Our Interdisciplinary World: the future of creative arts or the end of specialised practice?

Interdisciplinarity … is a way of thinking, doing and relating to other knowledges in the world. Disciplines and interdisciplines are historical constructs: their notions change, they co-evolve together, and their borders are always in flux. - R. Frank (1)

As Frank observes, disciplinary borders are always shifting. New breakthroughs come from pushing existing disciplinary boundaries and solutions to problems come from combining knowledge and expertise. But for disciplines themselves, these borders play an important role in preserving the specificity of culture and identity that makes one different from another. As Mark Considine explained:

“Cultures are formed through binaries … to possess the culture means to be an insider. Not to be acculturated in the appropriate way is to be an outsider. Hence the boundaries of cultures are always securely guarded.” (Considine, 2006)

This places creative arts placed in dilemma. The innate drive for creativity naturally leads creative arts disciplines to “boundary riding” and interdisciplinary collaboration is enthusiastically supported by many institutions, but breaking down these borders too much can result in porosity that has the potential to dilute or even destroy disciplinary identity.

This edition of NiTRO considers the topic of interdisciplinarity to explore what collaboration means for creative arts disciplines themselves. What does it “look like” in the contemporary tertiary setting? And what are the benefits and drawbacks of interdisciplinary collaboration? Our contributors share their experiences and perspectives.

Elizabeth Ellison (CQU) explores the practicalities of working within an interdisciplinary context, particularly in a regional setting.

Caren Florance (ANU) describes role of the artist’s book as a tool and technique for achieving successful interdisciplinary outcomes.

Jon Cattapan (Melbourne) explores the ‘beautiful tension’, and timing, between artistic training and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Keely Macarow (RMIT) outlines interdisciplinary collaboration not only as a benefit for creative arts but also a responsibility to address societal challenges.

Jonathan Duckworth (RMIT) shares the enriching effects of interdisciplinary collaboration while observing the realistic challenges faced by those wishing to follow this path.

This edition also features a piece by Ross Woodrow (Griffith), unexpectedly delayed from inclusion in our previous edition, which warns against the adoption of “artistic research” as a way to achieve greater equity and recognition for creative arts in the research system.


[1] Frank, R. (1988). Interdisciplinarity: The First Half Century as quoted in ‘epistemic fluency:  innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge’ https://epistemicfluency.com/2016/07/05/some-notes-from-the-history-of-interdisciplinarity/

[1] Considine, M. (2006) Theorizing the University as a cultural system: Distinctions, Identities, Emergencies. Educational Theory, 56, 255-270.