Unstated Contributions (2007)

RUST, C. (2007) Unstated Contributions – How Artistic Inquiry Can Inform Interdisciplinary Research International Journal of Design, 1(3), 69-76

Unstated Contributions: How Artistic Inquiry Can Inform Interdisciplinary Research

I wrote this paper following our review of practice-led research in Art, Design & Architecture. During that work we encountered the difficult proposition that the explicit contribution to knowledge might be problematic for those artists and others who are used to leaving the “contribution” of their work unstated for the audience to interpret as they wish.  On the one hand this is challenging for formal concepts of research and doctoral education which require the researcher to own their research completely, on the other hand it raises an intriguing problem – are there valid contributions to the research enterprise which may require ownership and awareness on the part of the researcher but may not allow the actual knowledge flowing from the work to be under their control.

I decided to explore this and managed to find some case examples that provided a variety of models where unstated or provisional contributions are a necessary part of the research enterprise, including one concluding case, of research by Lucy Lyons, in which the researcher owns every aspect of the research except the final knowledge that flows from it, although she was responsible in every way for engendering it, was in complete control of the process, and closely observed and recorded the knowledge that others found in her work. I regard this as my second serious paper on tacit knowledge, following my 2004 paper on Design Enquiry

Full Paper (from open-access journal site)


Since 1990 many of the creative disciplines, such as art, design and performance, have become more engaged with research in the academy. This development has been accompanied by a good deal of interest in ways to employ the professional and creative practices of these disciplines as instruments of inquiry, just as other disciplines before have developed research methods that employ their specialist skills and knowledge.

This gives rise to questions about the kinds of contribution to knowledge and understanding that research in the creative disciplines might provide. Research and practice in these fields may deal with matter which can change its meaning very quickly with time or context and practitioners, especially in art, may resist the idea that they should make concrete statements about what they have achieved, expecting their audiences to complete the meaning of their work for themselves.

This paper offers an oversight of these issues and sets out some examples from the wider community that illustrate how incomplete or tacit contributions to inquiry can be a valuable and sometimes necessary part of the enterprise of creating knowledge and relevant in many kinds of research, especially where disciplines collaborate. It goes on to set out tentative principles for such contributions.

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