What is it about the specific properties of Artistic Research that allow us to make the case for its contribution to development and social change? In the next few months, this question will form the basis of Arts Cabinet’s research focus, culminating in the publication of an extended research paper. In anticipation of the full paper, a few preliminary touch points can already be identified from the academic literature.
Several key academic texts have already made the connection between art and social change, perhaps most notably, the eponymous ‘Art and Social Change – A Critical Reader’[i], which presents ‘moments at which the desire for social change has led artists working within the sphere of modern art to align themselves with wider social movements, or to break with the established institutions of art’[ii]. Whilst this text contains no specific reference to artistic research, evidence can be found from art theory literature which would seem to support the application of this idea to artistic research. As an innovative contemporary arts practice, artistic research certainly fits the idea of ‘breaking with the established institutions of art’. It has also been noted by some academics that artistic researchers have an inherent interest in seeing their practice as socially motivated. In his analysis of artistic researchers working towards an exhibition in northern Sweden, Eric Anderson contended that ‘a common denominator was that each participant’s practice demonstrated a commitment to social change’[iii] and that all artists had started the process with the intention of using their art to engage with and use their art to address a particular issue.[iv] Other critics also discuss artistic research in relation to its societal engagement. Like Anderson, Dieter Lesage, in his examination of artistic researchers working towards the 2007 Vienna exhibition A Portrait of the Artist as a Researcher, also showed artistic researchers as critically engaging with their context and exploring a particular issue through their art[v].
Another recent title, which affirms the growing interest in the relationship between art, social change and development, is ‘Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development’[vi]. This book will be of particular interest with regard to Arts Cabinet’s research focus, particularly the chapter on ‘Artists as Change Agents’[vii] which examines the specific role artists have to play as development agents.
There are several key understandings of artistic research identifiable from the literature. Firstly, ‘research is considered a part of the artistic process[viii], so that art and research become ‘indiscernible’[ix]. The process of artistic research becomes a ‘site of knowledge production’[x] that ‘does not restrict itself to integrating previously known concepts’[xi] and is particularly able to articulate that which is not readily visible[xii]. Artistic Research can also be described as an ‘engaged practice’[xiii] and ‘a practice with a defined direction, but with an open-ended, undetermined procedural trajectory’[xiv]. Mika Hannula states that artistic research is characterised by a ‘democracy of experiences’ and ‘methodological abundance’[xv], which stems from the fact that the artist and researcher collaboration develops within a ‘third space’[xvi], in which neither side imposes anything on the other. This guarantees almost total freedom for the artist and makes artistic research an artist led practice where the artist is free to pursue a ‘plurality’[xvii] of methods. Furthermore, artistic research can also be described as engaged, through the way it often relates to, engages with and comments on, its context.
From identifying these properties of Artistic Research, a preliminary hypothesis can be developed, which sees the social value of artistic research in its promotion of the values of openness, democracy and social cohesion. Democracy and openness can be seen to be promoted through allowing the artist autonomy in the construction of the creative process and freedom to experiment. The process also allows the artist to reflect critically on their surroundings, and to use their art to address an issue. On the other hand, social cohesion can be seen to be promoted through the dissemination of the outcomes of the research process, which allow for public discussion and engagement on the issue being depicted and open the potential for the development of actions which can in turn enact social change.
Ultimately, it is the potential of artistic research to critically reflect on theories and contexts that led one critic to aptly state that artistic research can ‘act as a cross field, an intermediary between different fields, modes of perception and thinking…it thus has a very privileged, if impermanent, but crucial position and potential in contemporary society’[xviii].
Associate Researcher, Arts Cabinet
PhD Candidate, University College London
[i] Bradley, Will, Esche, Charles (eds.) Art and Social Change – A Critical Reader, Afterall, London, 2007 http://www.thing.net/~rdom/ucsd/3somesPlus/ArtandSocialChange.pdf
[ii] Ibid. Will Bradley, p. 9
[iii] Anderson, Eric, Fine Science and Social Arts – on common grounds and necessary boundaries of two ways to produce meaning, – ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009, p. 3 http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n2/andersson.html
[v] Lesage, Dieter, Who’s Afraid of Artistic Research? On measuring artistic research output,
ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009
[vi] Stupples, Polly and Teaiw, Katerina (eds.) Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development, Routledge, 2017
[vii] Gad, Daniel, ‘Artists as Change Agents’ in Contemporary Perspectives on Art and International Development, (eds.) Polly Stupples and Katerina Teaiw, Routledge, 2017
[viii] Busch, Katrin, Artistic Research and the Poetics of Knowledge, ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009, p.3 http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n2/busch.html
[ix] Dronsfield, Jonathan Lahey, Theory as art practice: Notes for discipline, ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009, p.1
[x] Busch, Katrin, Artistic Research and the Poetics of Knowledge, ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009, p.3 http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n2/busch.html
[xiii] Hannula, Mika, Catch Me If You Can: Chances and Challenges of Artistic Research, ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009, p.1 http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n2/hannula1.html
[xvi] Ibid. p.5
[xviii] Sheikh, Simon, Objects of Study or Commodification of Knowledge? Remarks on Artistic Research, ART&RESEARCH: A Journal of Ideas, Contexts and Methods. Volume 2. No. 2. Spring 2009, p.5