information, reflection and insight

Guy Armstrong’s book — Emptiness: a practical guide for meditators — is a look at understanding conceptually and practically the idea of emptiness in Buddhist thinking and philosophy.

In his introduction to the book, Armstrong describes the Buddha’s Dharma (“truth” or “the way things are”) and how there are three paths or avenues to learning the Dharma. He writes that each of the avenues “have differing degrees of power in their ability to transform us”.

The three avenues are: understanding from hearing, understanding from reflection and understanding from meditative insight.

It struck me — as I was reading Emptiness — that a version of these avenues might also be a way to understand the core methods of new insight through practice-research:

– Understanding from information (reading, listening, watching, etc)
– Understanding from reflection
– Understanding from artistic practice (that is, insight from doing)

I suspect also that each of these avenues similarly have differing degrees of power in their ability to help us develop new understandings (or, if I push the analogy a bit further, to be epistemically transformed).

reference: Armstrong, G., 2017. Emptiness: a practical guide for meditators. Wisdom, Somerville, MA.

know how and responsiveness

The entry for knowledge how in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is by Jeremy Fantl. He describes the Greek concepts of epistêmê (knowledge) and technê (craft or art). These terms, more or less, map onto the difference between knowledge-that and knowledge-how.

Fantl’s overview of know-how is detailed. For the purposes of this post I’ll mention one thing that caught my eye:

For Ryle, then, to know how to do something is to be disposed to behave in certain ways, and it’s going to be very hard to specify in advance what those ways are. It will depend on the situation and on what the goals of the knower are.

— Jeremy Fantl

I’m drawn to the fluidity here of know-how because it creates some tension for me in how I’ve previously described know-how as something we all share before research even happens.

Perhaps though my thought would be that in such responsive circumstances in practice-research the important thing would be to somehow capture or communicate that responsiveness or adaptation. In other words, if the sense of one’s know-how has changed, then the nature of this change is critical.


Fantl, J., 2012. Knowledge How [WWW Document]. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. URL (accessed 23 January 2017).

terministic screens

In his small book called How to Think Alan Jacobs cites an essay by "literary critic" Kenneth Burke called Terministic Screens.[1] Burke describes how whenever we use language (or terms) of any kind it acts as a kind of filter (or screen) enabling us to see or "call attention to" particular things, but not see other things. Terministic screens are unavoidable (we need terms to be able to say anything), but Jacobs writes:

we need to work hard to understand how our terms work, especially how they “direct the attention”: What does this language ask me to see? What does it prevent me from seeing? And—perhaps most important of all: Who benefits from my attention being directed this way rather than that? (– Jacobs 2017, Chapter 4: The Money of Fools, n.p.)

Earlier in the same chapter, Jacobs cites from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: "For words are wise men’s counters—they do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools." This idea of counters is akin to a proxy: it is not the thing, but certainly bears some relationship to it:

It is easy to become captive to words, to treat them as though they truly and fully convey genuine knowledge—as though they are real cash money, legal tender, accepted everywhere at their face value, rather than mere counters. (– Jacobs 2017, Chapter 4: The Money of Fools, n.p.)

I’m thinking here of drawing attention to the common terministic screens of practice-research .. what are they? What functions do they provide? What do they prevent us from seeing or noticing?

[1]: “Terministic Screens” is chapter 3 of part 1 of Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Form (University of California Press, 1966).

knowledge verified and challenged

Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds’ chapter in The Routledge Companion to Resarch in the Arts is about the role of the artefact in practice-research. Early in the writing, they state that the distinguishing feature of “practitioner research in the arts”(p.120) is that making artefacts is both an integral part of the research and in generating new knowledge. Then they write:

New knowledge generated by research, whether practice-based or not, is expected to have two characteristics: first that it is shared and second that it can be verified or challenged.

— Candy and Edmonds, p.121

I propose that there has been systemic failure in practice-research to generate knowledge that is able to be verified and challenged. What then is being produced if not new knowledge? Even if I were to say that we make possible new understandings (and this would be my preference) then for our work to count as research then these understandings ought also to be subject to challenge and verification.

I’m yet to see any such thing.


Candy, L., Edmonds, E., 2010. ‘The Role of the Artefact and Frameworks for Practice-Based Research’, in: Biggs, M., Karlsson, H. (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Resarch in the Arts. Routledge, London, pp. 120–137.

the artistic experiment

In the context of current debates on art and science, the artistic experiment is no longer just “the wild outside” of the scientific experiment; instead, the scientific experiment itself proves to be characterised by contingencies and emergences of unpredictabilities, affects, and material dynamics. Conversely, the artistic experiment can now be characterised by systematic repetition. Which future and what knowledge can be generated by the respective experiments depends on the contexts and even more on the discursive spheres in which they are negotiated.

— Bippus, E., 2013. ‘Artistic Experiments as Research’, in: Experimental Systems: Future Knowledge in Artistic Research, Orpheus Institute Series. Leuven University Press, Leuven, p.131.

I’m interested in the extent to which “systematic repetition” occurs in artistic-research and what its limits are. How systematic might I be? How un-systematic might I be?

But it’s really in that last sentence — about discursive spheres — where Elke Bippus sets the cat among the pigeons. She goes from “systematic repetition” to pretty much anything being possible for artistic research depending on the “discursive spheres”. I like this openness, but as ever I wonder what the boundaries are. Are there some discursive spheres in which nothing is generated even if there has been a highly systematised process of repetition?

tacit and reflexive

The Artistic Doctorates in Europe project published a resource collection last year. In the introduction, Vida Midgelow (who also happens to be a very dear friend) wrote the following:

Artistic researchers might be said to pursue ‘hybrid enquiries combining creative doing with reflexive being’ (Kershaw 2011, 64), deeply informed by ‘expert practitioner knowledge’ (see Melrose 2005). So, whilst many approaches to research have sought to place a distance between the researcher and the researched, artistic researchers tend toward tacit approaches, wherein the researcher is very much caught up in the particularities of the/their situation and their own agency.

— Vida Midgelow

I understand the profoundly first-person nature of artistic research although I’d suggest this hardly makes it unique. But what caught my eye was the way Vida seems to fold in tacit approaches with reflexivity. It’s not clear to me what this relationship between tacit approaches and reflexivity might be. Is there something peculiar about reflexive first-person research processes artistic research that pulls the researcher towards that which can’t be seen or felt?

If you happen to be reading this Vida I’d love to hear your thoughts.