Vanlee, Florian: Flemish Discourses on Artistic Research

Existing scholarship on artistic research favors theorization over empirical analysis. Available literature features ample reflexive debate on epistemologies and ontologies of artistic research, but empirical studies remain scarce. When they take center stage, focus is directed at the micro level – like individual doctorates. Growing interest in artist-researchers and their practice aside, little knowledge exists about their commonalities and variations. Allusions to broader trends are commonplace though, particularly on the role of shared discourses about artistic research on theory and practice. While not controversial, this is unsupported by systematic empirical study.

Methodically mapping and analyzing discourses on artistic research, this paper provides insights for Flanders – Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region. A scoping review identified key sites for written discussions on artistic research – comprising popular and specialty outlets. Relevant documents from 1999 to 2019 were collected (N=181) for qualitative content analyses. These show shifting conceptualizations of artistic research. Popular texts freely associate research practices with ‘the arts’ until the first completed Flemish doctorate in the arts in 2006. The subject subsequently migrated to specialty publications to be discussed by authors variously involved in higher arts education.

These post-2006 texts (n=48) frame artistic research as artificial and suspect, citing increasing violations of the autonomy of art and arts education by ‘the university’. These views are explicitly dismissive of academic metadiscourse on the relation between research and the arts – understanding it as an attempt to subjugate artistic research to its academic counterpart. The paper shows that for academic research on artistic research to meaningfully contribute to practice, it must look beyond academia and engage with practitioner discourses.