Recently I was given a bit of a hiding at my PhD Annual Review for not being clear about where my ‘contribution to knowledge’ is situated. For the majority of people who sensibly have no interest in postgraduate study; a PhD is essentially the creation of new knowledge. If you’re enrolled in an Art School, this new knowledge is supposed to be contributed to the field of Art.
Problem is, I don’t know anyone that can define Art precisely. There’s a lot of lip service at the moment about transdisciplinarity: moving between areas of study to take the best of several disciplines and look at research more holistically. What I found at my Annual Review was that a transdisciplinary approach is all well and good in theory, but The Faculty ultimately wants their researchers to be adding value to their own corner of the world. If you’re an Art student, you shouldn’t be moonlighting as a Scientist.
This is a much larger issue than simply ‘belonging’ to a Faculty. There are important discussions to be had about funding for instance that I think play a massive role in why truly transdisciplinary studies are rarer than most research institutions would have you believe. These are discussions for a much longer, possibly whisky fuelled, post. For me, I now need to better define my role and area of research. I’ve always found definitions a dispiriting affair, but I have bills to pay and therefore, hoops to jump through.
Interestingly, only a few days after my Review, John Maeda tweeted the following image:
I can’t say I agree completely with the terms he has jotted down, particularly the use of “real” science/art, however I do agree with the sentiment. I’ve never been comfortable with the title of ‘artist’, and think that my own practice sits closest to some form of design. The iterative nature of my work and its movement between quantitative and qualitative feedback suggests that I am oscillating from an aesthetic (artistic) approach and a data-centric (scientific) reflective process.
Part of my research will be to better articulate this tacit framework I seem to be attracted to. Though, seeing comments like that of Maeda’s above tweet (not to mention his ongoing research on the question), make me believe that there will be more arguments like the one I faced at my Annual Review and even accomplished practitioners are puzzling over this territory. It is the role of the researcher to create new knowledge, but I think just as importantly, it’s also their role to push back at the accepted structures of knowledge acquisition and belonging. And for all my complaining on the topic, I’m optimistic that I’m in the right place for this argument to evolve: Art School.