Universiteit Leiden

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‘Art is the front line of science’

Research on art is often compared to other forms of scientific research. Professor Henk Borgdorff believes that's unfortunate. 'Research on art is absolutely one of the front lines of science.' Inaugural lecture 10 February.

‘People often claim that research in the arts is equivalent to other forms of scientific research,' comments Borgdorff, Professor in the Theory of Research in the Arts. 'For me, that's an unfortunate assumption. By stressing this equivalence, you are claiming in the same breath that they are not the same. Even more so, it suggests an implicit hierarchy between serious and second-class research - and that while art research belongs in science, and is even one of the front lines of research.'

Focus on practice

Borgdorff shows in his lecture that art research is no more and no less than one of the many diverse branches of science. The only real difference is that art research also focuses on practice. 'The practice of art permeates every level of research,' says Borgdorff. ‘Your artistic subject is an expression of art, whether it is a musical composition, an installation or an image. But the research itself generally takes place in the practical environment, because you make or perform something. And in many cases the research generates a new piece of music or a new artwork.'  

More positive notion

According to Borgdorff, it is time to develop and communicate a more positive notion of art research. He shows that many artist-researchers use research methods that are common in other scientific disciplines, such as fieldwork, survey research, historical literature studies and experiments. This 'methodological pluralism'- together with the focus on the material nature of the object of the study and the final product - is what typifies research in the arts.' 

Important for science

‘We need to show what art research has to offer to the academic world,' Borgdorff proposes. 'Even though we often make use of methods from social sciences or humanities, knowledge and understanding are generated in our field of study and passed on via artistic practices. It's time to show the methodological relevance of art research.' To put that into practice, the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts is entering a partnership with the University of the Arts in The Hague to produce a catalogue of art research. Borgdorff: ‘This can also benefit other Leiden research programmes, particularly if they publish results that go further than text alone.' 

Academy of Creative and Performing Arts

Leiden University offers students the opportunity to take a PhD at the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts. Musician Christopher Williams, for example, recently developed some improvisations in and with his experimental music, and artist Sophie Ernst explored the use of projections in contemporary art.