Practice Based Research- part 2

November 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

In this lecture we followed on from last week when Spencer first introduced practice based research…

My notes…

Spencer Roberts- 24/11/14

  • Henk Borgdorff’s position artistic research
  • What Borgdorff brings to the debate

  • Borgdorff tries to bring a creative, constructivist framework
  • He doesn’t think of what art is as a fixed, timeless thing…
  • Relates to James Elkins- Borgdorff is keen to get an artistic research program ‘off the ground’

  • It is responding against another design position
  • Quite conservative
  • Michael Biggs- looked at funding documents, though that they contained definitions of research
  • [HRC forms- the influence + how your work will innovate]
  • [Biggs- that’s what that is- what we are asking for]

  • Borgdorff builds all the information that he needs that supports his artistic research
  • Scientific research is open, about groups of people banding together

[Henk Borgdorff]

  • If all these platforms are in place
  • If artistic research can imitate scientific research, and so you cat distinguish between them
  • They are legitimised
  • Borgdorff is saying that all kinds of research are a performance not just artistic research

Actor network theory

  • ANT- actor network theory- actor = human, microbe, infrastructure (university)
  • Facilitates- post-disciplinarity- not an interdisciplinarity position (where you carve a problem into bits- to manage it)
  • Loose network structure
  • Anything can be an actor in the system
  • His position- is to provide the link
  • About how we engineer these frameworks

(Artistic research catalogue, journal for artistic research- both initiatives from Henk Borgdorff)

ANT- in practice

  • Legacy- symbolic interaction
  • Erving Goffman- studied asylums and what happens in institutions

Specifically the categorizing of schizophrenia

  • He asks some students to tell there doctors that they were hearing a voice saying- hollow, empty, thud
  • This was labelled as schizophrenic behaviour- everything they do from then on while in the institution is also labelled as schizophrenic behaviour-
  • They take notes while they are there and observe the doctors and how they interact with the patients
  • He then steps in and gets the students out of the institutions
  • He (Erving Goffman) received backlash from this for ‘unethical behaviour’
  • He then tells institutions in America that he will do the same thing again- send students into doctors practices there so that they can get diagnosed again and the study continues
  • He didn’t send in students pretending to be patients, however the numbers of diagnosed schizophrenic patients drop because of the idea that some of them could be faking
  • The study is based on interpretations

Thomas Kuhn

  • Science itself shifts
  • Tried to theorise science
  • Book- science wars of the early 80’s

[ANT- contemporary form of process philosophy]

-Massive focus on performance


Practice Based Research- part 1

November 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

In this lecture we first started looking at practice based research…


James Elkins started off being a painter (practitioner) but gravitated to being more interested in research and art history. He sees artistic knowledge as being important but doesn’t feel like it works as part of a university. He doesn’t understand being taught how to do art. He is opposed to rational discussion which universities are often founded on. Elkins has written some provocative, skeptical texts, such as ‘Why Art Cannot be Taught’ and “Artists with PhDs’ (with an implied question mark at the end) and ‘On Pictures and the Words that Fail Them’. He has also been a prominent ‘middle ground’ voice in the debate concerning the legitimacy of practice-based research- art provides a unique, highly specialized way of knowing the world and engaging with it, that has little to do with the rational forms of knowing/being that underpin the traditional ideas of the university. He is currently a Historian and art critic at the Art Institute of Chicago. Having being a painter but having become an art distortion he occupies and interesting place on discussion of painting/writing and rationality in particular.

Elkins felt that artistic knowledge and understanding was very important but thought although it works in the context of a studio, it didn’t work in the context of a university. In his own work, he makes a sharp distinction between painting and art theory. He turns the tables on the tutors in education. This become particularly interesting when we start to look at crit sessions.

An assessment criteria tries to combine traditional education and concerns into one. Elkins said that there is something about the structure of education and art and design education, which you can see themes running through. You must not look for a rational dialogue in a critique. You should instead regard it as a creative situation where strangers are trying to find meaning and say something. What is important is managing the social dynamic of this group, maintaining balance without engaging in rational discussion, which is nonsense. Elkins sees art as a unique, highly specialized way of knowing the world and also engaging with it. He doesn’t feel that this has anything to do with rational forms of knowing or beings that seem to underpin the traditional ideas of a university.

His first critical stance is talking about pre-Bauhaus work. This causes a number of problems. It creates ‘middle of the road’ work and idealizes a ‘golden age’ of art, rejecting the contemporary and academically combining historical elements to form new art. It causes prefect proportion, so there is no distortion and no emphasis on originality. There was also a focus on the ‘ideal form’ and peculiarities/flaws of a subjects form is alien to our thinking. Spencer explained that the core thing to take from this is that Elkins sees this as academic, with too much theory and educational practice.

In the last 1700s-1850, Romanticism came into play. Uniformity was rejected and people actually looked for special qualities and particular talents. Categories were rejected and there was an impact on contemporary art schools. There was still a loose/free investigation of meaning (not analytic precision) and it was still pleased that artists should not be independent of the state. It was thought that tutors should cultivate student individuality and shouldn’t comfort to stylistic norms. Also the idea of individual subjectivity troubles the idea that art can be taught beyond technique there were no universal rules/nothing to have in common.

Spencer then moved onto to talking about conversations and how student and tutor discussions are very rarely allowed to continue to the end. They are seen as a way of not coming to terms with a range of fundamental difficulties- a way of acknowledging complex issues. The low level intensity of these sessions and the short duration allows people to continue on with their work. We looked at ‘art as an open concept’ (Morris Weitz). This is where art endlessly changes and transforms. It can absorb and is theorized. It can grow and things can be mixed and matched. Each medium is its own message.

We started to look at theories and how in the context of art, commitment, passion and responsiveness are important to teaching. Spencer said that art can be taught but no one is quite sure how this can be done. He stressed that environment and relationship are both important factors. Art can be taught but so few people who are taught become really outstanding artists. In fact, it would seem that more famous artists actually dropped out of institutions. Sensitivity to perception, technique, professional practice, criticism, theory and philosophy are all things that can be taught for sure. After 1933 there is more overlap between disciplines. We have this at Huddersfield University which can be seen in this departmental lecture, where everyone from different disciplines have been brought together,

Some of the key practitioners that Spencer drew our attention to were John Dewey, Gilbert Syle, Deleuze, Donald A. Schon and Micheal Polanyi.

Affect Theory

November 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

In this lecture we looked at affect theory and more specifically Melarkey, Spinoza, Jameson and Massumi’s takes on affect.

My notes…

Affect theory- 01/12/14

Lots of theorists who look at affect theory are also really interested in subjectivity of time.

Theorist John Mellarky

  • Framed a set of experiments
  • 15 minutes of intercut segments of the born trilogy- hyperkinetic
  • Interspaced with a 7 hour film- santango- (the film is like going from hot to cold over an extended period of time)
  • Cinema is a screen of perception

Affect theory reader- recent text

  • The affect or affective turn
  • It is just saying what is happening in this age

Bruce Spinoza’s writing is dry and geometric- writing about human qualities.

Writing in a time religion was foregrounded but it was also being attacked- people were pulling away from religion + contemplating about religion and what is a god

  • You can’t know much about the fundamental nature of the world…
  • Double aspect theory- god or nature- either way we are thinking of one fundamental

Affect as embodied force that influences the mind


  • Psychology and philosophy intertwined
  • Spinoza thinks of the world as one big thing- the separation between things becomes problematic for him
  • If you have the thought that the world is one thing then everything is intertwined- holistic view

[Spinoza insists on the relation between affect + cognition (though)]

That idea that a film can have an affect- ‘media’ theories derived from this tradition- focus upon imitation (mimesis)

Music- is distinguished by its imitation of human action

Tragedy- imitates actions, which excite pity and fear

  • Affect in relation to post-modernity
  • Jameson- says affect is used in modernity
  • Stuff is formed out of material affects

Brian Massumi- rejects Jameson- suggesting post-modern belief has waned- but not affect

No theoretical/cultural vocabulary specific to affect- he suggests our condition, if anything is characterised by a surfeit of it.

(tries to create some of his on vocabulary for it)

Can Art Be Taught?

October 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

In this lecture with spencer we discussed James Elkins- types of knowing and whether art can be taught… I didn’t Write a lot on this lecture but I found it really intestine.

My notes…

Spencer Roberts- 27/10/14


Can art be taught?

James Elkins and types of knowing

-Sees artistic knowledge and understanding as the best knowledge you can have but completely impractical outside of a studio

(What becomes really important in a crit session- is about finding a balance- cant look at it rationally- people shouldn’t look at it like a rational conversation)

-Why art cant be taught/artists with PhD’s

-Freedom in arts education

-Bauhaus- 1919-1933- after 1933 you start to get much more overlap between disciplines

-Studio based conversations don’t reach an ultimate end- drift from topic to topic- informal- things related to your work

-Not coming to terms with a range of fundamental difficulties- the conversation somehow reflects what is going on in art itself

Idea that….

  • Art as an open concept- art endlessly changes
  • Might result in some kind of growth

Context and History of Art and Design Education

October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

This week with spencer we looked at the context and history of art and design education- how art and design education came to be. we looked a lot at Henri Bergson, John Dewy, Joseph Albers and Eva Hesse along with others…




Context and history of Art & Design

Early 1900s

Henri Bergson

Convinced many thinkers that the processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism (“regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge” or “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification”.) and science for understanding reality.

The seemingly stable physical world, the notion of strength of truth and the existence of unchanging morality were all less settled in the face of the new physics, pragmatism (rejection of the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality.), biblical criticism and emerging theories of evolutionary transformation and vitalism. (“Living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things”)

Example: world trade center protests – political peace and order that democracy thrives on is grounded on the idea that they also radically disagree on things. Voting narrows that choice, but also narrows the perception of disagreement. Filmed in cities all around the world, and had a communal chat which expressed a lack of consensus and unity. Multiplicity. (Unity + disorder)

John Dewey


Critical on top down ordering structures, important for individuals to form experiences, needed an idea of material experiences where people are situated, early 20th century his visions were used as individual, neat ordering on experiences. Fashion your own world, affect change and grow with it. Experience is the fulfillment of an organism in its struggles and achievements in a world of things. It is art in germ. Even in its rudimentary forms, it contains the promise of that delightful perception which is aesthetic experience.


Joseph Albers


Bauhaus – Germany


Central place for design thinking, linked to building and construction, technical college with a strong arts agenda because of experimental methods in teaching, student learning and experience. Interested with the architectural grid ding and composition, equally interested in hands on, craft culture and experiential view on the world. Disciplinary.


Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Centered on the idea of we are living in a machine age. Taught the aesthetic and communicative properties of materials through which students developed a design sensibility. Directed towards simplicity and elemental expression by reducing variety in nature to basic properties used to create products that had organization and function.



Johannes Itten

Stressed direct interaction with the physical world – he saw the study of nature as above all else a study of the purely material through which his students discovered the inexhaustible wealth of textures and their combinations. Actively engaged their senses through which perception was filtered. Additionally the artist claimed that through exercises dealing with materials and materiality ‘a new world was discovered.’ it ten’s was a method mediated by the body, his exercises involved looking closely and intently so as to discover the world anew through sharpened and refined senses.


Josef Albers

How colours interact and act on each other – thinks of them as networks of interacting forces of intensity, a form of multiplicity in colour. Formalized approach when teaching, working with diagrams and theorizing of the practice. Trying to get across the picture of multiplicity. Credited with influencing the movements of geometric abstraction and minimalism developed a perception-based mode of ‘colour action.’ emphasis the relation between colours and how they work on perception. Dewey’s ideas practiced in experiential colour interaction on Albers behalf. “Simultaneous contrast is not just a curious optical phenomenon – it is the very heart of painting.” creating ‘visual empathy’ through which one gained ‘the ability to read the meaning of form and order.’ disliked expressionism.


Black mountain college – USA


Liberal arts college with a very strong arts agenda; had a very free approach to education. They had two compulsory courses, philosophy with John Andrew Rice, and materials and form with Josef Albers. John Dewey was actively involved in BMC, and tried to develop the curriculum, tutors and their families mingled with the students; sharing what was available it was more a micro-community. Constructed experience and had a holistic approach to life through regular engagement. BMC were interested the process and not results, so had a much wider and open agenda that the Bauhaus. “Our way of handling facts and ourselves amid the facts is more important than the facts themselves” played a formative role in the definition of an American aesthetic and identity in the arts during the 1950s and 1960s. Trans-disciplinary.


Buckmister Fuller – created his first geodesic dome in 1948


John Cage staged his first work of performance art (first Happening)


Links between the institutions


– Both heavily oriented to experimentation, expressed views and ideas of Dewey and both accepting of materials and form by Josef Albers


– Bauhaus has a stronger formalism environment, attraction to universal principles and to design. Arts united through principle


– BMC is more open environment, less structural aims. Stronger attachment to material culture; embrace of popular culture, runs with an art agenda, cares about the production of signs not the end.




Eva Hesse


She loved Albers formalism, dogmatism and overbearingness. Learnt in terms of experimental practice, doesn’t include much colour deliberately to avoid association, produced informal materialistic work spurred by materialistic practices that Albers recommended. Skewing his method to produce new forms of painting and design. Produces unique perceptions in person’s minds. Has a love/hate relationship with Albers.


Inter-disciplinarity, Trans-disciplinarity, Multiplicity and Pluralism

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

In this lecture we looked at inter-disciplinarity, trans-disciplinarity, multiplicity and pluralism. Spencer Roberts lectures can sometimes be hard to follow because he clearly loves what he teaches and talks really fast so that he can fit everything in but also because he just goes wherever his brain takes him to.

Multiplicity – a large number/variety

  • Concepts that are prominent in contemporary theory around art and design, and concepts that have interesting historical lineage.
  • Where do they originate?
  • How do they transform as culture transforms?

Cultures are incredibly complex; they are very layered and have lots of different relationships between groups and people. Layers of difference and pockets of identity formed in a messy cultural condition where there is a lot of competition and lots of different ways to access and accept information and truth.

Modernism was massively interested in experimenting and the introduction of novel and new things.

Early 20th century, growing sense that things are not straightforward anymore. There is no complete accepted idea of the world being provided through research and people start to think that things are more complex and the introduction of this theory (small pockets of order; within a much bigger pocket of disorder) generated many different reactions. For modernists it was a breath of fresh air; knowing there is not a fixed way of going about things, the language of the multiple started to blossom; individual, subjective takes on things.

For some this was an opportunity, for others there was a reactionary response, which induced vertigo and was confronted by massive radical difference, which was pretty frightening.

Henry Adams

  • Henry Adams publicizes his worries about this new model of complexity; he’s worried and anticipating the onset of ww1, he’s nervous that the sense of unity; which is easy in a climate of certainty, will dissipate.
  • Adams presents multiplicity as small pieces by individuals trying to make sense of problems and puzzles.

Example  – ww1 trench fighting encourages multiple forms of experience in a large group but the idea of coordinating such diversity is a struggle.

Gertrude Stein (modernist, fictional author)

William James – stream of consciousness (Pragmatism)

  • People have varied sense of time or temporal, in whatever situation you are in time can go quickly or be drawn out, the stream of consciousness writers try to present a spectrum of multiple positioned planes in time one may consider which gives a sense of the fragmentation in complexity. Another thing is the intensity of experiences. Modernist writers played on this; conjuring particular experiences and sensation through wordplay and experimental forms of writing but in some sense drive the ownership of your thoughts, whether you make your own, or you take on the writer’s and rise from them.

Pragmatism – an approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

Example – production of crystals is a product of multiple lines of causation over time and specific constraints (restrictions). Each design perfectly expresses not only one of the universe’s collections (environment) in a specific interval of time but also the crystals own particular historical trajectory within it (it’s path). A crystal is literally the product of time; in it is growth and design.

Multiplicity brings a pluralistic vision of truths, goods and beauties. – Atheism, anomalies in science, moves away from sovereign individual and towards an idea of the social self. Where the cultural elite had maintained the beautiful as spiritual, universal, and moral. Many artists and critics rejected the old precepts, forging new versions of beauty that were at times plebeian. Contingency, multiple causation and indeterminism


John Dewey

  • Thought we needed new models of teaching and learning but we are grounded in experience. Interested in the process of making things but doesn’t like applying pre-existent categories.
  • Actively learning strategies are important in structuring how somebody has an intelligent education. Tries to contrast intelligence with reason, saying reason is embedded in old models of thinking and wanted to cultivate an intelligent model of thinking, saying you’re in a complex situation and have to work with the materials given to generate an assessment of what to do.
  • Interested in communication and developing coherent sense of space in the world. The have a proper theory of experience, trying to counter an early notion of multiplicity; anything to be an experience it has to have a kind of order, but that’s something a person structures through their dealings. A continuity developing alongside sensation, yet factoring in the experience of a situation.
  • Both multiplicity and ordering of experience, but a subjective one saying it’s shareable.

Pluralism – a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.

Agonistic pluralism – culture is seen as growing, perpetual conflict. Activists, who design on the margin, highlight pockets of disorder and conflict.

– Mass meetings (disorder) appealing against the building of the world trade Centre’s, never being resolved (no political solution)

– Million dollar blocks – looking at the background of prisoners, tower blocks, which costs over a million dollars a year for upkeep. Pinpointed a hot, conflicted problem asking how to deal with it, showing it visually, and generating solutions and re-directing flow of people and morals. Intensive, social thermodynamics influences the connection between pluralism and political and social conflict.


Spencer Robert’s Introduction

October 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the first lecture that we and with spencer we looked at the timetable for the future weeks in the lecture series and he also talked us though the subjects a little, this was good because it is nice to have in idea of where we will be going.

Lecture series- Spencer Roberts- 06/10/14

  • Looking into the relationships between art and design
  • How does art and design fit into the institution
  • All art and design got lumped together under the category of visual arts, when it was first being accepted in the educational institutions- when the arts were allowed into education
  • Lots of overlapping disciplines with that many people with a varied range of interests were put together
  • Lots of overlapping interests but also very different processes
  • Lots of emphasis on collaboration.


  • Week 2- 14/10/14- Inter-disciplinarity, Trans-disciplinarity, Multiplicity and Pluralism
  • Week 3- 20/10/14- Context of history and art and design education
  • Week 4- 27/10/14- Types of knowing: can art and design be taught
  • Week 5- 03/11/14- The ‘problem’ of research in art and design
  • Week 6- 10/11/14- Workshop week
  • Week 7- 17/11/14- The art-orientated critique of the application of design research methods and generic research methods to art-orientated contexts
  • Week 8- 24/11/14- Arte-povera, modernism and material practice (second wave of PBR)

All about complexity-/ narrative focuses on experience (experiential forms of arguments.

  • Week 9- 01/12/14- Art network theory and mode to research
  • Week 10- 8/12/14- The discourse of objects in art, design, curatorship and research
  • Week 11- 15/12/14- Summary: understanding the affective turns in educational and research contexts.

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