Boundaries and barriers: the disciplinary sites of edgy research


In this paper I will draw on a number of case studies to explore the rhetorical boundaries and real barriers that have been created to define visual arts practice in academe. I will propose that the rhetoric of cross-disciplinary research in the humanities particularly has been a successful survival mechanism that is ill-suited to practice-based research in visual art. Increasingly, the perceived permeability of the boundary that defines art practice has seen artists working as adjuncts or appendages to other disciplines. Such parasitic attachment to other disciplines is understandable since it is legislated in academe that artists or designers cannot get access to Australian Research Council Discovery or Linkage grants by following their primary activities. The ARC funding rules for both Discovery Projects and Linkage Projects specifically exclude from eligibility: “activities leading solely to the creation or performance of a work of art, including visual art, musical compositions, drama, dance, film, broadcasts, designs and literary works.” This ruling by the ARC represents one of the real barriers that separate the creative arts from science and humanities disciplines in universities and everyone working in art and design schools is well aware of its funding impact. It is imperative that teaching in art and design schools stresses the fundamental and intrinsic value of the creative disciplines and this is not just to offer a sustained resistance to the insidious barriers created through ARC definitions of research and rules on grant eligibility.

Fostering edgy research is essential to the survival of every discipline in academe and this is why long established academic disciplines in the sciences and humanities stress discipline-specific research methodology and protocols in their teaching. Originality or innovation, more recently characterised as creative thinking, has always been the primary determinate of quality research. Creative insights or cutting-edge research in experimental science for example hardly ever means crossing disciplinary borders. Nobel Laureate, Ian Frazer’s discovery and development of a vaccine for cervical cancer came from going back to first principles in his chosen field of study — a hyper-disciplinary focus not a cross-disciplinary one. The cutting-edge of new work in the creative disciplines will likewise be found in specialist workshops and studios in art and design schools not outside them.

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Associate Professor Ross Woodrow is Deputy Director (Research and Postgraduate) the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. Prior to joining Griffith, he worked in various positions, including Research Convenor, in the School of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle. He has extensive experience in the supervision and examination of Doctoral projects in both studio and theoretical research. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Queensland, a Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Sydney.