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Research methods in the arts

Pathways to a fertile valley. On methods and methodologies in artistic research

Falk Hübner, Joost Vanmaele

The past decades have seen a strong growth in research into the arts at both art colleges and universities, and the idea of artistic practice as research practice (‘all art is research’) has increasingly given way to the active and in-depth reading of art as a specific form of knowledge production that provides new insights, experiences and possibilities. With this article, Falk Hübner and Joost Vanmaele aim to put up a few signposts in this expansive field. In a three-stage approach, they move from a generic perspective on methodology and methods, to discussing the opportunities those methods have to offer in the specific context of artistic research. Finally, they elaborate on the concrete contributions to this special issue of FORUM+ on method and methodology in research into the arts.

Onderzoek in de kunsten is de laatste decennia sterk gegroeid aan de kunsthogescholen en universiteiten: de herformulering van de artistieke praktijk als een onderzoekspraktijk (‘alle kunst is onderzoek’) heeft in toenemende mate plaatsgemaakt voor de actieve uitdieping van kunst als een specifieke vorm van kennisproductie die tot nieuwe inzichten, ervaringen en mogelijkheden leidt. In dit artikel zetten Falk Hübner en Joost Vanmaele een aantal wegwijzers in dit inmiddels omvangrijke gebied. Ze bewegen zich in drie etappes van een generiek perspectief op methodologie en methodes, naar de mogelijkheden die methodes bieden binnen de specifieke context van artistiek onderzoek. Ten slotte gaan ze in op de concrete bijdragen in dit themanummer van FORUM+ over methode en methodologie in onderzoek in de kunsten.

Marcel Cobussen’s musings in his editorial piece open up several important doors to the space for thought and discussion we hope to create with the present issue of FORUM+. No drum-rolls introduce this special edition on method and methodology in artistic research; instead, it opens with an inviting and compelling reverie that takes the reader of FORUM+ to a dynamic zone where the interaction between method, artistic practice and research can develop in a creative and future-oriented way.

In this text, we would like to further develop and discuss some of the orientation points that Cobussen offers from his sun-soaked garden, in order to come up with a framework that unites the contributions to this edition and inspires the fruitful continuation of the dialogue on method in artistic research. Our exploratory journey consists of three stages, each located at a different altitude. First, we move into the transdisciplinary high mountains to measure the oxygen level there and to find out which generic semantic realms method and methodology can be connected to. The low mountain range is our next stop; there we zoom in on the role of methods in artistic research and the specific practices that come with it. Our third and final stage takes us to the basis and the core of this special edition of FORUM+, offering a perspective on the fruits yielded by the fertile valley of artistic research. To conclude, we look back on our three stages, and forward to explore the opportunities method offers to make a difference in the undulating landscape where artists and artistic researchers roam.

Stage 1: The high mountains

Taking an overarching perspective, we can consider methods – in the broad sense – as deliberate, systematic and purposeful procedures in which a careful description of the modus operandi gives rise to an intersubjectivity that allows for both transparency and critical reflection.1 Methods are employed for various activities and in various contexts, such as agriculture, education or industry. Research is one of the areas of application, and one in which research methods are primarily seen as specific techniques or activities deployed by the researcher to answer his or her research questions.2 Think for instance of methods of data collection and processing that take place in interviews, observations, experiments, interventions or statistical studies.

Methods as research actions are part of a broader research strategy, which in turn typically belongs to a larger research plan. The research plan specifies the way in which the researcher seeks to answer or approach his or her research questions and focus areas as well as the objective(s) and the sources the researcher is going to rely on to collect data. Research strategy or research design, then, refers to the ‘route’ that is actually shaped and designed, and that the researcher wants to take in order to answer his or her research questions. It consists of a series of well-thought-out methods that are applied in a certain order.

In the ‘narrow’ sense, notably in qualitative research and the social sciences, methodology coincides with research strategy. It supplies a framework (‘logos’) that accounts for the use of certain methods. To quote C.R. Kothari:

Research methodology is a way to systematically solve the research problem. (...) In it we study the various steps that are generally adopted by a researcher in studying his research problem along with the logic behind them.3

Here it is essential to note that methodology – in the narrow sense – and research strategy not only offer a structure that unites the individual methods; they also contain the logic and the rationale behind that structure. In what follows, we will use methodology in a ‘broader’ sense, which surpasses research strategy. This enables us to think of larger movements in research, like quantitative, qualitative and performative research,4 as methodological traditions that work with different kinds of data (numerical, non-numerical and symbolic) and that imply different visions and worldviews. Methodology, then, functions on a meta-level – more particularly as a ‘study of methods’, including their philosophical and ethical basis, as Robin Nelson also notes:

Methodology is the study of methods and deals with the philosophical assumptions underlying the research process, while a method is a specific technique for data collection under those philosophical assumptions.5

In summary, we can argue that, while it is indeed possible to identify a certain hierarchy between methods and research strategy, this hierarchy is not immune to change. Rather, it is a reciprocal relationship, ‘so it is not a question of difference or similarity but relationship’.6 A change at the level of an individual method can leave its mark on the entire research strategy – and vice versa. The same reciprocal relationship exists between research strategy and methodology: although methodology offers an extra (overall and reflexive) perspective relative to research strategy, the former can also be influenced by choices at the level of the latter. This is why the relation between the three levels – methodology, strategy and method – is neither a top-down nor a bottom-up affair, but should be regarded as a relation of interconnections, which we have represented as nested circles in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Relationships between methodology, research strategy and research methods. (Hübner 2019/2020)

As figure 1 indicates,7 methods make up the core of the research practice, they are the driving forces behind generating, collecting and processing data and information. However, that does not mean that we should take their role in obtaining reliable knowledge for granted. Quite the contrary: it is precisely the use of (certain) methods in research that is so often the subject of critical debate.8 To avoid ending up in the straightjacket of dogmatic and discipline-specific approaches right away, it is useful to resort first to the Ur-term that precedes method and to the semantic spectrum connected to it.

In ancient Greek texts, hodós (ἡ ὁδός, the road or way) is already used figuratively as a (skilful) ‘way’ of handling. But, underlying this, two more literal clusters of meaning can be detected: 1) the static hodós in a landscape, denoting a connection between two points; and 2) the dynamic hodós as in ‘being on the way’ or undertaking a journey. The latter signification, in turn, can again be interpreted literally (like the journey of Odysseus) or as travelling in the mind (as a result of a conversation, for instance). Thus hodós contains both a spatial and a temporal aspect; it comprises the structural connection between the point of departure and the point of arrival as well as hinting at ‘being-on-the-way’ and ‘remaining-on-the-way’, which are both less destination-oriented.9 Transpose this to a research context, and hodós as a method can not only be understood as a linear connection between question and answer; being-on-the-way also – and sometimes primarily – offers a view of the world surrounding the pathway.

This dynamic perspective brings another powerful topos of ancient Greek culture to mind, namely that of the traveller. The traveller leaves a familiar environment without necessarily knowing whether s/he will gain new insights or impressions on the way or upon arrival. Nevertheless, the idea is that, on returning home, s/he will have gained one or more experiences.10

If we follow the path of our traveller for a little while, we end up in the semantic realm of theorein (θεωρεῖν, to see, to observe), theoria (θεωρία, contemplation, theory) and, more specifically, the role of the ancient theōrós (θεωρός, envoy). In addition to consulting the oracle, the theōrós was sent to festivals and events in other city-states as an official envoy to observe (theorein) interesting life patterns and cultural developments. Moreover, in the case of an official mission, the theōrós was expected to give an eyewitness account upon his return home.

In addition to such well-defined civilian missions, the theōrós could also travel to enrich his personal experience, without a specific destination or assignment, and without having to deliver an official report afterwards. The activities of the theōrós have been transposed to philosophical thought by Plato, among others. According to Plato, theoretical activity is not restricted to the actual moment of rational contemplation – beholding the Ideas – but rather encompasses the entire journey, from the start to the finish and the reporting.11 Upon his return, the philosopher will account for his vision and subsequently offer it up for scrutiny and further questions. In addition, the theōrós is expected to put his knowledge to use in practical and political activities.12 This brings us very close to some of the key components of research: a systematic and well-established framework; a question or an assignment; the act of leaving familiar territory; the road that is travelled to gain new insights and impressions; the final report and possible implementation.

Though hodós in the sense of a practical method or system does occur in ancient texts,13 at a given moment, the term is combined with the prefix ‘meta’. From then on, hodós and méthodos can often be found in each other's proximity. Note, for instance, this paragraph from the Politeia, in which Socrates is talking to Cephalus, expressing an interest in the old man’s knowledge:

I love talking to the very old. It’s as if they’re a long way ahead of us on a road [ὁδὸν] which we too are probably going to have to travel. I feel we should learn from them what the road is like.14

Here hodós refers to a road that has not been intentionally mapped out, but that in a way happened to the person involved and thus led to experiential knowledge. The situation is different further on in the Politeia, when Plato’s characters Socrates and Glaucon conclude that the dialectic method is the only method that offers a path to understanding the first principles.

The dialectical method [μέθοδος] is the only one which in its determination to make itself secure proceeds by this route – doing away with its assumptions until it reaches the first principle itself.15

It is clear that, in this passage, the road taken is associated with a certain purposefulness and unicity. Plato regards dialectics as a téchnē, as the only way that allows the philosopher to travel to the world of universal Ideas and to ultimately proceed to a contemplation of these Ideas.16 Here, the prefix ‘meta’ refers to the act of ‘chasing’ or ‘looking for’. The main idea is that of a pathway taken by someone who is looking for or ‘hunting’ for insights and the truth. Finally, Max Weber specifies the meaning of ‘meta’ in relation to hodós as follows: according to the sociologist, ‘meta’ also refers to community and participation17 and, hence, implies forms of intersubjectivity, sharing the pathway taken.18

Via this etymological exploration, we arrive at a general overview that allows some room for understanding and exploring the position of, and the possibilities offered by, method in artistic research in the rest of this contribution. On the one hand, method can take us from point A to point B. On the other, it can also be regarded as a journey in which the road taken matters less than the fact of being-on-the-way, which can be seen as a total experience that enables new points of view (outlooks) and insights, and which implies a kind of reporting and intersubjective knowledge sharing, too.

If we leave the etymological path to look at the role of method in research and knowledge development from a historical perspective, what immediately stands out is a tension between, on the one hand, the aura of method as something that is predictable, reliable, traceable and reproducible and, on the other, method as a source of exciting innovations and even (in those instances where it truly has a major impact) as an act of rebellion.

There is no shortage of historical examples and milestones where method was part of a reactionary program. Plato presents his dialectics, which he bases on ratio, as a powerful alternative to the sophists’ opinion-forming. Aristotle, too, offers new and powerful instruments (organon) to oppose mainstream approaches to knowledge and knowledge development.19 Reacting against the classic approach to knowledge building is inherent to the scientific revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, experiment is placed in position and nature is ‘tortured’ to expel the false idols of the mind (‘idola mentis’) and traditional wisdom: ‘For you can hardly admire an author and at the same time go beyond him. It is like water; it ascends no higher than its starting point’.20 A similar dissatisfaction with ingrained notions can be found in Descartes, who presents his method of rational and fundamental doubt as a radical but also demanding alternative.

Here, we would like to expand the general understanding of method with the idea that thinking about and experimenting with method is not or does not have to be boring, formal and predictable. Quite the contrary: there is an exciting and radical side to reflecting on and creating new methodologies. Exploring new paths can lead to radically new outlooks and insights.

In conclusion and still from a general perspective, we can note and add that while for instance Descartes presumes that there is only one sound method, the number of research techniques has actually proliferated, especially over the last century, each of them charting a unique path to data collection and analysis. The modern system of academic disciplines is characterised by an unprecedented expansionism and competitiveness, and this dynamism goes hand in hand with an exceptional openness to new disciplines and the combination of disciplines, each with their own subject area and their own perspective on methods or the interaction between methods.21

In the context of this differentiation and expansion, artistic research is sometimes called the ‘last scion’ in the research family.22 But how does method ‘behave’ in the field of artistic research? What is being said about it? Are there customary practices and can we gain insight into the environment that researchers operate in?

Stage 2: The low mountain range

Artistic research is first and foremost connected to artistic practice and to artists who use that practice within their field for the purpose of creation as well as to gain insight and knowledge. Despite the clarity and guidance that this focus on practice brings to the new research discipline, it is exactly in its practice-oriented character that crucial and more generic questions about the research process converge, too. They concern, for instance, the relationship between theory and practice, the usefulness and role of predetermined research questions, and the question if the result of practice-oriented research should or should not contain a discursive component.23 Among these issues, which often lead to widely divergent views and rebellious ideas, is also the question of whether methods and methodology can add value to artistic research to begin with, and if so, what shape they would take.

In order to judge the level of resistance that method sometimes evokes, as well as to assess the opportunities it offers to the further development of artistic research, we should first of all look into the particular role that method fulfilled within artistic practice before it was explicitly labelled artistic research. Within the limited space of this article, we would like to point to two contexts.

The first context concerns the way in which the relationship between science and art will, from a romantic perspective, also be expressed in terms of method. In his reflections on the creative ‘genius’, Immanuel Kant comes to the conclusion that the beautiful arts must necessarily be considered arts of genius24 and that science nor diligence have anything to do with it. Kant ups the ante by refusing to call a science icon like Isaac Newton a ‘genius’:

The reason is that Newton could make all the steps that he had to take, from the first elements of geometry to his great and profound discoveries, entirely intuitive not only to himself but also to everyone else, and thus set them out for posterity quite determinately; but no Homer or Wieland can indicate how his ideas, which are fantastic and yet at the same time rich in thought, arise and come together in his head, because he himself does not know it and thus cannot teach it to anyone else either.25

Ultimately, Kant identifies two ways of presenting one’s thoughts:

one (...) is called a manner (modus aestheticus) and the other (...) is called a method (modus logicus), which differ from each other in that the former has no other standard than the feeling of unity in the presentation, while the latter follows determinate principles in this; for beautiful art, therefore, only the first is valid.26

There are nuances to Kant’s vision in Kritik der Urteilskraft, too, though. In the passages that follow the one we have just quoted, he introduces the notion of Nachahmung or imitation as a possible method to approach the rules of the art.27 Nevertheless, Kant’s idea of an autonomous art operating according to an autonomous and inimitable logic represents a distinct ideological position that still resonates to this day.

The second context in which method comes to the fore in the discourse surrounding artistic practice also dates back to the 1800s. Around the time the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris was founded in 1795, several so-called method books were published. The preface to one of them, namely Louis Adams’ Méthode de piano (1804), certainly has a Kantian ring to it: the méthode focuses purely on mechanical development (‘brilliantes machines’) and states that studying the great masters is a necessary supplement to also gain access to elements of true musicality.28 Diderot’s Encyclopédie displays a similar dialectic compatibility. ‘Le manque de méthode n’est pardonnable que dans les hommes d’un grand savoir ou d’un beau génie’.29 In these works, methods have a clearly defined and practical function: they can (possibly) contribute to someone’s technical development but they clearly come up short when it comes to (true) artistic creativity and imagination.

Looking at the discourse surrounding method in artistic research and artistic practice that emerged in the previous decades, and obviously keeping in mind the limitations of any kind of categorisation, we can detect a continuum of visions and movements that, to a greater or lesser extent, correspond or react to the above-mentioned perspectives on art creation and technique, and develop a methodological approach that matches these initial points of departure.

Exploring new paths can lead to radically new outlooks and insights.

To an important extent, Practice as Research (PaR) considers the methodology of artistic research as equal to artistic and creative practice.30 In the field of PaR, a gamut of methods is discussed which have strong ties to actions and activities as they occur in the field of art production, but that take on a new life within a research context. Think of methods such as (the list is not exhaustive): sketching, drawing,31 using metaphors and analogies, reflecting, participating, experimenting, interpreting, modelling, filming, photographing, writing, (an)not(at)ing, storyboarding,32 developing digital/multimedia/hypermedia applications,33 working in and on archives and databases, concepting, mapping, and so on.34 Adherents to this model of artistic research often assume that methods cannot be preconceived, prescribed or replicable, but should gradually emerge in the course of the creative research process.35 It is there, too, that personal and hence new methods emerge.36

In principle, PaR can have a very wide reach. After all, ‘practice’ does not have to limit itself to product-oriented and visible actions, but can also be more broadly interpreted, as a social and cultural practice. By connecting purposeful actions to shared forms of knowledge, both embodied and theoretical, and by situating these in a wider social and cultural context, a whole body of practice-inherent research methods arises that go in the direction of reflection and contextualisation.37

This broad view on practice allows for a seemingly seamless transition to another archetypal movement within artistic research – one that admittedly operates within artistic practice as well but that also, and relatedly, shows an interest in and sees the added value of eclectic connections with other research disciplines and the methods prevalent in those disciplines. In this context of methodological openness and wealth, the nature of the research question will determine which paths will be chosen in the end. The concept of ‘methodological pluralism’ as used by Henk Borgdorff summarises this point:

Sometimes artistic research is closely related to humanities research, in particular to that in art studies and cultural studies. These disciplines may provide interpretive frameworks that can also figure in research in and through artistic practice, such as hermeneutics, semiotics, critical theory, or cultural analysis. Sometimes artistic research has much in common with technological, applied research, particularly where the research is aimed at improving materials and techniques or at designing new instruments or applications. And sometimes artistic research has a strong affinity with social science research, and more particularly with ethnographic research or action research – whereby, in both cases, the subject and object of study are intertwined, and the researcher is both a participant and an observer. All these forms of investigation have their place in the emerging tradition of artistic research, and it would seem logical to therefore argue for methodological pluralism.38

It goes without saying that the artistic practice of creating, playing, designing and executing remains a binding factor also in this predominantly interdisciplinary research model:

Artistic research does not have any one distinct, exclusive methodology. But there is one qualifying condition: artistic research centres on the practice of making and playing. Practising the arts (creating, designing, performing) is intrinsic to the research process.39

The methodological repertoire mentioned by Borgdorff can be further expanded to include methods from, among other fields, the social sciences, like case studies, participant observation, interviews and surveys. But this is about more than adding new methods to an existing canon; there are more subtle ways in which research into the arts and other academic research disciplines can inspire, inform and complement each other, too. In some cases, the regular research disciplines have close ties to artistic methods, but as of yet, the room for a discussion of those intersections or the potential for mutual enrichment is still lacking.

The field of participatory visual methodologies, for instance, is a repertoire of visual research methods from sociology with close ties to action research, social activism and artistic research. Participatory visual research

is an area of research where, quite clearly, there are contributions to be made in order to influence policy dialogue. The use of photography in photovoice, participatory video (…), digital story-telling and drawing and mapping have all been shown to be effective in engaging community participants (…).40

The crucial issue in this methodology is that visual methods enable participants from the margins of society to share information about their situation and their personal take on it. As far as we know, the actual contribution of artists to this kind of research is limited, despite the apparent potential. Artists and artistic researchers could contribute substantially to this type of research at the crossroads of sociology and the arts (that has areas of overlap with education and activism, too). Conversely, this work could also encourage artistic researchers to move their work to a context of social engagement.

From an openness to other disciplines we continue our stroll until we reach a third movement, namely that of artistic research that is very close to practices of more mainstream scientific academic research in terms of methodology. Here we have research in mind that aims to better understand especially the technical and generic aspects of art (like motor skills, creativity, perception and emotion) and that draws on disciplines like performance science,41 neurology or psychology to obtain objective information and guidelines. In some cases, due to the specificity of the methods and the competences required, this will call for the involvement of a multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary team.

Here we move into a territory that is also often considered research for and on the arts, rather than research in the arts.42 But the orientation towards science does not have to be limited to serviceability and contemplation. As was the case with the other archetypes we previously discussed, the research plan will clarify the relationship between the various positions, and bring the informative, reflective and experimental components in line with the research question and the researcher’s input.

This continuum of perspectives brings to the fore some of the options provided by the relation between artistic practice and research methods, as well as giving insight into the way that practice can refuel itself with new understandings, opportunities and material realisations. The interaction between discourse and practice is the key to keeping these options resilient, open and dynamic. Especially at the dawn of the discipline, meta-practical and scientific-philosophical contemplations on method in artistic research played a dominant and steering role, but more and more artistic researchers join the conversation, drawing on their own practice and presenting practice-oriented methodologies that move freely along that continuum.

The texts in frames 1 and 2 zoom in on two examples of perspectives on method and methodology that arose from artistic research practice and take that practice as their subject area. For the continuation of our journey it is important to note that the creation of both models in itself already indicates that artistic researchers see the potential and the value of reflecting on and deploying research methods as ‘ways’ and stimuli to gain new knowledge or to arrive at new artistic insights or constellations. In addition, we can observe that, though they have ties to existing disciplinary approaches to method – as can be found in the humanities and in the natural and social sciences – they nevertheless also feel the need to rethink them. Paulo de Assis, a pianist, composer and researcher, takes as his starting point an experimental setting that is common in the natural sciences, but he specifies it and remodels it as a creative ‘machine’ that transforms ‘objects of aesthetic appreciation’ into ‘objects of and for thought’.43 Likewise, Falk Hübner, who is a composer, theatre maker, researcher and educator, works with existing insights regarding knowledge creation (based on network theory and posthumanist philosophy) only to create a whole new, practice-specific and flexible configuration. Significantly, both examples offer the possibility to dismantle and reorganise traditional dogmas and the often hierarchical relations between actors, things and activities. We can also identify a connection to emergence in both cases. Assis does not focus on clear and well-formulated research questions; rather, he trusts that new questions and configurations will emerge along the way. For Hübner, in turn, emergence is part and parcel of the research design itself: new circumstances could crop up ‘along the road’ and give rise to new methods or new designs. These unknown factors are given a voice in the design itself.

Frame 1: Paulo de Assis’ experimental systems

In Logic of Experimentation: Rethinking Music Performance through Artistic Research, Paulo de Assis lays out a generic scenario for conducting artistic research. Assis employs a model in which knowledge does not correspond to discovering or recognising something that precedes a certain given, but rather to something that is created and results from a thought process.44 For Assis, this thought process is always accompanied by an encounter between ‘something’ and ‘something else outside of it’,45 leading to unexpected reconfigurations of materials, connections and functions. This thought is also prevalent in the work of science historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger:

The minds of inventors and scientists, much like those of artists, are not oriented toward recognizing what exists; they ‘turn more upon future possibilities, whose speculations and combinations obey an altogether different rule of order, described here as a linked progression of experiments composing a formal sequence’.46

Figure 2: Paulo de Assis’ experimental cycle.

To generate new possibilities, Assis does not rely primarily on a research question, but rather on ‘machines for making the future’;47 it is this experimental setting that initiates and stimulates the thought and creation process. Assis refers to Rheinberger’s observations with regard to inventions in science, more specifically in molecular biology, in which everything revolves around an ‘experimental system’, the smallest functional research unit, and an environment made up of tools and technical objects that are put in place to address questions that cannot be clearly formulated in advance. This underlines the central importance of method: the driving force behind the invention of both concepts and new artistic configurations will be the method rather than a well-defined research question. The model deployed by Assis involves the creation of an experimental environment in three distinct movements: in a first, archaeological phase, Assis collects sources, documents and ‘things’48 in the conventional manner, all pertaining to the issue he is focusing on. In a second phase, ‘things’ are selected, isolated and subjected to historiographical, analytical and comparative research (‘genealogy’), to be subsequently presented in an artistic practice and through new configurations and arrangements, thus triggering a problematisation phase. This problematisation can, in turn, become part of a new experimental cycle (see figure 2)49 .

Frame 2: Design and emergence in Falk Hübner’s network

Drawing on his experience in the field, Falk Hübner has developed a model that offers opportunities for reflection on both research strategy and the development of context-specific and project-inherent methods from diverse perspectives and practices (‘common ground’). The model’s generative aspect – when it comes to research design – and its reflective potential – in coaching and feedback processes – are embedded in several specific perspectives or lenses that operate on three interacting levels (see figure 3).

Figure 3: A visualisation of Hübner's Common Ground model. It also shows the fluid transition and overlap between research strategy and research methods.

On the level of research strategy, Hübner posits three core elements: 1) Collecting methods that are closely related to both the topic and the research question(s) – without, however, linking them in a hierarchical structure; 2) Structuring the methods to create ‘a flow of data’ – methods can be arranged in a linear sequence, but also run in parallel or interact via feedback loops; and 3) Spending time with activities and objects – here as well, the relationship between time, quality and ethics comes to the fore.

On the level of research method, which corresponds to the interior of the model, Hübner formulates an alternative to traditional methods and forms of knowledge gathering. Here, method is redefined as a flexible network of human and non-human entities, activities, documentation, (forms of) individual or collective reflection and possible types of knowing, experiencing or learning as the outcome of a certain method. To build methods ‘from scratch’ – as opposed to using existing methods, including the predefined types of knowledge that are associated with, and generated by, those methods – several specific questions are posed: Which actors and objects will be part of the method, and in what role? Which specific activities will take place? Which forms of documentation are appropriate? How will we process the data? What kind of knowledge are we looking for?

When applying the model, the last level one comes across is emergence. In this context, emergence functions as a powerful force in the research process that opens up room for events, processes and insights that, often unexpectedly, arise during the research process and thereby help determine the initial starting points and influence the further course of the research. These unexpected elements are part and parcel of almost any research, but most theories on research design tend to gloss over them. The relationship between emergence and the non-hierarchical network thinking we discussed before is, in a way, intrinsic: on each of the model’s levels, there are initiatives that could release forces that impact the overall design.

The act of dissolving and ‘digesting’50 existing nutritious patterns in research, and feeling the need to be flexible and to continually consider or launch new perspectives on creating and applying research instruments brings us to the third and final stage, which takes place in the fertile valley of artistic research and overlooks the various contributions to this special issue.

Stage 3: the valley of artistic research

This special edition of FORUM+ offers a rich palette of methods, procedures and strategies that can be made to converse with the more generic discourse that we outlined above. Thanks to their intrinsic multilayeredness, the contributions allow for diverse perspectives, more in particular on the methods themselves (which methods, procedures and strategies are used, and how do they operate?) as well as on the way these methods are contemplated, what tone of voice they reveal and in what form they are being written about. We consider these different layers ‘incubators’ and hope this is also how they will strike the reader.

In the first contribution, Adilia Yip develops an overarching perspective on methodology. As both a marimba performer and a researcher, she regards method as a ‘constellation of things and practices’. Starting from reflections on the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, she connects these things (thoughts, contemplations, artefacts, experiences, theories, and so on) in a performative context by means of practices. Methodologically, her contribution presents a modus operandi to arrive at, and reflect on, a justification of methods by means of a reduction of ‘the things themselves’ and a discussion of prejudices – both about the way that has been mapped out and the researcher’s subjective background.

The next three contributions illustrate several specific methods with case studies. Researcher and carillonneur Esther Schopman shows how a research method from another research discipline – the qualitative social sciences, in this case – can be of value to an artistic research plan. Stimulated Recall Method (SRM) is an umbrella term for introspective and reflective research that tries to evoke the thoughts someone experienced during a certain event by having him or her watch a video recording of that event. The method is not yet widely used in artistic research, though it would be perfectly suited for it. After all, it provides a way to articulate and make explicit all those processes, questions, choices and other elements that are implicit in any practice, and to use that unique data set to initiate a critical reflection and look for resonances with other sources.

In her article, singer-songwriter Ronja Maltzahn explores the hierarchical constellations that may arise during a process of co-creation. Maltzahn presents co-creation as a research method – in addition to being a way of working in an artistic creation process – and uses it as a tool to reflect on her own practice of ‘transwriting’ and multilingual songwriting. Thus, co-creation becomes a collective research method.

The way in which visual artist Manju Sharma puts forward her methods in relation to her methodology points to an integrated perspective on methods and research in general rather than to the creation of separate research projects. She deploys a kaleidoscopic repertoire of methods that serve the goal of detecting and laying bare hidden story lines and voices by means of her own practice, and connecting them to the world through the work of art:51 personal elements – which often also imply a certain ethical position – are not only brought to the surface but ‘returned’ to society through the work of art, thereby creating new meaning. Sharma’s approach of giving room to the personal voice aligns her with phenomenological and auto-ethnographic methodologies.

These three specific examples of how methods can be used are followed by four contributions that offer reflections on the research process. In “Five reflections”, Hannah Van Hove touches on a few questions about working with language as a methodological tool. She discusses the role of doubt in motivating and justifying one’s own research, the bodily and performative aspect of archival research and the need to regard writing as a natural part of doing research. Van Hove’s second ‘reflection’ is devoted to the tension between planning/design and the emergent elements of a research effort, thus resonating with Marcel Cobussen’s editorial piece as well as with some thoughts that emerge in this article: how can we be as precise as possible in our research while nevertheless remaining open to not-knowing?

Visual artist and performer Carolina Bonfim gives the reader an insider’s perspective on the process of her doctoral research focused on the body as a living archive. Using various media such as photography, performance and text, she tries to capture, archive and understand other people’s body movements. As her observation spot for Ninety movements on TECHNOGYM G6508D, she chose a gym, and an important part of this research project took place on a treadmill. While Bonfirm was observing other bodies, she also participated in the gym programme, moving – thanks to this embodied activity – towards an ethnographic approach characterised by ‘asking questions and participating’52 and by prolonged exposure to the context at hand.

Violin player Marco Fusi, in turn, elaborates on the design of the process in his doctoral research on the performance practice of composer Giacinto Scelsi. The research is not only relevant to his own artistic practice, but also aims to offer current and future generations of Scelsi interpreters ‘a performance practice, informed by knowledge of [Scelsi’s] creative habits, improvisatory skills, compositional routine, and collaboration with performers’. It is interesting to see how Fusi describes his methodology by using Hübner’s Crafting Methods model (see above) and giving his own unique interpretation of it. He takes the ‘activities’, ‘documentation’, ‘reflection’ and ‘new knowledge’ categories out of their original network context and implements them as temporal components of his methodology. This enables Fusi to not only divide his research into two temporal phases, but also to describe and explain the different research approaches in these two main phases: a more musicological-historical approach in the first phase, which leads to a ‘pivotal point’ at which creative tools can be created to work with – to ultimately arrive at an approach to playing Scelsi’s music that, though using new means, comes closer to the intended performance practice.

Finally, writer and filmmaker Joeri Verbesselt allows the reader to experience a ‘method in action’. His practice is part of a series of experimental writing methods. Because Verbesselt’s method coincides with the format of writing about method, it gives the reader a radical insight into his process. He uses a powerful metaphor to describe his experimental method – cannibalism – and lets it run its metaphorical and associative course. In a next step, he puts the issue in a theoretical and historical context, ending up with a ‘conceptually enriched metaphor’ that he then continues to work with. Thus, the author creates a fascinating flow that can be regarded as ‘method in itself’. Content-wise, Verbesselt takes a pluralistic approach to a myriad of sources to arrive at a result that is personal and that can at the same time find its way into, and inspire, the research activities of others; it is an intense learning process in which incoming stimuli are absorbed, processed and sent out into the world again ‘in a new and fertile form’.

In conclusion, and addressing the ‘end point’ or ‘result’ of artistic research projects, the contribution of singer Mariske Broeckmeyer starts from the possible gap between artistic practice and academia – especially with regard to the dissemination of research results. Broeckmeyer argues that the various ways or forms to present the latter are, both artistically and scientifically, a source of creativity, inspiration and development par excellence. In the context of artistic research in particular, forms of dissemination like concerts, exhibitions and lectures can also be used as a method. Broeckmeyer takes it one step further by positing that dissemination as a method is an integral part of continuous development and should be embedded in the process of artistic research and practice. Jan Vromman’s visual essay beautifully illustrates Broeckmeyer’s point. In his essay, Vromman comments on his experience as a documentary maker working with a dancer, showing how reflection and method are inextricably intertwined in the creation of a joint exhibition.

Looking back and looking forward

Both the etymological and philosophical meta-analysis (stage 1) and the discussion of reference points in the field of artistic research (stage 2, including Paulo de Assis’ and Falk Hübner’s models) point to the fact that approaching method as a ‘pathway’ from question to answer – one that solves the question, as it were53 – is too narrow a framework to offer a productive interpretation of the opportunities method holds for artistic research. This impression is confirmed in the third stage by the various contributions. One or more key research questions can indeed lead to a particular research design, but an area that begs for exploration, an artistic work in progress or a certain social/societal/activist purpose might just as well serve as starting points for a research trajectory.

Of course, there are circumstances where it is best for those travelling the research path to move from point A to B purposefully and in a straight line. But the broader potential of method as ‘a path one follows’, both as a metaphor and as a vehicle for knowledge contribution, probably lies in the act of ‘being-on-the-way’. It is those paths – some more walkable or rideable than others; some more highway-like and others resembling meandering and still-to-be-explored trails; some linear and others consisting of a network of paths – that offer the researcher a viewpoint on new data (theorein=to see) and opportunities, that lead to new experiences and new points of view that s/he can report on when s/he gets home.

From that perspective, the purpose of the journey lies not so much in a predetermined destination, but in being intentionally on-the-road. This intentionality is important, because the road is mapped out with an eye to intersubjective agreement, bias countering or awareness, and keeping in mind the broader research design. Thus, it does not exclusively determine the research results. The inherent richness of research arises from a symbiotic relationship between freedom and constraint. Just like in artistic practice, that relationship can be close to improvising, with a couple of starting points or frameworks determining the space that will be occupied. Or there may be a finalised text at play that is very restrictive and imperative, so subtle nuances, clarifications or discoveries are in order.

Another, closely related aspect of this richness regards the openness and cyclicity of research into the arts.

[Artistic research] does not necessarily present objects of conclusive knowledge but rather insists on unfinished thinking, on a permanent fluidity between thoughts and practices, triggering sensible processes as an interplay between conceptual and artistic thinking, between abstract thought and physical engagement with things, materialities, and institutions.54

The fluidity Assis points to and the ‘unfinished thinking’ he insists on can also be found in Hübner’s Common Ground model, where emergent phenomena, unexpected results, are just as inherent to conducting research. Here we should not overlook the difference between emergence in a research context, or the discovery of an unexpected path, and ‘wandering aimlessly through the wilderness’. A research context implies that there is a systematicity to being-on-the-way, because the latter activity is always embedded in a wider research project or design, but depending on the research design and the research question, method as technique can acquire different forms of systematicity and yield surprising results – wittingly or unwittingly.

In conclusion, we believe we are witnessing the gradual ‘maturing’ of artistic research and its methods and vision on methodology: less hampered by the values of a strict paradigm like qualitative or quantitative research, or by unnecessary generalisations such as the claim that all artistic work (or every artistic process) is also research. As in other academic disciplines, insight into artistic research grows and, like Borgdorff asks, puts the artistic aspect centre stage, while also exploring the parallels with non-artistic disciplines and, from there, incorporating the emergent and unexpected at a methodological level, along with what is specific to art.

Within that context, the question of quality inevitably arises. When can a method or strategy be called ‘good’ and which elements justify that qualification? This is not so much about an ultimate judgment, but rather about a question we have to face within the field of artistic research at some point, particularly because of the enormous diversity and breadth of topics and approaches, which hampers and in some cases even impedes a traditional way of comparing (for instance in terms of validity and objectivity). The question of quality can be answered in the direction of agreement, transparency or practical verification, but is, to a certain extent, also related to questions about dissemination. It is crucial that we disseminate research – including its method – in order to be able to engage in the bigger ‘conversation’,55 to open artistic research up for criticism and give others the chance to make further use of it.

Opening up such a space for dialogue has been the motivation behind this new FORUM+ issue. This allows us to return now to the sun-soaked garden where Marcel Cobussen dreamed about a future for method in artistic research. Our hefty hike through the undulating landscape where discourse and practice meet shows that artistic researchers face that future with inventiveness, character, thinking power, devotion as well as rebellious decisiveness where needed, not only by seizing the sometimes radically innovative opportunities that method and research bring to an artistic context, but also by exploring new pathways, pondering territorial expansions and creating tools that are specific to the discipline. As explorers of this space, we found challenging passages and signposts dotting the road between dream and deed, but no insurmountable formal or practical obstacles that could prevent method in artistic research from having a fruitful and interesting future.


Falk Hübner

is a composer/theatre maker, researcher and educator. He teaches research methods at the University of the Arts Utrecht (HKU), where he has also been directing the postdoctoral research project on research methodology called Common Ground. Research Practice, Philosophy and Ethics since 2019. In addition to his activities at the HKU, Hübner works in Arnhem as a research supervisor at the ArtEZ Master’s in Music Theatre. He is also the director of research and writing at the ArtEZ Master Artist Educator, a master’s programme that takes a radical view on art as conflict transformation.


Joost Vanmaele

is coordinator and member of the teaching staff at docARTES, an international and inter-university PhD programme for practice-based research in musical arts that is managed by the Ghent-based Orpheus Institute. In 2017, he earned his doctorate from the Academy for Creative and Performing Arts in Leiden with a thesis titled The Informed Performer: Towards a Bio-Culturally Informed Performers’ Practice.



  1. “Method, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, June 2020, www.oed.com/view/Entry/117560. Last consulted on 12 June 2020; Borgdorff, Henk. The Conflict of the Faculties: Perspectives on Artistic Research and Academia. Leiden University Press, 2012, pp. 49-50; Meelberg, Vincent. Understanding Methodologies. 2019. www.edx.org/course/artistic-research-in-music-an-introduction.
  2. ‘In other words, all those methods which are used by the researcher during the course of studying his research problem are termed as research methods’. Kothari, C.R. Research Methodology: Methods & Techniques. New Age International (P) Ltd., Publishers, 2004, pp. 4-5.
  3. Kothari, p. 8.
  4. Performative research was introduced by Brad Haseman in 2006 as a ‘third paradigm’ besides quantitative and qualitative search, to do justice to the research done in practice and by researchers within the practice, whenever traditional quantitative or qualitative research methods prove insufficient as research tools.
  5. Tom Wilson quoted in Nelson, Robin. Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, p. 98.
  6. Gabriel, Deborah. 2011. Methods and Methodology. deborahgabriel.com/2011/05/13/methods-and-methodology/#comment-528, last consulted on 11 June 2020.
  7. This image is a new version of the model Hübner presented during his talk Common Ground. Materials, Methods, Methodology. Utrecht, HKU, 14 November 2019; and Ghent, Orpheus Institute, 20 December 2019.
  8. See for example Feyerabend, Paul. Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. London: NLB, 1975; or Manning, Erin. “Against Method”. Non-Representational Methodologies: Re-Envisioning Research, ed. Phillip Vannini, Routledge, 2015, pp. 52-71. See also Zeynep Kubats review of Non-Representational Methodologies in its entirety, i.e. including Manning’s text in FORUM+ voor onderzoek en kunsten | for researcht and arts, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 86-87.
  9. Heidegger, Martin, & Manfred S. Frings (ed.). Parmenides (Freiburger Vorlesung Wintersemester 1942/43). V. Klostermann, 1982, pp. 87 and 97.
  10. Oki-Suga, Mai. “An Invitation from Plato: A Philosophical Journey to Knowledge.” Paths of Knowledge: Interconnection(s) between Knowledge and Journey in the Graeco-Roman World, ed. Chiara Ferella & Cilliers Breytenbach, Edition Topoi, 2018, p. 95.
  11. The idea of theoria as a journey cannot be found in the works of for instance Plato and Philip of Opus, who focus on the actual moment of contemplation. See Nightingale, Andrea Wilson. Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in Its Cultural Context. Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 71.
  12. Nightingale, pp. 3-4. A final element that ties into this is that the theōrós or traveller does not only make observations on his journey, but also undergoes a transformation himself. The transformation leads to a certain estrangement from his own community at home that is partially responsible for the gap between theory and practice that opens up further on in the course of history.
  13. Liddell & Scott Greek Lexicon (LSJ) www.perseus.tufts.edu.
  14. Plato. The Republic. Edited by G. R. F. Ferrari, Translated by Tom Griffith, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.3. (Plat. Pol. 1.328d-e).
  15. Plato, 2000, p. 242. (Plat. Pol. 7.533c).
  16. Nightingale, p. 110.
  17. LSJ, G-I: ‘of community or participation’.
  18. Wolin, Sheldon S. “Max Weber: Legitimation, Method, and the Politics of Theory.” Political Theory, vol. 9, no. 3, 1981, pp. 401-424.
  19. Such as logic (prior analytics) and deduction (posterior analytics).
  20. Bacon, Francis. The New Organon. Ed. Lisa Jardine & Michael Silverthorne, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 9.
  21. Stichweh, Rudolph. “History of Scientific Disciplines.” International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Ed. Neil J. Smelser & Paul B. Baltes, 1st ed., Elsevier, 2001, pp. 13727-13731.
  22. Coessens, Kathleen, et al. The Artistic Turn: A Manifesto. Leuven Univ. Press, 2009, p. 44.
  23. See for instance Lesage, Dieter. “Against the supplement. Some reflections on artistic research”. FORUM+ voor onderzoek en kunsten | for research and arts, vol. 24, no. 1, Feb. 2017, pp. 4-11.
  24. Kant, Immanuel. Kritik der Urteilskraft, §46.
  25. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of the Power of Judgment. Edited by Paul Guyer, Translated by Paul Guyer and Matthews, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 187-188.
  26. Kant, 2000, p. 196.
  27. See Vanmaele, Joost. The Informed Performer: Towards a Bio-Culturally Informed Performers’ Practice. (PhD dissertation). Leiden University, 2017, pp. 85-86. hdl.handle.net/1887/59504.
  28. Adam, Louis. Méthode De Piano Du Conservatoire. Paris: L’Imprimerie du Conservatoire Impérial de Musique, 1806, pp. 5-6.
  29. Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. Méthode ( Arts | Science). University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (autumn 2017 ed.), p.10:460, encyclopedie.uchicago.edu, last consulted on 28 July 2020.
  30. See Brubaker, Bruce. “Questions Not Answers: The Performer as Researcher.” Dutch Journal of Music Theory (Special Issue, Practice-Based Research in Music), vol. 12, no. 1. See also Arlander, Annette, et al., ed. Performance as Research: Knowledge, Methods, Impact. Routledge, 2017; or Nelson, Robin. Practice as Research in the Arts. Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  31. See FORUM+, vol. 26, no.1, 2019, an edition on Drawing as a method.
  32. See for example Dunleavy, Patrick (2014). “Storyboarding Research: How to Proactively Plan Projects, Reports and Articles From the Outset.” blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/10/31/storyboarding-research-dunleavy/, last consulted on 12 June 2020.
  33. See Marco Fusi’s contribution in FORUM+ voor onderzoek en kunsten | for research and arts, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 54-60.
  34. In Künstlerische Forschung. Ein Handbuch, which was published in 2015 by Badura et al. (see the review in FORUM+ voor onderzoek en kunsten | for research and arts, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 90-91.), we can find additional examples of discipline-specific artistic practices, like installing, staging, working as a collective, exhibiting, composing, rehearsing, translating, singing and publishing. These practices stem from various artistic disciplines and acquire a new function or break new territory in the context of artistic research. See also Gray, Carole. “Inquiry through Practice: Developing Appropriate Research Strategies.” carolegray.net/Papers%20PDFs/ngnm.pdf, last consulted on 28 July 2020.
  35. Bolt, Barbara. “Artistic Research A Performative Paradigm?” Parse Journal, vol. 3, 2016, p. 137.
  36. Hannula, Mika, et al. Artistic Research: Theories, Methods and Practices. Univ. of Gothenburg, Art Monitor, 2005, p. 68.
  37. See Vanmaele, p. 252.
  38. Borgdorff, p. 123.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Mitchell, Claudia, et al. Participatory Visual Methodologies: Social Change through Community and Policy Dialogue. SAGE, 2017, p. 4.
  41. Performance science is a relatively new field of research that focuses on human performance and understanding the fundamental skills and mechanisms that enable performance activities and experiences.
  42. Borgdorff, pp. 37-38.
  43. Assis, Paulo de. Logic of Experimentation: Rethinking Music Performance through Artistic Research. Leuven University Press, 2018, p. 115.
  44. See also Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari. Qu'est-ce Que La Philosophie? Minuit, 1991.
  45. Assis, p. 14.
  46. Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube. Stanford University Press, 1997, p. 80. (Quoting Kubler, George. The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things. Yale University Press, 1962, p. 85.)
  47. Rheinberger, p. 33.
  48. See also Adilia Yip’s contribution to FORUM+ voor onderzoek en kunsten | for research and arts, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 17-22, in which things are an essential starting point for thinking about methodology.
  49. Adapted from Assis, p. 110.
  50. ‘Digesting’ refers to a method Francis Bacon attributes to the bee: ‘The way of the bee is in between: it takes material from the flowers of the garden and the field; but it has the ability to convert and digest them.’ Bacon, Francis. The New Organon. Ed. L. Jardine & M. Silverthorne. Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 79. (Originally published in 1620).
  51. ‘A means of finding hidden narratives and how to keep the personal narrative related to the world’ in Sharma, Manju. "Unpacking the self. Autobiography as a means to find hidden narratives." FORUM+ voor onderzoek en kunsten | for research and arts, vol. 27, no. 3, p. 34.
  52. Madden, Raymond. Being Ethnographic. A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Ethnography. Sage, 2017, p. 44.
  53. Leaving questions open is an important theme in Blanchot, Maurice. “La question la plus profonde.” L’entretien infini, Gallimard, 1969, pp. 12-34.
  54. Assis, p. 13.
  55. See also Verschaffel, Bart. “The conversation of mankind: Herman De Dijn over de universiteit en de geesteswetenschappen.” Universiteit en beleid, vol. 13, no. 2, 1999, pp. 15-17.