Art and Research Colliding (2014)

Mäki Teemu

About this exposition

This exposition concerns the relationship between art and research. It focuses on the questions: How can we define knowledge and research in the context of artistic research? What is artistic research? What is its goal? How is it different from other traditions of combining art and research? How should the university system react to and make use of artistic research? What is artistic knowledge and how is it used? How can we justify art as a special, flexible form of research? In what sense is art a philosophical and political practice – not just a way of communicating philosophical and political ideas and reasoning, but an especially powerful and holistic form of philosophy and politics? The first half of the exposition analyses and develops a line of reasoning about these concepts and categories. It also includes an attempt to justify art as philosophy/politics. The second half of the exposition lists the five main traditions of combining art and research and the pros and cons of each of them. The latter half of the exposition, in particular, uses images, videos, and music as examples of these traditions, and in some way as proof of the philosophical/political claim of the exposition. The whole exposition is built concretely from the viewpoint of a practicing artist, looking for insights and ways that could help him and other artists in their artistic work.

Muutamia kysymyksiä ja huomioita taiteesta ja tutkimuksesta, joidenkin taiteellisten näytteiden kera. Mitä on tutkimus, mitä on tieto ja pyrkiikö edellinen tuottamaan ainoastaan jälkimmäistä? Miksi (jotkut) taiteilijat yrittävät työssään yhdistää taidetta ja tutkimusta? Mitä sillä yhdistelmällä voi saavuttaa? Mitkä ovat yhdistelmän riskit? Mihin yhdistelmää tarvitaan? Mitä on "taiteellinen tieto" tai "taiteen oma tieto"? Mitä siihen kuuluu ja miten se eroaa niin sanotusta tieteellisestä tiedosta? Missä mielessä taide on tutkimusta? Miten ja missä määrin pitäisi taiteen ja tutkimuksen yliopistomaailmassa yhdistyä? Tämä on taiteilijan kirjoittama teksti tai ekspositio taiteen ja tiedon suhteesta ja taiteellisen tutkimuksen luonteesta. Vaikka kirjoitan välillä hyvin yleisellä, epäpersoonallisella tasolla esimerkiksi tiedon ja tutkimuksen määritelmistä, näkökulmani on koko ajan taiteilijan. Myös päämääräni on taiteilijan, sillä etsin tässä ennen kaikkea sellaisia tiedon määritelmiä ja käyttötapoja, jotka auttaisivat taiteilijaa ja taiteellisen tutkimuksen harjoittajaa työssään – oli se työ sitten taideteosten tekemistä tai ei-taiteellista teorianmuodostusta.
typeresearch exposition
affiliationSteering group of TAhTO (Doctoral Programme in Artistic Research)
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 5 (last entry by Andrea Pagnes - 03/06/2014 at 20:59)
Dirk Baecker 26/05/2014 at 14:30

The exposition is a very clear if a little verbose statement of most if not all of the important questions to be raised if it comes to posing the problems of the exposition. It does this in an encompassing and reflective way by the means of stating the questions and giving illuminating examples. The exposition is accessible, readable, very informative, and possibly a little too long.

David Casacuberta 26/05/2014 at 14:31

To understand human life, Dogen compared us to a fish living in the sea. If the fish leaves the sea it dies. The fish defines its environment by its needs and activity. The further it swims, the bigger its world becomes.
Artists swim freely in the sea of creations. We, philosophers never find our voice in that sea because we are too worried about establishing the limits, possibilities and capacities of that sea, so we never move in it.
However a fish can also be so worried about what’s beyond its surroundings that may never leave a particular spot of the sea.
Teemu Mäki has found a way to represent that tension, inviting artists -or maybe himself- to go beyond their usual practice and embrace artistic research but keeping the art format and expression.s

I found it difficult to swim in, as I need buoys for orientation in the forms of quotes and references. But I realize it is mostly a bad habit I’ve got for spending too much time in the academic world.

It’s good to dive in.

Jaana Erkkila 26/05/2014 at 14:32

Teemu Mäki embraces a wide variety of essential questions about the challenges that an artist has to deal with when entering the field of academic research. Mäki claims that there is a gap between an artistic experience and a verbalized theory and although it sometimes can be temporarily overcome there always remains an area that words cannot reach. He writes from his position as an artist and raises several important considerations in the fairly new academic area of artistic or arts-based research.

Our ways of communication and the language we use either builds understanding and open new ways of seeing the world or they create obstacles which hinder wider collaboration. Mäki claims to use a language that he calls “plainspeak” and he believes that by using a language which an “opponent” understands it is possible to change the world. I do agree with Mäki about the need to find a common ground in language in order to communicate, but I am not quite clear with whom he wishes to speak, whom he defines as his “opponent”.  In part of the text the academic world is clearly identified as an “opponent”, but it might be also the art world and those colleagues who see research as a useless activity for an artist, or who, according to Mäki, have questionable motivations for their research.

 You can hear through the article a clear criticism towards colleagues who according to Mäki have more or less undesirable reasons to conduct artistic research. He gives five reasons why some artists are trying to combine art and research and, although he gives an impression that his arguments are based on reasons given by other artists, there is no clear reference to interviews or where and how the data has been collected. Here we come to the question of “language”. If we as researching artists want to communicate with researchers from other academic disciplines we have to use a common language whether we like it or not. Does “plainspeak” mean basing arguments more on feelings or general beliefs than on information that can be traced and verified through simple research methods. I do appreciate the straight forward style that Mäki uses through his article, but its value is diminished by his excluding the usual methods of verifying knowledge. Although Mäki’s weakness is in generalising about artistic research even so his description of his own artistic work and anchoring it in the article is a useful contribution.

The most interesting part of Mäki’s article is represented in his ideas about artistic knowledge and art as a philosophical-political practice. Mäki writes about art as a subject: “art uses, art makes observations, art is constantly interfering and overlapping with contributing to non-artistic knowledge”.  Here speaks clearly an artist and gives arguments that are based on experiential knowledge. The flow of thoughts is bright and clear. The author clearly knows what he is writing about. Perhaps this illustrates well why artists should research. We do have a depth of knowledge which comes from experience, a knowledge which researchers from other disciplines do not have. The field of artistic knowledge is still a large and unknown territory and there is much to explore and to apply in disciplines outside the art world. Mäki writes that art does not have to be content with asking good questions – it can also try to answer them. And the answers can best be found by practicing artists.

Peter Patchen 28/05/2014 at 15:50

We are considering many of the same questions at Pratt Insititute. Thank you for an insightful exploration of the topic.

Andrea Pagnes 03/06/2014 at 20:59

A difficult challenge, full of traps and pitfalls, is to address and discuss theoretically and from different perspectives issues such as:

  • Where are the boundaries and what are the connections between art, knowledge, and research in the broadest sense of the terms?
  • What are they actually substantially, qualitatively, quantitatively, and relationally – that is to what extent do they interrelate and ‘leak’ into one another (what is their level of ‘interference’)?
  • How it is possible to determine and to which extent are they useful and beneficial for one each other, remaining equally valid for themselves?

In fact, someone can easily fall into clichés, specious statements, and mere opinions that are too captious and personal.


As Teemu Mäki is both an artist and an academic, the ‘bipartisan’ balance he has been able to maintain in his exposition (for the reader) is admirable – but more interesting is that the source of his exposure stems from his primary status as an artist, and is not dictated by professorial habit. There is a strong stand in all this, not in defence of what and how an author says and writes, but rather due to a deep necessity to dissect freely and express in words argumentation as such, trying to fathom the most intimate folds of art making.


From an academic perspective, one can surely object to the assumptions and considerations and the style of writing, even say ‘the contrary of the contrary’ with as much authority and with reference to influential topics of equal or greater validity. However, from my perspective, what actually emerges from Teemu’s effective analysis as a whole, is almost an open invitation to artists to consider from different perspective their process of making art – how and why, to unveil and reveal, to be more understandable, not just for the others, but mainly for themselves.


Of course, as artists, for instance, it would be much easier to associate with what Gerhard Richter once wrote: ‘Talk about painting: there’s no point. By conveying a thing through the medium of language, you change it. You construct qualities that can be said, and you leave out the ones that can’t be said but are always the most important.’1 Or, as academics, it would be easier to remark on a certain excessively flamboyant attitude when artists attempt to write about their art process and research. Nevertheless, in this case, I would venture a comparison between what ultimately emerges from this text (in terms of artistic research) and what Robert Storr stated (which I find somehow pertinent and which gives evidence to the whole exposition): ‘It is not right to say that making is secondary and thinking is primary. It is not right to pretend that not knowing is more creative than knowing. It is not right to pretend that knowing is creating.’2


Taking into account the methods of critical thinking and forward thinking, to find possible fruitful dialogues and tangible balances between the ineluctable necessity of creative freedom in a particular artist research and the rigour and discipline required by the academic canons is to try to build new gateways between two worlds, apparently so distant from each other, but which need to coexist. And yes, I believe this is possible by outlining dialectically new methods that are open and interchangeable and by respecting the several differences that may arise by working in this way.


In fact, there is neither bias nor deployment in what Teemu writes: preferably, anything is left open to further discussion, something that he – as author – has made perfectly clear, as clear as what he’s writing about. Actually, flexible recall – the quality that discerns the many subjects that are usefully explored in any artistic research – becomes a key to improve the approach for both sides: the one of the artist and the one of the spectator. Continuously questioning mental processes of discernment and evaluation implements the benefits of reflecting on tangible and intangible areas, and consequently the spectrum of possibilities widens. A determining factor is suggesting and indicating the usefulness of setting a flexible range of parameters and variable factors that may reconcile philosophical evidence with common sense, abstract diagnosis with concrete results, the creative with the academic.

Artistic researchers draw information from observation, experience, reasoning, communication, and life, and their highest validity is not just when their outcomes go beyond the partiality of the individual subject – because anything that is human is by nature partial – but when their core values include clarity, accuracy, precision, and evidence.


Obviously, despite the breadth of Teemu’s analytical thesis, he has to draw his authorial conclusions in the end. Nevertheless, ultimately there is no definite guarantee that would formally allow us to scan the extent to which art and research have collided and dovetailed with each other; in fact, an absolute truth does not exist, especially if facing this kind of argumentation. Fortunately, when debating such themes, this is also what makes vital and stimulating the possible discussions that follow. What I mean is that someone might also never have all the information necessary for stating a thorough assessment, first, because it is impossible to neither generalise nor explain an artistic research expressed as such into rules or preordered schemes, and, second, because the thoughts that follow will always be partial (as this is their constitutional nature) and in need of subsequent experimentation and verification.


The intellectual and cultural value of an artistic research, I think, always resides in its quality of inexhaustible work in progress, fluid and open. The term ‘artistic research’, in its essence, could be translated metaphorically as an open yard where different ideas, questions, and temporary answers find their common ground and meet, clash, revolve, and evolve. In fact, anything can be put into discussion continuously, but then there will always come a moment when someone has to stop thinking and start making with what she or he knows (or presumes to know), letting the process continue on its path, concretising.


Analysing the many facets of the topic, which indicate a variety of application models that the author states are all equally valid even if they differ from one another, lead me – as reader – to further analysis and insights, which, as I myself am primarily an artist, corresponded to my own aspirations, urges, and inclinations. As the author’s observations are proactive, even though they remain within the confines of purely philosophical analysis (specifically, the almost surgical dissection of the terms art, knowledge, and research and of what they imply when joined together in different contexts, as well as the application – or better the extension – of the methodologies of critical thinking to them), from his offered perspective the text allowed me to navigate and observe the realm of my thoughtful abstraction (which is of course part of my creative process, as well as many other factors); with it, what is triggered inside myself and through agreement makes me decide for this or that solution.


It is a matter of fact that research is ultimately exploration and the essential dimension of art itself and its greatest strength ‘is in the continuation of thinking beyond verbalisable reasoning’ (Teemu Mäki). This is also because of perceiving and intuiting – and not just for rational pondering, which is, however, fundamental in the process. When the author describes art as a ‘human-made method for moulding our lifeworld, thus an excellent form of innovative and embodied moral pondering’ (though I personally would rather use here the term ethical), the term art, in its essence, is for me still something too complex to be reduced to some definition only. However, these kinds of sentences are exactly the ones that can promote possible, fruitful, and dialectical discussions among readers. For instance, when it is said that art expresses ‘what one would like the world and the self to become and how’, I personally do not consider this to be always the main concern that artists have – for many artists, if anything, the primal urge (due to a profound pulsional drive which is always personal and particular) is to express visions, worries, and wishes in a unconventional way, translating the reality and the world in which they live to produce and generate reflections on issues that often differ from one another. Diversity of social and cultural backgrounds plays a large role in all this, as well as in the comprehension and definition of what the word art means.


On the other hand, one of the crucial points outlined in Teemu’s exposition (and also given by concrete examples) is that specific research can be totally embedded into artworks – it does not always have to take the form of a theoretical text written by the artist (or others) to accompany or explain his or her artworks. In fact, it is undeniable that the process of making art is research in itself.


In Teemu’s own words, this becomes very clear because ‘we should be able to detect a significant research tendency in much of art, not just in the kind of scholarly writing or art making which labels itself as a combination of art and research […] Art as such produces, contains, and spreads knowledge, including when it does not go through any academic machinery that produces theory-grounded explanations of it […] [Art is] a flexible source that can be used with various personal approaches and interpretations – and that is enough.’ I see in these stated sentences a great opportunity for anyone interested in starting analysing a variety of art practices (and consequently final products) and comparing them with his or her own: practices of innovative cultural significance that, once understood and metabolised, become enriching for one’s way of thinking, opening up further, unexpected possible applications/solutions to the many new questions that arise and prolong the creative journey. To choose to write on such a topic from the artist’s perspective also makes a formidable contribution to other authors, allowing them to discuss the content constructively, as it is the ideas that are more vital, and the more they differ, the more fertile is the ground of the debate. It is unquestionably a propositive way of writing, where ‘yes or no’ and ‘right or wrong’ statements reduce their raison d’être.


For instance, having read Teemu’s text a few times, I have been driven to analyse in greater depth the dichotomy between critical thinking and creative thinking, and with it the role that my imagination plays in my own artistic research – for me, in art, imagination is often more important and valuable than knowledge itself, which I view as being limited mainly to what someone knows and understands, while imagination, because it can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, embraces the entire world and everything in it that can be known and understood. As Tim Hurson wrote, we may “imagine the thinking process as a kayak paddle. One side stands for creative thinking, the other for critical thinking. If you always used the creative paddle, you’d go around in circles. If you always used the critical paddle, you’d go around in circles the other way.” 3 To make the kayak move forward, “the key is to alternate between the two: creative, critical, creative, critical.” 4,




  1. Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes, 1964–65’, in Texts: Writing, Interviews and Letters 1961–2007, ed. by Dietmar Elgar and Hans Ulrich Obrist (London: Thames and Hudson, 2009), pp. 29–36 (p. 35).
  2. Robert Storr, ‘Rules for a New Academy’, in Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), ed. by Steven Henry Madoff, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009), pp. 65–67 (p. 66).
  3. Tim Hurson, Think Better: An Innovator’s Guide to Productive Thinking (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008), pp.46-47
  4. Ibidem p.47

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