I would appreciate it if anyone knew of completed PhDs in Design fields
(hopefully available as digital dissertations or contact details to
request this and discuss) with a practice based material focus
(including the production of artefacts or studio projects as part of the
submission - so I don't want design history etc., as the focus), which
make any theoretical claims about pragmatism (Dewey, James, Rorty)
and/or use mixed methods. I don't particularly care what designerly
discipline it is from architecture, built environment, through to
interior, industrial etc. The aim, in addition to other things I am
attempting to pull together in writing, is to illustrate and exemplify a
>>> David Durling <[log in to unmask]> 24/01/2008 9:17 am >>>
I thought that this article, which apparently appeared in the 2
November 2007 issue of the USA Chronicle of Higher Education, may be
of interest to members of phd-design list too.
HOW EDUCATED MUST AN ARTIST BE?
By Daniel Grant
Job security is a relatively new concept in the ancient field of
teaching art. Historically artists have created, and been judged
on, their own credentials - that is, their art. And the master
of fine-arts degree, often described as a "terminal degree," or
the endpoint in an artist's formal education, has long been
sufficient for artists seeking to teach at the college level.
But significant change may be on the horizon, as increasing
numbers of college and university administrators are urging
artists to obtain doctoral degrees.
We shouldn't be surprised; the M.F.A. has been under attack for
some time now. The M.F.A. has become a problem for many
administrators, who are increasingly uncomfortable with
different criteria for different faculty members. They
understand the lengthy process required to earn a doctorate - of
which the master's degree is only a small, preliminary part -
and see hiring a Ph.D. over an M.F.A. as the difference between
buying a fully loaded showroom automobile and a chassis.
Administrators like the background Ph.D.'s have in research,
publishing, and grant writing (though if their principal concern
were the teaching of studio art to undergraduates, they wouldn't
focus so much on the doctorate).
Holders of M.F.A.'s - often adjunct instructors or would-be
instructors at universities - have noticed the trend, and many
believe that their degree holds them back in a realm where
advancement and larger salaries go to Ph.D.'s.
The most recent development in the studio-doctorate trend is the
creation of the new Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual
Arts in Portland, Me., which offered its first classes this past
May for a Ph.D. program in philosophy, aesthetics, and art
theory. A studio M.F.A. is a prerequisite for admissions, and
the institute's president claims that the program "will provide
rigorous training that will help artists expand their studio
practice." His aim is to turn artists into theoreticians of art,
fully versed in critical theory and able to teach it at the
college level, but still be practicing artists.
Other doctorate programs can be found at the University of
Rochester, Ohio University, and Texas Tech University (though a
large percentage of their students have performing, literary, or
studio-art backgrounds). More may be on the way: The School of
the Art Institute of Chicago, the California Institute of the
Arts, and the Rhode Island School of Design are expected to be
offering studio doctorates within the next several years.
Studio doctorate programs do have high-minded and practical
aspects. They try to make artists better versed in critical
theory, which would presumably be helpful for their art, and to
help graduates get and keep university jobs. Another benefit of
a doctoral degree, artists and university administrators say, is
the ability to teach a wider variety of courses, such as classes
in art theory and history, previously the province of art
historians. However, the first goal has yet to be achieved - can
anyone name a great Ph.D. artist of our time? - and the second
merely indicates what is wrong in academe, which is that it
elevates credentials over everything else.
And what of the students? Students by and large want their
studio instructors to be working artists. In fact, art schools
and university art departments promote their studio faculty
members to prospective students in terms of those
artist-teachers' presence in the art world, their commissions,
or their work in the realm of nonprofit and for-profit
I am not opposed to artists who want to pursue doctoral programs
in critical theory. My complaint is that, without a doctorate,
professional artists are finding it increasingly difficult to
get and keep a full-time job with benefits teaching B.F.A. and
M.F.A. and Ph.D. programs move in different directions. Earning
an M.F.A. means spending another year or so in the studio,
developing a body of work that, ideally, prepares students to
enter the art market. The program is a timeout from the world of
galleries and selling that helps graduates re- enter that world
more successfully after graduation. Doctoral programs, on the
other hand, are research-based.
Pushing artists toward doctoral programs fundamentally changes
their focus and goals. The Ph.D. says to the university, "I am
committing myself to aca- deme," whereas the M.F.A. primarily
reflects a commitment to developing one's skills as an artist.
Requiring studio artists to become researchers as well would
diminish their ability to keep one foot in the exhibition world.
Some might be able to do it all - teach studio art, research,
publish, and exhibit - but not many. There are only so many
hours in a day.
Devaluing the M.F.A. or making the doctorate the fine-art
world's terminal degree is likely to drive away professional
artists who have a lot to offer in terms of guidance and
example. Having active, commercially viable artists working in
colleges and universities is something that should be
encouraged. Are we likely to have artists of high caliber
employed at the college level if they are required to undergo an
academic program that takes five or six years, rather than just
one or two? Requiring a Ph.D. is also likely to drive artists
away from art, as time spent working on the dissertation equals
time away from the studio. Some artists may leave the field of
fine arts entirely, becoming theoreticians, historians, and
fine- arts scholars instead of practitioners.
Inevitably, the years spent focused solely on theory will
diminish other areas of instruction. The training of artists has
already largely moved away from techniques and skills - how many
artists now can mix their own paints or even know what is in the
paints they buy? - and toward theory. Concept-based art is what
a good many schools already encourage their students to create.
The current training of artists barely maintains a delicate
balance of studio practice and art history, criticism, and
theory. Could such a balance be maintained with professors whose
education is weighted so heavily on the side of theory? It
hardly seems possible.
Another scenario is that the same type of instruction currently
offered will continue to exist but will be provided by
overqualified instructors. Aestheticians, rather than working
artists, will teach basic drawing. Performing-arts faculties at
some universities are already seeing plenty of this. (A friend
of mine, a pianist who studied at the Juilliard School, Oberlin
College, and the New England Conservatory, needed to obtain a
Ph.D. in music to get a job as an adjunct teaching students at
the University of Vermont how to play the piano.) Writers, too,
are being told to get doctorates in order to teach college
students. The M.F.A. in creative writing is losing its hold, as
more and more writers seeking college-level teaching work are
choosing doctoral programs that have a "creative dissertation"
The shift toward requiring Ph.D.'s is likely to be slow and
uneven, as some institutions will balk at the trend while others
jump in with both feet. But ultimately more graduate schools
will have to create studio doctorate programs to meet the
We are already on the slippery slope. Before we slide any
farther, we should set out what is actually desired in the
education of artists; what is the balance of manual, perceptual,
and conceptual skills that artists need to have; and to what
ends are those artists being trained. Judging artists on the
basis of their academic credentials rather than of their art,
and devising programs that lead them away from making art, is
absurd and ahistorical. University departments of art history,
the likely employers of this new hybrid group, should reconsider
this focus on academic qualifications. Do we really want to turn
the creation of art into a thing of the past?
Daniel Grant is a contributing editor for American Artist
magazine and author of Selling Art Without Galleries: Toward
Making a Living From Your Art (Allworth Press, 2006).
Copyright © 2007 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
David Durling PhD FDRS | Professor of Design
School of Arts & Education, Middlesex University
Cat Hill, Barnet, Hertfordshire, EN4 8HT, UK
tel: 020 8411 5108 | international: + 44 20 8411 5108
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