Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Advanced Academic Degrees in Art Production

In some parts of the world an post-graduate degree for practising art, also known as a doctorate or PhD, has become an increasingly common occurrence. I have always looked at this development with scepticism, questioning the intentions with which such initiatives were introduced. 
In the academic system, the common degree structure consists of the bachelor's degree, followed by a master's degree and possibly a PhD or doctorate. The bachelor's and master's degree reflect a student's knowledge of the present state of a particular field of research, while a doctorate is meant to reflect the students ability to contribute to this field. The thing that distinguishes a doctorate from a master's or bachelor's degree is an emphasis on original research. While for a master's degree it is adequate to simple display an, extensive, knowledge of the current state of affairs in any specific field, an original contribution to that field is necessary for a doctorate to hold any value. 
To find novel problems and solutions takes quite some time in most fields, hence a PhD programme takes about three to six years. It also tends to be understood to some reasonable extent which problems remain unanswered in the field. 
The problems that have yet to be solved tend to be reasonably well-defined. It is therefore justifiable to expect a candidate to be able to formulate a well defined question which is to be answered during their multi-year research.
 
It is precisely this fundamental aspect of the doctorate programme that is frankly impossible to achieve within an art practice. There are novel problems, and solutions, to be found in art, but to formulate the problem is to solve it. For example, let's say a new painting style is to be developed during a PhD research. If one can imagine what that style should look like, or what steps are to be taken to create those paintings, then there is no further research to be done, as the end goal has already been achieved. This doesn't mean that research can't advance any particular art practice, or that trying to define it strongly is unfruitful, but rather that to define a problem rigidly in art making is equal to solving it. Guided research in the way that is expected for a doctorate is therefore next to impossible by definition.
Let us pretend for a second that the oeuvre of Piet Mondriaan was created in pursuit of a doctorate degree, initiated around 1908. We can imagine that Mondriaan wanted 'To abstract and simplify nature', but such a description naturally isn't enough to justify his research, as this aim says nothing about the potential outcomes. However, if Mondriaan would further specify that aim to 'To abstract and simplify nature in painting, by employing a grid of black lines with planes painted in the primary colours', then by specifying his problem, he has simultaneously presented its solution and further research would be moot.
Because development in art doesn't let itself be categorised in advance, to let specific people formulate plans in order to present original research in art making is at best a somewhat educated guess and at worst based on findings previously made and therefore irrelevant to new research pertaining to the doctorate.

Awarding a doctorate in art is thus somewhat of a farce, probably aimed at elevating the academic standing of art in the public perception. Yet because it can't employ a similar method by which the other sciences have achieved this present standing, these lofty attempts seem to be misguided and unlikely to achieve these goals.