Some reflections on citations and artistic research

update: 21/01/21

Composer Fran MM Cabeza de Vaca recently posted a video of an audiovisual composition that focuses on the spatial metamorphosis in the moment just before the music begins, which I conceptualized in my PhD research as the metamorphosis from a concrete sounding space into a ‘music of Somewhere’. I was grateful and positively surprised to discover artistic work that explicitly refers to the output of my research. Making an abstraction of this specific case, it set me thinking about the way we evaluate impact in the field of artistic research (although the term doesn’t fit my own research very well). In academia, measuring impact is almost synonymous with counting citations in peer-reviewed journals. Many artists today have also become familiar with doing research in academic formats. They write and publish papers about their experiments, creative process, sources of inspiration and artistic engagement. When artistic research is cited or mentioned as a source of inspiration, it is usually done by those colleagues who, as researcher-artists, substantiate their research with the research of peers. The danger of a self-affirming artistic research bubble, of artist-researchers responding to research by means of research, is something I have warned against elsewhere. However, artistic research that is mentioned as a source of inspiration for artistic work as such remains a rarity – and perhaps for more reasons than can be discussed here.

Do we pay enough attention to uses or influences of artistic research output in artistic work without a ‘research label’? Can the conceptual, technical or poetic choice in an artistic work, insofar as it embodies an artistic response to artistic research by others, be considered an artistic analogy for the academic citation? And what responsibility does this entail for those who make use of the knowledge, insights, or sensitivities brought to light by artistic research? It is of course a cliché to claim that every artistic work is always already a response to a multitude of other and prior works. Before the advent of copyright, citation in music was long an honourable practice. However, there are also the research cultures in niches such as early music or computer music where it is quite common to be explicit about how artistic choices are supported by the research of others – even if we can debate whether, in many of these cases, the nature of the research in question should be seen as ‘artistic’, rather than historical, analytical or music-theoretical.

From the perspective of artistic research, it is worth reflecting on the need for a more visible exchange between artist-researchers and practitioners. Creative artists could make a more significant contribution to the field by being more explicit about their using, transforming, or challenging insights and sensibilities uncovered by others’ artistic research. This does not require an academisation of artistic practice, but perhaps more openness and transparency about sources and creative processes than is common in artistic creation. Not so much as a matter of paying respect to the work of artist-researchers, but most of all because the field of artistic research would benefit from observing and recognising the relevance of research in artistic practice outside the context of research, in works or performances by others.

Finally, leaving aside all discussions of what does and does not belong to artistic research, such openness could be part of a broader change in perspective on artistic creation itself, leading to a less author-based and more collaborative understanding of what inspires, motivates, and shapes artistic work today.

video still Fran MM Cabeza de Vaca

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