[iDC] Praxis-based Ph.D.s

Christiane Robbins cpr at mindspring.com
Tue Jan 16 12:41:11 EST 2007

Thanks so much for this response, Simon which has proven, once again,  
thought provoking.

I realize that the situation in the UK is very different ( and I am  
somewhat envious! )  In the late 90's, I had held various programs in  
the UK as models for what could be seen as viable in the States.  The  
post colonial patterns of power be what they may, my own shortcoming  
was not realizing truly how wide the cultural difference really is  
between the UK ( and perhaps the EU and Canada) and the States.  This  
cultural difference has expanded in the past few years, with the  
culture here in the States becoming increasing constricted and  
regulated.  To a foreigner, it does not seem to have taken hold quite  
as deeply in the UK and there is much more acceptance and  
respectability for what has is known in corporate jargon as "working  
outside the box."

In considering this entire debate and my own role in creating such a  
curricula in the late 90's/early 00's, I have been forced to come  
face to face with my own reframing of the visionary opportunities  
possible within a University framework.  In my earlier proposals of a  
PHD in digital media arts, I/we had viewed DMA as a cross- 
disciplinary program.  In this case it was intended for the Schools  
of Cinema, Art, Communication, Music, Theatre, Engineering and  
Computer Science within a University.  It was not seen as a  
replacement of the MFA for a specific visual art or media program -  
much as a PHD in Economics is not seen as a replacement for an MBA.   
It was viewed as an augmentation for advancing a specific new  
language and forging the foundation of what was then an  
epistemological exercise.  Of course, this had the support of a  
University wide Presidential initiative for interdisciplinary study  
and programs - which continues today- almost a decade later.

Unfortunately or fortunately, as the case may be,  I have to run but  
thanks again for this discussion -



On Jan 16, 2007, at 4:13 AM, Simon Biggs wrote:

> A quick response as at this time I am overseeing the move of 56  
> (practice
> based) PhD's from one building to another.
> On 16/1/07 03:04, "Christiane Robbins" <cpr at mindspring.com> wrote:
>> This debate  has revolved around questions/responses such as:   What
>> is the purpose of a PhD within the context of the arts and the
>> university structure? Why is ithe PHD only being considered for
>> digital media artist sand not for artists in general?
> -----
> The situation in the UK is very different. Practice based PhD's  
> across the
> creative arts are now well established, with painters, sculptors,  
> dancers,
> choreographers, musicians, landscape architects and all sorts pursuing
> research degrees in a range of institutions, from older research led
> Universities through to the new Universities (ex-polytechnics  
> where, due to
> historical reasons, many art schools had been located since the  
> 1970's).
> So far as I am aware this is also the situation in Australia, New  
> Zealand
> and perhaps Canada (is anybody from Canada participating or lurking  
> in this
> discussion?).
> I am not sure how many creative arts PhD's have been completed in  
> the UK,
> although I did see some figures a year or so ago. I seem to  
> remember that
> there were approaching 200 currently registered with 600 completed  
> - but do
> not hold me to those numbers. These might only be the numbers that  
> have been
> funded by the research councils. Othr PhD's would not have been  
> auditted at
> a national level.
> An aside to this is that many UK practice based PhD candidates are  
> from
> outside the UK (and more commonly from outside Europe, with the new
> economies of Asia especially well represented). There is of course  
> a subtext
> here concerning the value of knowledge and post-colonial patterns  
> of power.
>> What research
>> or “practice” will create the expertise required for a PhD? And, will
>> this be the only benchmark of future professors of art who are deemed
>> experts in their field of research and inquiry?
> -----
> As I mentioned in a prior post, in the UK many academic posts in  
> University
> art departments now require candidates to have completed or nearly  
> completed
> a PhD. This is not for Professorial posts but relatively junior  
> lectureship
> positions (probably equivalent to Assistant Professorships in the  
> USA - in
> the UK only full Professors, in the US sense, are known as  
> Professor). For
> Professors it would be assumed you hold a doctorate (or equivalent
> experience) and significant senior research experience beyond that.
> For the research oriented art schools here around 50% of income can be
> derived from research funds whilst the traditional stream of teaching
> related income can be below that. Institutions are also funded  
> relative to
> the doctoral candidates they host, and this feeds down to subject  
> areas.
> Thus there is a perogative to have a healthy PhD cohort and to have  
> this you
> need resources. A key resource requirement is supervisors and  
> generally
> supervisors need a PhD. Thus we have a (virtuous) circle of  
> dependency, with
> departments hiring practice based post-PhD's to supervise the next
> generation of practice based PhD supervisors. "It's the (knowledge)  
> economy,
> s****d" (Clinton).
>> How does this PHD
>> allow for an artist to evolve throughout a career that is constituted
>> by a diverse body of determinate factors other than the University?
> -----
> I don't think it does allow for this. Gropius's arguments, which  
> you quoted,
> support this position. The PhD is a degree for academics, allowing  
> them to
> progress to the higher rungs of the research career ladder. It is  
> not a
> degree for artists, nor should it be. This would be a waste of time  
> for the
> artists and a corruption of what a PhD is and what it is for.  
> However, this
> does not mean that artists cannot do, nor gain from doing, a PhD.
>> My interest in the sites and practices of art is not only personal …
>> it is professional in that I have long been fascinated by the system
>> (s) by which the arts are offered:  the compilation of
>> representations, values, beliefs that are embedded into curricula,
>> class assignments, studio crits, visiting artists, panels/
>> conferences, and role models (otherwise known as faculty,)…. how the
>> identity of the artist is constructed by the discourse of the
>> University system.  In this case it is the implementation of the PHD
>> – in which I clearly see merit as well as some reasons for concern.
>> This may ring true for a number of us.
> -----
> Professionally I perceive myself as an artist, first and foremost.  
> However,
> I have this other hat I wear which is an academic research hat.  
> Happily my
> practice and research concerns generally overlap. If they didn't  
> then I
> would leave academia. Within the institution I imagine I am  
> perceived as
> both an artist and a research academic. I wonder which one garners  
> more
> respect? I have a suspicion it is the artist's hat. Other academics  
> perceive
> this as a very particular and socially quite special role. On the  
> other
> hand, the visual arts are not held in the highest academic esteem  
> and whilst
> the research councils now recognise creative practice as a form of  
> research,
> and will fund it as such, it is also the case that many academics  
> in the old
> research subjects take a dim view of this. Many, I suspect, would  
> consider
> this a waste of good money. Thus they wouldn't take the idea of a  
> Professor
> in art very seriously (Professor in the UK sense, which conventionally
> implies a research leading post). Nevertheless, I find plenty of  
> academics
> in the "old" subjects (physics, anthropology, chemistry, maths,  
> medicine,
> etc) very open to art practice as research as well as to  
> interdisciplinary
> debate and even research collaboration. That there are specific  
> research
> funds available for this type of thing in the UK does function to  
> focus
> people's attention.
>> What becomes a salient point in our current debate is that we are now
>> confronted with a relatively nascent arts discipline ( digital media
>> arts ) which harkens back not only to the notion of  “manual
>> dexterity of the craftsman” as currently epitomized by programming,
>> digital imaging, etc.
> ----
> An interesting and very specific example of the inverse situation  
> could be
> enlightening here. I was working with a physicist at Cambridge on  
> developing
> some new "smart" materials. These were theorised using maths and then
> synthesised in a chemistry wet-lab. As part of the latter stages of  
> the
> development process significant amounts of time were involved in  
> physically
> manipulating the stuff (with your hands). He got a real kick out of  
> doing
> this and we discussed, at the time, the physical "craft" skills he had
> developed in this research. I have also observed this sort of  
> practice in
> other hard science areas, not least computing. Therefore I see  
> craft as
> something practiced in many professions and not something that is  
> definitive
> of or particularly related to arts practice. Thus the implicit  
> duality in
> your argument above might not hold.
> Regards
> Simon
> Simon Biggs
> simon at littlepig.org.uk
> http://www.littlepig.org.uk/
> AIM: simonbiggsuk
> Research Professor, Edinburgh College of Art
> s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
> http://www.eca.ac.uk/

Christiane Robbins

J e t z t z e i t
Los Angeles  l  San Francisco

... the space between zero and one ...
Walter Benjamin

The present age prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to  
the original, fancy to reality, the appearance to the essence for in  
these days illusion only is sacred, truth profane.

Ludwig Feuerbach, 1804-1872,
German Philosopher

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