From a research seminar

Comments concerning the current debate on artistic research


Stockholm University of the Arts (SKH) draws attention to the discussion in the media about artistic research.

The origin of the discussion is the examination committee's rejection of SKH doctoral candidate Bogdan Szyber's research project "Fauxthentication".

SKH's artistic doctoral program comprises four years of full-time studies and aims to develop the lines of enquiry, the methods and the forms of presentation and documentation that are particular to each doctorial candidate’s specific artistic practice or artistic field through an original and concrete artistic research project.

SKH currently has 19 doctoral candidates in the fields of choreography, film and media, opera and performing arts. At the last admission, there were about 200 applicants for seven places.

Within the framework of the third-cycle education, the doctoral candidate presents their on-going research project once around 30%, 50% and 80% of the work has been completed by arranging percentage seminars. At each of these percentage seminars, an external opponent shall participate.

When the doctoral candidate has completed the study period with approved study results, the documented artistic research project must be submitted to an examination committee consisting of practicing artists.

The project is examined on an artistic basis, where the doctoral candidate themselves, decides how the documentation is presented. Several critical voices in the media have recently questioned the so-called "requirement for a theoretical part" of a doctoral dissertation. There is no such requirement at SKH.

The doctoral candidates are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in their artistic practice for four years, to work in a more long-term, interdisciplinary milieu to try new ways to experiment in a changing society. Such an extensive in-depth study is seldom allowed in an economically pressured art life where many artists today go from production to production without this opportunity.

In order to obtain a doctoral degree, SKH's doctoral candidates, like all doctoral candidates studying at Swedish universities, need to be approved in accordance with the national learning outcomes specified in the Higher Education Ordinance. The national learning objectives function as a formal framework. Every individual higher education institution has the freedom to write its own curriculum. In this way, the formal framework opens up opportunities for institutions to profile their own research areas.

At SKH, the research area is Artistic Practice and it is open to a variety of interpretations. The research area is based on artistic practice; the creation as well as the knowledge it generates and develops. At SKH, we see art as a knowledge in itself. We talk about research in our fields developing rather than producing knowledge. Research in this area is steeped in interpretative processes, critical meetings and transdisciplinary dialogue. Methods are developed within the areas that are integrated in artistic practice and lead to new relationships with material, technology, collaborations and audiences. At the same time the artistic practices’ boundary lines are being tested, as are the contexts within which they are articulated and performed and their ideological and departmental frameworks. These different methods and approaches stimulate new perspectives in terms of the aesthetic, the social and the political. At SKH, groundbreaking research is underway that explores our arts areas, some of which have bearing on several of the Agenda 2030 goals, such as good health and well-being, combating climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity, gender equality and reducing inequality. However, it is important in this context to point out that the purpose is not to instrumentalise art through this research.

The area includes research that is carried out exclusively on the basis of artistic methods and practices. Artistic practice - and a relevant communication of the research results - is characteristic of the area. Artistic research challenges the traditions where only specially trained theorists, art historians, film scholars, theatre scholars put into words what was the meaning of art or what the artists actually explored through their practice.

One perspective that has not been mentioned in the debate so far is that of the student. We see today that students who apply for arts educations at bachelor's, master's and doctoral level expect the teacher to be able to articulate themselves more verbally about their artistic practice, rather than simply "knowing what good art is". The students rightly demand that we talk about art, the art we do. In arts education in 2020, students reflect on their own artistic processes and participate in the dialogue that arises through making art. By opening up to what might otherwise appear as a quiet and mysterious space, artistic research allows art to operate in a larger conversation in society.

SKH has a very competent teaching staff with a high level of specialist knowledge. Within the framework of their employment, they are given the opportunity for further in-depth study by being offered research time. This is so that they can develop their specific subject and how to teach within their field. Today, about 30 research projects are conducted within SKH. The subject development that takes place through research is a necessity for us to be able to conduct advanced education and match the students' hunger for development and specialisation and provide the conditions to challenge and change in their artistic areas after graduation.

Several of the articles ask the question of what artistic research is and its relevance is problematised and questioned, which is important and developing for the artistic research field itself. But in the same way as with scientific research, artistic research cannot be defined in a single way, but the field is wide, broad, diverse and challenging and should remain so. At least at SKH.

SKH sees it as its task to develop experimental, innovative and collaborative artistic research environments where art forms and the dialogue between art, society and education are strengthened. Artistic research is not interesting for all artists and need not be. One does not have to be for or against research, all forms of practice have a place and not everyone has to do research. Not everything can be put into words, but can be expressed in ways that you may not have known before you began researching. Artistic research and practice go hand in hand, intertwine and slide apart and they will continue to challenge themselves and each other. Artistic research is not a threat to art and it will never be able to deprive art of the opportunity to break new ground, rather the opposite.

Cecilia Roos Professor of Artistic Practices, Vice-Rector for Research

Links to the articles (in Swedish):

Expressen 10 juli

Expressen 14 juli

Expressen 15 juli

Expressen 16 juli

Expressen 20 juli

Expressen 21 juli

Aftonbladet 17 juli