Monday, February 29, 2016

A move to put our mark on the Frascati Manual²

A bit over two years ago, I reported (hereon a request by the Society for Artistic Research (SAR) to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), calling for a revision of the Frascati Manual in order to add AR as a new and separate scientific category.

The motion was amplified through the European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) proposal, in collaboration with SHARE, two networks that represent some 339 (art) universities and academies, arguing for an “appropriate” status of the arts and arts research. It was put forth that this status should be supported by the recognition of the Arts (and AR with it) as a field of its own: not as part of the Humanities (next to History and Archaeology, Languages and Literature, Philosophy, Ethics and Religion, and “Other” humanities), but on par with Humanities, Natural sciences, Engineering and technology, Medical and Health sciences, Agricultural sciences, and Social sciences. (See here for a letter from ELIA in response to an OECD inquiry, highlighting some of the reasoning.)

Last October, the updated manual was published (online readable and freely downloadable here; summary PPT presentation here). From p. 60 onwards, the Frascati Manual goes into the matter under “Examples of R&D, boundaries and exclusions in different areas”:

R&D and artistic creation

          2.64 Design sometimes tends to be characterised by the use of artistic 
          methods. This is another potential area of overlap. In order to address the 
          discussion of R&D and artistic creation, it can be useful to make a 
          distinction between research for the arts, research on the arts and artistic 

Research for the arts

2.65 Research for the arts consists in developing goods and services to meet the expressive needs of artists and performers. There are enterprises in this line of business that devote a significant part of their resources to R&D in this area. For instance, they engage in experimental development to produce new electronic musical instruments to suit the needs of a group of performers. Other types of R&D organisations (mainly universities and technical institutes) also play a role in exploring new technologies for performance art (to improve audio/ video quality, for instance). The activity aimed at supporting the introduction of new organisational or marketing methods by art institutions (advertising, financial management, etc.) may qualify as R&D, but caution should be exercised in making this decision. This area of R&D performance is already covered by existing data collection.

Research on the arts (studies about the artistic expression)

2.66 Basic or applied research contributes to most of the studies of the arts (musicology, art history, theatre studies, media studies, literature, etc.). Public research institutions could have a role in selected research domains (as some relevant research infrastructures – like libraries, archives, etc. – are often attached to arts institutions, such as museums, theatres, etc.). As far as preservation and restoration activities are concerned (if not to be included in the group above), it is recommended to identify the providers of such technical services as R&D performers (employing researchers, publishing scientific works, etc.). This area of R&D performance is largely covered by existing data collection.

Artistic expression versus research

2.67 Artistic performance is normally excluded from R&D. Artistic
performances fail the novelty test of R&D as they are looking for a new expression, rather than for new knowledge. Also, the reproducibility criterion (how to transfer the additional knowledge potentially produced) is not met. As a consequence, arts colleges and university arts departments cannot be assumed to perform R&D without additional supporting evidence. The existence of artists attending courses in such institutions is not relevant to the R&D measurement. Higher education institutions have, nevertheless, to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis if they grant a doctoral degree to an artist as a result of artistic performances. The recommendation is to adopt an “institutional” approach and only to take account of artistic practice recognised as R&D by higher education institutions as potential R&D (to be further used by data collectors).

It is clear that the OECD did not follow the reasoning of ELIA, SHARE, and SAR all the way up to the desired consequences: the arts did not get the requested separate status, nor did arts research. In a way, this is not a big deal, I think: the so-called FORD categorization (the Fields Of Research and Development list as reproduced in my previous entry on the matter) serves analysts to statistically understand the dynamics in those fields. One can wonder whether the 1-digit level is crucial. Would it be more advantageous to compare the arts to natural sciences or engineering rather than to history, language, or philosophy? There is also plenty of overlap in different categories, and, most generally, any attempt at structuring such givens may well be futile. The SAR/ELIA/SHARE-move can be understood strategically, though: by considering AR to be in a league of its own, it might support the proponents in visual arts, or in music composition, who argue that the artistic practice is the research, and that the artistic output is the research output. They would certainly benefit from an internationally formalized extra epistemological category, allowing for further alienation from the established academic or academia-oriented (sub-)disciplines and their paradigms.

For the moment, however, this is not happening.

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