By Professor Dennis Del Favero
As we move deeper into the disruptive 21st century, it is worthwhile considering the opportunities and risks that face creative arts research within its university setting. In step with profound changes in the form and function of universities (1), creative arts research has been undergoing a process of transformation (2). While the past decade has been spent consolidating the creative arts into the evolving academy through integration of art and design schools, recredentialing programs and legitimating arts practices as valid forms of research, the landscape we now face promises ongoing dramatic changes.
To begin with, the university as a living and changing form of knowledge practice is currently shifting from a singularly defined agency, predicated on pre-set disciplinary codification and occupational credentialing, into a ‘multiversity’, or multi-functional agency. Existing disciplines are mutating as new ones are forged and their practices digitised. Student and community expectations are diversifying in the face of constantly evolving career streams. The commercial sector is seeking to disengage research, teaching and service, while governments are progressively framing knowledge production in terms of strategic priorities. As multi-agencies for knowledge, training and engagement, universities are becoming increasingly dynamic with worldwide growth in student participation, global expansion in research activity and outputs, and international spread of the multi-functional university as the paradigm for post-school education. Concurrently, there is a continuing decline in the number and role of single-discipline institutes, and in many cases even schools and whole faculties, clearly evident in domains such as the creative arts.
Within this evolving terrain, creative arts research and its corresponding practices are also changing and growing in a number of significant ways: Firstly, collaborative research in the creative arts and the arts more broadly, while starting from a low base compared to STEM’s norm of collaboration across all fields, is now an emergent trend (3) at both higher-degree and faculty levels. Secondly, creative arts’ definition as a practice of investigation that can articulate and address specific research problems is now well established in large part due to the changes initiated through governmental frameworks, such as the Australian Research Council’s ERA that was introduced in 2008. Thirdly, coupled with growth in collaborative activity, this formulation has led to a deeper conceptual definition of creativity, so that rather than speaking of human creativity alone, there is a growing understanding of creativity as an environment that comprises conceptual, material, technological and human agencies (4). Fourthly, in response to student, community and industry drivers, universities are now offering inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary creative arts programs, whether within existing traditional disciplinary frameworks or in tandem with other fields of research.
Driving many of these changes is the digitisation of disciplines and practices. Proceeding at an exponential pace as part of the fourth Industrial Revolution, it sees the integration of the digital into manifold activities and production pipelines. This affords new opportunities for the application of creative arts expertise. However, there is also an element of uncertainty in this venture when it comes to leveraging our strengths to address the demand for ‘non-technical’ skills, including creativity and critical thinking (5).
The proliferating demand for collaborative integration of creativity across the research spectrum poses serious risks to the sustainability of the creative arts because they are often positioned only as enablers rather than leaders or co-partners in innovative art, science and technology practices. This becomes evident in some formulations of ‘STEAM’, where art (A) is to invigorate STEM by contributing a much-needed creative reformulation of human thinking and sensing; with the consequence that the autonomy and status of the creative arts are evaporated through muting of its transformative agency.
Conversely, the powerful opportunities for creative arts’ integration into the fabric of the fourth Industrial Revolution are emblematically realised in the creation of the iPhone, which was realised by Apple’s recruitment of artists and designers to collaboratively address, with engineers, the problem of how such a device can operate as an alluring, indispensable and multi-sensory object. Such examples point the way forward to an expansion of the meaning and function of the creative arts. They supply alternative models that emphasise our ability to engage with multiple agencies and disciplines in a compelling way, shifting from frameworks that revolve around the sole human auteur and stand-alone toolkit. Such expanded models draw on the concept of ‘advanced creativity’ where creation may be the result of say a genuine partnership between an artist, a cognitive scientist and an artificially intelligent algorithm, who jointly create a painting.
Another example would be a stage designer and creative writer virtually prototyping the 3D model of a theatrical production in a full-body immersive theatre, networked across academy and theatre company laptops and workstations. As they move through and shape it, they could use their complete gestural repertoire, robustly testing the 1:1 scale model in real-time with the entire creative team - the director, cast, composer, construction engineer, costume and lighting designers - before exporting the 3D model for physical construction. As seen in these examples, such an advanced creativity demonstrates the capacity to dramatically enhance imaginative decision making processes in the academy and its allied creative industries through innovative partnerships.
1. Simon Marginson, “The Kantian University: Worldwide triumph and growing insecurity,” AUR 61.1 (2019): 59
2. Tim Barker, “Experimental Research in the Digital Media Arts,” in Handbook of Research on Creativity, eds. Kerry Thomas and Janet Chan (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2015), 294.
3. DASSH, “Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Degrees,” (2017), http://dassh.edu.au/resources/uploads/AGM/DASSH_HASS_and_Future_Workforce_report_Sept_2017.pdf
4. Barker, 293.
5. DASSH, “Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Degrees,” (2017).
Scientia Professor Dennis Del Favero is a Research Artist, Chair Professor of Digital Innovation, Director of the iCinema Research Centre and the Expanded Perception and Interaction Centre at the University of New South Wales. He also is Visiting Professorial Fellow at ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, and at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, Visiting Professor at IUAV University of Venice and member of the editorial board of Studio Corpi (Rome). Previously he was Executive Director of the Australian Research Council | Humanities and Creative Arts. He is represented by Galerie Brigitte Schenk, Cologne, and Kronenberg Mais Wright, Sydney).