The Outstanding Field: Artistic Research Emerging from the Academy

From Thursday 19 to Saturday 21 March 2015, the Faculty of VCA and MCM was host to the symposium The Outstanding Field: Artistic Research Emerging from the Academy. This event was organised by Associate Professor Barbara Bolt (Assoc. Director of Research at the VCA) and sponsored by the peak body for the Creative Arts, the Deans and Directors of the Creative Arts (the DDCA). Here, Barb explains the context and outcomes of the event.

The symposium showcased the artistic research of 25 outstanding Creative Arts graduates from across Australia and New Zealand and attracted over 200 registrations from researchers in the creative arts from across Australia and New Zealand.  It also attracted a smattering of international guests from the USA and Finland, and the Director of Research Evaluation from the ARC.

Kate Just, photographer: Ken Miller.

The symposium represents a coming of age for the creative arts PhD and for the discipline of Artistic Research, an emerging form of research that is variously known as creative arts research, practice-as-research, art-as-research and practice-led research.  It offered the field the opportunity to evaluate how “we,” as an emerging field of research, stand up as a research discipline in the broader research environment. It offers this through:

  • Providing “best practice” models for those doing PhDs in the creative arts;
  • demonstrating “excellence” that can show-cased outside of the field of the creative arts;
  • articulating the impact of artistic research both within the field and more broadly.

Research was presented from across the creative arts — art/science collaborations, creative writing, dance, film, music, performance and the visual arts — each graduate was nominated and sponsored by their graduating institution for the excellence of their PhD thesis.

21 tertiary institutions responded to the call: VCA & MCM at the University of Melbourne; Creative Industries at QUT; RMIT; Monash University; University of Wollongong; Deakin University; Flinders University; Canberra University; Queensland College of the Arts and the Queensland Conservatorium at Griffith University; Tasmanian College of the Arts and Conservatorium of Music at the University of Tasmania; the University of Wollongong; The University of Newcastle; The University of NSW Art and Design; Sydney College of the Arts and Sydney Conservatorium, University of Sydney; Edith Cowan University; Elder Conservatorium at the University of Adelaide, the Australian National University and Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.

James Hullick, photographer: Ken Miller.
James Hullick, photographer: Ken Miller.

The “event” of this symposium was in some ways serendipitous — an alignment of the stars.  In 2009, Professor Su Baker (Director of the VCA and now the inaugural President of the recently formed DDCA) and Professor Brad Buckley from Sydney conducted a seminal study on the state of the creative PhD in the Academy, Future-Proofing the Creative Arts in Higher Education, Scoping for Quality in Creative Arts Doctoral Programs, a study funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

This study identified and mapped the emerging field of artistic research and addressed the thorny question of the implications of recasting of art as research, asking: What are the outcomes of the practice-led PhD and what is its impact on the field? Has the field been able to maintain the highest quality of art produced, as it has taken a place at the table of the research? One of the recommendations from the report (a recommendation that came from Professor Ross Woodrow from the Queensland College of the Arts) was this – the field should identify and disseminate exemplars of “Best Practice” in the Creative PhD.

The second incentive for the symposium was the visit of the American scholar, Professor Diane Zeeuw, Chair of the MFA and the MA in Visual and Critical Studies at Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University, Michigan.  Professor Zeeuw is researching the development of the creative PhD in Australia in order to evaluate whether the “model” of the creative PhD might be one that could be adopted at her university in the United States, where the MFA is currently the terminal degree for the creative arts.

This contrasts with the situation in Australia, the UK, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand where an artist’s professional and academic trajectory may include a practice-led PhD and the postdoctoral fellowship.

Moana Nepia, photographer: Ken Miller.
Moana Nepia, photographer: Ken Miller.

Six staff members and honoraries from the VCA & MCM were nominated to present at the symposium: 3 graduates of the Faculty including Dr Anthony Lyons (Music), Dr Laura Woodward (Visual Art) and Dr Sandra Parker (Dance) and 3 staff members and honoraries who were nominated by their graduating institutions to present: Dr Kate Just, Lecturer in the School of Art, Dr James Hullick, a McKenzie Post Doctoral Fellow from 2012-2015 and Dr John Hughes, an honorary with the School of Film and Television.

Anthony Lyons’ work has been featured at such festivals as the 2013 International Computer Music Conference, Laura Woodward’s PhD thesis has been nominated for the Chancellor’s Prize for excellence in a PhD thesis at the University of Melbourne, Sandra Parker was awarded the Australia Council for the Arts Dance Board Fellowship in 2012-2013. Kate Just was the winner of the Mollie Hollman Doctoral Medal for the best PhD in Art Design and Architecture in 2013 at Monash University, James Hullick is currently undertaking an Australia Council for the Arts Fellowship and John Hughes is a renowned documentary film maker whose PhD film, After Indonesia Calling, was published in 2013.

By A/Prof Barbara Bolt

(main image: Laura Woodward, photographer: Ken Miller.)

A version of this article originally appeared on Channel, the Faculty’s previous publishing platform.