough’ reflection regarding the use of method, theory, terminology and models is an integral part of any (scientific) standing of the research. We do think that artistic research has the potential to reform our comprehension of art and art research, but its potentiality must not be hindered by group thinking or institutional policing.

In this regard, the Manifesto (ed. Henke) has been a wake-up call. Despite its belligerent attitude/style, some of its criticism was relevant. Yet, instead of outsourcing the criticism to those who are fundamentally hostile to artistic research, we do think that asking critical questions should be, methodically speaking, an integral part of developing artistic research. The alternative could easily become a somnambulant walk into irrelevance or doctrinal hegemony guarded by institutional interests and idleness.

These were the questions we presented the authors in our Enquête:

Question 1: What is artistic research? What characterizes good artistic research? Can you give one example of excellent artistic research?

Question 2: How far have we come in establishing a relevant practice for artistic research regarding criteria for admission, (methodic) approach and assessment?

Question 3: The following quotation is from Manifesto of Artistic Research: A Defense Against Its Advocates (Henke et al.):

Since its beginnings in the 1990s, artistic research has been driven by politics. Without the strict academicization of courses of study in art and design as furthered by the Bologna Reform, the entity we call ‘artistic research’ could hardly have come into existence.

How would you judge the nature and consequences of the politically driven institutionalization of artistic research? Was there a thing called artistic research before the Bologna Reform, or is it simply a bureaucratic invention? In fact, is artistic research the last step in the steadily growing academization and institutionalization of the art field?

Question 4: What is research in artistic research and how does it differ from what groundbreaking artists have always been doing?

Question 5: For whom is artistic research? Who is expected to benefit from the projects and their outcomes? How should the outcomes ideally be communicated or disseminated?

Question 6: What kind of shared knowledge does artistic research produce and (how) is it falsifiable?

Question 7: In his book Artistic Research Methodologies, Mika Hannula writes that the artistic researcher must ‘develop and perfect her own artistic skills, vision and conceptual thinking … contribute to academia … by proposing an argument in the form of a thesis … and communicate with practicing artists and the larger public, performing what one could call “audience education.”’ Are the expectations to the artistic researcher both too high and hazy?

Question 8: Should artistic research be critical, or even subversive? And if yes, how and why?

Question 9: What are the challenges for the development of artistic research? Considering the development of the field so far – do you see specific areas in need of change or strengthening? Where would you like artistic research to be in 10 years?

Question 10: What can platforms such as Music & Practice do in order to help the development of artistic research?