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28/07/21 - I am a practitioner after all

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

Practice as research – Allowing the practical outcomes to contribute to the discovery of knowledge.

When reflecting on my latest supervisory meeting it was made clear that one thing I was not generating was practical outcomes. As you will have seen via the past couple of blog posts, I have now been working within my environment to generate outcomes. This conversation discusses what it is to be practitioner or better yet, what it is to undertake a practice-based PhD and allow practice to inform the research.

One of the reasons for these discussions (apart from not making work) was that I was becoming lost in the theoretical side of the PhD programme. I was consistently worrying about what contributions to knowledge am I bringing to the world, has my research already been completed by an artist that I have yet to come across, is my research good enough to validate a worthy PhD, etc. Within A. J. Ayer’s ‘The Problem of Knowledge’ there is argument on the forefront that we as artists ‘need to find a ‘right to be sure’ to support a belief in order to call it knowledge’ (Ayer,1956). We have a built in human self-doubt because we have a natural pressure put on ourselves by ourselves to achieve and validate our own work. I for one have to reassure myself that there is only so many books, texts and journals I can read and within Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy (1912), ‘we can only observe a finite number of events and that, for all we know, the next observation will contradict any theory we have based on the earlier ones’. It is known that students can get stuck between the literature and what it is to practice. It is easy to trip oneself over by recognising to many terms, to many theorists and therefore it can become somewhat overwhelming. How then does one bring together that literature and the practice via a complex dichotomy? Luckily my supervisory team reassured me that this was a common concern for a lot of students and that I should stop with the theory for now and ask myself, ‘what is the nature and type of your PhD programme?’, the answer, a practice-based PhD programme. To pursue a set of research questions I have be the artist and practitioner that I am, and therefore I must carry out experimentation of practical artist outcomes.

- Think as an artist

- Think through work

- Think about what comes from the work?

- Think about what questions emerge from the work?

Practice-based Research is an original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge partly by means of practice and the outcomes of that practice. In a doctoral thesis, claims of originality and contribution to knowledge may be demonstrated through creative outcomes in the form of designs, music, digital media, performances, and exhibitions. Whilst the significance and context of the claims are described in words, a full understanding can only be obtained with direct reference to the outcomes.’ (Candy, L 2006)

As an artist of twenty-two years (going back to my first year in senior school – 1999) from that point of view I ‘became’ an artist, but my professional artistic practice came about in 2011 when I was accepted to take part in a collaborative exhibition outside of the academic institute. To add further context to this, my background towards professional practice was grounded and understood via my contribution to playing within a series of bands. One band found worldwide recognition and achieved some success in which I toured, released albums via music labels and had music video releases on television. This musical journey taught me how to act, talk and perform with certain people within the music scene. I was given the unique opportunity to observe from close quarters the complex network that went into establishing a professional status. From this (as I have always stated) I went solo, and not solo as in I did a John Lennon, I ventured out from the academic institute and into the UK with my new art practice. From that solo venture I have continued to ask my practice questions; what happens if I put this light here? What happens if I choose this colour? What happens if I make this space smaller? This consistent questioning is what makes me a practice-based artist. For me this is what practice is and therefore I should continue this concept into and through the six years of the PhD programme. I also think it is fair to say, that even after the PhD programme, I will still carry-on asking questions about my practice.

What is meant by practice-based research? ‘Put simply, in practice-based research (hereafter ‘PBR’), the creative act is an experiment (whether or not the work itself is deemed ‘experimental’) designed to answer a directed research question about art and the practice of it, which could not otherwise be explored by other methods. We create art to connect with others, to connect with ourselves, and often just for the sake of it. We experiment with our art in order to push boundaries, to ask questions, to learn more about our art and our role within it.’ (Skains. R 2018). This citation from Skain’s is a simple and effective definition to describe what practice-based research is but not what is the practice-based research. The practice-based research is the contents within the research, i:e the question(s) within and the materiality of the work as well as the type of work produced. I am not here to explain what the work produced is (see other past and future blog posts for those reflective discussions), I am here to discuss what is the purpose and product of a practice-based research artist.

‘The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. He reflects on the phenomena before him, and on the prior understandings which have been implicit in his behaviour. He carries out an experiment which serves to generate both a new understanding of the phenomena and the change in the situation. When someone reflects in action, he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He is not dependent on the categories of established theory and technique but constructs a new theory of the unique case.’ (Schon, D 1983)(68). On reflection to this, I see myself as the validated academic scientist but the stereotypical Colin Clive, Henry Frankenstein type of scientist, but within the arts. I am here to continue experimenting with my chosen materials of light and space (although currently I am using photographic and video materials) and I am allowing those material compositions to dictate the development of my practice-based research. I want the outcomes to lead the reflective discussions with myself and therefore almost calculate an answer to the question(s) I propose.

Pop Up Electronic Exhibition install 2013 maybe 2014 - York

Illuminating York late 2015, install - York

Colin Clive as Doctor Frankenstein (1931)


· Ayer, A.J. (1956). The Problem of Knowledge, Macmillan Press, London

· Russell, B., A., W. (1912) The Problems of Philosophy, Williams and Norgate, London

· Candy, L., 2006. Practice Based Research: A Guide. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 28 July 2021].

· Skains, R. (2018). Creative Practice as Research: Discourse on Methodology. Media Practice and Education. 19 (1), P82 - P97.

· Schon, D (1983). The Reflective Practitioner – How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books. 68

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