We Need More, Not Less Artistic Research in Denmark

In December 2021, a report was published with recommendations for reform and development of the artistic educational system in Denmark. While UKK welcomes several of the recommendations in the report, we strongly disagree with the call to reduce artistic research at The Royal Danish Academy Schools of Visual Art. We view this as a continuation of several misguided critiques of artistic research published in 2021, among others by former minister of culture Joy Mogensen.

According to the report “several people experience that the artistic practice at the institutions to a degree has been replaced by theory, research, and ‘reading classes’.” In other words, it suggests that theory and research take something away from artistic practice. The authors behind the report therefore conclude that “the number of externally financed researchers and PhD students at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts constitute a disproportionately large share of a total staff – approximately 40 teachers – which pulls the educations offered by the institution toward a direction of a scientific knowledge base at the expense of artistic practice.”

The above is an example of a statement which we would like to provide nuance to and criticize. It is a misunderstanding to believe that artistic research takes away from or diminishes artistic practice. This points to a lack of awareness that theory and craft are closely linked and dependent on each other in visual art. In fact, it is often in these crossings, that novel artistic formats, expressions, and competencies emerge. This is exemplified in the series of interviews by Kunsten.nu on practice-based artistic research. As a counter-argument to the conclusion of the report, we would like to share an updated excerpt from an article we published last year, exploring the many benefits of artistic research. The text can be read here in its entirety.

  • Artistic research explores problems with societal relevance

During the last decade, artistic research has been given more priority in Denmark, across educations and institutions, and thereby a more significant position within the field of visual art. We disagree with the assertion that academic approaches are negative for the field of visual art, artists, and our society. On the contrary, artistic research often explores problems with wide societal relevance in novel ways. For example, we believe that artists should have a more prevalent role in the imminent green transition of our societies. Likewise, artistic research contributes to an exploration of questions around identity, post-colonial perspectives, new pedagogies, digital technologies, new institutional forms, and more.

  • Artistic research creates jobs and collaborations

Artistic research creates jobs, transdisciplinary collaborations, ties to universities and exchanges across borders. As exemplified in Kunsten.nu’s series of interviews, the PhDs and PostDocs featured in the articles collaborated with a wide range of actors and disciplines, across public and private sectors. This includes other professionals, children, cultural associations, and different types of communities. Their projects create new synergies, connections and innovation, of both social, political, economic, and ethical quality, across a variety of professional groups, communities, and sectors.

  • Artistic research creates economic security

Another crucial factor is that PhD and PostDoc positions provide artists with economic security and income for a number of years. This provides artists with a rare opportunity to focus deeply on their practice, without the constant battle of precariously struggling to make ends meet.

  • The importance of free artistic, critical, and academic voices

What we need is a highly diverse field of visual art, which is capable of providing space for theory, research, transdisciplinary approaches and more. This will provide artists with the best starting point for developing practices that are exploratory, critical, curious, and diverse. Free artistic, critical, and academic voices are essential for a democratic society, and this should be reflected in freedom of research as well.

  • International perspectives

The field of visual art in Denmark is also a part of an international field across national borders and digital communities. If artistic research is diminished or removed from Danish art education, this would be a significant loss hindering artists from working on the international scene. This would also diminish the global reputation of Denmark as a legitimate actor in the field of visual art.

The recommendations of the report were approved by The Danish Parliament in December, 2021, but the implementation is yet to happen. We would encourage, going forward, that artists pursuing PhDs and PostDocs are involved in shaping the policies, institutional frameworks, and decisions that form their research environments. What is needed in this moment is not less, but more investment in artistic research as well as other forms of support. This will enable artists to work and contribute to our society in increasingly more diverse ways going forward.