What is research in digital arts & design?

Forum Organized by Lone Malmborg
Malmö University, School of Arts and Communication, Sweden
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Abstract: The idea of the forum is to establish a discussion about what constitutes research in the field of digital arts and design. The digital arts merge two different traditions. On the one hand we have the traditions of art, based on creative practice and historical precedents. On the other we have the traditions of technology, based on a more theoretical approach. Merging these traditions in different activities within the area of art and design is not new, but the digital arts seem to attract ever more artists and students and so the issue needs to be reviewed.

While there is an emerging practical basis for such art, with resources, educational programmes, galleries, etc. becoming increasingly available, further development into research and the research-basis of these initiatives has not matured into a shared opinion on what characterises quality of research in the area of digital arts & design.

The traditional academic faculties have a long tradition for doing research in humanities, technical, medical and social sciences. This tradition is expressed in PhD. research programs, schemes for governmental research funding, established journals with established peer review procedures, regular conferences with prestigious professional societies to maintain quality, etc. These research activities are all primarily based on a verbal tradition (written or spoken), and are usually assumed to embody 'real science' (i.e. 'objectivity').

In contradiction to this, the arts and design area has primarily developed new ideas and products through creative practice, in studios and workshops. The results are evaluated by exhibition and by practical application. In many areas verbal expressions / explanations have played a minor role, as the product or art piece itself is seen as the best expression of an idea (n.b. the clearest example of this is music).

One way to approach the question of what constitutes and how should we evaluate quality in research in this new area, is to look at the ideas of the Third Culture movement. Instead of letting the 'scientific society' rule what is good quality, we should be aware that art and science will stimulate each other. Most of the distinctions between professions which were established and found useful a century ago, no longer work.

Another approach is to look for similarities with other disciplines as much of what is done in the name of science has a significant creative component. There may be a need to distinguish between 'scholarly research' (involving 'reflective practice' and leading to recognition by academia), and 'practice-based research' (aimed at interaction with a wider conception of culture).

During discussion of these issues we will present examples of both positive and problematic experiences from different countries and different government agencies, schools and universities. We will also try to come up with more constructive ideas on how we can create an environment for supporting and facilitating research and artistic development in the area of digital arts and design, and how we can create a framework for evaluating what constitutes quality in this area, quite separately from what may be required by academic degrees.

About the Presenters:

Lone Malmborg is Associate Professor in the School of Arts & Communication, Malmö University College, Sweden. She is a researcher in Space & Virtuality Studio, Interactive Institute, where her primary interests are CSCW and future living. Malmborg is responsible for the education program in Interaction Technology and is engaged in initial initiatives around NIMRES. She was previously working on a visualization project at the Copenhagen Business School, and is Co-editor of Digital Creativity.

Colin Beardon is Professor at Exeter School of Arts & Design, University of Plymouth, UK. He has higher degrees in both Philosophy and Computer Science. He has worked in the computer industry and taught computer science before moving to a research post in Art & Design in 1991. His main research interest is in the development of software to support creative practices. He is a founder of Computers in Art & Design Education (CADE) and co-editor of the journal 'Digital Creativity' as well as being active in the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP).

Minna Tarkka is professor at the Media Lab, University of Art and Design Helsinki. As responsible for the MA programme she has initiated projects in digital museums, interactive television as well as critical art and design.

She has published work on media and art and produced digital cultural projects. She acted as director of ISEA'94 symposium and is currently chair of m-cult, the Finnish association for media culture.