I have about 24 hours to pull together a reasonable attempt at a PhD bursary application. No pressure there then.

For the purposes of this application I am rehearsing what may be the research ‘question’ that I would interrogate and keep coming back to the same, to me key question, of where ‘knowledge’ may be said to reside.


James Elkins in a draft of a new chapter in his second edition of ‘Artists and Phds’. Provisionally titled ‘ Fourteen ways to mistrust the PhD in studio art’ touches on this in a subsection devoted to the question of ‘knowledge’ and most pertinently for me categorises it as the following two options:

C. How is this knowledge extracted from, read into, or interpreted in, visual art?


If “artistic knowledge” is partly outside of language, then it presents a problem for assessment and what are called in the UK “learning outcomes.” The fundamental choice here has to do with how the “artistic knowledge” is imagined to be related to the art object. There are fundamentally two choices here:


(i) “Artistic knowledge” inheres in the visual object or practice, so that the object or practice is itself a form of knowledge, or


(ii) “artistic knowledge” is interpreted to exist in the object or practice, so that discourse reveals the art’s contribution to knowledge.

In a separate facebook posting he also said the following:

Is art research? Is it knowledge?
Bruce M. Mackh asked me these two questions:
1. Is “Arts Practice” research?
2. Can the products of “Arts Practice” be original contributions to knowledge?

At the moment I am revising all those posts from earlier this year, for the new edition of the book “Artists with PhDs.” So these questions were timely. He made it necessary for me to try to answer in a very succinct way. Here are my answers — any thoughts?

1. Is “Arts Practice” research?
It hasn’t been until the 20th century. It’s important to bear in mind the relatively recent development of the notion that art is research: it comes from post-war academic pedagogy, and especially the structure of UK universities, which require new fields to present themselves as being aimed at “new knowledge” by way of “research.” This isn’t to say some art practice is not research: it’s to say the great majority isn’t.

2. Can the products of “Arts Practice” be original contributions to knowledge?
If you can give me one example of art research that is comprehensible as knowledge, I’ll say yes. Until then, I’ll say that art can often be understood as if it were producing knowledge: but that “knowledge” is insight, expression, understanding, feeling, affect, constellations of objects, unexpected juxtapositions, new sensory configurations. Note that your question asks if artworks can be knowledge. The other option is that the lead to knowledge, or can be interpreted as constituting knowledge. That leads in entirely different directions.