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Art in the Expanded Field

This book-length manifesto offers itself as both love song and lament. I interrogate research-creation as a genre full of exciting pedagogical and institutional possibility. I also lament the hopeless exhaustion I see in colleagues all around me. As a strategy of resistance to the resignation that surrounds me daily in the arts and humanities wings of the university, I look to research-creation, even as it is being commodified right under our feet, as a site of generative recrafting: a touchstone and orienting point that might help render daily life in the academy more pedagogically, politically, and affectively sustainable.

Book Title
How to Make Art at the End of the World: A Manifesto for Research-Creation
Book Author(s)
Natalie Loveless
Press and Year
Duke University Press, 2019
Medium of Publication
Electronic book text
Number of Pages


In 1979 art historian Rosalind Krauss published a now well-known essay called "Sculpture in the Expanded Field." In it, Krauss argues that she can no longer analyze emerging artistic forms using the tools in the contemporary art toolkit at her disposal. New hybrid forms demand new, expanded categories if they are to be accountably dealt with. Sculpture has been remade, she tells us, not only by categories such as the Duchampian Readymade and the neo-Dadaist Combine, but by the emerging categories of installation and earth or land art—artistic gestures that are transforming sculpture from the production of distinct three-dimensional objects on pedestals to something less clearly definable, something that hovers ambivalently between architecture and not-architecture, landscape and not-landscape, and that properly belongs to neither (Krauss 1979, 37). [1]

What is most interesting to me about the categories Krauss proposes is the way that they oscillate between the strict corners of her definitional world, pulling in different directions, tumbling out of the very structures that she develops to contain them. Because of this, the essay is one that I still teach today, yearly, in an undergraduate lecture course called Themes in Contemporary Art. I teach it because it does a wonderful job helping students grapple with the genre-bending and social-and-spatial-remaking capacities of mid-twentieth-century artistic practice, helping us move from an understanding of art as easel painting or bronze cast sculpture to being able to read, analyze, and situate expanded contemporary practices such as new genre public art, relational aesthetics, art-as-social-practice, and works that fall under what has been called the educational or pedagogical turn (Bishop 2012; O'Neill and Wilson 2010; Podesva 2007; Rog-off 2008). [2]

While not its explicit focus, the pedagogical turn in contemporary art is one with which this book is in conversation. In the pages that follow, I attend specifically to the ways that dialogic, socially oriented, and research-based art practices are remade within the university-as-site. I begin by situating research-creation—a sister term to what is often called artistic research—within a local context, that of the Canadian university in which I currently teach. This situated focus grounds my analysis, but my words and thoughts are not simply offered here to the Canadian academy. They emerge from my experience as an AmeriCanadian (dual) citizen, trained primarily in England and the United States, now teaching in Canada. With this book, I aim to contribute not only to readers in Canada, and not only to the visual arts, but to those in other, related, sites of debate on artistic research in university contexts.

Drawing on texts that are common currency within these debates (for example, Christopher Frayling's 1993 "Research in Art and Design"), as well as texts that are not (such as Jacques Lacan's 1964 lectures on the gaze as objet petit a), this book-length manifesto offers itself as both love song and lament. I interrogate research-creation as a genre full of exciting pedagogical and institutional possibility. I also lament the hopeless exhaustion I see in colleagues all around me, as our system follows quickly on the heels of the UK and Australia, with an increased corporatization of the university and a complex and insidious evisceration of experimental pedagogy and research (Davidson 2017; Jeppesen and Nazar 2012; Royle 2003).

The manifesto is a genre that I invoke in the title as well as the form of this book. It matters deeply to my project and is inspired by Donna Haraway's two, well-known, manifestos (1985 and 2003). A manifesto is a call to action. It mobilizes declarative and persuasive language and works to manifest a different world, performatively. In the case of this book, I offer a hybrid formation: something between the rigor of a scholarly monograph and the heartfelt framing of a manifesto. I do this toward a vision of a university not in ruins (Readings 1997), not abandoned to professional justification and defensive metrics, but of a feminist university of creativity, experiment, and what I will frame in the pages to come as a mode of eros that is committed, cathected, and sustaining.

As a strategy of resistance to the resignation that surrounds me daily in the arts and humanities wings of the university, I look to research-creation, even as it is being commodified right under our feet, as a site of generative recrafting: a touchstone and orienting point that might help render daily life in the academy more pedagogically, politically, and affectively sustainable. That said, the research-creational struggle that animates this book is not for acknowledgment (a seat at the table: "Look! Now artists can be researchers too!"). It is for the insertion of voices and practices into the academic everyday that work to trouble disciplinary relays of knowledge/power, allowing for more creative, sensually attuned modes of inhabiting the university as a vibrant location of pedagogical mattering.

As I have written elsewhere (Loveless 2012), I first began grappling with research-creation (although not under that name) in 2001, when, as an art student (MFA) at a US museum school, I found myself craving a level of academic training that the museum school was not, at the time, set up to support. I had many excellent teachers there. They read philosophy and literary theory, made art, and provided a critically informed studio environment that was top notch. [3] But different training practices (pedagogical, institutional, academic) carry with them different needs, orientations, and expertise. Being at a museum school designed to support excellent studio (and poststudio) practice aimed at a professional art market and extended art world, I was not going to get the kind of attention to my scholarly thinking and writing that I would under different institutional and disciplinary conditions. So, to get what I needed, I added, in 2002, a second degree (an ma in contemporary art history and theory) at a nearby university, and completed both in 2004.

The craving that led to this desire was twofold. It was a craving of the heartmind: I simply fell in love with the kind of thinking, reading, and writing practices associated with the work of contemporary art theory and criticism. It was also a craving that emerged endogenously from the work I was doing in my studio: the more I gravitated toward conceptual and feminist art practice, the more theory and history I needed. I couldn't "get" Mary Kelly's germinal Post-Partum Document without also seriously grappling with Lacan and Freud. And I couldn't grapple with Freud and Lacan without serious study and pedagogical mentorship. Of course, such theory and history could have been studied, enjoyed, and directed toward an informed artistic practice, as has been done by many a research-based artist. But, it turns out, in terms of my outputs—in terms of the things I wanted to make in the world—academic or scholarly essays, articles, and books also appealed to me. More than appealed. I found myself desiring both, and driven to do both, simultaneously and in equal measure. And I had the privilege of being located at two institutions (the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tufts University, Medford—then not combined as they are now), each of which provided me with the space and conditions of possibility to flourish in concurrent, overlapping, nonidentical worlds (degree programs). This, as I will return to in the pages that follow, turned out to be key.

My story is not unique. While it was not the norm at the time, and arguably is still not the norm today, I have since met many a kindred spirit with a similar story. For instance, in my hometown of Montréal, at the very moment that I was navigating these drives and forging what looked (to me) like new paths, a range of university-based practitioners and scholars were already developing studio-laboratories (Century 1999) dedicated to exploring, championing, and supporting such practices under the term research-creation, the Université de Québec a Montréal (UQAM) had already started the first fine arts PhD in Canada (in French), and in the UK doctoral degrees in the fine arts were already being awarded.

Research-creation is a geographically specific term that works in tandem with alternatives such as practice-based research, practice-led research, research-based practice, research-led practice, creative-praxis, arts-driven inquiry, arts-based research, and, increasingly, artistic research. This ever-growing roster speaks to the ways that artistic practices come to be understood as research methods and outputs in university contexts and the different ways that artistic practices with research bases or bents have been codified since (at least) the 1990s when, in the UK, doctoral degrees in fine or visual arts practice began to be awarded (Barrett and Bolt 2010; Biggs and Karlsson 2011; Haseman 2006; Leavy 2009). [4] Distinctions between these terms and the practices they stand for are debated regularly, and these debates are linked not only to new doctoral programs but also to national funding structures and, increasingly, national research chairs. [5]

The website for Creativity and Cognition Studios, started by Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds in 1996 at Loughborough University (UK) to explore intersections of art- and technology-based research (now housed at the University of Technology, Sydney), distinguishes practice-based from practice-led research thus: "Practice-based research is an original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. In a doctoral thesis, claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes in the form of designs, music, digital media, performances and exhibitions. Whilst the significance and context of the claims are described in words, a full understanding can only be obtained with direct reference to the outcomes." Practice-led research, on the other hand, "is concerned with the nature of practice and leads to new knowledge that has operational significance for that practice. In a doctoral thesis, the results of practice-led research may be fully described in text form without the inclusion of a creative work. The primary focus of the research is to advance knowledge about practice, or to advance knowledge within practice. Such research includes practice as an integral part of its method and often falls within the general area of action research" (Creativity and Cognition Studios n.d.). If we parse these passages to clarify one of the distinctions this book will examine, we see that practice-based research generates new knowledge through or by means of artistic practice itself, and practice-led research draws on artistic methods to generate new knowledge for or about artistic practice in written form. In other words, it is the mode of output (all text, versus part text + part creative outcome), and the weighted role of artistic practice within this, that remains central to the definitions at stake. As I will go on to argue throughout these pages, these are definitional debates that matter not to the making of research-based art in general, but rather to the use of artistic forms and methods as the rendering public (publishing) of research within a university context. [6]

Initially seen as a way to support artistic research practices in university contexts, research-creation took hold in Québec after several pilot programs—starting at UQAM in 1980 and slowly integrated into Québec's provincial research councils in the mid to late 1990s—and was then expanded nationally by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the primary humanities and social sciences funding body in Canada. [7] The definition of research-creation given by SSHRC is telling. Since June 2016, the SSHRC website has defined research-creation as "an approach to research that combines creative and academic research practices, and supports the development of knowledge and innovation through artistic expression, scholarly investigation, and experimentation" (SSHRC 2016). Distinguishing itself from SSHRC's definition, the Canada Council for the Arts, the national granting board that supports artistic development and production in Canada, initially framed research-creation as research/creation, stating that their grants provided "artists with opportunities for creative renewal, experimentation, professional development and research" (CCA n.d.). Of interest here, beyond the particularities of nationally specific granting structures, is the subtle way that a research approach or act (what is being produced and how) is foregrounded in SSHRC's definition, while artistic disciplinary identity (who is doing what) is at the core of the Canada Council's. [8] While Canada Council's "slash" prioritized the professional identity of the artist, SSHRC's hyphen indicates a hybrid formation, part research, part creation, part experiment that focuses on the output of the research.

At the heart of terminological distinctions such as those proposed by the Creativity and Cognition Studios, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is the question of the status of art as itself a form of research. While sensitive to the disciplinary stakes of this question, unlike many books in this genre, mine is not an argument for the validity of artistic practice as a de facto legitimate form of research. The project of raising the category "artist" to the status of "academic researcher" in the university hierarchy, while pragmatically important, is of less interest to me than the consideration of what research-creational approaches offer to the project of rethinking interdisciplinary practice and politics in the North American university today. [9] In this context, it seems to me that, in very many ways, giving "art" the status of "research" does little more than echo early feminist interventions into the canon that took the form of "add women and stir"—a tokenistic gesture of inclusion that does nothing to change the logics that structure these exclusions in the first place. [10]

In the context of the university, while research-creation is (most often) linked to artistic production, its real potential rests in its demand for an inter- or transdisciplinary perspective that, while marshalling the insights of emerging and developing fine arts research methodologies, exceeds the fine arts proper. [11] Research-creation, read in this way, demands a reconfiguration of standard academic pedagogical training and assessment practices—what we permit our professors and students to do and how—as well as our divisional and departmental making practices. Here, and in what follows, my focus is not on research-based art practices in general but on what research-creation does in, to, and as part of ongoing university discourse in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, with specific attention to what research-creation does to our understanding of scholarly form at the graduate and doctoral levels.

Fine or Visual Art PhD (and Doctor of Fine or Visual Art) programs have existed internationally since the early 1990s, and have recently gained traction in the United States and Canada. There is some debate over where and when the very first doctoral degree in visual arts practice (i.e., some version or other of research-creation in art, in English-speaking contexts) was offered. Fiona Candlin was among the first in the UK to earn a research-creation-like doctorate with her dissertation, "Artwork and the Boundaries of Academia: A Theoretical/Practical Negotiation of Contemporary Art Practice within the Conventions of Academic Research" (Keele University, 1998), and Gavin Renwick was the first to do so in Scotland with his project, "Spatial Determination in the Canadian North: A Theoretical Overview and Practice-Based Response" (University of Dundee, 1998). A decade and a half later, in 2012, Kevin Rogers ("Out of Order: Thinking through Robin Collyer, Discontent and Affirmation (1973-1985)," University of Western Ontario) and Risa Horowitz ("Disciplining Art Practice: Work, Hobby, and Expertise in Practice Based Scholarship (Blurry Canada, Potager, Scrabble)," York University) were awarded (to the best of my knowledge) the first English-language research-creation degrees in the visual arts in Canada—both, in fact, on the same day (August 23). These latter were fine arts doctoral degrees based in both a written document and artistic output. [12]

The awarding of degrees such as these has caused much debate, mostly focusing on the relation between art and the academy. Sometimes concerns come from those in the humanities and social sciences who have trouble imagining how a "chapter" can take the form of a performance or installation. At other times the concern comes from those who have been trained as artists, worried that their disciplinary modes of knowing and producing are being forced to become more "academic" even when they don't want (or need) to be. Such anxieties (of place, category, and orientation) are compounded by the fact that at the same time as many universities in the United States and Canada have been working to develop research-creational PhD programs, art academies—for example, Canada's oldest conservatories such as the Emily Carr School of Art and Design, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and the Ontario College of Art and Design—have reconfigured themselves from "art school" to "university" (i.e., becoming the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, NASCAD University, and OCAD University). Given the legitimization of art-as-research in universities (under the banner of research-creation) and in the art-school-reframed-as-university, artists often find themselves, whether they want to or not, having to learn how to navigate the legitimating (and often confining) structures of social science- and humanities-based university granting boards, and the modes of output and assessment specific to those areas of the university. In this context, many ask whether these shifts, for both art conservatories and research universities, are simply a matter of bums in seats and the financial bottom line: Are art schools just trying to survive by widening their market and access to public funds through accreditation? Or, from the university side, are universities simply using art as an attempt to render research outcomes "relatable"? Is art being used as a lackey in the university's push to prove "real-world" impact (what my home university frames as "for the public good")? Is this really why research-creation is being supported—when it is—in academic contexts?

My hope—a hope that emerges from almost a decade of thinking about and teaching in research-creational contexts—is that while, certainly, each of these anxieties has merit, it is not only these things that are at work. Despite the seemingly all-pervasive instrumentalizing and optimizing push governing university climates at this historical moment, one that renders many of my colleagues suspicious of research-creation and the uses to which it is being put, I continue to see research-creation as one of those cracks (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen) that lets the light shine in, through its experimental and dissonant forms of practice, research, and pedagogy. It is for this reason that, instructed and inspired by colleagues both national and international, I mobilize research-creation as a mode of resistance to individualist, careerist, and bibliometric university cultures. [13] Research-creation, on this reading, is a potent pedagogical method of resistance within a university landscape that, in the wake of Bill Readings's (1997) canonical "university of excellence," has emerged as the enduringly neoliberal "university of business" or the "all-administrative university" (Ginsberg 2011).

This "all-administrative university" depends on new economies and ecologies of university life grounded not only in an untenably precarious and exploited labor force (with adjunct and sessional positions replacing tenure-track ones) and the progressive turning of professors into "busywork" administrators at all levels of the university, but ever increasing speeds of production than earlier models of art and humanities scholarship. [14] This is a university landscape governed by the desire for clear and immediate individualized impact metrics, by greater online, informational (rather than critical interpretive) content in classes, larger class sizes, fewer full-time professors, and any putative research time that is imagined to come with the job of "professor" eaten away at by increasing administrative tasks as a result of fewer academic hires combined with extreme cuts to administrative positions. In this context, research-creation, in any configuration, with the extra resources, time, and engagement that it requires, may seem a fool's errand. [15] Indeed, the rise of research creation can be, and has been, read as an attempt on the part of the neoliberal university to accreditize and instrumentalize every one of its corners, including artistic practice, making us all do triple the labor in half the time and with less and less support.

Without denying the conditions that are (alas) the case, in this book I assert research-creation as more than this. I claim research-creation as the logical outcome of interdisciplinary, conceptual, and social justice/activist legacies in contemporary art such as those that stretch from Mary Kelly to Bracha Ettinger, or Hans Haacke to Beatriz da Costa, or Joseph Beuys to Tania Bruguera; it is an extension of the pedagogical turn in the arts to which I referred above (Joseph Beuys's infamous 1973 walkout "Democracy Is Merry" and his Free International University come to mind here, alongside more recent extra-institutional pop-up universities such as the Copenhagen Free University and the School of Panamerican Unrest). [16] As the past few decades (at least) have taught us, when the dialogic and pedagogical start to be used as artistic material, the university becomes both a site of institutional critique and an exploratory playground (Bourriaud 2002; Kester 2004, 2011; Kwon 2002).

What I am trying to highlight here is that while it is fair to say that research-creation is, in many important ways, driven by institutional desires to increase university funding profiles, it has, at the same time, everything to do with longer (interdisciplinary, feminist, and other social justice) shifts in how we do arts and humanities thinking, as well as with dialogic and pedagogical shifts in the world of artistic production and discourse. These art-world shifts have had profound effects not only on the artworks/events/projects that animate our contemporary biennial, triennial, and exhibition circuits, but on the worlds of art history, theory, and criticism that have flowed out from these disciplinarily intertwined locations into other spaces of the university. In other words, rather than new or alien, research-creation is very much entwined with endogenous drives in contemporary art practice, theory, and history. [17]

Simply put, and to reiterate: While artistic perspectives, methods, and skills are central to the critical discourse of research-creation, what distinguishes research-creation from an already robust world of twentieth- and twenty-first-century art practices with research bases is a new institutional context in the form of national granting structures for university-based art practices leading to new graduate degree granting programs. As such, research-creation is a category produced within, with, and for an ever-adapting university landscape. While it is true that research-creation is crucially informed by new and historical directions in the field of the professional fine arts (that is, grounded in a history of social, pedagogical, dialogic, conceptual, and institutional critique in the visual arts), and that research-based, theoretically driven art is everywhere in the art world, in this book I attend to research-creation, first and foremost, as an urgent challenge to reigning pedagogical and research modalities and outputs in the university today.

Whether one is for or against these new developments in university-based and university-adjacent contemporary arts, what is undeniable is that the discourse surrounding the fine arts PhD and research-creation in general is burgeoning. And, as these new practices and programs spread, debate surrounding them is marked by anxiety and hope: anxiety that the creation of a new terminal degree will put artists satisfied with the MFA, as the terminal degree in the field, out of work or demand that they endure years of unwanted extra schooling; hope that in these new programs we will see a kind of training responsive to the needs of those equally committed to scholarly and artistic practice, and wanting these hybrid practices to be recognized in a university context. These are hopes and anxieties that are often placed at odds with each other, as if caring for one necessitates the obliteration of the other, rather than understanding these concerns as operating at different registers of practice and analysis for which we must care differentially but equally; these are hopes and anxieties that become even more marked in the face of increasing budget cuts to the arts and humanities—that is, to culturally oriented areas of the university that are undervalued (where STEAM—a structure including arts, both fine and liberal—has no place within the dominant ideologies of STEM). [18]

As noted above, one of the most common concerns voiced by those whose dominant identification and professional training is that of "artist" is that faculty initially hired for their artistic excellence—artists who make and show art in the contemporary art world (museums, galleries, biennials, and triennials)—in the face of the "research-creationification" of university art departments now find themselves "matter out of place" (Douglas [1966] 2002). The fear here is that university art departments will no longer be understood as sites of proficient "making" but instead become sites of artistic research vetted solely through humanities and social science research logics and languages. This is in many ways true. Studio faculty are often required to ask: How does their (artistic) research attract and fund graduate students? How does their (artistic) research develop fruitful collaborations within and across departments? How does it fit strategically into university agendas and national research priorities? And, for students, rather than (and I am offering a straw-person narrative here) being trained toward traditional MFA outputs that stake a claim for an original and talented artistic vision ready for recognition by those standing at the gates of the art market, they are trained to look toward the PhD and ask not "What is my vision?" but "How will this artistic output forward the research question at the heart of my thesis?" This worry is set up as a structure in which the value of one term (research) will necessarily eclipse the other (art).

While this binary structure is one of the things that this book resists, I understand it all too well. In the art and art history practices within which I was trained, the artist and artwork have served, more often than not, as objects for the disciplinary fields of art history, theory, and criticism. It is historically commonplace for departments of art and art history to be organized around a model of knowledge production in which philosophy takes charge of and frames art—a hierarchy of knowledge endemic to the university. George Smith speaks to this point by tracing a history of philosophical debate surrounding the relation of artistic praxis to epistemology, suggesting that "were it to get us finally out from under the dialectics of knowledge and aesthetics, the philosophical education of the artist would necessarily entail the philosophy of history, but also the study of history per se: the history of art, yes; but as importantly, the history of ideas, the history of science, and the geopolitical history of the State, as these histories mix with the history of art. That the philosopher knows and the artist makes is one rule of specialization on its way out" (2012, 153; emphasis added). [19]

The way that the arts have historically been devalued in the academy at large mimics the structural relation of art maker to art thinker in the discipline of art history itself, which too often presumes that artistic practice, while it can be seen as a vehicle for research or thinking with the capacity to seriously impact rather than only express or reflect social experiences and issues, still fails the benchmark of rigor and accountability to which academics hold themselves. Historically, within the discipline, the job of the art historian or theorist or critic has been to step in as that translator capable of making an argument for the artwork's greater (historical, political, social) value. Obviously, this is a culturally and historically specific caricature, and one that few of my colleagues would recognize themselves in. But it is one, nonetheless, with ideological staying power, and that I still have presented to me as a truism by students in both disciplines (studio art and art history) on a regular basis. It is in the context of such perspectives that research-creation programs can be seen as particularly potent locations from which to reassess and reconfigure how we, in the overlapping fields of art, art history, and visual culture, understand our subjects, objects, and methods of study and publication.

This conceptualization is particularly relevant at the doctoral level, a level constitutive of "new knowledge" that is vetted and disseminable and therefore able to further discourse in a field (or fields). This is because a research-creational approach insists that, at the doctoral level, artistic production is no longer solely an object of scholarly inquiry but is itself legitimate form of research and dissemination, which in turn raises questions regarding the book-length monograph as the only legitimate product of a dissertation in the arts and humanities. [20] To state the obvious, how one does one's pedagogy in a field impacts what can be and is done in that field. How we train our students to think about their practices impacts how, and where, and why they move forward toward the futures they are developing. Learning environments impact the kinds of questions that can be asked, and the ways in which students are supported in asking them. As feminist, antiracist, and decolonial theorists have long taught us, pedagogical ideologies—regimes of truth—configure the parameters of legitimate research questions as well as what counts as rigor or excellence for both student and teacher. And, in turn, the ways in which internal and national granting boards understand the stakes and parameters of a field, and how these line up with that granting body's areas of interest (such as the endowment's conditions, the university's mandate, or the national granting body's target areas), has everything to do, in the contemporary university (as Howard Singerman powerfully argues in the context of MFA training in his 1999 Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University), with what kind of work is supported, therefore what kind of work is more likely to be made, seen, acclaimed, and given the chance to impact others. This is not, as I've already stated, to say that research-creation cannot be and hasn't already been, in certain ways, assimilated by the disciplinary logics of the neoliberal university. It is, instead, to ask how drawing on earlier, arguably more hopeful, approaches in political art practice and the interdisciplinary humanities might offer us a roadmap that can be collaged into an old/new way forward.

This book is my attempt to do so.

In what follows, I work with texts that I love, and with my experience of being disciplined via art history (even as my own formation crosses many boundaries). This means that my arguments and examples sometimes fail to fully account for the ways that similar debates have been taken up in allied interdisciplinary nodes in the academy, such as the digital humanities and design studies, as well as for voices and texts from other cultural, geographic, or institutional locations. I attempt to flag these other directions and voices at key moments in the text, and I recognize that the choice to tell one set of interlocking stories here results in others not being told. All I can hope is that what is missing does not overshadow what is present, and that the claims at the heart of this book come across with respect and care.

Chapter 1, "Haraway's Dog," locates us in the classroom as I teach research-creation to students pursuing degrees in art and art history. In this chapter, I am taught by two texts, Donna Haraway's The Companion Species Manifesto (2003) and Thomas King's The Truth about Stories (2003). These texts not only tell important, innovative research stories; they are also about stories—how stories craft and recraft worlds, and the political importance of participating in such retellings and recraftings. Accordingly, this first chapter offers stories of pedagogy, of art, of research, and of the intertwined pressures that we face in the neoliberal university today—pressures that affect not only our capacity to keep up with ever-increasing service and administrative loads, but, linked to this, our very capacity to speculate, dream, and imagine otherwise. [21]

Chapter 2, "Discipline(s)," then situates research-creation within a lineage of interdisciplinary interventions in the academy. My primary argument in this second chapter expands on what I have claimed in this introduction: that while research-creation is the result of endogenous impulses in the world of contemporary research-based art practice, it is not just that. Research-creation is also indebted to a history of academic interdisciplinarity that includes interventions such as feminist studies, cultural studies, critical race studies, Indigenous studies, and gender and sexuality studies—interventions into not only which knowledges might be deemed valuable, but who might produce such knowledges and how. In the latter half of the twentieth century, interdisciplinary social justice and studies-based programs worked to remake the university, nurturing pedagogical landscapes within which who was able to research was shown as central to shifting what research was being done. Indebted to this history, research-creation pushes at the limits of how we understand what it means to "write" and publish—render public—our research.

If chapters 1 and 2 ground the formal and institutional concerns of the book, chapter 3, "Polydisciplinamory," offers the beginning of a theoretical framework for the research-creational approach presented thus far. In it, I argue for the importance of learning to navigate the attachments that guide a "multiple" approach to research-creation (multiple in terms of discipline, method, and form) by drawing on the affective literacies of theoretical polyamory. Grounded in this literature, I propose the neologism polydisciplinamory as a way to differently structure our negotiations of the affective attachments needed for a robust practice and theory of research-creation. I do so not only through attention to poly lit but also through psychoanalysis, introducing the Lacanian figure of the sujet supposé savoir as one way to trouble disciplinary relays of knowledge/power that would say that to be institutionally legible—to be hired, to advance, to be recognized—we must commit to one disciplinary field, sometimes dabbling or learning from others, but always in contained ways that return us to the monogamous hearth and home of our primary disciplinary spaces. Here, psychoanalytic theory is my friend, helping me to theorize research-creation as a method attentive to cathexis and situated curiosity in ways that necessarily tumble out of the frame of the monodisciplinary.

Taking up this methodological proposition, chapter 4, "Drive(s)," describes the Lacanian objet petit a, the "object-cause of desire," as a structuring force for the critical discourse of research-creation. Reading Lacan idiosyncratically, the objet petit a, in this chapter, becomes a figuration that helps put desire and drive center stage in the research-creational game. It does so in a way that matters as we think about not only what distinguishes research-creation but why we might take research-creation seriously as one of the forces remaking what we do and how we do it in the university today. In this chapter I argue that the objet petit a, research-creationally speaking, is what we are in the grip of when we find ourselves pushing our projects into disciplinary and formal directions that we don't yet know how to justify. The objet petit a doesn't describe a curiosity—a desire—that we mobilize, that we control. It names a curiosity that grasps us as much if not more than we grasp it, and it is this mode of being driven by our cathected curiosities that, in this final chapter, I tie back to the modes of driven curiosity and love described in chapter 1 through Haraway and King.

The book then concludes with my own objet petit a. Here I turn to the question of how to make art at the "end of the world"—a framing taken from Timothy Morton's (2013) influential work on what he calls the hyperobjectivity of global warming. In so doing, I end this manifesto (or perhaps this is a love story, filled with the ambivalence that constitutes all stories of love) by situating the work of research-creation within the context of what is contestedly called the Anthropocene, a term proposed by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2007 to name the geologic impact of humans on the planet. [22] In this final fold, the book emerges as both a manifesto on research-creation as an institutional remaking practice and, to a lesser degree, a manifesto on mobilizing research-creation for (and in) the Anthropocene.

That is, while the Anthropocene is not its focus, this book emerges from my thinking about how I do what I do in the university today. And I cannot think about my daily life in the university without acknowledging that I write and teach from within Treaty Six territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and others, roughly three hundred miles south of the Athabasca oil sands, one of the greatest environmental blights on the planet, during what are undeniably petrocultural end times. [23] In thus situating myself, I flag both the historical specificity of the moment at which I write and the particular pressures of this moment as they manifest themselves in the northwestern Canadian province where I have found myself living since 2012.

There is no longer any question that we are living in compromised times, within which the fantasy of an uncompromised self is isolationist, privileged, and dangerous (Shotwell 2016). Global ecological and economic collapse are discussed with alarming regularity in the newspapers and newsfeeds that surround us, where headlines such as a recent one from The Atlantic tell us that "a typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash" (Meyer 2016). The arts have an important and often overlooked part to play in this context. They offer modes of sensuous, aesthetic attunement, and work as a conduit to focus attention, elicit public discourse, and shape cultural imaginaries. "How might the world be organized differently?" is a question that matters urgently, and it is a question that art—particularly art attuned to human and more-than-human social justice—asks in generative and complex ways.

Oriented by this assertion, I spend most of my time thinking about intersections of art and research as they impact how we do our institutional and pedagogical work in the university in the context of human-induced climate change. That I can do so in the specific ways that I do—research-creationally—comes in part from being situated at a university that has come late to the political and institutional work of research-creation. When I arrived at the university where I have had the privilege of working for the past six years, there was very little institutional understanding of research-creation. What this means is that I have been able to develop a research-creational culture around me that is largely idiosyncratic, one that emerges from the principles and perspectives that I explore in this book, and has been largely informed by my students. [24]

This matters.

It changes the contours of what I write in these pages. While I refer to some colleagues (both within my institution and without), my primary source of learning, inspiration, and motivation has been the classroom. It is in the classroom, developing research-creation streams in art history courses, developing research-creation independent studies, seeing research-creational master's theses through from start to finish, and working with research-creation PhD students, that I have developed my thinking on the topic. It is the work of former and current students that insists to me that what is happening in the "ivory tower" matters in significant ways that are not confined, as certain critics might have it, myopically, to the classroom.

That said, as is clear by now, a central contention of this book is that while research-creation happens in interesting ways outside the university, the claiming of doctoral status for such practices offers one of the most interesting contemporary interdisciplinary provocations to (at least) the arts and humanities side of the university today. As Derek McCormack writes in his "Thinking-Spaces for Research-Creation," "Research-creation is, of necessity, more-than-disciplinary" (2008, 1). Precisely how this is so is one of the things that this book explores. We already have excellent research-based artists in the academy, and if research-creation simply renames and rebrands them, then it has already done its fundamental job as an organizational category that, while it may still need administrative championing, needs no critical discourse. However, if we understand research-creation as an approach to bringing academic and artistic tools together in more-than-disciplinary ways that challenge the current hegemony of the book-length monograph as the only legitimate outcome of a PhD in the arts and humanities, then it does, indeed, need a critical discourse that exceeds the parameters of disciplinary legitimation. This book is a provocation toward just such a critical discourse. While it takes the form of a traditional book (a form that I genuinely love), it invites us to think beyond this form, to denaturalize it, and ask ourselves how we might, each, engage in remaking and reshaping our institutions by bringing artistic literacies, modes, and approaches to bear on the wicked problems that surround us—if we are looking—every day. [25]

About the Author

Natalie Loveless is Professor of Contemporary Art & Theory in the Department of History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Alberta.


[1] An "axiomatic structure," for Krauss, emerges between "architecture and not-architecture," and a "marked site" between "landscape and not-landscape." Over the years following her essay, the former will come to be called installation art and the latter earth or land art. For her full analysis and diagrams, see Krauss (1979).

[2] The pedagogical (or educational) turn names contemporary social and political art interventions that take the university, the classroom, and other spaces of teaching and learning as not only their subject matter but also as the basis of their artistic form.

[3] I discuss the unique pedagogical program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in Loveless (forthcoming).

[4] International debate surrounding these programs has most often focused on the need for individualized programs of study (based on MFA critique models) that make room for and, indeed, champion the intuition-based aspects of artistic praxis as a necessary site of resistance to increasingly standardized and globalizing models of postsecondary education that focus on uniform legibility at the expense of individuality and innovation (Borgdorff and Dombois 2014; Hannula 2009; Haseman 2006; Hetland et al. 2007; Slager 2009; Stévance and Lacasse 2013; M. Wilson 2009). Such models, adopted from international accords such as the European Bologna Declaration (1999) and its Australian counterpart, the Brisbane Initiative (2006), and national structures such as the UK's Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), turned Research Excellence Framework (REF) in 2014, are increasingly at work in North America (Biggs 2006; Candy and Edmonds 2011; Derrida 2008; Kamuf 1997; Readings 1997; Royle 2003). There is a large body of literature on the topic. The share network is one of many non–institutionally specific gathering spaces for this research in a European context. For share's overview and bibliography of artistic research resources, see Other existing organizations include the Society for Artistic Research, the Swiss Artistic Research Network, and the European Art Research Network. There are also many journals worthy of note in this context, such as the Journal for Artistic Research and Art and Research. For an ongoing and updated list of doctoral programs in the arts and their starting dates, see Elkins (n.d.).

[5] In 2016 Dr. Sophie Stévance was offered the first, and to date only, Canada Research Chair in Research-Creation (that is, with research-creation in the title of the appointment), in music, at the Université Laval (Québec). The Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP) was created by the Government of Canada in 2000 as "a national strategy to make Canada one of the world's top countries in research and development." For more information on this program, see CRC (n.d.).

[6] While there are some continuities between the more established English-language (European and Australian) contexts for these debates and the Canadian one, and, in turn, some commonalities between how things are unfolding between Canada and the United States, it is important to note that Canada has robust national funding councils that are genuinely committed to research-creation. Generally speaking, in the United States research-creational (and other innovative) pedagogical experiments emerge as localized institutional acts. In Canada, however, the landscape of research-creation is figured as a national academic discourse: though many in the academy are confused by it, research-creation carries the legitimacy of being its very own social sciences and  humanities funding category.

[7] See SSHRC (2013) to follow the rhetoric and justification for their initial SSHRC research-creation pilot program.

[8] Though this distinction no longer appears on their website, it is important to this book as a whole. References to research/creation were replaced by references to research and creation and creative research in 2017.

[9] A statement like this is likely to cause anxiety on many fronts. To argue for research-creation as a funding category that is not earmarked for the fine arts (specifically art professors in the university who are unable to fund students through other means) ignores the degree to which research-creation was initially brought into SSHRC to address a problem: that while the university fine arts professoriate was increasing in numbers across Canada, it was significantly underrepresented in national research funding profiles (many Canadian universities don't count Canada Council for the Arts funding when tallying their professor-generated research dollars, and Canada Council money generally can't be used to fund graduate students). To argue for an expanded understanding of research-creation has, then, to be done very carefully, as these are real, pragmatic needs. My aim is to find a way to address these pragmatic needs without closing down needed debate on research-creation as interdisciplinary praxis relevant across the university.

[10] This is an argument that was made forcefully in 1971 by Linda Nochlin in her germinal essay "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?"

[11] A similar argument is made by Erin Manning in her chapter "Against Method" in The Minor Gesture (2016). Owen Chapman and Kim Sawchuk also speak to the need for research-creation to exceed the bounds of the fine arts in their article "Creation-as-Research: Critical Making in Complex Environments" (2015). Chris Salter's Alien Agency: Experimental Encounters with Art in the Making (2015) does a wonderful job bringing examples of such practices together, in their most unpredictable and emergent forms.

[12] Hybrid practice-theory doctoral degrees in other, related, fields such as the digital humanities, design, communications studies, architecture, and performance studies have their own genealogical trajectories. Caitlin Fisher's "Building Feminist Theory: Hypertextual Heuristics" (York University, Toronto, 2000) was (to the best of my knowledge) the first "born-digital" research-creation doctoral thesis in Canada, and Owen Chapman's "Selected Sounds: A Collective Investigation into the Practice of Sample-Based Music" (Concordia University, Montreal, 2007), the first research-creation PhD to come out of a communication studies department in Canada. The Université de Québec a Montréal (UQUAM) was the first to offer a French-language doctorate in research-creation in Canada (it awarded its first PhD in 2000 to Louise Paillé with a thesis called "Archéologie d'une démarche de création en arts visuels: les livres-livres"). On these overlapping histories and practices in the Quèbec context see, among others, Le Coguiec and Gosselin (2006) and Béland and Paquin (2015), and the websites for Hexagram (, Milieux (htts://, and Sense Lab ( Thank you to both Erin Manning and Chris Salter for robust discussion on these histories. Although in conversation with these other disciplinary trajectories, this book is focused specifically on the practice and pedagogy of research-creation in the visual arts in English, one of the primary domains in which I have been trained, teach, and work.

[13] See, as but one of many (almost daily) examples of academics bemoaning the end of the university, Terry Eagleton's critique of the creative knowledge economy endemic to the widespread neoliberalizing of university spaces in the UK context in "The Slow Death of the University" (2015).

[14] On slow scholarship, see Mountz et al. (2015); and Berg and Seeber (2016).

[15] Historian of technology and pedagogical innovator Cathy Davidson acutely assesses these conditions in The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux (2017). The failure to adequately credit experimental academic labor emerges in a particularly strong way with collaborative practices which, despite collaborative work often requiring more time and labor than individual research projects, are often seen as less meritorious. On the ground, across the university, there are individuals doing fantastic, committed, innovative things, many of which are allied with the perspectives mobilized in this book under the sign of research-creation. Unfortunately, these innovations, while applauded in name, are too often unsupported in practice. The roadblock, here, is in the institutional and pedagogical conditions that render the doing of innovative, experimental, and collaborative work "extra-to-load" or simply illegible as equally weighted scholarship.

[16] Joseph Beuys's "social sculptural" presentations of lectures as performances and blackboard remnants as art objects remain a central touchstone for many interested in the pedagogical turn. Coined by Beuys in the mid-1970s to describe his expanded conception of art, the idea of social sculpture informed all of Beuys's work, "from his understanding of drawing-as-thinking to his work with the invisible material of speech in Honey Pump and the Free International University" ( For Beuys, thinking itself is a sculptural act—it is morphogenetic; consequently, it is important to be accountable for the nature and quality of one's own thinking. Beuys maintained that the question "What can we do?" should always be preceded by the question "How must we think?" His answer to this question was the idea of social sculpture (Sacks 2011). That said, Beuys was not operating in a vacuum. The pedagogical turn can also be seen to emerge from a wide range of modern and contemporary artistic experimentations such as those of the Dadaists and Russian Constructivists, the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, the Situationist International and Fluxus, among others (Bishop 2012; Podesva 2007; Rogoff 2008). Information on the Copenhagen Free University is available at (last accessed September 2018) and the School of  Panamerican Unrest at (last accessed September 2018).

[17] See Bourriaud (2002, 2016); Jackson (2011); Kester (2004, 2011); Kwon (2002); Lacy (1995, 2010); Lippard (1973). These are books that I use as reference and teaching texts to show which strains in contemporary art are those that I see as paving the way for research-creation to emerge as a university category; they do not fully map the expanding fields of pedagogically, socially, or relationally oriented contemporary art.

[18] STEM is a well-known acronym developed by the US National Science Foundation to refer to a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics across school curricula. To "add art" is to turn stem into steam: science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. (Though what might be even better here is steams: add social justice.)

[19] On this, see also Smith (2018).

[20] This problem is also being addressed in important ways by work in the digital humanities on hypertextual formats for doctoral theses, in which organizations such as HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) have long been involved.

[21] As Henry Giroux (2013) writes in his persuasive op-ed piece in Truthout, "Not only does neoliberalism undermine both civic education and public values and confuse education with training, it also wages a war on what might be called the radical imagination."

[22] There are many terms that have recently been developed as alternatives to the Anthropocene. The term Capitalocene (Haraway 2016; Moore 2015) is often used to point out the ways that the Anthropocene, with its generalizing anthropocentric focus, masks the uneven work of capitalism, colonialism, and other interlocking systems of domination. Other terms include Plantationocene, Chthulucene (Haraway 2016), Gynocene (Demos 2015), and Planthroposcene (Myers 2017b). See also Davis and Turpin (2015); Kirksey (2015); Purdy (2015); Scranton (2015); and Stengers (2015).

[23] The Athabasca oil sands take up roughly eighty-seven thousand square miles of Northern Alberta, an area only slightly smaller than the state of Florida, with a surface mineable area six times as large as New York City and seventy-eight times as large as Manhattan Island. See Earth Observatory (n.d.).

[24] These students include Leila Plouffe (who developed layered work on intra- and interspecies care for her 2017 BFA graduating exhibition), Kyle Terrence and Aaron Veldstra (who both worked to inhabit the contradictions of climate change in their 2015 and 2016 MFA exhibition shows), Michael Woolley (who completed the first research-creation master's degree housed specifically in the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture department at the University of Alberta, on the intersections of queer embodiment, performance art, and its documentation), Ika Peraić (who is currently working on a research-creation PhD examining the ways that museums work with and variably hold space for histories of genocide, focusing specifically on her homeland, Croatia, and her current home, Canada), Brad Necyk (who is producing a research-creation PhD on neuroatypicality across the departments of Art and Design and Psychiatry), and Jessie Beier (who is in the process of writing a research-creation dissertation on pedagogy's "futurity" in the context of the Anthropocene). Leila Plouffe's work "Self-Intra-Multispecies Care" is available at the artist's website (2017). Kyle Terrence's documentary work Pilgrimage and its associated images and analysis are available at the artist's website (Terrence, n.d.) and in the University of Alberta's research archive (Terrence 2016). Aaron Veldstra's performance-based installation Our Anaerobic Future is discussed in Jans (2015). Michael Woolley's full thesis and documentation of the exhibition are available at the artist's website (2017). Brad Necyk's autoethnographic research Alberta #3 can be found on the artist's website (Necyk 2018). Jessie Beier's There's No I in Me (or, "I Don't Necessarily Agree with Everything I Say") can be viewed in its entirety in The Occulture (Occulture 2016).

[25] The idea of a "wicked problem" comes from design studies. It refers to a problem that is so sticky (incomplete, contradictory, emergent in its requirements) that it requires multiple approaches, literacies, and forms to even begin to be addressed. It requires multimodality (Rittel and Webber 1973).

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The Future of the Public Humanities

Is the future of the humanities a public one? In an era of challenges to history, philosophy, literature, and the other humanistic disciplines, utopian thinking about new outlets and broad audiences has become commonplace. Institutions of all sorts promote projects in the public humanities as an unequivocal gain for all, while reflection on the compromises of such projects—not to mention their hazards and omissions—is rarer, and sometimes difficult or unwelcome.


This Colloquy is conceived to demonstrate that a truly public humanities will encourage critical attention to its own premises. The arguments and questionings gathered here generally proceed from an awareness of the long history of intellectual work addressed to the public. They tend to recognize both that now scholarship may go public in more channels than ever—from publication to video to new media—and that, for good reasons, some of the most important work of our time will never find a wide audience. In light of these realities, one might begin by inquiring how the two terms, public and humanities, change as they come into contact, and how what they mean together might be different from what they mean apart. 

Judith Butler's essay, which appeared in a number of the journal Daedalus dedicated to "The Humanities in American Life" in 2022, sets a frame around the Colloquy by insisting that the public humanities must exist not to promote the relevant fields of study for instrumental or market-driven purposes, nor to serve or advertise, but to bring a truly public dimension to the work humanists do. Butler envisions that public dimension as introducing topics of the broadest concern into the work of the humanities, at best reorienting both "the mission of the university" and "the relation between universities and the public." She concludes with a call for a public humanities that issues "a life call, to foster a critical imagination that helps us rethink the settled version of reality." 

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, represented here by an informal reflection that appeared in Arcade's journal Occasion about ten years ago, complements Butler's argument by challenging one form of instrumental thinking about the humanities, namely rational choice, and countering that with a robust defense of the literary imagination. Spivak's argument was developed in her book An Aesthetic Education in the Age of Globalization (2013), which was in press at the time of the essay for Occasion. As Spivak's essay shows, comment on the humanities in the public world has appeared in Arcade for many years now.

Several other recent items propose their own interpretations of a public humanities. Doris Sommer narrates three engrossing examples of how the provocations of public art (especially conceptual, avant-garde, or marginal) can prompt social change. Natalie Loveless describes "research-creation" as a practice of art informed by scholarly work (say, in history or cultural theory) that forces a reconsideration of the boundaries between not only disciplines but intellectual media and of the "rendering public (publishing) of research within a university context." Hannah Kim discusses the potential as well as the costs of applying virtual reality to the public representation of history. In a searching interview on the evolving idea of liberty, Quentin Skinner reflects on how his view of the relation of the applicability of the past to the present has changed and why he accepts the role of a public intellectual today.

In a talk for the Stanford Humanities Center in 2022, Kyla Schuller responded to my first question—about how her public-oriented book The Trouble with White Women (2021) evolved from a more conventionally academic project—by noting the diversity and sophistication of public readerships. "People are hungry for what scholarship can teach us," Schuller said, as she observed that audiences for books like hers do not exist in waiting but are convened by work that dares to educate and confront them. In an interview, Rey Chow expands on her book A Face Drawn in Sand: Humanistic Inquiry and Foucault in the Present (2021), in part a critique of recent adaptations (not only public-oriented but environmental, digital, and computational scholarship) as more or less at odds with a non-utilitarian kind of humanities. Two influential figures who are active in institutions, Susan Smulyan and Zrinka Stahuljak, describe how their centers at Brown and UCLA are adapting to the needs of public scholarship today. 

As in all Colloquies, especially on topics as open as this one, the work continues. We encourage contributions about the responsibilities of public-oriented writing in a post-factual society; the challenges of accommodating multilingual, recondite, or profoundly historical scholarship into the public humanities; and the nature and value of research that will never go public. We would be glad to receive first-person accounts of careers and projects in terms of the public humanities. Comments, suggestions, and submissions are welcome.

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