New Knowledge : New Art, On Art Research as Creative Process

Art is intrinsically intelligent. Seldom has art been celebrated as rational, and never logical. But art does have its own rationality and its own logic. This is a different mode of intelligence to that of linear thinking. The break from one-dimensional process to visual spatial experience is crucial because it enhances and extends our understanding of intelligence. This is one artist’s account of how it works.

All university disciplines differ from each other – philosophy from business studies – business studies from modern languages – modern languages from the natural sciences – the natural sciences from the social sciences – and the social sciences from philosophy – and philosophy from art. Art is no different from other subjects in its essential difference, but we would do well to understand its difference in the way that many other subjects do, and mystique is no longer sufficient; no matter how well received it may be in the art market. The imaginative, intuitive and unconscious dimensions of art seem mysterious only because we do not understand them. Yet.

As John Chris Jones put it in discussing design in a way that applies equally to art, it is as if some creative methods operate within a black box in which the workings cannot be seen, while other methods take place within a glass box in which the processes are entirely visible (Jones 1970, 1992). Black box processes, such as those based on intuition, chance and visceral intelligence remain to be understood, at least partly, in the fulness of time. Even a little understanding of – or at least operational familiarity with – the intelligence of black box processes complements and challenges the valorising of linearality, logic and transparency of glass box processes. The combination of these two modes is essential to understanding art, design and any wider notion of creativity as they are two dimensions of the one thing.

The essential one-dimensionality of most schooling, in its pursuit of discipline, understood as obedience and socialisation, as against discipline understood as the rigour of a subject in its own terms, does nothing to enhance creativity and a great deal to obstruct it. This point goes to the heart of any endeavour to make schooling creative. The visual-spatial and enigmatic character of experience and the feelings it generates that are necessary to ideation is a different kind of intelligence to thinking. The extensive literature about “creative thinking” is testimony to a pervasive lack of understanding of the viscerality of intelligence and the importance of visual-spatial imagination and chance. So-called “creative thinking” is an oxymoron; you cannot think your way into the imaginative resolution of anything.

The epistemology of art resides not only in knowing what art knows, but also in knowing its distinct ways of knowing. As Gilbert Ryle (Ryle 1949, 2000) identifies, there is a significant distinction between propositional knowledge and operational knowledge; and art knows both. Paul Hirst went on to argue a third form of knowledge, “knowledge of an object” (Hirst 1974) and Louis Arnaud Reid went further to propose “knowing” as a distinct form of knowledge (Reid 1986). Michael Polanyi’s concept of “tacit knowledge” was an invaluable addition to our understanding of art process in the epistemology of art (Polanyi 1958, 1998), while Luce Irigaray’s insight into the embodiment of knowledge being informed by the gender of the body in question contextualises epistemology socially and spiritually as well as physically (see Mulder 1999). In its subject matter and in its intelligent processes, art extends our understanding of human consciousness. This is the value of art. What it is that art knows is the subject matter of works of art, but also how it knows it becomes crucial to the meaning of the subject matter: this is the new knowledge that art makes intelligible: aesthetic knowing.

The epistemology of art has been developing over a long period and the few landmarks I have just selectively mentioned belong to the last six decades. There are more. There is a lot of literature being widely ignored in art education. We would do well to understand what it is that art does and how it does it, for it does do something within patterns of its own imagination and procedure, and the viscerality of taking in information by means of the bodily senses (only one of several ways of understanding the embodiment of knowledge), and does so consistently. To understand this would give us new knowledge of art and new knowledge of knowledge. It might also give us new art.

We need to understand art better, to demystify what artists actually do, as against what they are said to do by the many non-artists who have dominated writing about art. We would do well also to question where the mystified accounts of art come from and in whose interests they are put about. In its intrinsic intelligence, art has a lot to contribute to our understanding of intelligence through the expanded concept of the rational that it facilitates. It also has much to contribute to our understanding of knowledge when we find ourselves knowing what we have come to know through our engagement with our embodied being whether as artist or audience. This way of knowing depends on the bodily organs as much as on the brain, for example on the eye and the hand and the viscera in the case of drawing and the sensitivity of the body to temperature and somatic imagination in the case of colour. This is an engendered knowing; aesthetic knowledge is not just knowledge of beauty. Art involves embodied knowledge (by which I include embodied knowing) as well as abstract thinking. There is no such thing as a mind without a body, something that Ryle describes as a category error, although there is such a thing as a body without a mind: a corpse. Art creates new knowledge of ourselves and our world, and it is that knowledge that creates new art.

It is enlightening to recontextualise the development of art research within the mainstream of C21st art and to valorise the artists voice. In demystifying what artists do the voice of the artist is an indispensable though periodically unreliable source of evidence. The development of art doctorates is one relatively reliable way of giving a platform to the artist’s voice. However, art doctorates seem to have become portrayed as something of a bogey, by way of defence in the context, or tradition, of artistic anti-intellectualism, but the development of studio doctorates should be seen in their own context, a different tradition. As well being part of as the contemporary academic nexus, it is part of the larger movement of an emerging aesthetics of method challenging the aesthetics of style that dominated several centuries of art. This aesthetics of method has been emerging from an explicit cultural preference for process over product in art, notably since the 1940s, though its origins go back far earlier than that, and it gained new emphasis over the last 25 years from the development of art doctoral projects.

The contribution that Studio Art PhD projects make to that larger cultural movement is insight into the creative processes of art and clarity in the language used to discuss them. The demystification of creative process comes out of the explication of research methods that is standard practice in all PhDs. All PhD students are required (in all disciplines) to account for what they have done and how they did it within the range of what was possible and imaginable, and how their methods and methodologies could be of benefit to future researchers. This is the basis for explicit evidence of what artists actually do.

The description and analysis of what artists do in terms of processes of making and doing – art seen from the inside – is not yet widely represented in current thinking about art. Phenomenological perspectives and relational aesthetics are more concerned with the contextual situation of art than its ways of coming into the world: making and doing. The theoretical basis of self-analysis is a problem facing many Studio Art PhD students. The most obvious sources of operational theory in art derive from literature, design and education as much as art. W B Yeats’ concept of the gyre is a clear expression of developmental iteration (Yeats, 2008) and it is reflected in John Chris Jones’ (Jones 1970, 1992) account of divergence, transformation and convergence within a unified creative process. Iteration within “the dialogue with the situation” is key to Donald Schon’s account of how professionals learn in action (Schon 1982), not unlike the later dialogic character of relational aesthetics (Bourriaud 1998), and it is also the foundation of Kolb’s learning cycle (Kolb 1984), which can be readily interpreted as a model for problem solving. More recently, Otto Scharmer in developing leadership theory has borrowed Jones’ account of divergence, transformation and convergence as the basis of his Theory U (Scharmer 2009) though apparently without acknowledgment of source or of the principle of iteration. This tradition of more than one hundred years is an important resource for doctoral students. There is also a great deal of creativity theory that is essentially Modernist in its faith in progressive development. This was the basis of much art theory in the early twentieth century that now seems indigestible when dished up on the table of postmodernism. Deleuze’s notion that difference does not follow from identity as much as identity follows from the patterns of difference that define identity is essentially a new premise for creativity (Deleuze 1956), and one that seems to follow from Gramsci’s concerns with “patterns of formation” in his account of praxis (Gramsci 1929-35). The idea of Creative Difference, by which I mean iterative ways of becoming strategically different from oneself so as to make a difference of significance to others, is my current research interest, and one that may contribute to a framework for the further development of an aesthetics of method. However, this must wait for a subsequent paper for its exegisis.

Creative difference, and these other accounts on which it is based, shifts the emphasis of theorisation of art from the consumer’s point of view (be it that of the connoisseur, critic, collector, semiologist, psychologist or philosopher) to the maker/doer’s point of view, In the fullness of time, as the body of evidence builds – through the continuing proliferation of studio PhDs – this will be a different story of art, telling it from the point of view of the means of production. It is interesting to see the language of art research already proliferating in the professional world of art curation, notably through the active verbs of “enquiring, exploring, questioning, investigating,” and so on.

However, coming out of Romanticism, there is a tradition of mystifying art process that serves the self-aggrandisment of the artist and the exclusivity of the art market in the one gesture. The art market depends on the scarcity of product to maintain price – thus insisting that good artists are few and far between, special individuals unlike the common man – despite what is widely known about universal creativity. This mystification is a necessary condition of the art market’s larger modernist and contemporary mission to provide capitalism with its benchmarks of value. It is as if the illusion central to artistic representation should hold as much for the artist as that which he or she portrays. Picasso is the epitome of this strategy although there are many more contemporary exemplars. He argued against research and in favour of discovery without intent (Picasso 1923), yet a visit to either of the Picasso Museums in Barcelona or Paris demonstrate his rigorous and systematic exploration of themes developed in progressive succession, with each work building on the previous one until some kind of resolution is achieved. Picasso’s process can be seen to be both experimental and exploratory with any discovery hard won. If Picasso’s methods were thought to be accessible to lesser emerging artists then the elevated position of the grand master would have been undermined. Whether Picasso was serving his own vanity and income more or less than captialism’s need for a benchmark of value is a moot point, but one worth considering further. The crucial point is that Picasso was a liar when it came to discussing his process. By contrast, a Classical take on creative process supposes it is knowable and its patterns of understanding open the possibility that what is described may be shared – if Joseph Beuys’s assertion that everyone is an artist is to be accepted. – this becomes an inclusive perspective that has the potential to be of value to art and artists, and to people in other spheres who have an interest in creative process.

In considering the anti-intellectualism as the adversary of the studio doctorate, this distinction of Romantic and Classical sensibilities serves as a useful analytic tool:-

By Romantic in this context I am not referring to an artistic style (such as derived from the gothic) but a rationale. A hegemony in methodology, a paradigm. This is the impulse to honour emotion and its expression, to value disorder as creative chaos and to seek the mysterious in the familiar. The Romantic savours the enigma and celebrates the unknown. This view sees intuition as both unknown and essentially unknowable. This is art as expression and it is essentially and happily anti-intellectual. This is also the sensibility that sees the artist as a special kind of person unlike ordinary people. Even when the principle of universal creativity is allowed as in Beuys’ “everyone is an artist” the exclusivity of the Romantic artist moves up one rank to that of Shaman.

By Classical in this context I again mean a rationale or hegemony in methodology, a paradigm, not a style (such as in Greco-Roman motifs or proportions). This is the impulse to honour curiosity, intelligence and its communication, to value order as progress and progression and to seek the familiar in the mysterious. The Classicist resolves the enigma and seeks enlightenment. This view sees intuition as unknown, yet knowable in the fullness of time. This is art as enquiry, recognising how the intellect is a sibling of the viscera in artistic production. This is also the sensibility that sees the artist as an identity within everyone, not just on the level of potential advocated by Beuys, but also in the reality that all children are artists in making drawings as a crucial part of their personality development and that all children (or most anyway) grow up to become adults, thus adding lived reality to what Beuys meant in his assertion of potential.

I think proponents of the Romantic perspective, in their ant-intellectualism, may see themselves as purists in opposition to the intrusions of the academy. This is the traditional position of radical conservatism that once opposed the avant-garde and may now oppose the new in the name of the avant-garde: an anti-academic point of view often put about by artists who depend on the academy for their main source of income. This is the voice of the art market. If this is true then the Classicists in their independence from commerce might be better seen as the purists.

I suspect, however, much of the opposition to studio art doctorates in America derives not from an intrinsically anti-intellectual position nor an intellectual position such as a preference for Romantic over Classical sensibility, but from self-interest in terms of credentialisation. The fear is that faculty would have to go back to school to get the new terminal degree, even though that is an unlikely eventuality. However, that is another story; outside the realm of academic conjecture concerning knowledge in art, and therefore the subject for a totally different conference session to this.


This paper was presented at the session “Artmaking as New Knowledge: Research, Practice, Production,” chaired by Derek Conrad Murray and Soraya Murray, University of California, Santa Cruz, at the CAA 99th Annual Conference, New York 2011

For related papers by this author, see:

Jones, Timothy Emlyn (2002, 2005a), “The PhD in Art & Design,” Comhar, ELIA Biennial Conference, Dublin 2010, published in ELIA (2005), European Journal of Higher Arts Education Issue 1,

Jones, Timothy Emlyn (2005b), “AMethod of Search For Reality: Research and Research Degrees in Art and Design”inPrinted Project No 4: The New PhD in Studio Art. edited by James Elkins, Sculptor’s Society of Ireland, 2005

Jones, Timothy Emlyn (2005c), “AMethod of Search For Reality”in Thinking Through Art, edited by Lin Holdridge and Tracy Mcleod.

Jones, Timothy Emlyn (2009) “Research and Research Degrees in Art and Design,” in Artists With PhDs, New Academia Publishing, LLC, edited by James Elkins


Bourriaud, Nicholas (1998), Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Reel

Deleuze, Gilles (1956), “Bergson’s Conception of Difference”, in Desert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974), translated Mike Taormina, MIT Press

Gramsci, Antonio (1929-35), Selections from Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, edited and translated by Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971,

Hirst, Paul (1974), Knowledge and the Curriculum, Routledge

Jones, John Chris (1970, 1992) Design Methods, Van Rheihold Nostrand (2nd Edition 1992), with a preface by this author (no relative)

Kolb, D. (1984) Experiential learning, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ

Mulder, Anne-Claire (1999), Divine Flesh, Embodied Word: Incarnation as a Hermeneutical Key to a Feminist Theologian’s Reading of Luce Irigaray’s Work, Pallas

Picasso, Pablo ( 1923), “Statement, 1923” in Chipp, Herschel.B (1968), Theories of Modern Art, University of California Press, Berkely and Los Angeles, with Cambridge University Press, p. 263

Polanyi, Michael (1958, 1998), Personal Knowledge, Routledge

Ryle, Gilbert (1949, 2000) The Concept of Mind, Penguin

Reid, Louis Arnaud (1986), Ways of Understanding and Education, Heinemann

Scharmer, Otto (2009) Theory U, Berrett Koehler

Schon, Donald (1983, 1991), The Reflective Practitioner, Ashgate Arena

Yeats, William Butler, (2008), The Major Works: including poems, plays, and critical prose, Edited by Edward Larrisy, Oxford World’s Classics. See also