Artist as Theorist – Making in the Contemporary World

Graeme Sullivan’s 2005 book Art Practice as Research: Inquiry in the Visual Arts is a good text for exploring ways of using the visual arts as research methods in a number of fields. I have found it less useful as a tool to understand how methodologies for specifically visual arts research can be theorized. Although I appreciate that visual art as practice-based postgraduate research is fairly new – therefore not yet clearly structured and conceptualized – I find Sullivan’s diagrammatic approach dissatisfying.

Chapter 5- Artist as Theorist subdivides the practice of artists concerned with knowledge production into three categories: Making in Systems, Making in Communities, and Making in Cultures. I find the separation of Making in Systems and Making in Communities particularly difficult, as the first definition includes collaborative practices and the second limits an understanding of community to indigenous community. I cannot find in this text an understanding of community that might be suitable for a twenty-first century connected urbanized reality, like the one many artists-theorists are part of.

On the other hand, this attempt to fix reference points makes the task of understanding my own way of working and thinking easier ‘by contrast’. Paula mentioned in our last meeting how artists tend to (I quote from my notes) “Absorb, hybridize and question methodologies from other fields in pragmatic ways.” I think that this might apply to methodologies developed within the field of visual art itself. Although generalizations are always dangerous (irony!), each artist tends, by definition, to re-invent a singular way of being an artist.

The third category of Making in Cultures as defined by Graeme Sullivan, echoes something I feel very strongly: “It is in relationships rather than images or objects where value is located.” In my practice, this applies to the relationships between me, the images of myself I produce, the individuals who encounter them, and the vast numbers of relationships we are all involved in. Therefore, according to Sullivan’s categorization, my practice is rooted into Making in Cultures, but is also embedded in ideas and methods that fall under the definitions of Making in Systems and Making in Communities.

Perhaps, you could try and make up your own mind by watching some of my video works on the Perpetual Art Machine on line video gallery …

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