Upgrade problems- fine art research by practice


I am currently registered on an MPhil part time and will have completed two years of part time study in January 2010. I am doing research by practice and admit I'm struggling to work out what my proposed significant contribution to knowledge is going to be. I was asked to hand in an end of academic year report by my three supervisors none of whom is expert in my subject area.

I saw the report today and was shocked to discover that all three are recommending I complete the MPhil and not upgrade to PhD. There was no prior indication of this in our tutorials. My main supervisor told me only one week ago that she was looking for an external examiner for my upgrade viva and that she was very happy with my progress and end of year report. In addition, there are shortcomings with access to facilities needed for my research. I'm sure my contribution to knowledge will emerge over the coming months but I am very upset and stressed out over the whole affair now and feel like a goose being forced to lay a golden egg. Any advise is welcome.:$


Ah, contribution to knowledge in practice-based research is such a grey area - I've just been writing my prac-based proposal (due to one thing and another I'm hoping to move from theory to practice). Urgh. The AHRC state that "if a film-maker wanted to make a film about refugees, the research question should be about the process of making the film, not about the experience of the refugees. Work that results purely from the creative or professional development of an artist, however distinguished, is unlikely to fulfill the requirements of research". You can think of an amazing idea for a piece of work and then realise but it doesn't answer the 'knowledge and understanding' question. But this ramble doesn't help you.

Is your aim to develop your own practice? Maybe you want to create a new approach to practice, or challenge existing traditions? If you are keeping a reflexive journal is there anything in that could help?

I don't know if you already have, but I would suggest going through the back copies of the Journal of Media Practice (and also the Journal of Visual Art Practice). Despite the media production bias there are some great papers exploring the problems faced by prac-based researchers which are relevant to all disciplines. Articles by Estelle Barrett are also helpful. Ditto "The practical implications of applying a theory of practice based research: a case study' by Scrivener & Chapman. Also check out Uni of Hertfordshire's Research Into Practice Conference Papers, and QUT's SPeculation & INnovation conference papers. Hopefully these might help.

I don't know what to say about your supervisor. It seems very strange. Do you have a good relationship with him/her? Would you be able to discuss why the massive gear change? I know I'm a bit of an idealist but shouldn't the supervisor kept an eye on this, especially as the field is so new. Don't get me started on the lack of specific prac-based research methodology! It's a bit of a concern that you can't access the facilities you need. Couple that with supervisors that aren't specialists in your area then I can fully understand why you are stressed. But I would see if you can get an explanation for their recommendations. I think that's the very least you deserve in light of your conversation with your 1st supervisor.


There are many texts, models and exemplars on research through practice in fine art.
As a starting point, try Macleod, K. & Holdridge, L. (Eds), 'Thinking through Art: reflections on art as research', London & New York, Routledge, 2005.
Katy Macleod has done some important work in this area. Their references will lead you to different places.


This may be of no use to you whatsoever :$ but have you looked at the kind of action research that is quite common education at the moment, - of course fine art covers a lot of fields so it may not (probably isn't) of direct relevance, but on the other hand maybe the stuff done in junior schools may be worth a quick glance and may spark off a few ideas concerning your contribution


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Hi Biggl, if the problem relates to what your contribution to knowledge is, it sounds more as if your supervisors have concerns about the core ideas of your project, rather than your methodology or your ability to do the work. You could defend this in your upgrade viva. Are you thinking about how your practice extends what other artists or critical theorists have done in that field, and how your use of certain facilities or methods contribute to this practice to make it original research? Apologies if it sounds really obvious, but that should be your contribution to knowledge, you're doing something new that other people haven't done yet.

If the problem with continuing to PhD is that your supervisors don't think there is enough mileage in your project (that presumably got you enrolled on the degree in the first place), can you think of how you might extend and develop your work in different directions to do what they think is necessary for a PhD? Are there related ideas that you could explore, to build on what you're already started and give it more depth? It's not necessarily a problem with your practice, but might be with the original concept for your research degree proposal. Some projects don't have enough scope for a significant contribution to knowledge, practice-based or otherwise, but that's not to say you can't necessarily develop what you've started to meet the needs of a PhD. I think it depends on you convincing your supervisors and the external. Good luck!