It is already some time ago that I presented a rough outline of the concept of my long term ongoing project “Artistic Research as Integrative Practice”, in November 2017 at the Protean Musician conference in Oslo. During the first weeks of this academic year, in September 2018, I had the chance to deliver a few lectures in which I could take the next step.
The essential point in Oslo was to frame the two overarching concepts of the project: the contemporary hybrid practice of musicians, and the 21st Century Skills as essential concept for being able to fully participate in our 21st Century society (see here for the blog post on the conference). In this post I make one further step and share some ideas on the understanding of research when framed as integrative practice. The theoretical-conceptual substantiation of these elements still has to be done; what you are reading is in process and relatively rough, yet at the same time grounded in my daily practice of making, thinking and teaching. This is also how I present the different elements to students, with a primary means to inspire, to spark ideas and exchange, rather than giving a coherent conceptual outline grounded in a scholarly discourse. I strongly believe that this should happen more, both in the contexts of education as well as academia: On the one hand, thoughts that are still in process can be explored not only alone, but primarily with others; and on the other hand it is fascinating to make students an active part of this exchange, and by this empower them and encourage ownership in current debates and developments.
The main point of the idea of Artistic Research as Integrative Practice is that research is not something one does next to the main professional activities. Research, instead, can be understood as a perspective, and practiced as a habit from which any professional activities can be carried out. The point of departure is that the often scattered, extremely diversified activities of a hybrid professional identity can be seen as nodes in a network, in which research is seen as a “hub” that connects all of these different nodes. Research does not necessarily need to be a distinct activity in this network (however, it could be – “I am working on my research today.” – see the hashtag #PhDweekend on Twitter to see what I mean), but more of a habit and process how to carry out these different activities and how to interconnect them in one’s own professional identity (see the slide 6 and 7 “Hybrid Practice” of the previously mentioned presentation in Oslo).
In short, I understand doing research as an investigative activity and process, from which the student/artist/professional can work, think, develop and design. Research is then more of an attitude, behavior and habit that encompasses all aspects of the professional identity: fully integrated rather than a thing one does next to other work (or, as for some students, next to the “real” work such as performing or composing). I see the activity, behavior and habit of doing research as a central element in the network of the diversified activities of a hybrid professional practice, as an element that connects all of these different activities of the network: Composing can be connected to, and used in teaching, which in turn might connect to giving workshops, or feed back into the conceptual thinking regarding composing. Obviously these connections happen very often anyways, such as giving workshops will profit from earlier teaching experience. However, when these connections are made through research as a form of a habit, first, more exemplification and reflection is possible that ultimately results in much deeper learning. Second, particularly the connection between less obvious activities can facilitate unexpected connections, which might produce entirely new forms of practice, reflection, understanding and learning.
From pyramids to networks
The understanding that the different activities of a hybrid professional identity form a network resonates with the work of Dutch philosopher Henk Oosterling. He argues that, as a participatory and networked society at large, we have to abandon the understanding of pyramids (bottom up, top down) and start thinking in networks. For Oosterling, members of society are not autonomous, but nodes in a network, cross-linked and relational autonomous.
In music, especially in classical music, different professional profiles are traditionally often understood or perceived as some form of a pyramid, which translates to a hierarchy: Performing as a solo musician (in classical music) is seen as the top of the pyramid (in the case of performers), followed by working as a leader (concert master or leader of other sections) in a symphony orchestra, and by playing chamber music. After this playing as a regular member of the orchestra, and then, after quite some empty space, teaching comes, followed by working as a music teacher at secondary schools working as a music therapist. Of course I am terribly exaggerating here, but I do this just to make the point clear (however, try asking a third or fourth year classical music student to join an ensemble with students from the music education department).
Even if this exaggerated hierarchy might be more nuanced, and happening more unconscious in daily practice, I am sure it is not unfamiliar to many students and teachers in the field of music. Such kind of hierarchy can also be at work in how musicians understand the different activities of their own hybrid identity. Composing and performing are regarded as most important, and as the core of the profession for many, whereas teaching or writing grant applications might be considered less central to this identity, but rather as something necessary to carry out the actual core activities. I do not intend to make a judgment about any of these views. My point is that, by understanding these diversified activities as being part of an essentially non-hierarchical network, with the habit of research and inquiry as a central connection, all of these activities can be linked to each other, to achieve more deepened and sustainable learning and development.
I always feel grateful when I have the possibility to share a concept that it is still in development, especially by presenting for students. I believe not only that the moment of sharing is essential to research, but that specifically sharing the processes and moments in-between, rather than just the final outcomes, facilitates the possibility of feedback, of a mutual conversation; because the subject of discussion is not yet finished. This enables me to test, to review, to revisit, to discover yet unknown layers – and to change.