Double Indemnity: Practice-as-research

Dr Neill Overton
2014 Conference

The double indemnity model of practice-as-research in Higher Degrees has constructed a co-dependent relationship between writing and making; it is founded on notions of twin expertise in both written reflection, and studio practice, as a ‘double or nothing’ approach. Regarding the characteristics of recent PhDs in art and design, Judith Mottram wrote that: ‘There are also examples of theses which are apparently written to accompany studio work, but it is uncertain at times whether the contribution to knowledge is enshrined within the art works or within the thesis.’ (Mottram, 2009). This is the pivotal quandary of asking where the legitimised research now finds its house. We assume too deferentially that knowledge resides in the writing, and not in the art works or exhibition as the valid research outcome in and of itself. The University enshrines written validation as research in a practice-based PhD because the ‘gallery exhibition’ as research outcome is considered hermetically sealed away from ‘revision’… and the written thesis aligns in form with other ‘legitimate’ methodologies in other fields.

The practice-as-research PhDs which are most easily assimilated into the University are those located within a recognisable art history stream of relationship with the past. The future of the discipline is increasingly as disciplinary cringe to favour PhDs in practice that justify themselves through the imported methodologies of social science, philosophy, history, architecture, and education. Art/history courts piggyback methodologies to protect itself in (and from) the University. Concomitant studio art practice at HDR level needs to advocate diverse strategies of opposition.

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About the author

Dr Neill Overton is Senior Lecturer in Art History and Visual Culture at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. His research interests are in contemporary Australian drawing, art prizes, awards and surveys. He was a lecturer at RMIT, Victoria College, and Melbourne University in Art History and Drawing, and worked extensively as a newspaper illustrator, exhibiting artist, art reviewer and novelist. He has curated major exhibitions towards histories of Australian film, theatre and television. His PhD was on Icons and Images in Australian Drawing 1970 – 2003, and his critical essays address the relationship between contemporary regional and urban art.