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Plan S and the Pandemic Pivot

Increasingly, artistic learning and research is conducted in non-academic settings: in galleries, biennale, residencies, art fairs, and – of course – through artistic practice.

Para-academic art schools are perceived to be more personalised, flexible, engaged, accessible and cheaper than HEIs. Their alumni have already achieved many of the key performance indicators of our sector.

To remain relevant in this exploded network of artistic learning, HEI art schools must learn from para-schooling. Contemporary art is a parasite​(Serres, 2007)​; a good host forever seeking an equally good host. Pooling and sharing resources with partners that compliment the art school’s curiosities cultivates a climate in which all communities flourish.

As an SFC-funded charity, ECA must be a democratic intellect for the public benefit, visibly upholding the value of research-led art education, not just for artists, but as a means to develop a learning society.

Research-led Teaching

HEI art schools’ strengths here are the peer-esteem and artistic impact of their alumni and staff research. Emboldened by this, HEI art schools should systematically reframe research per se from the perspective of artistic research.

Tim Ingold argues that:

Research is not a particular thing you do for so many hours each day. It is rather a way of living curiously – that is, with care and attention.

​(Ingold, 2018)​

In this sense, all researchers should take their lead from artists, approaching re-search as a careful, continuous quest driven by curiosity.

Ingold’s vision of research is fundamental to re-imagining the art school’s contribution to knowledge and, in turn, its curriculum design.

This leads me to two correlated observations:

  • Art students learn by doing, starting in the same place as their tutors, and participating in learning alongside them.
  • Peer-esteem emerges from peer-support. We need to be curious about each other’s work.

The residual culture in most European art schools remains motivated more by teaching than by research. To grow and diversify our research culture, research groups need to develop learning and teaching. This means we not only teach our research, we are actively involving students in the research process. Because this is fresh to colleagues and students, the curriculum  provokes curiosity.

The strategic management of resources is here is driven and transformed by what actually makes us curious; emerges from elective affinities rather being superimposed by discipline or kinship.

What we are curious about is what we care for.

Curious Commons

Artistic research isn’t just for artists. Everyone is curious and everyone cares. In 2021, open research became the new norm across the EHEA. A Plan S for artistic research presents a major opportunity in the form of a challenge:

How can the art school common more of its research and educational resources for the public benefit?

As it stands, a lot of art is freely accessible in public contexts.

Open Access additionally offers insight into the ‘workings’ of such research. Organisations such as the Society for Artistic Research lead the way here, creating open platforms that can be used as open educational resources.

Contemporary Art & Open Learning OER Introduction

The courseware for Contemporary Art & Open Learning (see: above) is open access. Students created open distribution frameworks (‘scenes’) to host their open research objects. What students produced for the course, then, formed part of the Art & Learning’s research activities.

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The Pandemic Pivot and Plan S coincided in a perfect storm to ‘disrupt class’ here. Both have transformed student expectations of course provision forever. Porous forms of artistic learning are, thus, a key catalyst for post-Covid recovery.

Porosity means breathing IN and OUT

Art’s sub-disciplines are crucial to its future development. Sub-disciplines are the expanding lungs of artistic practice. Sub-disciplines are entangled and porous, venturing far beyond the boundaries of the art world. For example, think of UWE’s ongoing project on the artist’s book. To do justice to their research question, what is the artist’s book in the 21st century demands an extra-disciplinary approach.

ABTREE altered diagram by Dr Emma Powell, UK http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon/
ABTREE altered diagram by Dr Emma Powell, UK http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon ​(Powell, 2008)​

The challenge here for art education is this:

How do you teach what you don’t know?How do you teach what you don’t know?

The art school doesn’t have to try to teach everything, rather, it needs to carefully curate access to existing methods and resources that support working in less familiar fields.

To facilitate such Fantastic Journeys, the art school’s internal research and educational resources need to be aligned in ways that foster intermediality, extra-disciplinarity and more co-investigation. Sub-disciplinary expansion also means focusing not only on what we teach, but on on how artists learn and on the many different environments they learn in.

Care Ethics

Since difference is fundamental to educational diversity; it must mutually embodied. This requires a more carefully coordinated delegated authority and a care-based ethics. To bring educational diversity to life, all art staff need to be empowered to be visible leaders. To steward our colleagues to visibly lead our respective fields, leadership must nurture staff commitment, curiosity and initiative.

To transform a vision into a practice, good intentions must become good habits. Part of my artistic research – Shift/Work – involves creating workshops wherein peers compose new forms of artistic learning for each other to playtest. Participants shift from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from being passive to being active agents in their learning organisation.

Regularly composing and leading such workshops with colleagues and art students is a proven catalyst to collectively instilling good habits. In art schools, such a method of sharing insight and lending support can afford colleagues regular opportunities to align learning with their research by co-designing and updating the curriculum with students and stakeholders.

In turn, this can make the art school’s wide variety of practices more porous for students and our broader publics, dissolving barriers to learning to ensure that we can all feed our curiosity.


  1. Ingold, T. (2018). Anthropology Between Art and Science: An Essay on the Meaning of Research. Field. http://field-journal.com/issue-11/anthropology-between-art-and-science-an-essay-on-the-meaning-of-research
  2. Powell, E. (2008, October 28). ABTREE altered diagram. What Will Be the Canon for the Artist’s Book in the 21st Century? http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon/
  3. Serres, M. (2007). The Parasite. University of Minnesota Press.
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Neil Mulholland – Plan S and the Pandemic Pivot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. 16.2.2021