Artistic Research Is a Threat to Artistic Freedom

What Bogdan Szyber, in his doctoral dissertation, refers to as ‘Edu-art’ impedes artistic freedom because it is practiced according to the demands of academic research.

From Bogdan Szyber’s thesis Fauxthentication: Art Academia and Authorship (or the site-specifics of the Academic Artist. Illustration: Niklas Alriksson.

In the ongoing discussion about so-called ‘artistic research’, the most elemental distinctions have not been made. For example, there has been no distinction made between research about art and art as research. Research about art has been conducted within most aesthetic disciplines for more than a century. The point of not distinguishing between research about art and art as research is to use the former to legitimise the latter. That is, to evade the specific issue by talking about ‘artistic research’. Art as research, as the journalist and art history professor Carl Henrik Svenstedt has argued, is a combination of contradictory elements since practicing fine art is incompatible with adhering to an academic system of rules. Fine art can be theoretical, intellectual, or rule-bound, but artistic freedom is theoretical, intellectual, or rule-bound on its own premises. What Bogdan Szyber, in his doctoral dissertation, dubs ‘Edu-art’ is not free art. It is unfree art, conducted according to the terms of academic research. In its criticisms of Szyber’s dissertation, the examination committee clearly showed just how unfree Edu-art is expected to be. Szyber is accused of not being ‘analytical’ enough, slapped on the wrist with an academic requirement that is incompatible with artistic freedom. Fine art does not have to be analytical. It can be synthetic or anything else, as long as it establishes its own rules and conditions.

In an article published on 14 July in the Swedish newspaper Expressen, Magnus Bärtås, deputy vice chancellor responsible for research at Konstfack, University of Arts, Crafts, and Design in Stockholm, hopes that what constitutes artistic research can be determined by the practitioners themselves. It is a sympathetic, but, alas, a meek expectation. What we see happening is the exact opposite. So-called ‘artistic research’ is undergoing a formalisation, disciplinisation, and academisation that renders it a mimetic and subservient replica of academic research. Art as research remains a utopia as long as art is not allowed to establish its own rules of research and thus remain free. In his article, Bärtås also points out that those who rejected Szyber are “practising artists.” What he fails to mention is that these artists are Edu-artists who have not only swallowed and accepted the formalisation and academisation of art, but in this case even used it as a weapon against an artist who refused to adapt to the academic mimicry.

In another article in Expressen published on 16 July, the artist Marianne Lindberg De Geer holds postmodernism responsible for the academisation of art. Nothing could be more wrong. Postmodern art rebelled against the dogmatic rules and regulations of modernism. It defended the right of art to be figurative, theoretical, narrative, text-based, or whatever. The artistic pluralism we see today is a legacy of postmodernism. Artists today enjoy greater freedom in terms of technology, expression, and methods than perhaps ever before. Academised, unfree Edu-art is a threat to this freedom.

Lars O Ericsson is an artist and Reader of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University. He was an art critic for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter 1987–2004, and has contributed to the culture section of Svenska Dagbladet since 2009.