[iDC] Praxis-based Ph.D.s

Danny Butt db at dannybutt.net
Wed Jan 17 16:56:51 EST 2007

Once again there are too many people's posts I desire to respond to  
more deeply which I can't, so a couple of quick points:

1) To pick up on Chris Robbins' excellent post of a couple of days  
ago, one of the most powerful boundary-crossing aspects of artistic  
practice (particularly when compared to design) is the heterogeneous  
nature of the authentication/approval mechanisms for work. If you  
work in a scientific field there is more or less a clearly understood  
hierarchy of journals where one seeks publication, and although some  
of these (e.g. Nature) obviously have a higher "public profile" and  
orientation there is still an ideology of scientist-driven peer  
review being the authentication mechanism for the quality of the  
work. (Grants are a different story). In the visual arts, what  
constitutes success and reputation can be quite diverse and  
incommensurate across fields: one seeks the approval of i) an  
audience, ii) of curators who provide opportunities and context; iii)  
writers/critics/historians whose approval may result in the interest  
of the first two groups; and iv) one's peers. (And oneself for those  
who like to make that distinction). The different expectations within  
and between these groups makes a single mode of evaluation (and of an  
assessment of "whether or not practice-based Ph.D's are a good  
thing") troublesome.

For me, an enquiry through practice that is in the PhD form has to  
be, contrary to Myron's suggestion, precisely oriented toward one's  
peers, because this is the core of the apprenticeship/reflexivity  
that allows craft and disciplines to develop. But this may mean that  
the results of the enquiry, or the people trained/disciplined through  
that enquiry, are not always making "good work" as we might expect  
the gallery artist to be, just as we cannot expect scientific enquiry  
to always be successful or practical in its outcomes. This is why the  
professional doctorate is, I think, a better formal fit for the  
practising artist/teacher than the PhD, and it would be great if that  
could be developed. But for reasons many have mentioned this seems  
unlikely given the cachet of the PhD brand. (Again, I am not against  
the practice-based PhD and I think it is particularly important for  
artists doing interdisciplinary work with researchers from other  

2) Regarding the dilution/numbers issue raised by Shelly and others:  
I don't think there's any way of making this argument without  
effectively saying that you want to turn back the clock on providing  
access to tertiary education to a much wider range of people than  
were allowed in in the 60s. Take a look at some of those graduation  
photos from the storied institutions and tell me if they look like  
fun places to be if you weren't white and male. I am personally  
committed to a defense of the craft of academic research, and  
creative practice, which is compatible with the expansion of  
educational opportunity, and I think it's dangerous to attribute  
one's subjective experience of "decline" to more people being allowed  
in. Unfortunate homologies with current border-control discourse etc.

3) Margaret, in response to your question about the material, from my  
POV everyone knows that the list is archived and therefore it is  
available for citation and circulation as one would use any web  
resource: I plan to follow up much of this excellent discussion in my  
own academic work. I usually like to ask people for permission before  
quoting them in more formal settings given that we knock these emails  
out in a different temporal mode to academic research, and we all say  
things we might not want ending up in our professional journals.

I guess a wiki might be useful if we wanted to synthesise a  
collective statement, but I am not sure that in such a diverse group  
that would be possible or useful unless we had a clear goal for the  
document (e.g. uptake by a professional body). I think people's  
diverse styles of framing the problem is precisely where the  
importance of this discussion lies, and a wiki would only dissipate  
that IMHO.

Warm regards to all,


On 18/01/2007, at 5:55 AM, shelly silver wrote:

> My experience with mixed theory/practice MA programs is as a  
> visiting critic or a member of a jury of student work.   It is here  
> that I noticed the lower level of work produced.
>  I think it's also useful to note the ballooning size of graduate  
> departments.  Some are quite small (which I think is appropriate),  
> others number in the 100's, a practice which I find questionable.

Danny Butt
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