On using the PhD in Visual Arts to Bridge Aesthetic Paradigms. A Case Study: From Mongolian Socialist Realism to Contemporary Art

Dr. Darryn Ansted
2012 Conference

In 2004, reflecting on the nascent PhD in the Visual Arts in the United States, esteemed art historian and critic James Elkins looked to international models for the degree, only to conclude that ‘all of the official goals of existing PhD degrees in the United Kingdom and Australia are untenable.’ This paper, analysing a single, ongoing Visual Arts PhD, responds with a case study to re-evaluate the degree’s significance as a research tool. Specifically, this paper explores the art practice and doctoral supervision of an Australia-based artist of the Mongol Diaspora, Ochirbat Naidansuren, who – with his Mongolian doctorate in Design History unrecognised in Australia – recommenced his education in the Visual Arts doctoral program at Curtin University. This paper presents a case study of the artist’s written and visual investigation of cultural and personal history; doctoral research that combines reference points of memory, identity and aesthetic ideology with innovative scholarship in relevant areas of history and philosophy. It is a project that is representative, I argue, of the Visual Arts PhD’s unique and valuable contribution to not only art practice but also more conventional academic scholarship. In particular, Naidansuren’s PhD documents a transformation in understanding between the aesthetic ideology promoted by the artist’s Mongolian Socialist Realist training, and that of the contemporary art discourses of an internationalist Australian university art school, establishing a valuable encounter between geographically, culturally and pedagogically disparate paradigms. This demonstrable production of new knowledge – an investigation made possible by the Visual Art PhD’s combination of uniquely extensive written and visual research – is presented as evidence for the necessity of the degree. Writing eight years after Elkins, it is possible to observe the progress of the PhD in the Visual Arts, and the sophistication of its attendant discourse in Australia, well beyond the anxieties and reservations provocatively outlined in the Elkins paper ‘Theoretical remarks on combined creative and scholarly PhD degrees in the Visual Arts’.

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About the author

Dr Darryn Ansted is Coordinator of Painting at Curtin University’s Department of Art in Western Australia. His practice involves experimentation with colour, perception and representation and he has exhibited extensively internationally. He also publishes on contemporary art emanating from Germany, Australia and the Middle East.