Artistic research! Where are we today?
Senior researcher of the ORCiM research group, coordinator of the doctoral programme for artists at the Orpheus Institute in Ghent and the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague.
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?
by Luk Vaes
Music & Practice, Volume 10
Artistic research is research that starts with a research question from within an artistic practice, and which leads to results that impact that very practice. ‘You play differently after the research.’ AR is close to practice-based and practice-led research as well as to musicology (historiography as well as systematic musicology and – of course – performance studies), and AR may draw, especially methodologically from its neighboring disciplines. It is the final step in the research – applying the research results onto the practice of the researcher – that makes most of the difference. But the research question is very often particular to the practice as well.
Examples from my own research practice:
- Schumann’s score markings. In Schumann’s 2nd piano sonata, the first movement begins with the marking ‘so rasch wie möglich’, and later bears the indication ‘schneller’ and even ‘noch schneller’ towards the end of the movement (without changes in tempo in between). Demonstrably, no pianist adheres to these prescriptions. My research developed a way to play faster than possible, which is demonstrated by playing the movement.
- My PhD project Extended Piano Techniques in Theory, History, and Performance Practice. Most theorizing in AR is on the metalevel (e.g. embodied knowledge has been very popular), but an artistic researcher can also develop theory from within their practice, for example, the morphology of the glissando (from the perspective of the player), consisting of three parts, with each of them appearing in different guises that hadn’t been named yet, or the ‘cluster’, which had not yet been defined properly (as the musicological definitions do not accord with the practice). Even the historiography of the techniques from the vantage point of the pianist is potentially vastly different compared to what a musicologist takes from looking at scores.
It is problematic to discuss things from a collective point of view, but I will try. I think that we have at least passed the situation in which musicologists and philosophers taught AR in doctoral curricula, and made up for the members of post-doc AR groups, if only because there weren’t enough artistic researchers around. Similarly, we don’t suffer so much anymore from the fact that AR was not taught at the master’s level for a long time. This made admissions problematic. These two issues – artistic researchers without the proper training or background, and lack of proper pre-doc training – are of course linked. One of the consequences is the fact that the debate on methodology has been heavily weighed upon by philosophical rather than practitioners’ perspectives and interests. I believe this is now better. Assessment is still problematic in so far as the mass of artistic researchers and their output is still relatively limited. As AR is constrained by the particular practice of the researcher (as a pianist, I cannot carry out much AR relating to the violin, for instance), the potential for focused supervision is rapidly exhausted when professors at universities are needed in order to fulfil the requirements for awarding a PhD. This is now already better at the master’s level. But more professors in AR are needed to elevate the level of supervision on the PhD level.
I would say there was AR before the Bologna Declaration, yes. But the question as to whether this could have grown to the proportions we see now without political support will remain open. AR was certainly not a bureaucratic invention for another reason: Bologna instigated a third degree cycle, not AR. The European countries were free to decide on the content of the degree. Some entities in several countries have chosen for it to be a performance degree, sometimes co-existing with the PhD. I am not sure whether AR is merely step in academization and institutionalization processes. The growing competition from countries such as China in matters of performance careers may have led to new views on how an artist is to be trained, and what an artistic career should consist of.
The main difference is the dissemination of the research, its approach, and its results. The dissertation allows for informing peers exactly on the newly developed insights. Without the written component, the new knowledge may be said to be embodied, but this has little communicative power.
Contrary to traditional research, AR has dual target audience: the professional peers (other ARs, musicologists, teachers, professional performers/composers) as well as the audiences at large (although they don’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs). For the former, the research output is the standard, for the latter, performances are enough. It should be added that not all research is intended to impact audiences: some is targeted at professional practitioners and may not even be audible.
What it does produce is manifold, not all which is falsifiable. What it should produce, in my opinion, is explicable knowledge. Perhaps falsifiable, but this Popperian concept is not necessarily the only way to check knowledge for its viability.
As noted above, I do not believe that all AR should be of interest to an audience, despite pressures from governments to prove social relevance.
It should always be critical, yes; some of it may need to be subversive.
One of the challenges is to maintain governmental support. In times of crisis, AR can easily be seen as a luxury niche within a luxury niche within etc. I look forward to the Professional Doctorate to be successfully implemented, so that the musicians who do not need to aspire to a PhD can still benefit from a reflective training, and not become mere stage virtuosos. It would be nice to see less competition between institutions of AR.
I am afraid I don’t know the journal well enough (yet) to comment usefully. From the distance that I am at, I’d say: keep at it.
 See Luk Vaes ‘Artistic Research Avant la lettre? The Case of Glenn Gould’s Brahms Concerto Interpretation’ in Artistic Research in Music: Discipline and Resistance, ed. Jonathan Impett (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2017), 108–134.
 Cf. the website of the nuclear research institute CERN: it has different pages of ‘news’ for different types of readers: scientists, educators, general public, industry, etc. See https://home.cern/news?audience=19. Last accessed May 30, 2023.