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Global perspectives #4

Care or Carefree: Creative Arts Research and Ethical Regulations

Associate Professor Barbara Bolt
University of Melbourne


The conceptualisation of art practice as research brings with it a level of scrutiny which is having unintended consequences on art and artists. In the reframing of art (practice) as ‘practice-as-research’, artists have become researchers. In this reconceptualization, art as research has became subject to the processes and procedures that oversee all university research, including ethical regulation. As a consequence artists-as-researchers have became subject to the research ethics processes and protocols that are applicable to all university researchers. The “challenge” and role of ethical regulation in creative arts research raises many questions that remain unexamined and poorly understood amongst artists-as-researchers, within the creative arts and within the broader University research culture.

A 2009 pilot study Research Ethics in the Creative Arts conducted with academics at the Victorian College of Arts and Music at the University of Melbourne, Australia, revealed that ethical regulation of art-as-research created particular difficulties for artists as researchers.  Amongst creative arts academics and graduate researchers a tension exists between two models; art and art-as-research. Many artist academics and graduate researchers hold the conviction that art should maintain its social critical role at the “edge” and continue to test and trouble society’s ethical and moral boundaries, a role that stands in conflict with fundamental precept of beneficence that underpins Australia’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (2007). From the responses in the survey, particularly from amongst practice-led researchers, it emerged that researchers believe that the ethics protocols, processes and procedures in universities operate as a silent regulator of conduct and a subtle determination of content in creative arts research. Further, the study revealed that some graduate researchers self-censor merely because they thought their project would not get through the ethics process. From these observations it could be argued that through its very stringent processes of ethical regulation, the university ethics procedure introduces limitations that work against “cutting edge” research and mitigates experimentation at the heart of practice. In this paper I address the tension between ethical regulation and artistic practice and argue that the increasing regulation of the creative arts both inside and outside the academy impacts not only what we are able to view and experience, but more specifically what artists can actually do.


Barbara Bolt is a practicing artist and art theorist and is Associate Dean at the Victorian College of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Her publications include two monographs Art Beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image (2004) and Heidegger Reframed:  Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts (2011), and two co-edited publications, Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry (2007) with Estelle Barrett and Sensorium; and Aesthetics, Art, Life (2007) with Felicity Coleman, Graham Jones and Ashley Woodward.
She is currently working on an anthology of writings Carnal Knowledges: Towards a New Materialism through the Arts
(co-edited with Estelle Barrett, forthcoming 2011, I.B.Tauris).

Her art practice, which spans twenty-five years, investigates the material possibilities of painting and involves an intense dialogue with theory. Publications such as the DVD Neon Blue (2009), Unimaginable happenings: material movements in the plane of composition (2011), Whose Joy?: Giotto, Yves Klein and Neon Blue (2011), Rhythm and the Performative Power of the Index: Lessons from Kathleen Petyarre’s paintings (2006), Shedding Light  For the Matter (2000) and Im/pulsive practices: Painting and the Logic of Sensation (1997) have emerged from the dialogue between theory and practice. Her recent publications in research ethics and the creative arts include "The ‘legitimate’ limits of artistic practice" (2011) and "The Trouble with CARE: Creative Arts and Research Ethics" (2011). Barb bolt was the Chief Investigator of Research Ethics and the Creative Arts: A Pilot Project (2010). She exhibits with Catherine Asquith Gallery in Melbourne.

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