The Theory and Practice of ‘Theory and Practice’

28 Mar

The Theory and Practice of ‘Theory and Practice’ in Art and Design HE


17 May 2017
9.30am to 4.30pm

This teaching platform will look beyond the simple binaries between theory and practice and put into focus the evolving pedagogical relationships between these two different yet intertwined disciplines.

It seeks to be inclusive of current theories and practices that relate theory and practice. It aims to question contemporary theories and practices, which support ‘theory and practice’ in Art and Design undergraduate courses in the UK.

The conference will consider the long and complex history of the ways in which theory and practice has been taught on arts undergraduate courses in the UK. From the Coldstream Reports in 1969/70 with the introduction of Art History and Complementary studies on an undergraduate degree in Art and Design and the subsequent developments in Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Complimentary and Contextual Studies.

As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1990 p2) argues, “Since practice is an irreducible theoretical moment, no practice takes place without presupposing itself as a example of a more or less powerful theory,” then can we now see the possibility of there being no difference between theory and practice being the future of the pedagogies of theory and practice in UK undergraduate courses?

The conference will reflect on how different writing practices support the relationships between theory and practice in contemporary Arts education. As this education, now contextualised within the massification of the University sector, involves preparing students for the world beyond university, we ask how can these writing practices support this preparation?

What will I learn?
This teaching platform will offer an opportunity for art and design educators to explore some of the historical and evolving relationships that theory has with practice and practice has with theory.

Themes covered by the day will include: writing practices; the possibilities of being no difference between theory and practice; the future of the relationships between theory and practice in UK undergraduate courses; curriculum models and pedagogies that most effectively support the integration of theory and practice.

Who should attend?
This event is open to academics, technicians, support tutors and librarians who have an interest in the relationships between practice and theory.

Spivak, G. C., Harasym, S. (ed) (1990) The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Routledge. New York & London
Draft Programme (subject to change)
0930-1000 Registration and Coffee
1000-1010 Introductions – Prof Susan Orr, David Webster
1010-1110 Workshop with Dr Mark Ingham
1110-1130 Refreshments and Networking
1130-1220 Keynote with Dr Julia Lockheart
1230-1320 Lunch
1320-1420 Roundtable discussion
1420-1500 Degrees of Separation – Student Presentation & workshop
1500-1530 Refreshments
1530-1615 Future Theory:
Craig Burston
Katharine Dwyer
1615-1630 Plenary

Speaker Biographies

Craig Burston is Course Leader on BA (Hons) Graphic and Media Design at London College of Communication. His teaching emphasis focuses on the practical testing and application of semiotic theory, the interplay between analogue and digital media and the impact of new technologies upon aesthetics. Craig’s ongoing practice based research explores the relationship between iconic representation, memory and communication and has manifested itself through a range of output including audio-visual collaborations, gallery installations, research seminars and comic strips. With photographer and digital media artist Richard Tomlinson, Craig is also the co-founder of skip-rat designs, latterly skipratmedia. Twitter: @skipratmedia

Katharine Dwyer spent a decade working in a corporate environment before returning to study Fine Art at UAL. Katharine completed her Master of Fine Art (MFA) at Wimbledon College of Arts in 2016. Her art pratice explores languages of authority, both personal and institutional, which are used to manufacture consent in the modern workplace. Twitter @tumble33

Dr. Mark Ingham is the Contextual and Theoretical Studies Coordinator at London College of Communication. Mark is a fine artist who uses old SLR film cameras and LED lights to create multiple slide projectors in large scale art installations. His art and design research includes, relationships between autobiographical memory and photography, Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s ideas of ‘Becoming Rhizomatic’. His pedagogical research into the relationships between theory and practice and their roles in art and design disciplines has made him acutely aware of the importance of an holistic approach to teaching. He used his knowledge of making and doing skills, including design and multimedia software, in combination with his practical and theoretical knowledge to give students a full and rounded educational experience. Twitter: @malarkeypalaver

Dr Julia Lockheart is the director of the Writing-PAD project and co-editor, with Professor John Wood, of the Journal of Writing in Creative Practice. She has studied both Fine Art and TESOL to MA level and is also qualified to teach adults with SpLDs (Dyslexia). Julia has a PhD in Design from Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research focussed on developing tools for co-writing in design teams. She has presented and published both nationally and internationally. Twitter: @jollyjewels

Prof Susan Orr is Dean: Learning, Teaching and Enhancement at University of the Arts London. Susan has written extensively on the subject of art and design assessment and her more recent work explores various aspects of art and design pedagogy in higher education. Susan is editor for the journal Art, Design and Communication in Higher Education, and on the editorial board of three further journals. Susan is on the Executive of CHEAD (Council for Higher Education in Art and Design) and GLAD (Group for Learning in Art and Design). In 2010, Susan was awarded a Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellowship. This was awarded in recognition of her teaching, leadership, research and contribution to art and design HE pedagogy. Twitter: @Susan_K_Orr

David Webster is Associate Dean: Learning, Teaching and Enhancement for Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges at University of the Arts London.
Twitter @webster858

Teaching Platform Series
This event is part of a series hosted by University of the Arts London, exploring key issues in Arts teaching and learning in higher education. Each event includes leading speakers sharing current thinking in creative education and is designed to be interactive: delegates will have opportunities to engage in activities to support networking and engagement.

For more information about Teaching and Learning at UAL visit the Exchange website. To subscribe to our mailing list for more details about these and other events, please email, or follow us on Twitter @UALTLE.


Recruiting Lecturer/Course Leader Posts, School of Design, London College of Communication

25 Sep

Recruiting Lecturer/Course Leader Posts, School of Design, London College of Communication

New jobs in Design Management and Cultures, Contextual and Theoretical Studies and Spatial Design (closing date 29/09/15).
Course Leader MA Design Management and Cultures (Part-time)
Contextual and Theoretical Studies Coordinator (Full-time)
Lecturer BA Design Management and Cultures (Part-time)

Lecturer BA Spatial Design (Part-time)

Please pass on to anyone who may be interested and feel free to get in touch if you would like to know more. Nicky

Written by

Nicky Ryan
Design Educator, Writer and Researcher

Screen Writes

21 Jun

UAL      Writing PAD        HEA


Screen Writes

A one-day symposium sponsored by LCC, HEA-ADM and the Writing PAD network.

Date: Friday, June 27, 2014   

Start Time: 10.00 am

Location: London College of Communication

Room T304 (Tower Block)

London College of Communication
Elephant & Castle
London SE1 6SB


The ‘Screen Writes’ Symposium to be held on 27 June at LCC will explore the purposes and practices of writing as practice for BA students engaged in visual communication, including graphic design, advertising and animation. The idea of a symposium has sprung from the new ‘writing and blogging’ course for Level 1 students at the London College of Communication (Mark Ingham, with Andrea Mason, Linda Stupart, Andrew Slatter and Harriet Edwards): this will be critically analysed. The emphasis more generally is on writing practices emergent from studio concerns in line with the ethos of the Writing PAD project and its subsequent network. There will be time to discuss and exchange across roles and institutions in this symposium.

The ‘Screen Writes’ symposium is intent on exploring a number of interconnected areas related to graduate attributes.  Firstly, the role of creative writings in relation to voice and identity through the daily and weekly practice of making the student’s writing public using online presences, in this case a practice/theory blog. This allows the students to see writing as going from being a fairly passive, summatively driven activity, to one that is in constant formation.

Secondly, it will explore the inherent mix that writing has with image and graphics in visual communication practices. This includes the surveying of tools and techniques employed when using online presences and how these can be used in such things as peer-to-peer learning. The idea that design and media students are writing with images will be analysed and challenged at this symposium. It will explore the possibilities of writing from images, writing with images, writing to images and writing against images. The beaten paths of these long and often debated relationships in academic writing will be taken off track to see if the clichés that surround these interactions in academia can be torn apart and reworked into more productive dynamic exchanges.

Thirdly, the potential of such practices to create a presence in social medias with a view to professional purposes, or how blogging, and indeed tweeting, can link the students to communities and prospective avenues beyond the university, will be scrutinised.  Students have been encouraged to think about their online presences in a number of ways. As a digital note book/sketchbook where ideas can be drafted, edited, reworked and published. It also made the students think about who they were writing for in a professional context.

Fourthly, the articulation of the place, and merit of such practices within the wider design curriculum will be discussed. This will be in relation to employers wanting to see, not only a finished portfolio website that is demanded by the profession and academia, but a blog type site that also show the thinking, mistakes and the processes through to the making of final works.


10.00      Coffee

10.30      Introduction to the day, Mark Ingham

11am       Writing as a creative activity for BA design (workshop,) Andrea Mason and Andrew Slatter

12.00      The pedagogy of creative writing – in the context of design  (talk), Andrea Mason

12.30       Graphic design and writing, Andrew Slatter

1pm         Lunch (Supplied by LCC)

1.45         “eRTFs” (Enriched Text Formats) Online, continuous and present writing in Art and Design Contextual & Theoretical lessons, Mark                       Ingham

2.30         The Myth of Creativity: How ‘creative writing’ in arts and design courses fails as effective/affective to, Linda Stupart

3pm        Tea break

3.30         Screens and writes: what kinds of intelligences? Harriet Edwards

4-5           Discussion and exchange in small group; final feedback


We have some space for participants outside LCC itself to write-up their own practice OR responses to the day, with images or as a visual essay for Writing PAD’s Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Intellect).

Free but please book

Attendance is free of charge with preference being given to staff in HE institutions and FE colleges across the UK. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, but travel expenses will not be covered. However, the HEA is currently running a funding scheme to support travel crossing national borders to attend events, which could be applied for independently. For more information visit the HEA UK Travel Fund.

We have 32 places available on this day.

To book a place, please email:

Dr Harriet Edwards

(Journal Editor)

Or: Dr Mark Ingham

Too Much

UAL      Writing PAD        HEA

The Essayification of Everything

6 Apr

The Essayification of Everything
May 26, 2013

Lately, you may have noticed the spate of articles and books that take interest in the essay as a flexible and very human literary form. These include “The Wayward Essay” and Phillip Lopate’s reflections on the relationship between essay and doubt, and books such as “How to Live,” Sarah Bakewell’s elegant portrait of Montaigne, the 16th-century patriarch of the genre, and an edited volume by Carl H. Klaus and Ned Stuckey-French called “Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time.”

It seems that, even in the proliferation of new forms of writing and communication before us, the essay has become a talisman of our times. What is behind our attraction to it? Is it the essay’s therapeutic properties? Because it brings miniature joys to its writer and its reader? Because it is small enough to fit in our pocket, portable like our own experiences?

I believe that the essay owes its longevity today mainly to this fact: the genre and its spirit provide an alternative to the dogmatic thinking that dominates much of social and political life in contemporary America. In fact, I would advocate a conscious and more reflective deployment of the essay’s spirit in all aspects of life as a resistance against the zealous closed-endedness of the rigid mind. I’ll call this deployment “the essayification of everything.”

What do I mean with this lofty expression?

Francis Bacon painted by Paul van Somer, circa 1600.
Let’s start with form’s beginning. The word Michel de Montaigne chose to describe his prose ruminations published in 1580 was “Essais,” which, at the time, meant merely “Attempts,” as no such genre had yet been codified. This etymology is significant, as it points toward the experimental nature of essayistic writing: it involves the nuanced process of trying something out. Later on, at the end of the 16th century, Francis Bacon imported the French term into English as a title for his more boxy and solemn prose. The deal was thus sealed: essays they were and essays they would stay. There was just one problem: the discrepancy in style and substance between the texts of Michel and Francis was, like the English Channel that separated them, deep enough to drown in. I’ve always been on Team Michel, that guy who would probably show you his rash, tell you some dirty jokes, and ask you what you thought about death. I imagine, perhaps erroneously, that Team Francis tends to attract a more cocksure, buttoned-up fan base, what with all the “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises,” and whatnot.

With such divergent progenitors, the essay has never recovered from this chronic undecidability. As a genre that emerged to accommodate the expressive needs of the Renaissance Man, the essay necessarily keeps all tools and skills at its disposal. The essayist samples more than a D.J.: a loop of the epic here, a little lyric replay there, a polyvocal break and citations from greatnesses past, all with a signature scratch on top.

There is certainly disagreement on the wobbly matter of what counts as an essay and what does not. I have generally found that for every rule I could establish about the essay, a dozen exceptions scuttle up. I recently taught a graduate seminar on the topic and, at the end of the course, to the question “What can we say of the essay with absolute certainty?,” all of us, armed with our panoply of canonical essay theories and our own conjectures, had to admit that the answer is: “Almost nothing.” But this is the force of the essay: it impels you to face the undecidable. It asks you to get comfortable with ambivalence.

When I say “essay,” I mean short nonfiction prose with a meditative subject at its center and a tendency away from certitude. Much of the writing encountered today that is labeled as “essay” or “essay-like” is anything but. These texts include the kind of writing expected on the SAT, in seminar papers, dissertations, professional criticism or other scholarly writing; politically engaged texts or other forms of peremptory writing that insist upon their theses and leave no room for uncertainty; or other short prose forms in which the author’s subjectivity is purposely erased or disguised. What these texts often have in common is, first, their self-conscious hiding of the “I” under a shroud of objectivity. One has to pretend that one’s opinions or findings have emanated from some office of higher truth where rigor and science are the managers on duty.

Michel de Montaigne
Second, these texts are untentative: they know what they want to argue before they begin, stealthily making their case, anticipating any objections, aiming for air-tightness. These texts are not attempts; they are obstinacies. They are fortresses. Leaving the reader uninvited to this textual engagement, the writer makes it clear he or she would rather drink alone.

What is perhaps most interesting about the essay is what happens when it cannot be contained by its generic borders, leaking outside the short prose form into other formats such as the essayistic novel, the essay-film, the photo-essay, and life itself. In his unfinished novel “The Man Without Qualities,” the early 20th-century Austrian writer Robert Musil coined a term for this leakage. He called it “essayism” (Essayismus in German) and he called those who live by it “possibilitarians” (Möglichkeitsmenschen). This mode is defined by contingency and trying things out digressively, following this or that forking path, feeling around life without a specific ambition: not for discovery’s sake, not for conquest’s sake, not for proof’s sake, but simply for the sake of trying.

The possibilitarian is a virtuoso of the hypothetical. One of my dissertation advisers Thomas Harrison wrote a handsome book on the topic called “Essayism: Conrad, Musil, and Pirandello,” in which he argues that the essayism Musil sought to describe was a “solution in the absence of a solution,” a fuzzy response to Europe’s precarity during the years he worked on his unfinishable masterpiece. I would argue that many of us in contemporary America these days are prone to essayism, in various guises, but always in the spirit of open-endedness and with serious reservations about committing to any one thing.

Essayism consists in a self-absorbed subject feeling around life, exercising what Theodor Adorno called the “essay’s groping intention,” approaching everything tentatively and with short attention, drawing analogies between the particular and the universal. Banal, everyday phenomena — what we eat, things upon which we stumble, things that Pinterest us — rub elbows implicitly with the Big Questions: What are the implications of the human experience? What is the meaning of life? Why something rather than nothing? Like the Father of the Essay, we let the mind and body flit from thing to thing, clicking around from mental hyperlink to mental hyperlink: if Montaigne were alive today, maybe he too would be diagnosed with A.D.H.D.

The essayist is interested in thinking about himself thinking about things. We believe our opinions on everything from politics to pizza parlors to be of great import. This explains our generosity in volunteering them to complete strangers. And as D.I.Y. culture finds its own language today, we can recognize in it Arthur Benson’s dictum from 1922 that, “An essay is a thing which someone does himself.”

In Italian, the word for essay is “saggio” and contains the same root as the term “assaggiare,” which means to sample, taste or nibble food. Today, we like to sample, taste or nibble experiences: Internet dating, speed dating, online shopping and buy-and-try consumerism, mash-ups and digital sampling, the money-back guarantee, the temporary tattoo, the test-drive, shareware. If you are not satisfied with your product, your writing, your husband, you may return/delete/divorce it. The essay, like many of us, is notoriously noncommittal.

I certainly don’t argue that no one is committing these days; it only takes a few moments of exposure to contemporary American political discourse to realize the extent of dogmatic commitment to this or that party, to this or that platform. However, for many, the certainty with which the dogmatists make their pronouncements feels increasingly like a bothersome vestige of the past. We can either cling rigidly to dissolving categories or we can let ambivalence wash over us, allowing its tide to carry us toward new life configurations that were inconceivable even 20 years ago. Essayism, when imagined as a constructive approach to existence, is a blanket of possibilities draped consciously on the world.

Essayism is predicated on at least three things: personal stability, technocratic stability and societal instability.

Montaigne certainly possessed the first. He grew up in a privileged family, spoke Latin before French, had the educational, financial and social means to lead a life of civic engagement and writing. While most of us probably didn’t know fluent Latin as children (and never will) and aren’t in a position to become high-ranking civil servants, we have a relatively high literacy rate and unprecedented access to technologies of communication and reserves of knowledge. Furthermore, as a counter-narrative to our supposed busy-ness, there’s lots of evidence that we have plenty of idle time on our hands. Despite our search for distractions in any form, these empty hours give us time to contemplate the hardships of contemporary life. The thoughts just creep in if given the means.

Regarding technocracy, the maturation of print culture during the Renaissance meant that the great texts of Antiquity and newer philosophical, literary and scientific materials could reach a wider audience, albeit mainly composed of people of privilege. The experts of science and technology at that time siphoned some of the power that had been monopolized by the church and the crown. We could draw a similar analogy today: Silicon Valley and the technocratic business class still force the church and the state to share much of their cultural power. The essay thrives under these conditions.

As for societal instability, life outside Montaigne’s château was not rosy: the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants raged in France starting in the 1560s. Turmoil and uncertainty, dogmatism and blood: such circumstances make one reflect on the meaning of life, but it is sometimes too hard to look such a question right in the face. Instead, one asks it obliquely by wondering about those smallnesses that make up the human experience. Today, unresolved issues of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation and other categories have created a volatile social dynamic, and, with our current economic instability to boot, it is no wonder that throwing oneself wholeheartedly toward any particular idea or endeavor seems a risky proposition to many of us. Finally, the bloody wars of religion and ideology continue to rage on in our time. In the early 20th century, when the French writer André Malraux predicted that the 21st century would be a century of renewed mysticism, he perhaps did not imagine that the pursuit of God would take such a politically volatile form.

Essayism, as an expressive mode and as a way of life, accommodates our insecurities, our self-absorption, our simple pleasures, our unnerving questions and the need to compare and share our experiences with other humans. I would argue that the weakest component in today’s nontextual essayism is its meditative deficiency. Without the meditative aspect, essayism tends toward empty egotism and an unwillingness or incapacity to commit, a timid deferral of the moment of choice. Our often unreflective quickness means that little time is spent interrogating things we’ve touched upon. The experiences are simply had and then abandoned. The true essayist prefers a more cumulative approach; nothing is ever really left behind, only put aside temporarily until her digressive mind summons it up again, turning it this way and that in a different light, seeing what sense it makes. She offers a model of humanism that isn’t about profit or progress and does not propose a solution to life but rather puts endless questions to it.

We need a cogent response to the renewed dogmatism of today’s political and social landscape and our intuitive attraction to the essay could be pointing us toward this genre and its spirit as a provisional solution. Today’s essayistic tendency — a series of often superficial attempts relatively devoid of thought — doesn’t live up to this potential in its current iteration, but a more meditative and measured version à la Montaigne would nudge us toward a calm taking into account of life without the knee-jerk reflex to be unshakeably right. The essayification of everything means turning life itself into a protracted attempt.

The essay, like this one, is a form for trying out the heretofore untried. Its spirit resists closed-ended, hierarchical thinking and encourages both writer and reader to postpone their verdict on life. It is an invitation to maintain the elasticity of mind and to get comfortable with the world’s inherent ambivalence. And, most importantly, it is an imaginative rehearsal of what isn’t but could be.

RELATED: “How to Live Without Irony” by Christy Wampole.

Christy Wampole is an assistant professor of French at Princeton University. Her research focuses primarily on 20th- and 21st-century French and Italian literature and thought.

LCC Photography Research Show

21 Mar

LCC Photography Research Show


This research hub based at London College of Communication (LCC) brings together practitioners and theorists to explore and promote photography as a mode of imaginary thought and its relation to a collective imaginary.

Specifically, we are interested in the increasingly complex research methodologies that underpin fine art photography as a form of knowledge with its own epistemology. Particular emphasis will be given to photographic works that explicitly engage with contemporary thought; theories that engage with contemporary photography; as well as photographic images and philosophies of the image that contribute to how the imaginary is invested in photographic production and the ‘as if’ condition of the photographic image.

The Photography and the Contemporary Imaginary Research Hub builds on LCC’s international reputation for conceptual photography and is organized by Dr Wiebke Leister and Paul Tebbs.


The Photography and the Contemporary Imaginary Research Hub is pleased to announce the second LCC Photography Research Show

Private View: Thursday 27 March 2014, 18.00-20.00 Nursery Gallery, London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle

Jananne Al-Ani . Beverley Carruthers . Robin Silas Christian . Edward Dimsdale . Matthew Hawkins . Claire Hooper . Tom Hunter . Mark Ingham . Melanie King . Wiebke Leister . Dallas Seitz . Sophy Rickett . Tansy Spinks . Monica Takvam . Esther Teichmann . Val Williams .

The Photography and the Contemporary Imaginary Research Hub builds on LCC’s international reputation for conceptual photography. This event is organized by Beverley Carruthers and Wiebke Leister and supported by UAL Communities of Practice funding.


London Alternative Photography Collective

10 Mar



 The London Alternative Photography Collective aims to bring together artists and photographers around London who wish to share alternative photography ideas and processes.

(We also have a sister group in Manchester.)

The group currently meets monthly at the Double Negative Dark Room on 178A Glyn Road in Hackney, E5 0JE. The first meeting was in July 2013, and we have had some fabulous alternative photographers to speak, including Sam WhiteHelen Pynor,  Constanza Martinez,George CrazyGLincSarah Leslie Sarah Evan JonesDouglas NicolsonTereza Cerenova, Jennifer Brookes and Gavin Maitland to name but a few!

We provide artists talks, discussions about Alternative Photography Processes, demonstrations and opportunities to collaborate.
We are also keen to create exhibitions in and around London, such as the Light Play exhibitionwe recently curated at Double Negative Darkroom, Hackney in December.

Anyone interested in Alternative Photography is welcome to join.

Things we like to talk about;

Wet-Collodion Plate
Black & White Film Developing
Colour Developing
“Film Soup” / Film Destruction
Pin Hole Cameras
Silver Gelatin Emulsion
Scans / Photocopies
Salt Prints
Gum Bichromate
Van Dyke
Polaroid / Polaroid Lifts.
Camera Remodelling.
Camera making.
Analogue V.S. Digital.

Like us on Facebook.

Founder: Melanie K, graduate from MA Art & Science at Central Saint Martins.

Trending Creators!

19 Feb

Trending Creators!.

2013 in review

1 Jan

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


16 Nov

In this section

 Talking and writing about design: it’s what this course is all about. Combining history and theory with business skills and applied practice, BA (Hons) Design Cultures will give you an understanding of design history, global cultures and ethics and sustainability. You’ll also explore how you can use design to create positive change.

Ongoing Literature Review

21 Jun

It is appearing here…

Turmeric Rhizome and Stem

“Supervision is a complex business and to begin to define good practice, for example in monitoring it, without a careful exposition of just what it involves, its constraints and the parameters of its responsibilities is, in our view, unlikely to lead to an enhancement of quality provision. To encourage review teams to identify what, in their collective opinion, are examples of good practice without any reference to any evidence whatsoever other than their own, predetermined, beliefs is to run the risk of the inappropriate adoption of dubious practices by institutions intent on illustrating their commitment to the newly established, yet ever changing, quality agenda.” [Powell and Green: 40-41]

Rough Draft]

6 month scoping project: literature review on practice-based PhD supervision

Dr Mark Ingham [1]






  1. What’s the Difference between Practice-Based PhD Supervision and other types?
  2. Digital/On-line Supervision/Supervisors [Digital Spaces for Supervision]
  3. International Research Supervisors Group [Web/Blog Site]
  4. Student Forum




Following on from discussions held at the University of the Arts, London supervisor’s forum held on the 4 June 2008, and Border Conflicts on the 21 May 2009 which was co-hosted between The Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design [CLTAD] and the International Centre for Fine Art Research (ICFAR), both centres prepared to foreground a future UAL research project in the emerging field of supervision of PhD students engaged in practice-based knowledge and enquiry.

The 6 months scoping project was to engage in research examining and reporting on current national and international developments and thinking in this field. I was asked to set up a Blog to record and disseminate this research, which in itself has become a useful tool in the investigation. It can be found and engaged with at:


It soon became clear that research into art and design ‘practice-based’ and ‘practice-led’ PhD was fairly extensive with a few key players leading the inquiry. Within in this research there were some examples of papers and books [Newbury 1997, Scrivener 2000, Lebow 2008] that particularly addressed the issue of the supervision of practice-based PhDs. It also became apparent that there seemed to be much more research into the role of supervision was being carried out in other areas of PhD study [Lee 2007, 2009, Taylor 2008, Green and Powell 2008? Delany 2009, Kiley 2010].

A good example of this current research has been conducted by Dr Anne Lee, the Academic Development Adviser University of Surrey. In her paper: Developing effective supervisors: Concepts of research supervision she writes, ‘… the range and depth of concepts that a supervisor holds will dictate how they supervise and the type of researcher who emerges at the end of the process. In an age of supercomplexity, when demands of academic and other employers are unpredictable, the skills of the effective researcher, and thus their supervisor, are likely to become even more important.’ [Lee 2007:1]. This in-depth study along with others form the UK and abroad should act as good starting points for further investigation into whether there are particular factors that need to be addressed in the supervision of art and design practice-based PhDs.


Practice-based research degrees in art and design are being carried out in many UK, European and Australian institutions and seem to be about to burgeon in the USA.

Peter Hill[2] writes in his July 2010 THE article, ‘Australia led the way in studio-based PhDs; the UK followed a few years later. And now the US is eyeing the water nervously.’ [Hill 2010] This is widespread acceptance of the PhD in the Creative arts as a ‘final’ degree is emphasised in the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools Future-Proofing the Creative Arts in Higher Education [Final Report 2009] which stated that, ‘The PhD in the creative arts is now the accepted terminal degree in Australia, as it is in a number of other countries such as Britain, Finland, New Zealand and Japan, along with the professional Doctorate of Creative Arts (DCA). ‘[Baker 2009:1]


There are many ‘beginnings’ to how practice-based art and design PhDs have been thought about and written about over the last 30 years. Some of these beginnings have created new spaces from which more thought has been possible. This section is not in any particular order as the thinking is continuous. The dates have been chosen as these seem to mark moments of acceleration in thinking.

2003 – 2006

In 2006 the project report re:search – in and through the arts [2003-2005][3] was published by the European League of Institutes of the Arts [ELIA]. In their opening forward the authors[4] write, ‘ This Project Report rounds off two years of researching, documenting and discussing the various ways in which Higher Arts Education Institutes and artists/ researchers invent, apply, teach and supervise methods of inquiry.’ [Langkilde and Regouin 2006].

The report commented on the need for further development of PhD practice-based supervision by stating,

A follow-up investigation into supervision criteria, requirements for supervisors, development of supervisory teams and research training is critical for the development of research and research degrees and will facilitate international mobility of researchers and of supervisors. Practical proposals included a training course for supervisors and the collation of a list of potential supervisors and external examiners. [Ibid: 14]

This followed the observation on the then current state of supervisory arrangements,

One-to-one supervision is still the norm, although it moves away from a merely theoretical approach common in art history. Contact and direction between supervisor and the doctoral candidate range from one supervisor to a team of supervisors and from intensive to hardly existent. Most supervisors are professional artists employed by the institution. In some countries external reviewers (or examiners) are involved. The status of professors at Higher Arts Education Institutes varies according to national and institutional traditions, possibly hampering the mobility of research and supervisory staff. [Ibid: 12]


UK Council for Graduate Education


5.5 Supervisors

All institutions have similar general regulations covering the arrangements for the supervision of PhDs. These general regulations specify the number of supervisors to be appointed, and that those appointed should be suitably qualified and experienced. They may specify the number of successful previous supervisions the supervisor must have undertaken, and the number of supervisions a candidate may expect as a minimum. However, within these general regulations there is no specific reference made to the supervision of students carrying out practice-based work. This is not to say that such advice may not exist in the form of guidelines within individual departments. If institutions are to adopt the inclusive model outlined in this paper it may be timely for them to consider their current regulations and formal guidelines in this area to ensure that students in the field of creative arts are supported in their work and to ensure that the student’s project is such as to enable it to conform to more traditional research requirements, if the revised regulations so require. It will often be necessary for institutions to appoint two supervisors to cover both the academic and practical aspects, in line with the advice on external examiners below.

Frayling, C. et al (1997). (eds.) Practice- based Doctorates in the Creative and Performing Arts

and Design. N.p. [UK]: UK Council for Graduate Education.


The practical implications of applying a theory of practice based research: a case study.

At the launch of the AHRB’s framework for doctoral training provision on March 12th 2004, Michael Jubb, in response to a question from the floor, observed that practice based research is “contested territory”. Notwithstanding the fact that scholars and practitioners agree on many points, such as the centrality of artefacts, e.g., paintings, videos, installations, etc., the existence of contested territory means that the doing of practice based research is accompanied by a significant component of methodological development: frameworks and methods are created and tested through the doing of practice based research.

This puts the practice based visual arts and design doctoral student and supervisor in an unusual, if not historically unique position of having to consider both methodology and methodological rigour. This situation, which is a source of inspiration and anxiety for both supervisor and student, requires a level of critical engagement with the debate on the theory and practice of research not demanded of researchers in those disciplines where shared and agreed research principles and methods have become embedded.

Scrivener, S. (2004) The practical implications of applying a theory of practice based research: a case study. Working Papers in Art and Design 3
Retrieved 21.07.2010 from URL
ISSN 1466-4917

The Missing Links By John Wakeford

Too many postgraduate students suffer from inadequate support and end up failing. John Wakeford has investigated a number of complaints about shoddy supervision. Here he details some of the worst cases.

Postgraduate prospectuses imply that research students will be supervised by leading scholars who hold frequent and regular supervisions, are accessible at other reasonable times, and provide direction and monitoring of students’ work, thus ensuring that students obtain a PhD in three or four years.

The reality is often different. Many students find their original supervisors too busy, or unavailable because of study leave, promotion, illness, personal problems or retirement.


re:search – in and through the arts 1 November 2003 – 31 October 2005


R e s e a r c h S u p e r v i s i o n

One-to-one supervision is still the norm, although it moves away from a merely theoretical approach common in art history. Contact and direction between supervisor and the doctoral candidate range from one supervisor to a team of supervisors and from intensive to hardly existent. Most supervisors are professional artists employed by the institution. In some countries external reviewers (or examiners) are involved. The status of professors at Higher Arts Education Institutes varies according to national and institutional traditions, possibly hampering the mobility of research and supervisory staff. [p12]

I n t e r n a t i o n a l P l a t f o r m s o f s u p e r v i s o r s , r e s e a r c h e r s

Specialised cross-national networks driven by artists, designers, researchers, students, supervisors, theorists should create platforms for collaboration, training, and reflection. [p14]

F o l l o w – u p i n v e s t i g a t i o n i n t o s u p e r v i s i o n

A follow-up investigation into supervision criteria, requirements for supervisors, development of supervisory teams and research training is critical for the development of research and research degrees and will facilitate international mobility of researchers and of supervisors. Practical proposals included a training course for supervisors and the collation of a list of potential supervisors and external examiners. [p14]

Supervision , r e s e a r c h t r a i n i n g a n d d e v e l o p i n g w a y s o f o r g a n i s i n g r e s e a r c h

Supervision is increasingly considered crucial for the quality of research and for the development of the research profile of the institution. Models include one supervisor, in some countries two or even three supervisors per candidate. Contacts between supervisor and the doctoral candidate range from informal interaction with one supervisor to intensive exchange with a supervisory team. Supervisors are chosen on the basis of academic and/or artistic merit. Most supervisors are professional artists employed by the institution while in some countries external reviewers or examiners are involved.

The academic status of professors at art schools and the scientific standards applied in evaluating research outcomes in the arts, reflect different cultural, national and institutional traditions. In Germany and Poland a ‘habilitation’ degree is the required academic status for qualified supervisors. All countries surveyed adopt a formal process for recruiting PhD staff and for the formulation of special research supervision standards.

Further investigation into the requirements for supervisors in the light of the growing mobility of (research) staff and (PhD) students would be useful for the promotion of international collaboration and international programmes. [p34]


European League of Institutes of the Arts / Universität der Künste Berlin With the support of the Directorate-General for Education and Culture, European Commission

Supervision and Research Training

The Comparative Overview suggests that in spite of the many different degree titles, assessment processes may be far more comparable. In the Comparative Overview as well as in the Final Project Conference, supervision was identified as critical for the development of research and research degrees. Transparency in the qualifications of supervisors would also facilitate international mobility of researchers and of supervisors. The Comparative Overview proposes a follow-up investigation into supervision criteria, requirements for supervisors, developments towards supervisory teams and research training. Training of supervisors is often mentioned as a problem and this is echoed by the Expert Group’s recommendation that a training course for supervisors in arts research should be organised. [p9]



David Delany PhD, CAPSL

A review of the international literature on doctoral supervision covering the history of the PhD, factors affecting PhD completion, and an overview of several models of the supervisor-supervisee relationship.


Pearson and Kayrooz (2005) argue that the development of academic supervisors has been constrained by a “lack of robust conceptual understanding of what supervision involves”. In attempting to answer this challenge and capture the multi-faceted nature of effective supervision researchers have used a number of different approaches which vary in sophistication from uni-dimensional metaphors, to unstructured lists of desirable traits, to complex multi-dimensional empirically-driven frameworks. Grant (1999) suggests that the majority of these approaches to understanding and practicing supervision emerge from a liberal humanist view of social relations in which supervision is understood to be an essentially rational and transparent engagement between autonomous individuals. She argues that additional useful insights into the subtleties and complexities of supervision can be gained from considering supervision within a broader psychoanalytic context. [p5-6]


Following Cullen et al. (1994), Pearson and Brew (2002) suggest that a more productive approach is to focus on what supervisors are actually doing and why. This is done on the assumption that this grounds discussion in the practice of supervision and the behaviour of participants, ensuring that their learning is situated in their particular research contexts. [P13]

Although the international research literature on postgraduate supervision is replete with examples of what constitutes good supervision practice (Moses, 1985; Zuber-Skerritt, 1992; Christie and Adawi, 2006; Holbrook and Johnston, 1999; Johnson et al., 2000), there is a dearth of longitudinal research that actually assesses the impact of interventions designed to improve postgraduate supervision. [P13]


The increasing international importance of innovation and knowledge generation has driven an increase in the research literature on research supervision. However, although a rich array of supervisory models have been proposed to account for the multifarious factors that are associated with effective supervision there is still a salient need for a program of coherent empirical validation. [P13]

Quality Matters in Doctoral Supervision – a critique of current issues in the UK within a worldwide context

Stuart D Powell and Howard Green

Full text at:

3. Conclusions

We have noted above the example of the ‘habilitation’ in France and have suggested thatit is concerned more with the research projects than with the pedagogic issues of supervision. We have also noted that the training of supervisors is now a feature of the postgraduate research scene in many countries.

In the light of these two notes, it seems to us important to consider just what it is that supervisors are being trained for, and again, this brings us full-circle to questions about the nature of the doctoral award to which the student aspires. As we have stressed elsewhere (Powell and Green, 2007), our view is that the student is engaged in acts of learning about how to do research, is studying for an academic award that has criteria which the student needs to demonstrate that he/she has met. Supervision is, therefore, primarily an act of pedagogy – not of research. Hence it follows that research degree supervision should be about how the supervisor can most effectively engage with the learner in the latter’s attempts to provide evidence to meet the criteria for the award.

In one sense it might seem that the art and the science of teaching should readily transfer to the research degree context from the other kinds of [university] teaching that the academic member of staff is engaged in. However, what makes research degree supervision different is the expectation that the student will attain a kind of mastery that is on a par with the supervisors’ and that in respect of the specifics of knowledge the student will necessarily exceed that supervisor. After all, the student has to contribute to knowledge and this means that supervisors must learn things they did not know before.

The ‘curriculum’ in research degree study is therefore about extending knowledge not merely transferring it. The essentials of the teacher/pupil (or master/novice) relationship are different from that which pertains at all other levels of learning and therefore the pedagogy is new. Supervisors who think they can supervise because they can research are necessarily misguided and it follows that systems which mirror this misguided notion are also necessarily at fault. Prior experiences of researching and/or teaching are necessary but not sufficient for effective research degree supervision.

Supervision is a complex business and to begin to define good practice, for example in monitoring it, without a careful exposition of just what it involves, its constraints and the parameters of its responsibilities is, in our view, unlikely to lead to an enhancement of quality provision. To encourage review teams to identify what, in their collective opinion, are examples of good practice without any reference to any evidence whatsoever other than their own, predetermined, beliefs is to run the risk of the inappropriate adoption of dubious practices by institutions intent on illustrating their commitment to the newly established, yet ever changing, quality agenda. [Powell and Green: 40-41]

[1] In 2000 I started a full-time AHRB funded practice based PhD at Goldsmiths College. This was completed in 2005 and I have continued to practice and be involved in practice-based research ever since. This phase of practice and research culminated in an Arts Council for England funded exhibition at Dilston Grove, Cafe Gallery Projects in 2008. As an artist I have been excited by the dynamic relationships between research, theory and practice and how these relationships can be mutually beneficial to my own and others work. As a supervisor of practice-based PhDs I have taken a keen interest in the continuing and often contradictory developments in the way they are thought about in the educational institutions I have worked in over the last 10 years. The paradoxes and fluidity of the various manifestations of practice-based and practice-led research has both intrigued and frustrated me in equal measure.

[2] Peter Hill is an artist and writer and adjunct professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne.

[3] The report states that, ‘Supported by the European Commission, ELIA and the Universität der Künste Berlin undertook the re:search in and through the arts project in 2004-2005 with the aims of mapping the diversity of approaches to research and research degrees in a European context and accelerating the process of networking and collaboration. The project was designed to contribute to the wider policy debate on recognition for the arts, arts research and Higher Arts Education.[2006:10]

[4] The report’s forward was co-written by Professor Kirsten LangkildeVice-President and Dean of the College of Architecture, Design and Media, Universität der Künste Berlin and Professor Maarten Regouin, Hanzehogeschool Groningen and President European League of Institutes of the Arts – ELIA

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