What is practice research?
Practice research is an umbrella term that describes all manners of research where practice is the significant method of research conveyed in a research output. This includes numerous discipline-specific formulations of practice research, which have distinct and unique balances of practice, research narrative and complementary methods within their projects.
In practice research, practice is the significant method conveyed in a research output, and the field of practice research is unique in its focus on sharing the (often) unrecognised ways of knowing that emerge in practice. In this way the unique potential of practice research, with its ability to convey intuitive, embodied, tacit, imaginative, affective and sensory ways of knowing is brought to the fore.
Understanding the relationship and distinction between practice and practice research is of crucial importance when discussing practice research. Excellent practice may not necessarily translate into excellent practice research, and vice versa. For practice to be practice research the research has to be articulated. The ways of knowing that emerge in practice are shared in practice research through a research narrative.
Practice research is where knowledge becomes knowing, actioned through practice: a “reflection-in-action,” that develops new ways of knowing. Put simply, knowing ‘what’ is important, knowing ‘how’ is crucial. Practice is an experiential mode of inquiry that when located in a research framework, as practice research, reveals insights and understandings that expand our capacities for knowing.
Research into/on/about art and design is research that has art practice in the broadest sense of the word as its object. Often seen within art historical research and arts education. Its focus tends to be on Historical research, aesthetic or perceptual research, social, political, critical, economic, iconographical, technical, material, structural research. Outputs tend to be text based.
Research for art and design is research where the end product is an artefact, where the thinking is embodied in the artefact, where the goal is not primarily communicable knowledge in the sense of verbal communication but in the sense of visual or iconic or imagistic communication. This tends to be research for the production of your artwork or design and can be described as applied research in a narrow sense. In this type, art is not so much the object of investigation, but its objective. Outputs are stand along artefacts.
Drawn from ‘Art as Research’ section of James Bulley & Özden Şahin (eds.) Practice Research - Report 1: What is practice research? and Report 2: How can practice research be shared?. (London: PRAG-UK, 2021), and Mick Wilson and Schelte van Ruiten, eds. SHARE handbook for artistic research education. ELIA European League of Institutes of the Arts, 2013