Editorial – RT68

The artwork as thesis

A major transformation of postgraduate degrees in the arts has been taking place over the last decade. We’ve witnessed a growing number of artists, many of them entering mid-career, going back to university to do postgraduate degrees. But they’re degrees with a difference: Masters and Doctorates of Creative Arts. The major component in each is the creation of a work of art. As soon as we announced our theme we found ourselves in the midst of a debate about the viability of artworks as theses. The work is usually accompanied by a written thesis, but even so the issue worried at over and over is whether or not the artwork can do the same things as a thesis. Or should it have to? Can it be seriously explanatory? Can the creation of an artwork in itself represent genuine research?

Like the Creative Industries phenomenon, the creative postgraduate degree could be seen as adaptive in financially and ideologically challenging times. Universities search out new means of securing funds (from either fees or government subsidy) by targeting vocation if in very different ways. Similarly, artists often look to these degrees as part of their survival strategy as arts grants and contract teaching diminish and production costs increase. Without a doubt, the postgraduate creative degree represents another way to make work. There are advantages to be had from access to resources, expert advice and networks, and occasionally, teaching jobs.

However, as you’ll see from the interviews in this edition with dancers, musicians, theatre artists, filmmakers, new media artists, a visual artist and a novelist, their postgraduate creative degrees have meant much more than short-term opportunities. Most see the degree work as regenerative, an opportunity to deepen their work and their understanding of it, and to expand their thinking. We’ve also included a few artists who have chosen to write theses rather than make works.

There are considerable challenges to be experienced in the areas of supervision and assessment (see the articles by Helen Lancaster and Jo-Anne Duggan in particular). Richard Vella, himself a practising composer and academic, outlines the issues of supervision and how to address them. For more on the teaching and supervision of experienced artists (if outside a degree structure) see Richard Murphet’s report on his recent visit to DasArts in the Netherlands (p42).

University arts half-Nelsoned

As John Howard moves relentlessly into ‘big government’ mode on industrial relations, security, health and the environment, Education Minister Brendan Nelson leads the way for him on university education. The board of the Australian Research Council will be “retired” and replaced by one person reporting to the Minister. University unions will be banned from collecting compulsory fees from students. The negative impact on theatre in the universities has been widely argued, that on university galleries less so.

Nick Vickers, who provided the half-Nelson metaphor, writes that the Sir Hermann Black Gallery he directs for the Sydney University Union “has hosted exhibitions that have featured the works of over 700 artists within the 9 years of its existence. Some of these artists are well known but others have been represented at an early stage in their careers and that support has enabled them to find significant positions in Australia’s arts industry. Many student galleries will show the same statistics, many student union theatres will have the names of actors, directors and producers that have gained their first experiences on student stages. Similarly, most student newspapers and publications can boast a history of first steps for our country’s top journalists, editors and writers. The prizes and awards that are annually dispensed by student unions, the collections of the works of emerging artists that are, after all, the encouragement awards that, in many cases, have assisted in the confidence building that is required for survival in the arts industry in Australia.

“The introduction of VSU (voluntary student unionism) is not a political triumph, it is an artistic catastrophe. This has been tested and verified by the abolition of some student unions in Victoria and Western Australia whose experiences will be outlined in the submission to the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee for the Inquiry into the provisions of the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Up-front union Fees) Bill 2005” (“VSU and the Visual Arts”, press release, July 28, n.vickers@usu.usyd.edu.au). For more information about the Senate inquiry go to: www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/highed_unionfees/index.htm

Protest now before the grip turns to a deadly full-Nelson!

RealTime issue #68 Aug-Sept 2005 pg. 3

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2005
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