International Journal of Art & Design Education

Practice-based Doctorates and Questions of Academic Legitimacy

Volume 19.1   2000



Over the last six years there has been a massive increase in the number of students studying for practice-based doctorates in Art and Design. It is now possible to do a practice-based PhD in over forty departments, although what is expected from doctoral students varies considerably across institutions. In 1977 the United Kingdom Council for Graduate Education (UKGCE) addressed the variance between practice-based doctorates in the report Practice-Based Doctorates in the Creative and Performing Arts and Design. This paper examines the recommendations made by the report and asks to what extent does it acknowledge art as a legitimate research practice within the university. The UKGCE report recommends that all practice-based PhDs have a substantial theoretical and contextualising element that will demonstrate general scholarly requirements and render the artwork accessible to judgement. I argue that this proposal is problematic on several counts; it draws a firm line between theory and practice, places academic research in opposition to practice generally and artwork specifically, maintains the stereotype of art as anti-intellectual and forgets the degree to which theory is itself a practice. In addition it suggests that art practice can only be legitimised as research when it is framed by a conventionally academic enquiry. I suggest that instead of trying to make art practice fit academic regulations it would be more productive to use the practice-based PhDs as a way of re-thinking academic conventions and scholarly requirements.