the different ages of an artwork

Paolo Garbolino has a chapter in Art as a Thinking Process: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Eds: Ambrožič and Vettese) called What the Scientist’s Eye Tells the Artist’s Brain. The chapter compares scientific and artistic practices and does so beautifully.

Garbolino cites George Kubler’s The Shape of Time to help describe the ways in which artworks and experiments are progressions through time. Kubler writes that every work of art is:

A complex having not only traits, each with a different systematic age, but having also clusters of traits, or aspects, each with its own age, like any other organization of matter, such as a mammal, of which the blood and the nerves are of different biological antiquity, and the eye and the skin are of different systematic age.[Kubler, in @garbolino_what_2013 p.83]

This sense that different parts of an artwork have different ages (and different relationships with the past) is captivating. Garbolino writes:

Artistic artefacts encode relationships among physical objects, people, and particular settings. These relational properties as well as physical objects are things of the world, and they contribute to shaping the forms in the sequences of artistic phenomena.[@garbolino_what_2013 p.84]

What I register in Garbolino’s thinking is that we are beholden to attempt to understand and communicate the different times, ages, people and histories in the practices we are sharing. That part of our responsibility is to acknowledge how these things are variously part of different communities, traditions, ideas and practices. There is so little that is able to be owned when we share practice.

reference: Garbolino, P. (2013) ‘What the Scientist’s Eye Tells the Artist’s Brain’. in Art as a Thinking Process: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. ed. by Ambrožič, M. and Vettese, A. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 74–86.

not justifying the practice

Paul Hughes is an artist and PhD student (through practice) at Roehampton Dance. He has been writing public letters to his supervisors over on Substack:

In the latest edition Paul writes:

If I were to give any advice to recently-graduating artists I would tell them to develop practice that does not rely on institutional resources. That doesn’t require expensive materials, for example, or access to a dance studio; and doesn’t need major platforms (galleries, stages, publishing houses, etc.) to reach and encounter an audience. That does not require them to justify their practice to institutions before it can take place.

My sense that this is critical for any artist (regardless of the institutions they are working in, around, under, beside, over). To find ways to do the work and to build from that place of deep understanding that emerges from doing the work.

making a case

I’ve been thinking about how we ‘make a case’ for working with practice-research as an approach to research. Twenty years ago it seemed like each practice-research PhD reiterated the entire (brief) history of methodological development in order to justify its approach. This was certainly the way I handled my insecurity about my own doctoral research methods. It was akin to “if less is more think how much more more is”, or worse, a shotgun approach to making a case for one’s methodology: if you fire enough times you are bound to hit something.

It is no longer necessary — if it ever was — to make a case like this for a practice-research project. In other words, practice-research is a thing; it has precedents, histories, problems, limitations and possibilities. Just relax.

To make a case then means being clear about two things:

  1. what is fundamental to my practice?
  2. what understandings might this practice afford? (this is another way of saying, what research questions is the practice able to address?)

By adopting a particular artistic practice (or set of practices) you’ve already delimited your research methods quite precisely, and this in turns influences what kind of questions you can ask, and what kinds of responses (or even research outcomes) you might develop. This is critical: the circular relationship between questions, methods and responses (or answers as Biggs and Buchler describe) enables us to make a concise methodological case.

For example:

  • at the heart of a (hypothetical) practice is working with exposure in photographing human movement
  • this offers various perspectives on the research (off the top of my head), not least light and photography, stillness in movement, and the mechanics of exposure. Clearly, these are very broad areas (with distinct communities of practice) but through the practice I would be able to become increasingly specific with my understanding of what the practice affords, and what questions I can ask.

Note that in this short post, it is the practice that is driving what might become possible. That understanding — including methodological clarity — emerges from the practice. This means that if you are attempting to propose a project that is not already steeped in your practice then you will, I think, just be making shit up.

situated position and questions, answers and methods

A central theme of Biggs and Büchler’s article Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries is that practice-research ought to adopt what they call a Situated Position. That is, there should be equal conditions for all types of research, and they are interested in these commonalities. They describe the opposing position — that practice-research should be “granted special criteria and regulations”(p.6) — as the Isolationist Position.

Their Situated Position becomes clear in their discussion of the third of four criteria for academic research: method.

In this diagram Biggs and Büchler reveal the inter-relational nature of questions, methods and responses (or answers):

if one is interested in this particular question, then a particular route would be appropriate in order to find out something or develop the interpretation of this issue and precipitate a meaningful outcome.

– Biggs and Buchler, p.10

In other words, there is an iterative or cyclical nature between questions, method and answers. Certain conditions and types for each afford certain possibilities in a research project.

Their Situated Position is represented by the placement of knowledge in the diagram, and how it traverses both specialised (small rectangle) and general (large rectangle) academic audiences. In other words, the conditions for research in practice-research ought also to be recognisable to researchers working in other (non-artistic research) fields.


Biggs, Michael, and Daniela Büchler. 2008. “Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries.” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 7 (1): 5–18.

orientation to a future

There is a particular future-orientated character to all ambitious research, which has the form of an anticipation: an anticipation that that which is not known may yet become known; that the as yet un-thought may become thought; and that new modes and styles of sense, perception, expression and subject construction might yet emerge and re-shape our worlds. Whether at the level of the first tentative framing of a research proposal or at the level of planning institutional and sectoral research agendas, activities rooted in enquiry necessarily require that we act in the present through an orientation towards near and not-so-near futures. Of course, the temporalities of research have many more folds, nuances and displacements than this simple orientation to a future. However, a speculative future horizon characterises research activity and operates either implicitly or explicitly.

— Mick Wilson and Schelte van Ruiten
Wilson, M., van Ruiten, S. (Eds.), 2013. SHARE: Handbook for Artistic Research Education. ELIA, Amsterdam, p.265

dissemination, accumulation and originality

In Biggs and Büchler’s Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries they adopt a single axiom in their approach: that research is cumulative. They suggest this axiom is a “fundamental assumption that cannot be explained and for which our system cannot give any justification”.[p.8]

If research is cumulative, then what is done simply for the personal advancement of the individual is not research.[p.8]

Biggs and Büchler’s criteria mean that in order for research to be part of a process of accumulation it must be disseminated. They suggest that when work is disseminated it “demonstrates, through the possibility of comparison, whether the work is original or not.”[p.16]

In my experience the role of dissemination in PaR has come to signify an end point; that, once shared, the work’s role in the community of research grinds to a halt. But if research is cumulative — and I agree strongly with Biggs and Büchler that it is — then what is profoundly lacking in practice-research are the conversations that happen between different artistic-research projects after they are disseminated. These are conversations of comparison, of disagreement, of possibility …

reference: Biggs, Michael, and Daniela Büchler. 2008. “Eight Criteria for Practice-Based Research in the Creative and Cultural Industries.” Art, Design & Communication in Higher Education 7 (1): 5–18.