The Challenge of Interpretation in Arts-Research

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If we, as academics and arts-researchers, subscribe to the idea of research as public intellectual work, and, by extension, the arts researcher as a public intellectual, who critiques and communicates as well as creates ideas that are disseminated not to disciplinary colleagues alone, but also to the broader world, it follows that we have a responsibility to think critically about, and address issues of interpretation in research in the arts. Given that we work in an era where there are significant changes in funding and support for research, and an increased interest in quality, which has a noticeable impact on “content”, “focus” and “feasibility” (Atkinson, 2000), this paper considers the challenge of interpretation in research in the visual and performing arts by examining how research in this field engages audiences, and specifically, what audiences. Who do arts researchers address (and hope to address) in and through their research work, which leads to the question who is this research for? For whom do they produce knowledge, or more precisely what conditions for meaning making and knowledge production does their work generate: Is it to develop a counter-hegemonic discourse to the rational-scientific approach so prevalent in research in the humanities and especially in education? Is it to demonstrate that research in the arts provides opportunities for representing and coming to know in multiple and non-linguistic ways? Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of field (champ) along with his theory of art perception, these questions are addressed through a close and critical examination of the work of the Canadian First Nations artist Rebecca Belmore. The paper considers what a critical place-based analysis of Belmore’s performance piece Vigil might offer us in thinking about the differing practices of artists and arts-researchers, when practice is conceptualised as “a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one other” (Reckwitz, 2002).


Keywords: Arts-Research, Interpretation, Contemporary Art Practice, Performance Art
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Donal O Donoghue

Assistant Professor and Chair, Art Education, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Dónal O Donoghue is Assistant Professor and Chair, Art Education at the
University of British Columbia Vancouver Canada. His research addresses men,
masculinity, and schooling, and focuses on the intersections between
educational research and contemporary art practice.

Ref: A09P0254