Ashley Whamond

Echoes of Formalism: Art Theory and Creative Research


At the 2009 Brisbane ACUADS conference, Jillian Hamilton and Luke Jaaniste argued that differences between the role of the artefact in postgraduate art and design research projects could be better articulated. While both types of projects are creative and often practice-led, Hamilton and Jaaniste viewed design projects as “effective” and art projects as “evocative”. They drew on Stephen Scrivener’s work to navigate these differences from the perspective of the supervisor.

While Scrivener provides a convenient foundation for Hamilton and Jaaniste to ground their argument, they are also reliant on the dismissal one of Scrivener’s more unambiguous statements expressed in nothing less than an article title: “The art object does not embody a form of knowledge” (2002). Hamilton and Jaaniste’s selectively interpret Scrivener to validate the artefact as a form of embodied knowledge.

As surprising as it may initially seem, there are echoes of Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” in this argument. Fried’s 1967 essay defended modernist art that he believed it possessed a kind of internal grace that he phrased as “presentness”. Fried contrasted this to minimalist sculpture and its dependence on the viewer to complete the work. Essentially, Hamilton and Jaaniste are arguing for a similar kind of status for the artefact. The argument that the art object can embody knowledge assumes that knowledge is contained within the bounds of the work and exists regardless of whether there is a viewer present to know it.

Through the same critical framework to which Friedian formalism has been subject, this paper critiques the idea that artworks can embody knowledge. It raises questions about the relationship between art theoretical debates and debates over creative research outcomes. The two rarely come into contact despite the fact that the essence of both debates hinges upon arguments about what the artefact is and does.

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Ashley Whamond:

Ashley Whamond currently teaches Fine Art and Art Theory at the Queensland college of Art. He received his PhD from the University of Newcastle in 2007 where he taught until 2008. He is engaged in the supervision of a number of diverse postgraduate research projects and convenes the undergraduate honours program at QCA’s Gold Coast campus.

Ashley’s own research is focussed on the history and theory of photography, digital media and web culture, and issues of materiality in digital culture. His art practice is concerned with how images are used and consumed in a mediated society. Ashley’s teaching and pedagogical research is informed by his interest in studio research and the integration of theory and practice.