Fine Art – practice, research or what?

What is Art? What is Fine Art? What is Fine Art education?

This question is certainly a question with will no final answer. And to embrace this uncertainty is fine to me. At the London study day in May, Emma Drye asked us to reflect on the question what research means to us and  what we want from an art degree. 

At that time, I thought of ‘art as research’ as a search in iteration, a quest, getting background and context, opening up to new and/or different viewpoints, extending my own viewing field, discerning my position in a critical manner. And making art as enabler for communication, of ideas and explorations by opening and raising questions.

Perhaps, as a coincidence I read in the current issue of Turps Banana, a splendid painting journal issued twice a year, an article about that topic. Simon Bill argued against a position made by André Hunt, an educated painter and now professor of Fine Art and Curating in Manchester School of Art (Schwabsky, 2018). Hunt referred to a statement of Teresa Gleadowe, teacher for curating at RCA. She told Hunt that for her all ‘art is research’, resonating well with the topic of above mentioned study day, a common art college understanding? Hunt declared it this a ‘valid point’, considering the context of the UK system of REF, the Research Excellence Framework, that challenges higher education system in proficiency in research – and as art is mostly learned in academics is part of it.

Bill argues strongly against this position in a rather polemic manner that this would be a mere result of ‘conservative education policy and market oriented educational reform’ (Bill, 2019:32) that it is ‘enthusiastically implemented by (mainly) left wing staff’ (p. 30). He quotes  another Professor, Fiona Candlin of Birkbeck, that art colleges ‘rather than challenging the status quo it now upholds it’ (ibid:35).

I reminds me of the endless debate, even in public and my own local art community, of seeing art as fine art as academic art merely as a science-derivative occupation, versus a ‘pure’ art, an art based on merits.  Bill argued that fine art teachers are claiming themselves as artists without being ‘art practitioners’ . And he listed items, merits, that according to him would define somehow who ‘makes a living as an artist’ (ibid:32-33)

  1. Had an exhibition at a commercial gallery.
  2. Associated with that, they will have been represented by a gallery or galleries.
  3. They will have had an exhibition at a publicly funded gallery or museum.
  4. Sold their work.
  5. Had their work sold at auction.
  6. Had their work featured in an art magazine.
  7. Had their work shown abroad, in both commercial venues and museums.
  8. Had their work featured in art fairs like FRIEZE and Basel.
  9. They are also quite likely, as their career progresses, to have been involved in curating.
  10. They are quite likely to have dealt first-hand with collectors, and with socalled ‘art advisors.
  11. There will be catalogues, and even monographs about them.

 

These are certainly aspects of being an exhibiting artist in a cultural expected way of being. Making art as object, to present, to be represented, to sell commodities, and to make a career and a living from the revenues. I find the argumentation made by Bill refreshing as it challenges notions of what it is about. However, the binary opposites established by him, seems to be rather enforcing an established Modernist notion of the artist being a sales provider and maker of cultural collectibles. 

Is this my to-do list ? I am not planning to become an art teacher,  it even to spend future time at academics,  but to be an art practitioner, applying art as attitudes across areas of interest, and to continue to be curious of things that evolve, develop, materialize, and appear. To exhibit and to sell artworks is not only exciting but also a necessity when one wants to make a living from it.

Nevertheless, I continue to believe in art as attitude, art practices being more than selling and being represented by big-shots galleries. It is also an approach of awareness and finding new perspectives. I do relate this especially in my field of art therapy. Art practice as process, as an constant interrogation and exploration of material, images, responses, and an awareness of one own’s actions. In that sense, Fine Art is for me much more than  one of two sides stated by Bell. And the ‘art brut’ would still be seen as outsider art in Bell’s argumentation.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that on the discuss forum Heather Lloyd Payne asked students  to tell their stories #OCAstories, and this is what I posted :

“As a kid, I couldn’t speak until I went to primary school, though I could communicate with my parents and older sisters quite well, non-verbally. Painting and playing where my main means for expression and communication. At primary school I was recognized and invited to attend art school. My parents couldn’t afford the fees and life went on with painting and art displaced on a backburner. However, my first prizes won as a kid were for paintings. And I bought a guitar with the prize money at the age of twelve. After spending ‘successful’ but not quite satisfactory decades of life as an expat in corporations, life pulled a break – for me to revisit meaning in my life. I wanted to connect with what really mattered to me, but  living a ‘flying dutchman’ life it didn’t allow me to follow art education at a brick&mortar collage. With OCA I was able to re-connect to my passion and happily I embarked with high motivation on my journey as an emerging artist.” – SJSchaffeld

Perhaps, this is more to the bottom of why I am doing what I am doing with and in art.


Amendment

With some further cross-reading I found an interesting article by Karthrin Busch (2007) who wrote about the various aspects of art and research. From research and science as subject matter in art to a rather different conception based on M. Foucault’s ideas that art is a different form of knowledge and its role is to disturb ‘established knowledge structures, so as to reveal their innate power structures and restriction’ (p.41).  To compare way of knowing inherited by power structures and conventional scientific approaches will not enable access to the diversity of knowledge in itself.

By quoting Derrida, Bush highlights that ‘art is committed to represent the ephemeral forces and manifestations that emerge spontaneously and involuntarily’ against a rather ‘performative, institutionalized knowledge’ that ‘belongs to “the order of possibilities that can be mastered”‘ (pp.43-44).

In that sense, art could be considered as a force of doubting and embracing the ‘unexpected’, or as we discussed in the London Study Day, to embrace wonder in each encounter a-new.  Compared to science as problem-solving activity, art is a trouble-shooter, and the work in itself could be seen as research, not the final result as in science.


Image:

  • SJSchaffeld, painting from part3

Reference:

  • Bill, S. (2019) ‘Fine Art Education and ’Research Culture’’, In: Turps Banana, (21) pp. 28 – 35.
  • Busch, K. (2007) ‘Artistic Research and the Poetics of Knowledge’, in: AS Mediatijdschrift. [online]. (179),  pp. 36 – 45,  At: https://www.academia.edu/8568175/Artistic_Research_and_the_Poetics_of_Knowledge  (Accessed on 30 July 2019).
  • Schwabsky, B. and Hunt, A. (2018) ‘Critics speak: Barry Schwabsky interviews Andrew Hunt’, In: Turps Banana, (20) >pp. 18 – 25.
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6 Comments
  • Jul 30,2019 at 9:56 AM

    You’re so right about binary oppositions, but we are hard-wired to make sense of things through contrasts, aren’t we?

    • Stefan
      Jul 30,2019 at 10:10 AM

      This is what I am but sure about, and don’t believe we are ‘hard-wired’. Not the way I did grew up (in the Netherlands ) and not the way today queer, gender fluidity and accepting difference in itself is challenging those binaries. I agree, that this is still a majority thinking that way. Also a question of education, compare & contrast, a standard question that just underlies it.

  • Jul 30,2019 at 9:50 AM

    Good post! I’m starting to think that at Level 2, we’re all asking similar questions.

    • Stefan
      Jul 30,2019 at 9:53 AM

      Thanks, Jennifer – good to be in company. Though distant as student – close as learner

  • Jul 30,2019 at 7:09 AM

    Interesting thoughts here. Now I haven’t read Bell – but maybe the two positions need not be mutually exclusive? I guess the personal quest may be research as well, as art can be used to make the invisible (vague thoughts or tacit knowledge) visible. I suppose it is the sharing and making it useful to others that makes the ‘findings’ from art based inquiry research? I like you ideas of art as attitude, something to strive for (at least for me). The picture of a diverse and rich picture you share from your childhood is so powerful.

    • Stefan
      Jul 30,2019 at 8:03 AM

      Yes, placing binary opposites is not really helpful, not really in art. Perhaps, research has strong scientific connotations and make some feel un-free and subordinated to a political doctrine . For me it is similar for ‘knowledge’, many people associated knowledge with science as well, a rather thinking and mind focused viewpoint. Knowledge for me can also be a bodily experience, a social experience felt, a felt sense . That is one reasons why art therapy works. Thanks for your kind words re my childhood story. It just happened recently how much of it is so relevant to me

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