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“In the literature on artistic research, we regularly see a distinction made between research on the arts, research for the arts and research in the arts. This differentiation, which derives from, but also deviates from, categories proposed by Frayling (1993: cf. Borgdorff 2006), expresses different perspectives on the status of art practice. The interpretative perspective (‘research on the arts’) is common to the research traditions of the humanities and social sciences, which observe a certain theoretical distance when they make art practice their object of study. The instrumental perspective (‘research for the arts’) is characteristic of the more applied, often technical research done in the service of art practice; this research delivers, as it were, the tools and the material knowledge that can then be applied in practice, in the artistic process and in the artistic product itself. In this case, art practice is not the object of study, but its objective. And as we see, the place of artistic practice becomes more central to the research here. We can justifiably speak of artistic research (‘research in the arts’) when that artistic practice is not only the result of the research, but also its methodological vehicle, when the research unfolds in and through the acts of creating and performing. This is a distinguishing feature of this research type within the whole of academic research”, from Henk Borgdorff, 'The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research', in Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts (London, 2012).

The phrase ‘Research in the Arts’ demonstrates the importance of chosen preposition in shaping the wider debate of practice research. A preposition indicates the nature of relation; it is a word that tells you where or when something is in relation to something else – for example the choice of preposition determines how one understands the relation between research and art. Consider the following prepositions: about, into, through, for, on, in. In his 1993 paper "Research in Art and Design”, Christopher Frayling identified three categories for arts research: research into art (e.g. historical, aesthetic or perceptual research), research through art (e.g. materials research, development work, action research), and research for art (e.g. visual, iconic or imagistic communication). Henk Borgdorff, in his book The Conflict of the Faculties (2012) employs this trichotomy, but with a twist: (a) research on the arts, (b) research for the arts, and (c) research in the arts. “Research on the arts is research that has art practice in the broadest sense of the word as its object. [...] Research for the arts 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. [...] Research in the arts [...] concerns research that does not assume the separation of subject and object, and does not observe a distance between the researcher and the practice of art. Instead, the artistic practice itself is an essential component of both the research process and the research results.” Borgdorff, 2012, p.96

 

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), p.20.

 

 

RESEARCH IN THE ARTS

Bibliography/links


Michael Biggs and Henrik Karlsson (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts (London: Routledge, 2012), especially Henk Borgdorff, 'The Production of Knowledge in Artistic Research'.

 

Christopher Frayling, “Research in Art and Design,” Royal College of Art Research Papers, Vol 1, No. 1, 1993/94 (London: Royal College of Art, 1993).