The capacity of art to contribute to knowledge has been a central issue in the continuing debate surrounding the legitimation of practice-led research. Historically, philosophy has traditionally viewed the epistemological relationship of art to knowledge with some scepticism. From Plato to Kant, philosophers have questioned the cognitive value of art. On the other hand, the current debate surrounding practice-led research within the contemporary academy frequently claims that art, as research, does contribute to knowledge.
These two bodies of literature intersect in arguments that seek to endorse the contribution to knowledge by practice-led research in hermeneutic terms that draw upon Polanyi’s notion of the tacit, wherein art is held to embody a kind of non-discursive knowledge not amenable to rational articulation (Eisner 2007; Rust 2007; Borgdorff 2012).
This privileging of the ineffable in such arguments has its roots in a romanticist aesthetics of transcendence, which holds that art can disclose aspects of human experience that science for instance cannot. Art’s failure to claim propositional knowledge is countered by its ability to highlight metaphysical dimensions of being.
This paper extends these issues by arguing that such assumptions implicate another prevalent, though less overt, manifestation of the metaphysical in art – that of the spiritual. With reference to the practices of painter Hilma af Klint, calligrapher Tairiku Teshima, and an MFA in Drawing case study, this paper initiates a closer scrutiny of this often alluded to, yet rarely explicated, aspect of the discourse.