Picasso’s PhD

A frivolous email that launched a very big row.

In early 2000, a year which saw some significant debate in design research, Beryl Graham asked me to provide a provocative comment for the Research Training Initiative mail list. After a little thought I provided the humorous fragment below, intended to start some discussion about how university regulations might support “practice-led” research. Alec Robertson then mischievously forwarded the message to the DRS@JISCmail.ac.uk discussion list and there was an explosion of debate there, spilling over to PhD-Design@JISCmail.ac.uk

I was not proposing that Picasso should receive a PhD but nobody was really interested in the question I was asking, instead there was a multi-faceted argument which went on for several weeks and taught me a lot. It set the scene very well for the La Clusaz Conference on Doctoral Education on Design in the summer of that year.

So, just for the record, here’s my original whimsy. The eagle-eyed will notice that one of the main characters, Zeke Conran, was also the hero of an earlier saga that I published in 1995. At the time he met Picasso, Prof Conran was advisor on contemporary art acquisitions to Queen Sabena of the Low Countries. Later on, possibly after his death,  he became a BA Design student at the University of Wigan, very strange.

Incidentally, in the same year, at the Research Into Practice conference at Hertfordshire University, Susan Tebby gave a keynote talk on the same subject, she concluded very sensibly that Picasso could not receive a PhD because he had not asked for one, asking for one of course would involve making an explicit claim for question, methods and contribution. Essentially the same conclusion as Zeke Conran.

Picasso never wanted a PhD. At least we always thought so, but the diaries of the late distinguished art historian, Professor Zeke Conran suggest otherwise.

Years ago in Mexico, Prof Conran met the great man and commented that Picasso never needed academic honours. Both men laughed, but the artist grew strangely silent. Later on, Picasso confessed that he was troubled by the memory of his Scottish great aunt, who had said that he would never succeed without proper qualifications.

Picasso’s respected his aunt and academic failure depressed him. He tried evening classes and correspondence courses but it was too difficult. Eventually he blurted out his request – could Prof Conran help him obtain a PhD? He had heard that some hotheads in the universities were claiming that his work was as significant as the most rigorous academic research so couldn’t he be allowed a research degree?

The academic felt deeply for the artist and saw his creative juices being blighted by the memory of his aunt, but after long reflection he said no. A PhD required a thesis, a thesis required writing and that was that.

The painter pleaded. He had tried essays on the theory of Motor Vehicle Maintenance and exams in Chinese Cookery but all he produced was more drawings, more paintings. “My research is in my sketchbooks,” he said, “my thesis is on gallery walls around the world. Professor, you understand art, surely you can recognise the questions I ask, the methods of my investigation, the knowledge and originality in my work?”

But the Academic shook his head. He had examined 483 PhD theses from “Narrow gauge charcoal in pre-industrial calligraphy” to “Public art in South Cheshire, July-September 1936”. A PhD required a thesis, and that was that. Artists must make do with wealth and fame, the glittering prizes were beyond their reach.

Was he right? Or did Picasso go to the grave a wronged and bitter man? (Please consult your university’s PhD regulations before completing this question.)

You can follow the succeeding debate (from 6 April 2001) on the DRS Discussion list archive

Picasso's Ph.D. (this month's guest provocateur is Chris Rust)

Picasso never wanted a PhD. At least we always thought so, but the
diaries of the late distinguished art historian, Professor Zeke
Conran suggest otherwise.

Years ago in Mexico, Prof Conran met the great man and commented that
Picasso never needed academic honours. Both men laughed, but the
artist grew strangely silent. Later on, Picasso confessed that he was
troubled by the memory of his Scottish great aunt, who had said that
he would never succeed without proper qualifications.

Picasso's respected his aunt and academic failure depressed him. He
tried evening classes and correspondence courses but it was too
difficult. Eventually he blurted out his request - could Prof Conran
help him obtain a PhD? He had heard that some hotheads in the
universities were claiming that his work was as significant as the
most rigorous academic research so couldn't he be allowed a research
degree?
The academic felt deeply for the artist and saw his creative juices
being blighted by the memory of his aunt, but after long reflection
he said no. A PhD required a thesis, a thesis required writing and
that was that.

The painter pleaded. He had tried essays on the theory of Motor
Vehicle Maintenance and exams in Chinese Cookery but all he produced
was more drawings, more paintings. "My research is in my
sketchbooks," he said, "my thesis is on gallery walls around the
world. Professor, you understand art, surely you can recognise the
questions I ask, the methods of my investigation, the knowledge and
originality in my work?"

But the Academic shook his head. He had examined 483 PhD theses from
"Narrow gauge charcoal in pre-industrial calligraphy" to "Public art
in South Cheshire, July-September 1936". A PhD required a thesis, and
that was that. Artists must make do with wealth and fame, the
glittering prizes were beyond their reach.

Was he right? Or did Picasso go to the grave a wronged and bitter
man? (Please consult your university's PhD regulations before
Picasso's Ph.D. (this month's guest provocateur is Chris Rust)

Picasso never wanted a PhD. At least we always thought so, but the

diaries of the late distinguished art historian, Professor Zeke

Conran suggest otherwise.

Years ago in Mexico, Prof Conran met the great man and commented that

Picasso never needed academic honours. Both men laughed, but the

artist grew strangely silent. Later on, Picasso confessed that he was

troubled by the memory of his Scottish great aunt, who had said that

he would never succeed without proper qualifications.

Picasso's respected his aunt and academic failure depressed him. He

tried evening classes and correspondence courses but it was too

difficult. Eventually he blurted out his request - could Prof Conran

help him obtain a PhD? He had heard that some hotheads in the

universities were claiming that his work was as significant as the

most rigorous academic research so couldn't he be allowed a research

degree?

The academic felt deeply for the artist and saw his creative juices

being blighted by the memory of his aunt, but after long reflection

he said no. A PhD required a thesis, a thesis required writing and

that was that.

The painter pleaded. He had tried essays on the theory of Motor

Vehicle Maintenance and exams in Chinese Cookery but all he produced

was more drawings, more paintings. "My research is in my

sketchbooks," he said, "my thesis is on gallery walls around the

world. Professor, you understand art, surely you can recognise the

questions I ask, the methods of my investigation, the knowledge and

originality in my work?"

But the Academic shook his head. He had examined 483 PhD theses from

"Narrow gauge charcoal in pre-industrial calligraphy" to "Public art

in South Cheshire, July-September 1936". A PhD required a thesis, and

that was that. Artists must make do with wealth and fame, the

glittering prizes were beyond their reach.

Was he right? Or did Picasso go to the grave a wronged and bitter

man? (Please consult your university's PhD regulations before

completing this question.)

completing this question.)
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: