Aaron Kay, writing on Art Practice as Research
Discussion of ‘Pigment to Pixel’ from Sullivan, G., 2005. Art practice as research: inquiry in the visual arts. Thousand Oaks Calif.: Sage Publications.
I am going to briefly discuss two areas which I found particularly interesting; the relationship between art and education, and between art and science.
Art learning has driven forward changes in the role of the artist and that of the visual researcher, and has sought to provide those involved in creative practice with a “solid discipline foundation”. This need, to examine the role of the practicing artist as researcher, grew from previously split disciplines of those who ‘studied art’ on the one hand, and those who were taught to ‘practice art’ on the other. Art practice was given additional validity as research; to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841, “not imitation but creation is the aim”. This quote can be contextualized in the academic artworld of the period, which sought to align itself with more commercial interests. Sullivan goes on to say that “The educational future of visual arts study at university level lay in the contribution of scholarly practice”, referring to art history courses; art practice was left to “liberal arts institutions”. The text suggests that this ‘split’ had to change, if cultural research was to engage with the technological, cultural and economic shifts of the time. Art practice then became cultural capital and was ‘traded’ in the educational setting of arts institutions. This shift also parallels changes in approaches to science.
Science, when faced with questions that it could not answer within its ‘rigid laws’ alone, was also under pressures to seek new ways of researching, and thus new ways of answering questions. Although the text discusses this mainly in relation to the science of vision, it also mentions that this change was apparent in other areas such as mathematics (as “Rigid Laws” give way to “Flexible Thrust”; Ian Stewart, ‘Nature’s Numbers’, 1995). As this change in science took place, the science of sight was related to the creations of the eye, and the physiology of vision to the psychology of perception. This opened the way for artists and visual researchers to contribute to this area of ‘scientific’ research. The place of artist’s practice and visual research as valid scientific research has become even more important with the technology of the present; whilst the workings of the technologies from a scientific perspective can be explained by rigid laws, the questions that are raised by the impact of technology (amongst other things) on culture, society, and art, can be researched differently; the subjectivity of the artist/researcher constitutes a valid form of research.
I would like to end with the following quote from the Sullivan (also quoting Pink), which supports the validation of the subjectivity of the ethnographic researcher:
The rationalist model that sees cultural inquiry, even when enlivened by the view of the participant observers, is unable to maintain the myth of the insightful recorders who can see without themselves being seen. Instead, those who consider the field encounter as a site of problematic relations recognize “the centrality of the subjectivity of the researcher to the production and representation of ethnographic knowledge” (Pink, 2001, p.19).