Summary 5: Practice-Led Research -- Personal Summary and Farewell
This is my last summary for the workshop – and, at the end, my
farewell until the next time.
My summaries are based on a simple conceptual preference. Clarifying
and simplifying issues that can be resolved through systematic analysis
frees us to struggle with the difficult and ambiguous issues that
1) Necessary conditions
My Thomas Aquinas moment took me through a discussion of being
academic, a definition of research, the nature of the PhD, and research
skills. These are more difficult and complex than my summaries make them
out to be, but they remain relatively simple. Einstein said that the
best models make things as simple as possible but not more so.
Practice-led research must have both necessary and sufficient
conditions. The first two summaries establish a number of necessary
criteria and conditions for two kinds of practice-led research. By
developing these necessary conditions, we clear a lot of ground for the
difficult work ahead.
Necessity without sufficiency is incomplete. Nevertheless,
understanding necessity allows us to recognize cases that do not
constitute practice-led research. One summary clarified the nature of
research. If something does not meet the criteria for all forms
research, then it cannot be practice-led research no matter how useful,
valuable, or interesting it may be.
The PhD is a research degree and a training program. It prepares those
who hold the degree to conduct independent research and it is the
first-level qualification for those who will teach research and train
and supervise researchers. The specific requirements of a PhD award as
demonstration and license means that PhD research projects have
additional necessary conditions over and above other forms of research.
Even though a project may constitute research, if it does not meet the
additional necessary conditions for a serious PhD award, it cannot be a
The second two summaries addressed related issues that involve context
and skills rather than criteria.
Academic life is neither necessary nor sufficient for practice-led
research, but it is the context for the workshop. Moreover, since only
universities and university-level school are permitted to award the
doctorate, academic life is a necessary condition for PhD studies and
Research skills involve key issues for research in general, and for
research education in specific.
There is value in plodding through these necessities. Having done so,
we are free to examine the possible and the uncertain.
In this sense, necessity both constrains us and frees us.
To open a territory for practice-led research, I am going to offer
several postulates. While I believe that I can argue them in full, this
is a summary. I will therefore postulate these points as the foundation
of what follows.
Postulate 1) many forms of meaningful research may be subsumed under
the rubric of practice-led research. I will elaborate these in the third
part of this summary and consider what they entail. At this time, I
postulate many possibilities and examine how they interact with the
specific criteria and constraints I have already presented.
Postulate 2) Practice-led research must necessarily meet the conditions
for any form of research. This is not true of all forms of practice.
Rather, it defines the difference between practice and practice-led
Postulate 3) Practice-led research for a PhD award must fulfill the
criteria of a PhD. Even though a research project may be excellent in
other contexts, the specific nature of the PhD award places special
demands on the research project presented for the degree.
Postulate 4) While it is not necessary to demonstrate all research
skills in any project or at every moment, mastering a robust range of
research skills is necessary for anyone who hopes to practice research
at a serious level. Even though some forms of practice-led research will
break boundaries and move beyond standard definitions, I postulate that
those who engage in practice-led research need to master a full range of
research skills to do serious work. The deeper and richer the mastery of
research, the better the research.
3) Practice-led research – personal propositions
At one point, the discussion moved toward a very general proposal of
practice-led research as some form of research in which the practice of
our professional art is necessary either to the research process or to
This gives a wide territory for exploration even under the constraints
I postulate. It allows for research that leads to improved practice. It
covers research on how practice functions in the world or contributes to
the world. It may cover research that leads to new kinds of materials,
to better processes, or ways to understand how we work. It can cover our
products, our relations to the artifacts we create -- industrial
products, processes, art, and craft -- or the ways that our products
influence others and how they relate to them. In short, practice-led
research can probably function in any of the recognizable research
modes: qualitative, quantitative, descriptive, interpretive, logical,
mathematical, empirical, positive, normative, hermeneutic,
phenomenological, and philosophical research, as well as expressive.
While much practice-led research functions as clinical research and some
as applied research, I am less certain about the conditions under which
practice-led research might constitute basic or pure research. Even so,
we cannot rule out the possibility.
In an off-list note, Kenny McBride asked me whether I consider The
Fluxus Performance Workbook (Friedman, Smith, and Sawchyn 2002) to be an
example of practice-led research.
My answer was cautious.
It was a good question. Interesting issues ensued. The first scored
collections I organized were working sheets for Fluxconcerts. I
assembled them as an artist and composer conducting a concert of work by
colleagues. I organized them for publication as a Fluxus editor.
The 1989 edition of the Fluxus Performance Workbook involved some
retrospective research, but this was the kind of research any artist or
composer undertakes in organizing past work with a sprinkling of
updates. The same was true of the 2003 electronic edition with Owen
Smith and Lauren Sawchyn.
The nature of my relationship to the Fluxus event scores and my status
as a rights holder with authorization over Fluxus copyrights places this
kind of project in a category partly outside curatorial or research
ventures, at least with relation to work copyright by Fluxus. It may be
research-based and curatorial for work not copyrighted by Fluxus, but
the research is not especially tricky, just time consuming. It involves
writing or calling everyone to ask for updates and missing scores.
The vast amount of research in every field is clinical and simple.
Every time an engineer calculates a load or a power supply requirement,
clinical research is involved. Every time an account reviews current law
to seek the best advantage on a client’s tax return, he or she is
doing clinical research. Every time a band runs a sound check before a
concert, every time a physician tries to find out why a patient is
coughing -- he, she, or they do clinical research. The same goes for any
kind of historical or archival research that simply seeks to locate or
establish unproblematic information such as the content of a score. In
that sense, the Workbook required research and it was research-based.
While this takes skill, knowledge, and judgment, it is not high-level
research. Again, my specific relation to this body of work also adds
dimensions that would be different to the work of someone curating or
editing if they were not themselves part of Fluxus.
Afterwards, I began to wonder what this research would have been were I
not one of the artists. Then, talking with Chris, I began to wonder why
– or how – this should change simply because I am also an artist.
The answer is that I don’t know. Nevertheless, the question is good.
One reason I went back to school to earn a PhD was the fact that so many
art ventures failed to achieve the goals we set for them. I wanted to
learn more about creating effective social change. I relate some of the
answers I discovered in a recent article on why art networks so often
fail to achieve their goals (Friedman 2005). For me and for others in
Fluxus, our art involved experimental approaches and research of some
kind. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, I have always been
cautious in the kinds of epistemological claims I make based on
research, as opposed to the claims I might allow myself based on
intuition, feeling, or revelation.
My hope is that we can all move forward together, making progress by
opening new territory in a robust way.
Some of the proposal here delighted and startled me. Lubomir’s
proposals have me thinking on forms of research that I clearly accept
for philosophers, theologians, and sociologists. Artists and designers
must surely have the same freedom. Ranulph and Martin describe degree
programs that are different to past forms of PhD while clearly offering
ground fort standing as PhD work. Kristina’s doctoral work raises
challenging issues that would be impossible without both her crafts
practice and her philosophical and social inquiry. Eduardo’s
conjectures on what a school might do and be are of the same important
nature. I could go on, and I will after I read the workshop transcripts
carefully. For now, I’m past the 1,500 word summary limit, so I will
stop with these examples and make my farewell.
I have been reading Paul Schrader’s (1988) book on Transcendental
Style in Film. Schrader is a legendary screenwriter (Taxi Driver) and
director (Mishima, American Gigolo, Hard Core). His art and his
intellect both inform the development of this book. Reading it in the
context of this workshop, I realized that it, too, might constitute a
form of practice-led research. I would say much the same about books I
have mentioned here by Miyamoto Musashi, Yagyu Munenori, or similar
books by David Mamet.
Even with the constraints of necessity and clarity, we have much
territory left to explore.
The freedom to explore does not allow us to propose false truth claims,
to change history, or to avoid the claims of rigor. To the contrary,
rigor, discipline, and skill make it possible for us to develop. In some
cases, artists and designers have done more to hinder the development of
practice-led research than any other group. This is precisely why I
follow plodding Aquinas in attempting to develop a systematic approach
to these issues.
Richard Feynman, physicist and amateur artist, once said, “Poets say
science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas
atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night and feel them. But do
I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination
– stuck on this little carousel, my little eye can catch
one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern – of which I am part… What
is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the
mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth
than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do poets of the present
not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were
a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane must be
silent?” (quoted in Gleick 1993: 373) Understanding how things work
and why expands the powers of the human mind and soul.
There is important territory ahead of us. I believe that we do not need
false truth claims and weak arguments to open this world. There is
enough genuine pioneering to be done and enough true chaos to explore.
During the course of the workshop, I’ve played with Thomas Aquinas,
Roger Bacon, and Duns Scotus. I have used Albert Einstein, Richard
Feynman, and Ignaz Semmelweiss as examples, along with Pablo Picasso and
Miyamoto Musashi. Marcel Duchamp has made an appearance, and Soren
Kierkegaard should have, since he is both a systematic thinker and a
I’ll end with Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “You must have chaos
in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”
This is the emptiness at the center of things that gives all things
Here I end until Chris and I return in 2008 to host our new talk show.
I bid you goodnight and thank you for an excellent three weeks.
Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS
Swinburne University of Technology
Friedman, Ken. 2005. “The Wealth and Poverty of Networks.” At A
Distance: Precursors to Internet Art and Activism. Annemarie Chandler
and Norie Neumark, editors. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press,
Friedman, Ken, Owen Smith, and Lauren Sawchyn, editors. 2002. Fluxus
Performance Workbook. Performance Research e-publications. Accessible
for download from URL:
Gleick, James. 1993. Genius: Richard P. Feynman and modern physics.
Schrader, Paul. 1988. Transcendental Style in Film. Ozu, Brersson,
Dreyer. New York: Da Capo Press.