The Irrelevant Consumers of Culture

2005 Conference

This paper will examine the relation between artists and their communities from the particular perspective of the Research Quality Framework proposed by DEST for assessing the quality and impact of research in Australia. The recent Federal Government discussion paper on the proposed RQF sends the clear warning that the link between university-based artists and their communities is to become a most contested relationship. The Framework for Measuring Research Impact (Table 3) presented in the paper explicitly and exclusively endorses performative knowledge with commercialization as its primary measure of impact. Even the points listed to exemplify knowledge relationships outside the university and engagement with the community focus solely on industry cooperation, consultancy and economic activities. Of the suitable measures for assessment of Research Impact Outputs, suggested in the paper (Table 2), only three relate directly to art and design. Included as one of these is “audience/attendances at exhibitions/performances” – raising the spectre of visual and performing arts assessment reduced to the mentality of bums on seats. Most disturbing of all, for studio-based researchers, the impact of their investigations on visual culture is explicitly excluded. Research does not impact on culture, quoting the paper: “In a broader sense, research impact refers to social, environmental or economic impacts.”

I will argue in this paper for a radical reassessment of the strategy, spearheaded by ACUADS over the last decade, that has attempted to equate research in the visual arts with humanities and science research. The limited success in demonstrating equivalence between creative arts outputs and the established framework of publications and bibliometric measures favoured by science and humanities has been determined by peer review of quality and varying degrees of goodwill by research committees in individual universities, if not in DEST itself. With the establishment of the RQF in 2006 more rigorous, competitive and rigid attitudes to measurement of research quality and impact will be legislated and the current expedient masquerade of dressing artists and designers in academic gowns will be exposed. If the visual and performing arts are to gain their rightful share of research support funding they must be seen as distinctively different to science and the humanities in their mode of operational research, outputs and community impacts. In particular their cultural sphere of influence must be acknowledged.

The knowledge embedded in arts practice must be articulated on its own terms if the amorphous, emotive and critical forms of understanding presented in creative outputs are to be recognized. To contribute to this process, my paper will highlight specific instances of practice-based endeavour that represent quality cultural production and consumption.