Tuire Kuusi

Tuire Kuusi: Discussion on the evaluation of artistic research is needed

8 Apr 2021

The verbal expression of art and the part art plays in artistic research funding applications provokes discussion among people working in the field. Impact and renewal are often central elements of artistic research. But which one is it – research, art or perhaps both – whose quality is being evaluated? The funding criteria of the Academy of Finland and other foundations differ, and the forms of funding they offer complement each other.

“Artistic research and the criteria the Academy of Finland and other foundations use to evaluate applications” – this was the subject that a group of representatives from universities, foundations and the Academy of Finland met to discuss in February 2021. The premise for the discussion was that artistic research is research and those who engage in it must be able to apply to both the Academy of Finland and other foundations for funding for their research projects – as has been the case in practice.

By definition, the Academy of Finland is a funding body for science and scientific research. The word artistic in the term artistic research is easily construed as the opposite of scientific. Having read artistic research applications, the Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Culture and Society wanted to use the event to stimulate discussion on applications and application processes and to highlight how the criteria of the Academy of Finland and other foundations differ. After the introductions by the Academy and the foundations, a lively discussion on the topic began. The following paragraphs will shed light on the results of this discussion.

Expressing embodied experience and bodily knowledge in words is a challenging aspect of artistic research

Embodied experience and bodily knowledge are significant in artistic research, but even the artists themselves may struggle to become completely aware of them, which can make conveying these experiences to others extremely difficult. Despite this, the applicant must be able to explain, in some way, what kind of project they are undertaking, what its goals are and how it will be carried out when preparing their funding application. In the description they provide, the applicant must be able to explain how they intend to use embodied experience in their research. This may somewhat defy the notions that artistic research shirks away from defining itself or that verbal expressions of embodied experience can never accurately describe the experience in its entirety.

Which  is under evaluation in artistic research – the quality of the research or the quality of the art?

The application portal used by the Academy of Finland strictly delineates the content and format of the application. How does artistic content fit within this structure?

The purpose of a strict structure and shared criteria is to ensure that all applicants are treated equally in the peer review process. The content of applications to other foundations are not delineated in the same strict way, which allows applicants a fair degree of freedom when writing their application and lets them emphasise perspectives they feel are important. Art, artistic endeavour and artistic research, as well as artistic evidence, can therefore be brought to the fore in applications such as these. Other foundations also fund artistic activities that are outside the scope of the Academy of Finland’s area of funding.

The Academy’s funding criteria – quality, impact and renewal – are the same for all applicants because shared criteria allow for the comparison of applications from different scientific fields of study. In principle, these criteria are very well suited to the evaluation of artistic research as long as the applicant describes how their project meets them in their application. Impact and renewal are often central elements of artistic research. But which one is it – research, art or perhaps both – whose quality is being evaluated? Just like the evaluation of research, evaluating the quality of art requires specific expertise, as well as material that can be placed under evaluation.

Art, as part of artistic research, is simultaneously a work of art and a research approach

Art plays a significant part in artistic research applications. It has value in and of itself – it is not a decoration or a tool. Art is also not merely a subject of research; it is part of the paradigm, the research question and the method. As part of artistic research, art is simultaneously an individual piece of art or performance and a research approach. Independent art is experienced by the audience: examining a work of art or hearing a concert, the audience see what their familiarity with the art form and their current state of mind lead them to see. In the case of funding applications, however, the responsibility for the experience cannot be placed on the reader. Instead, the applicant must find a way to describe what the art is attempting to achieve and what function it plays in the overall project.

When it comes to the expression of the part art plays, therefore, we return to verbalisation: the project’s premise, theory or theories, goals, hypotheses, research questions, methods and expected outcomes are described in the application. In such a description, art and research are seamlessly integrated into the whole.

More support is needed in the application process

In the discussion between the representatives of the universities, foundations and the Academy of Finland, it emerged that the support available to applicants during the application process varied significantly from one university to the next. There is a need for further concrete support, whether in regards to the content of the application, its wording or the technical details expressed within it. Familiarising oneself with the funding bodies’ criteria is an essential part of the application process, and it is important to ensure that the application is written to address these criteria. In both this and evaluating the clarity of the application, the help of a second reader can be indispensable. Though the panel evaluating the funding applications is made up of experts in the field, they are reading the application for the first time without the opportunity to discuss its content with the applicant.

The importance of the discussion on funding opportunities for artistic research was demonstrated by the number of participants, the scope of the views and questions raised and the liveliness of the discussion. One afternoon was not enough to answer the questions that were brought up. It is essential that this discussion is continued in and between universities, as well as between universities and funding bodies.

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