artistic research

sketch for a manifesto

Artistic research is not a form of artistic production, it is a practice.

The practice has to concentrate on the quality of the research as such, not on an artistic output, of whatever form.

To assess this quality, the specific abilities of an artist researcher need to be taken into account. If a certain topic could also be researched by, say, an investigative journalist or a social scientist, there is one crucial question: What are the special skills of the artist when digging into this?

These skills could consist of:

  • associativity
  • openness
  • intuitive understanding
  • sensorium for undertones
  • interdisciplinary approach, cross-pollination of methods and concepts
  • critical thinking
  • curiosity driven, non utilitarian
  • no fear of many-voiced, inconsistent outcomes
  • stamina, patience, big scope (aka better funding?)
José Quintanar, A Dutch landscape of 26 days, Shower Gallery, Rotterdam, May 2020

Many artistic projects consist of a – longer or shorter – preparatory phase of investigation. Artistic research is more than that, it should be seen as an investigation on its own terms and not as a preparation for further work.

Artistic research should work towards a research outcome/result in order to share it with other researchers/interest groups. The aim of this sharing is to start a critical discussion about what has been researched and what knowledge has been acquired. If possible, this discussion is fed back into the research process. Interdisciplinarity (sharing and discussing results with researchers from other fields) is very welcome – but it should not be seen as a defining quality of artistic research.

A certain formalization of the production process and of the shared pieces of knowledge is desirable. With other words: we need to develop protocols. The form should be appropriate for the subsequent sharing, so appropriate formats present the knowledge in accessible ways to other researchers and/or a wider audience interested in these findings. Sharing of the gained knowledge with a general public is a different task, and will therefore ask for a different artistic/communicative practice. It might be the biggest misunderstanding of how art and science can intertwine: Artistic research should not serve as a simple means to illustrate and divulge other research results.

Some research results will be of direct use, some will not. In a perfect analogy to science one can think of this division in terms of applied research vs. basic research. Artistic research understood as basic research will have to find a way to point out its importance even if it is without immediate use for society. Applied artistic research will supplement the practice of (pure) artistic research.

Artistic research is still developing as a practice, with all the social norms and cultural conventions that go with it. That is especially true for a kind of quality management as well as the ideal formalization to transmit results. It took science well over hundred years to find and set the conventions and develop the protocols that allowed it to become such a successful cultural practice. There is no need to rush.