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What is Research in the Arts?

I am frequently asked the question, “What is research in the arts?”

I’m the new Associate Dean for Research in the Arts for the College of Fine Arts. I want to be able to answer that question in a few sentences that can be understood and appreciated across disciplines. Like the related question – “What is art?” – it’s not simple or even possible to answer conclusively, but there’s a lot to be gained in the trying.

Finding the answers to these questions is also necessary to do my job, “to work to ensure that the arts are valued as integral to the research mission and enterprise of the university.”

In 2018, the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru), whose mission is to foster and champion the role of the arts and design in research universities, published 444 answers to the question, What is Arts Research?

It’s interesting to read, but there are so many different opinions that it’s impossible to summarize in any meaningful way. Adding to the confusion, the terminology changes across fields and over time (e.g.: arts-based research, practice-led research, creative practice as research, arts-integrative research, arts research, as well as the more conventional, Research in the History and Theory of the Arts.) Design Research is also in the mix in areas such as: exhibition design, costume design, lighting design, scene design, graphic design, as well as experience and information design.

So, my research project during my first year in this position was to find out how research is being conducted, understood and articulated in the four academic units in the College of Fine Arts as well as the presentation units (Center for Creative Photography, Museum of Art, UA Presents, and Arizona Arts in Schools) that make up the division, Arizona Arts.

During the fall semester I worked with College of Fine Arts Dean Andrew Schulz and the university’s Research Development Services on campus to develop a research survey, which we sent to all research personnel in Arizona Arts. We received responses from 95 people representing all units and ranks, providing us with valuable information about recent and current research, as well as future plans and aspirations.

The array of accomplishments is striking and the ideas for future projects are ambitious and imaginative. (I’m looking forward to providing any assistance that I can in developing them further.) One key takeaway is the interest and involvement in interdisciplinary, collaborative, and community-engaged projects.

58% of respondents have been involved in interdisciplinary collaborations in the last five years; 90% would like to be.

Interdisciplinary Collaborations in the last 5 years

    Future Interest

       

      65% of respondents have been involved in community-engaged projects in the last five years; 81% would like to be.

      Community Engaged Projects in the last 5 years

        Future Interest

           

          For all results see the following charts.

          Who Responded

            Outcomes/Methods of Dissemination

              Methods of Assessing Impact

                Research Methods

                  Funding Received in the last 5 years

                    Forms of Support that Would be Most Useful

                      So, what is Research in the Arts?

                      One answer, based on A2RU findings is self-evident: “Research in the arts is a diverse set of practices often interdisciplinary and collaborative involving research in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences about, through, within and in support the arts.”

                      Perhaps a more interesting question: what kind of knowledge is generated through research in the arts? One way I’ve been thinking about this is based on the quote by Aimé Césaire, poet and politician from the region of Martinique and one of the founders of the négritude movement in Francophone literature:

                      “Poetic knowledge is born in the great silence of scientific knowledge.”

                      “Poetic knowledge” being everything we know that cannot be measured or explained through scientific methods. Creative and humanistic inquiry considers, generates and expresses “poetic knowledge” through many forms of production and practice. Embedded within these forms are the metaphors and stories that frame the ways we think, influence the ways we feel, and determine the ways we act.

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