A stage for high-grade work

October 15, 2004

Practice-based research at postgraduate level has emerged out of a shift from the idea that only text-based knowledge can be studied at a high level. This has transformed study in the performing arts.

Palatine, the UK subject centre for the Performing Arts at Lancaster University, and Practice as Research in Performance (PARIP), based at Bristol University, have encouraged debate about supervision and evaluation of practice-based PhDs.

The areas of research these initiatives have opened up have importance beyond the arts. For example, some PhD students are working with neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists using technologies to explore models of creative thinking and "intuition".

But there have been problems, such as how to write up practice-based work.

One university required a student to submit an 80,000-word thesis and a performance, along with a further 20,000-word evaluation.

There are also cases where demand for documentation has neglected the specificity of particular art forms. Making a good sound recording is mainly a technical exercise, but making a good video involves tacit aesthetic decisions that affect how a viewer sees the performance. The quality of a performance cannot be judged from a video, yet there is a suspicion that writing and documentation may be used as a substitute for performance.

The PhD framework offers a lot. In response to the demand for documentation, researchers have produced interactive CD-Rom or web-based material that becomes a performance piece in its own right.

For the potential of practice as research to be realised, the collaboration between institutions and artists must be nurtured.

Ramsay Burt is senior research fellow, School of English and Performance Studies, De Montfort University.

PARIP: www.bris.ac.uk/parip/
Palatine: www.lancs.ac.uk/palatine


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