New horizons

New horizons

When Prof. Dr. Florian Dombois 2006 his essay "Art as research. An Attempt to Design Your Own Manual" published, he could have guessed that his text would not go uncommented upon. In the end, he called for nothing less than an expansion of the traditional concept of science and knowledge. Because science is able to explain the world successfully, but not completely, there is a need for "art as research," wrote the Berlin-born professor, who now teaches at the Zurich University of the Arts. Images, compositions, plays or films should be considered equally important as research findings and carriers of -knowledge.

Even today, this text from 15 years ago is read as a kind of manifesto on artistic research. After "artistic research" had already been debated in Great Britain in the 1970s and in Scandinavia in the 1990s, the debate was now to be conducted in German-speaking countries as well. In Austria and Switzerland, universities approached the topic and developed appropriate structures. In Germany, on the other hand, there were some universities that began to develop ideas and small projects, but little happened structurally.

So there was all the more joy, at least in parts of the community, when the Science Council took up the cause last April. "Recommendations for the further development of the postgraduate phase at art and music colleges" is the title of his 128-page report. In it, the Council of Science and Humanities formulates not so much what is meant by artistic research, but rather what structural conditions are needed for such further development at art and music colleges.

The recommendations of the Science Council boil down to three main points. First, building an adequate infrastructure to implement the programs in the first place. Among other things, the Council of Science and Humanities counts premises and technical equipment, -enough time for teaching staff, capacities in administration, more scholarships and positions for graduate students. This is where the art academies are now reaching their limits. An academic mid-level staff, such as exists at universities, is virtually non-existent there. Second: The Council of Science and Humanities recommends an agreement on comparable assessment and quality standards. And third, the introduction of standardized degrees nationwide. Scientific doctorates should be just as possible as purely artistic doctorates or interdisciplinary artistic-scientific doctorates. The latter could be awarded the "Dr. artis" or a "Ph.D. to be completed in the arts. However, the Council of Science and Humanities also makes it clear that not every university of the arts has to offer everything, but should act according to its focal points and strengths.

Quantum leap for the debate

For Prof. Dr. Susanne Rode-Breymann, musicologist and president of the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, says the Science Council’s comments are a very central step on the way ahead. "At most German music colleges, we are far behind in this area. Many other European countries have long since gone further. In this respect, what the Science Council has written is a quantum leap for the German debate," she says. Since November, Rode-Breymann has been Vice President of the German Rectors’ Conference for the newly created department "Cooperation and Diversity within the Higher Education System / Concerns of Artistic Universities". Another important step, she says: "This makes it clear that all this is no longer just an issue for art colleges, but for the entire German higher education landscape."

It is now a matter of creating binding standards, it says. Also to prevent an artistic doctorate from being seen as a second-class doctorate. "We need a high level, good quality management and a good exchange with each other," says the university president. To ensure quality, it can also imagine a competitive federal-state program in which an external jury selects the most qualified locations. "If, in the end, six of the 24 art and music universities in Germany could offer artistic and artistic-scientific doctorates with corresponding graduate schools, that would be a good result," says Rode-Breymann. At her own university, she wants to establish the topic of artistic research so firmly in the next two years "that it will not disappear again even after the end of my term of office". The "Master Plan 2030" for the further development of the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media is to be completed in the second half of 2022 – and artistic research is to be given a permanent place in it.

Work order for structural development

At the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts (HFMDK), things are already a bit further along. Since 2014, there has been a cross-departmental working group here that deals with artistic research, and since 2018, a special project of the Hessian Ministry of Science and the Arts has been underway that aims "to comprehensively anchor artistic research at the HfMDK through various activities and structures," according to the university’s website. "Within this project, we have also established a funding line for teachers at the HfMDK under the label ‘Research at an Art University’: Artistic as well as scientific teachers can submit university-internal research projects to the research commission," explains Ingo Diehl. He is Professor of Contemporary Dance Education and Vice President for Quality Assurance in Teaching and Interdisciplinary Projects at the HfMDK; he chairs the research commission of which he speaks.

"This is fundamental development work that we have been doing there for several years," says Diehl. In Frankfurt, the focus is currently on scientific and artistic-scientific projects; in the initialization of purely artistic doctorates, the HfMDK is not yet as far along, he says. He was very pleased about the recommendations of the Science Council, says Diehl, "especially about the fact that a quality standard was formulated and about the clear statement that the development is not possible without appropriate resources. He also sees the recommendations as a work order for the art academies to press ahead with structural development. After that, however, the states have an obligation: "In the next higher education pact in 2026, the state of Hesse would have to respond to this development work and provide the corresponding funds to fill this development with life. We won’t be able to do it without an academic middle class."

Setting standards throughout Europe

At the University of the Arts (UdK) in Berlin – the largest art academy in Germany – they would also like to be a little further along. But then politics, or rather a new higher education law, intervened. Shortly before the new elections to Berlin’s House of Representatives at the end of September, an amendment to the law came into force in which the UdK was granted the right to award doctorates and habilitations only for its scientific subjects. Artistic and artistic-scientific doctorates were excluded from the outset. "Especially after the recommendations of the Science Council, we perceived this as a very strange encroachment into university matters," says Prof. Dr. Norbert Palz, President of the UdK. In the meantime, he is again somewhat more optimistic about the future. On the one hand, the coalition agreement of the new red-red-green Berlin state government states that the establishment of an artistic-scientific doctoral degree for art colleges is being examined; on the other hand, he has heard positive signals at the working level that the power of the topic for Berlin as a center of science has reached the political arena. "A repair amendment to the Higher Education Act is in the works," says UdK president.

Aside from the political interference, the UdK sees itself on the right track. "Since 2020, we have been in intensive discussions about what we imagine artistic research to be and how we can implement it at the UdK," says UdK Vice President Prof. Dr. Ariane Jebulat. It is now a matter of defining quality standards, writing doctoral regulations and, quite fundamentally, creating structures and institutions where it makes sense to do so. "But we also don’t want to draw too tight institutional boundaries, nothing too narrow, in order to give art its space as well," says the vice president. President Palz expects a development time of three to four years. During this time, the Higher Education Act could also be amended and the exchange with the other art colleges intensified, he says. Other German states may currently be institutionally further along than Berlin, but at least in the medium term, thanks in part to the charisma of the capital Berlin, a model could emerge at the UdK that would set standards throughout Europe.

New horizons

This article is a guest contribution from the current issue of "DUZ – Magazin fur Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft".

Things went faster in Austria

At the Kunstuniversitat Graz, about 900 kilometers south of Berlin, a model of this kind already exists: an artistic-scientific doctorate was established there in 2009. Why did it happen so much faster in Austria? "The changes we’re talking about are structural and cultural transformations, so there needs to be an openness to thinking between practice and reflection, between art and science," says Prof. Dr. Deniz Peters. "In Austria, this interdisciplinary potential exists within the art universities. My impression is that many institutions in Germany are struggling with this, even though good efforts are already being made in some places."The professor of artistic research in music helped establish the branch at the University of Art in Graz and directs the doctoral school there for the artistic-scientific doctoral program.

Art is understood here as a method of thinking. 25 students are currently enrolled in the six-semester program. 70 to 100 interested people come forward each year, Peters says. For each project, he says, there are two internal supervisors – one for the artistic area, one for the scientific area. In addition, there are external consultants who take a critical look at the individual projects. "The big task in care is to keep the artistic side and the scientific side together," Peters explains. Unlike the German Council of Science and Humanities in its recommendations, however, he would not describe the doctorate as hybrid, but rather as dialectical or dialogical: "The study lives through a continuing interplay of epistemologically oriented artistic actions and scientific reflection," says Peters.

If you ask him for advice he would give to German art colleges in the development of artistic-scientific doctorates, he mentions three things. First, to get clarity about the concept of knowledge: "For us, knowledge does not only mean knowing, but also understanding."Second, to create a culture of dialogue between all participants, instead of building up fixed formulas according to which artistic-scientific research has to function. But you have to remain open, always allowing new horizons to open up." And thirdly: It won’t work without a professorship. "If you really want to get serious about building it up, you should at least create a professorship and maybe a post-doc position for it. It simply needs people experienced in artistic-scientific ways of knowing to focus and structure teaching and development," says Peters.

Instead of persisting in decades of debate, Germany should now create realities and build structures, for example with the help of a pilot funding program. Peters says, "You should follow the recommendations of the Science Council and take an ambitious approach to the hybrid field. The risk of failure is low, given successful international examples."

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