Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Florence Principles



At their latest conference, in a Northern Italian city not far from where the oldest university has seen the start of a process leading to the third third cycle degree in Europe, the European League of the Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) presented their position paper on the doctorate in the arts: The Florence Pinciples. It follows a string of reference documents issued in recent years, each marking an ever firmer grip on doctoral training and therefore AR in  the approximately 280 European institutions that offer research degrees in the arts. With the European University Association's 2005 Salzburg Recommendations on Doctoral Education (and their 2010 and 2016 follow-ups Salzburg II Recommendations and Taking Salzburg Forward), the 2011 European Commission’s Principles for Innovative Doctoral Training, the 2013 European Association for Architectural Education Charter for Architectural Research, and the AEC's 2015 White Paper on AR (see here), the institutional community have come full circle in bringing together both matters and formulating their views on them collectively after  years of tentatively coming to terms with the challenges from individual perspectives. 


Besides the typical points of interest, such as appropriate funding, embedding in institutional policy, critical mass, etc., especially noteworthy have been the Salzburg Recomendations' confirmation of advancement of knowledge through original research, the aim at diversity, and recognising pre-docs as early stage researchers; Salzburg II wanting to steer away from the traditional one-on-one supervision model; the European commission adding exposure to industry & other relevant employment sectors; the third Salzburg position's interest in engagement with non-academics; the EAAE expressing the need for specific and inclusive types of communicating knowledge within research and spanning artistic and scholarly projects. Worthwhile adding in this respect is SHARE's Handbook for Artistic Research Educationidentifying examples of best practice and offered a Toolkit for curriculum building.



According to the Florence Principles, the strategic areas in the international debate include formats for presenting and disseminating output, best practices, supervisors, doctoral programmes, and career perspectives. Some of their "seven points of attention" are deserving of specific attention, indeed. Already in the preamble to the Seven Points, it is striking how artistic aspects seem dominant. To "make an original contribution in their discipline" [my emphasis], "develop artistic competence", "extend artistic competence", "create and share new insights by applying innovative artistic methods" during the doctoral studies leaves plenty of room for the candidates to allow for e.g. a new painting or composition to be the knowledge contribution. What "innovative artistic methods" might be is a mystery to me - they may not be intended to be musical. 

For Career Perspectives, it is envisaged that holders of doctoral degrees in the arts can "enter (or continue) an academic career at a higher education institution and/or enter/continue their careers as artists." In its simplest meaning, this may be taken as the wish for doctores in the arts to continue to do research rather than returning to the stage and the classroom. As valuable as an objective that is, it would be even more exciting if academic positions (i.e. university professorships) become available to artistic researchers so that they may join the pool of researchers that can apply for grants that are limited to university employees.

Under Doctoral Work, it is stated that the project "uses artistic methods and techniques" and that it "consists of original work(s) of art and contains a "discursive component" (note the hesitance to put "written component" in writing) that critically reflects upon the project and documents the research process". Again, this can easily be understood as performing a number of recitals or handing in a newly composed opera, accompanied by an ultimately negligeable written analysis or logbook. More cryptically, it is stated that internationalism, interdisciplinarity and interculturality "can benefit from doc programmes in the arts".

A Research Environment with a critical mass of faculty and doctoral researchers, all of them artistic researchers, is rightfully commended. 

As for Supervision, "at least two supervisors are recommended". It is not explained why and how that function is split, but my guess is that the shortage of artistic researchers with the ius promovendi causes the supervising teams to necessarily consist of a university professor and an artist in order to attain an equilibrium of academic and artistic expertise. 

Finally, the attention point of Dissemination mentions - of course - the need for appropriate channels and peer-review. More interesting, though also not further elaborated upon, is the effort that is stated to be needed in order to "create adequate archives for results of doc work". It is also good to see open access claimed as a guiding principle.

All in all, the historical weight of the visual arts in this discourse is again noticeable, as it has been in the SHARE handbook (see here) and elsewhere. Whether the developing committee of the Florence Principles, with one musician among four visual artists, effectively represents the current balance of involved institutional parties is a question that I look forward to seeing treated on its own. Also curious: the European University Association - representing the institutions with the actual degree-awarding power - is not among the interest groups listed as supporting and endorsing this document, even if it takes their own recommendations as a point of departure. Anyhow, it is stimulating to see how the grey literature evolves steadily towards ever more nuanced positions, with ever clearer vision and purpose.

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