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Debate on Artistic Research
Cefedem Rhône-Alpes & PAALabRes Collective
November 2, 2015


Foreword and participants

Definition of Research
The Institutions of Research, The Institution of Research

The Models of Research in Tension

1. Relationships to other Disciplinary Fields
2. Theory and Practice
3. The Status of the Written Text

Artistic Research – Avenues to Reflect

1. Research through the Elaboration of the Artistic Act
2. Alternative Research Models
3. Administrative Obstacles
4. The Question of Research Spaces and Publications

Widening Research

1. Research before the Doctorate
2. Research before and outside Higher Education
3. Research outside the Norms

Post-scriptum to the debate session: PaaLabRes, debate on “Artistic Research”



On November 2, 2015, the Study Center of the Cefedem Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes[1] and the Collective PaaLabRes[2] organized a discussion session on questions related to artistic research. The theme of the imaginative and dynamic evening, was based on two questions: how to define, conceive, develop artistic research? And why?

Two texts were proposed to the participants before the debate: a) a summary in French of the book by Kathleen Coessens, Darla Crispin and Anne Douglas, The Artistic Turn, A Manifesto (CRCIM, Orpheus Institute, Ghent, Belgium, distributed by Leuven University Press, 2000); b) Jean-Charles François, “La question de la recherché artistique dans le cadre de l’enseignement supérieur musical” (“The Question of Artistic Research in Higher Music Education”), November 2014 (unpublished).

Were present in the debate:

Jean-Louis Baillard, writer, director of research at the School of Architecture in Saint-Etienne.
Sophie Blandeau, collective Polycarpe.
Samuel Chagnard, musician, teaches at the Cefedem AuRA, member of PaaLabRes.
Marion Chavet, visual artist.
Dominique Clément, clarinetist, composer, adjunct director of the Cefedem AuRA.
Jean-Charles François, percussionist, composer, retired director of the Cefedem AuRA and member of PaaLabRes.
Hélène Gonon, lecturer in Educational Sciences at the Cefedem AuRA.
Laurent Grappe, electro-acoustic musician, member of PaaLabRes.
Aurélien Joly,jazz musician and improvisator.
François Journet, administrator of the Cefedem AuRA.
Gilles Laval, musician, director of the Rock department at the ENM of Villeurbanne and member of PaaLabRes.
Noémi Lefebvre, in charge of the Study Center at the Cefedem AuRA, writer and researcher in Political Sciences, member ofe PaaLabRes.
Valérie Louis, lecturer in Educational Sciences at the CNSMD of Lyon, formerly Freinet primary teacher.
Ralph Marcon, in charge of the Documentation Center at the Cefedem AuRA.
Jacques Moreau, pianist, Director of the Cefedem AuRA.
Pascal Pariaud, musician, clarinet teacher at the ENM of Villeurbanne and member of PaaLabRes.
Didier Renard, professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques of Lyon, director of a laboratory at the CNRS.
Eddy Schepens, researcher in Educational Sciences, formerly adjunct director of Cefedem AuRA, chief editor of Enseigner la Musique.
Nicolas Sidoroff, musician, teaches at the Cefedem AuRA and member of PaaLaBbRes
Gérald Venturi, musician, saxophone teacher at the ENM of Villeurbanne, member of PaaLabRes.



The concert that serves only to concert, who does it concern? Concentrate! Because one centers the concert on the works served “in concert”, They have to be conserved in served concerts, they are serried in severe terms and serve only for the purpose of concerts. To serve works in concerts in front of consorts, serves to conserve, and to converse, but the conversation is already a concerted activity for those concerned, a concerting concern. The concerting concern serves to concentrate oneself on the concerts served to consorts, the concerting concern is the raison d’être of the concert, it serves in gathering consorts in concert of concepts more or less disconcerting. The concerting and disconcerting concern concentrates action and reflection. The concerting and disconcerting concern is the research on action and reflection. The concerting and disconcerting concern is the research on action and reflection about the concerting concert and object of concerting actions. The research is not concerned in conserving converts, but it conserves, it converses on the health of concerts served as concerting concern. The research without which there is no higher education, the research concerns us.[3]

In order to open up the debate, a certain number of questions were formulated by Noémi Lefebvre in the name of the Study Center of the Cefedem AuRA, and by Jean-Charles François in the name of PaaLabRes:

  • Even if the European reform of higher education “LMD” gives a strong institutional framework, with injunctions made to conservatories and art schools to develop some research, the intention of this debate is to formulate the problems as if we were starting from nothing. Thus, two aspects of artistic research need to be distinguished: a) the real content of actions, what is happening within the given different groups and b) where can it be happening, to what extent are these actions allowed and recognized by institutions.
  • It is therefore important in this debate to put forward the following questions: a) “who speaks” about artistic research today? b) “from where does one speak”, from which institutional context or from outside the institutions? And c) “in what circumstances does one speak” about it? Who has something to say about it? Artists? Political representatives?
  • Another dimension of artistic research concerns the fact that many people who carry out artistic research do not speak about it, either because they do not feel the need to, or because they deliberately refuse to. Who are they exactly? Where do they work, these anonymous researchers? What are their objects? What are the ideas linked to their research acts?

In this first series of questions, a strong tension appears between on the one hand the institutional frameworks, what they allow and do not allow, and on the other hand the real topography of the actions realized here and there claiming the term of research, or also the more frequent number of actions that do not pretend to deserve such qualification:

  • Is there then an obligation to develop artistic research as an answer to the requirements imposed by the European or national instances? Nothing would be more absurd than to simply obey the injunctions to conform to a single model of higher education, if the conditions are not fulfilled in a given discipline to create a meaningful context.
  • The question of the different disciplinary fields is complicated by the fact that they are not stable entities, they constantly evolve. There is a tendency to consider the disciplinary fields as fixed objects. In these conditions of instability how does one contemplate the question of the signification? If it is possible to envision research as seeking to find sense in actions, the question arises of how to create meaning? How to highlight the meaning of the actions?
  • There is no higher education in a determined field without the presence of a definition of research linked to that domain. Is it really the case? Is it necessary in the artistic domains? Symmetrical question: is it possible to contemplate research outside university study programs that lead to it?
  • Artistic research is considered as concerning in the first instance the elaboration of artistic practices. The still dominant thought is that practice is separated from theory: practitioners do very well what they are doing, they do not have to think about what they do. Higher education is still divided in the mind between professional training on the one hand, and theoretical tracks on the other hand. Are the artists capable of a specific thought when they practice their art?
  • Another strong representation maintains that only those who are placed as onlookers from outside a practice are able to analyze what is at stake in it. The practitioners tend to be blinded by their own objects. In what conditions could the arts practitioners have access to reflection on their own actions?
  • Is artistic research an internal necessity for today’s artistic practices? Does the situation of the artist in society impose on whoever is practicing the arts a capacity to carry out systematic reflection?
  • The question of temporality seems essential. During the 1970s, it is striking to note, musicians had time at hand: the public grants allowed the development of long term projects, the fundamental research was at the center of university activities. Do we have time today? Without a reasonable amount of time, has artistic research any sense?
  • The question of the usefulness of research should be considered in an artistic context that strongly refuses to carry particular utilitarian purposes. What is the purpose of art? But above all what should be the purpose of artistic research? Here there is a subsidiary question: isn’t it a fact that the very notion of research is linked to the concepts of progress and modernity? Would artistic research be yet another way to measure the degree of innovation of a given practice?

In the text that follows, the totality of the persons present participates in the debate. The selected option is to not mention in the text the name of the speakers, and to classify what was said in well-identified chapters. The contradictions that are expressed from time to time in the text reflect a constructive debate respecting the point of view of each participant. The text has been established on the basis of the excellent note-taking by Jacques Moreau in collaboration with Nicolas Sidoroff and François Journet.


Definition of Research

To define the term research is difficult, and consequently even more difficult to define artistic research. Is it a question of any manifestation of a cerebral activity, or of what is well delineated by the framework determined by universities? In the course of elaborating curricula, it is easy to create education cells that can be qualified as “research”. Facing certain courses you think: “in this case it has definitively something to do with research”. We could refer to the doctoral program at the Lyon CNSMD (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse), exclusively modeled on the existing university model. Yet, it is possible to begin to reflect on the notion of research specific to the arts outside the higher education institutions. It is a matter of defining, in the framework of the internal aspects of artistic creation and of its transmission:

  1. What is artistic research?
  2. Who is concerned by it?
  3. How can this type of research exist in social environments?
  4. The places in which it makes sense.
  5. The ways by which it may succeed.

In summary, it is a matter of defining on what basis artistic research is capable of developing larger paradigms, which would justify its legitimacy within higher education. What is the breeding ground on which this legitimacy can be built? And incidentally what is happening in the universities?

The term “research” is perhaps too much loaded with precise references, linked to the professional status of researchers. It can be considered as a false nose for a posture that can be qualified as “reflexive”. The idea of the “reflective practitioner” seems to offer more democratic perspectives, allowing a great number of persons to find in it a framework less imposing than the one implied by the term “research”. This is a posture that anybody can assume as part of his/her activities. This idea is inspired from the work of the American philosopher John Dewey, around the practice of the enquiry that any citizen should be able to carry out in order to develop an awareness of the stakes inherent to a particular field of investigation. The reflexive posture would allow consideration of all the contributive approaches of the diverse artistic practices.

But there is something much more important than a precise definition of what exactly the terms of research or of reflexivity entail: it is the indispensable presence of places, of circumstances, of structures that gather people together, and the presence of production tools the nature of which is necessarily composite, hybrid. The criteria for defining the reflexive or research activities have to be determined after the fact. To start with the very meaning of what research could be seems an inauspicious way to give any result. The most important task is the capacity to assemble – cf. the winemakers’ assemblage or blending – people who are in a reflexive posture, but who work often in a great solitude. How to assemble them together?

Some years ago the French Ministry of Culture organized a conference on artistic research, inviting above all some philosophers, and a few art practitioners, scrupulously avoiding posing the question of teaching and learning the artistic things.[4] What were the criteria developed by these philosophers? It was above all question of confronting the ideas of one chapel in connection with those of other chapels. It did not give us viable tools to proceed further.

It is established that in order to find a place in the actual system of research, there is no other choice than to tackle questions, which in advance have already been resolved. This phenomenon should not be underestimated. To counter this, we should propose the idea of something existing, which is determined in the course of its elaboration. And it is also perhaps for this reason that, with the term of research – taken now in the sense of combat – it becomes important to affirm alternatives to practices that are instituted in some too peremptory manner.


The Research Institutions, the Institution of Research

Should we completely refuse to be situated outside the arbitrary impositions of the LMD process (Europe imposing Licence-Master-Doctorate on all Higher Education) and of its normative institutional injunctions, or on the contrary consider that it is an ideal occasion to tackle the issues of research in order to invent new situations? The Ministry of Culture tends to launch some watchwords without defining what they imply as possible directions to take. This gives an opportunity to take up the ideas in order to adapt them to situations going in a different direction than the intended one.

Two debates should be distinguished: on the one hand the institutional debate that concerns acknowledging activities as legitimate research, allowing to access grants. All institutions have to face the problems of recognition of research. Such debate has nothing to do with the one, on the other hand, which poses the question of the reflexive attitudes that one can have starting from one’s own practices. In the first case, in order for a research activity to be recognized, we are in presence of more and more violent criteria, over which the teachers-researchers have absolutely no control. In the second case, we find pockets of resistance that refuse the arbitrary injunctions of non-pertinent criteria, and then go on to seek alternative processes of gaining legitimacy. To stress the difference between these two debates seems absolutely essential. A book like the Artistic Turn, for example, is written by artists fighting to find a legitimate place in the university while preserving the specificities of their art. This book, however, is very preoccupied with the institutional rationalities for evaluating artistic research, and not enough with an intellectual content, which would be completely independent from them. When we read this book, it is necessary to make a keen distinction between these two positions.

One of the preoccupations of The Artistic Turn is to attempt to position artistic research in relation to the dominant model, which automatically assimilates research to hard sciences and to their criteria of truth. This reduces the reflection to a prebuilt modality, since artistic research has always to be placed within criteria that are elaborated elsewhere. It should be noted that a part of scientific research tries to be inspired by artistic experimental situations.[5] Bringing artistic research closer to that of social sciences, which also has to deal with subjective elements difficult to stabilize, seems a more propitious way to develop the understanding of many things in the domains proper to artistic activities.

Some despair is apparent today among those who work in French higher education. They deplore the recent development of savage evaluation rationales, centered perversely on research in quantitative terms (publications, participation in conferences, quotes in books, etc.), which does not at all go in the direction of an opening of research to the instability of results that cannot be predicted. Research, devoid of its intellectual qualitative content, becomes solely an instrument of normalization, in order to align universities on a single conception and above all in order to hierarchically compare them. The notion of excellence turns into submission to a certain number of injunctions dictated by centralizing policies. This is what allows funding appropriations to take place. Another important injunction concerns the requirement for research to be only occupied with what is considered as useful to society, notably in encouraging establishing privileged relationships with industry and the market place.

These approaches announce the programmed disappearance of Social Sciences and Humanities departments. A certain number of disciplines in the social sciences, literature and arts find themselves caught between the necessity to conform to criteria that are external to their essence and to constantly justify their usefulness to society, which considerably weakens them and directly threatens their existence. Consequently, there is a tendency today in universities to align research on the lowest intellectual educational level. The researchers are therefore strongly encouraged to turn their attention towards practical domains, but this has nothing to do evidently with artistic concerns.

The race for quantitative recognition in research produces also the recourse to “ready-made thinking” and to “ready-made evaluation”, which soon become the obliged pathways to which everybody has to conform and in which many participants find reassuring and comfortable situations. The association of domains that are deemed subjective, such as the arts, with scientific domains that are deemed objective, such as for example the neurosciences, suggests at the same time that research envisioned in this way contributes to the progress of humanity and that it allows the access to undeniable proofs. The scientific method falsely applied to the arts becomes an obligation without which nobody can pretend to claim legitimacy in research.

The injunctions coming from European instances carry with them many constraints, but they have also the merit to open new spaces. In architecture, the doctorate has been put in place only very recently, one does not know yet what it exactly entails. A Canadian attempted to describe what is a thesis in architecture. He studied forty theses and mapped them out according to the elements that orientated the research. This is the kind of approach that creates some openings towards the spaces of creation: how to create your own great book on architecture. On the condition to not fall into the elaboration of a between ourselves sub-culture, as it is often the case when the methods and the language have primacy over the contents. On the condition also to respect the small objects of research, as much as the ones with larger perspectives.

All the same, one has the impression that the race for control could well collapse on itself: with the increase in criterization rationales and a society going ever faster and faster in combining things and matters, have we not arrived at a point of rupture, at the end of a system? By definition, it will be more and more difficult to continue in the same register of normalization and controls, because the system in itself generates a capacity to get out from the boxes, to surpass the imposed frameworks. For reasons of efficiency, and the social issues raised by the system, it is difficult to imagine that the university can continue for a very long time in this way. Even if the technocratic imagination can make these absurd systems last for a very long time, it is conceivable that some dynamic reassessments are about to emerge inside and outside the institutions.


The Models of Research in Tension

1. Relationships to other Disciplinary Fields

Artistic research seems to make sense only in the perspectives in which art is not considered any more as autonomous in relation to the banality of its ordinary environment. To continue to consider art as preserved from the conditions in which it is produced (art for art’s sake), is an ideal that research cannot fulfill. In this posture, the artist does not need to devote attention to research, since this could threaten the purity of the creative act, research in this context should be considered as external to art, it should content itself with the contemplation of its high achievements. Only in perspectives opening enquiries about the way to practice art can one approach in an internal manner the field of artistic research: how do artists and other (human or non-human) beings or entities contributing to artistic practice interact to obtain their results. This central idea of interaction opens the field of artistic reflection to fields such as sociology, psychology, educational sciences, technologies, cultural policies, mingling artistic domains, literature, philosophy, etc. Artistic research seems to make sense if – within artistic practice itself – other elements are contributing, coming from other fields of practice (outside the arts). But in the case in which a disciplinary field outside the arts comes to influence research, it is not normal that the artistic research should conform in all aspects to the rules that apply to the imported discipline.

There is one positive aspect of the process linked to the obligation to develop research in sectors of higher education that until now were oblivious to it: collaborations with other research groups or entities become absolutely necessary. For example, concerning the Schools of Architecture, the corollary of research is a partnership in the framework of the creation of the UMR (Unité Mixte de Recherche, Mixt Unity of Research). A Mixt Unity of Research is a federation of laboratories. The objective is, in order to remedy the difficulty of being confined to ones’ own questions, to look for issues aroused by others, and to build collaborations. The projects involve the presence of funding and partners. For the Schools of Architecture it offers very interesting questions: who should we turn to? Towards the Schools of Architecture? Or towards the researchers who exist in close vicinity, but who are very different, that is Schools of Engineering, University Schools, Schools of the Arts? These partnerships lead to interesting fields. In the Schools of Architecture, the architectural project remains at the center of the study program and is nourished by four domains: engineering science, imagery, arts’ history, and philosophy/ethnology/sociology. This program of study lacks a course on writing. Architecture and writing have things to develop in common, for in research the capacity to write is indispensable.[6] All these issues lead to alterity, within domains that until now were confined to a certain insularity.

2. Theory and Practice

The separation between theory and practice remains a dominant representation in the arts.

Artistic research is thought as being primarily concerned with reflection on practices. In this context, the still dominant idea is that the practice (tacit) domain reserved to artists, remains separated from the theoretical (explicit). The theoretic thought is considered as an analysis realized after the fact, made preferably by outside observers. In the Schools of Architecture, for at least twenty years, the separation between practice and theory was dominant: separation between the architects and the engineers, separation between professional practitioners and teachers. Today, because of the State’s injunction, this separation is called into question in the requirement of a double competency to which research has to be also added. However the status of teacher/researcher still does not exist. Since last year the Schools of Architecture have a double tutelage, one from the Ministry of Culture and Communication, and one from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

In the case of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Lyon, up to now there was no training for practitioners. Here, the violent injunction of the State is that it is now necessary to train some practitioners, that is to give the students some perspectives of professionalization. For example, some courses on entrepreneurship are now organized during the first year at the Lyon II University. We are facing a delicious paradox linked to research: at the University, a stronghold of theoretical studies, there is the injunction to train practitioners, and in the Schools of Architecture and Arts, strongholds of practices, theoreticians should be trained. In the two cases it is a matter to start doing what one was not used to doing, and what one does not know how to do.

3. The Status of the Written Text

There is an astonishing uncertainty in the fact that the transposition into words, the writing of a text, is a practice that can be either creative, or be content with being an explanation tool. Is the transposition into words directly an integral part of the research processes or of artistic production, or is it only the tool for a descriptive or speculative presentation of this research or artistic production content? In the usual conceptions of university research, the transposition into words of the results tends to be exclusively considered as a process that is separated from the content and from any creative elaboration. The mechanical application of the concepts borrowed from scientific research, in order to justify the existence of artistic research, creates a strange state of mind: the artistic act is innovative, creating something new that will be directly injected into intellectual circles. What cannot be explicated by words creates some forms of distance, of exclusion, certain modes of innovation becoming in this way excluded from the field of research. The discourses around the conditions of artistic practices, notably with Bruno Latour, overshadow innovation forms that cannot be articulated with words; the words come after and outside the fact. In this scheme of thought, if someone does some research grounded on artistic practices, the language (putting into words, taking up a pencil, or using a computer) comes after, and in this way does not take part in the research process, but only in its restitution.

This separation between creative research processes and their communication by means of a text has to be questioned in two ways. On the one hand the creative transposition into words can become a tool inserted into the heart of the research process: one thinks of John Cage’s lectures,[7] which textually did not explicit much, but which described in their form in itself the processes of elaboration of the author’s musical compositions. Through these lectures, one has a direct access to the author’s experimental procedures, his modes of thinking, but without having to go through a narrative telling us how they could be explained. On the other hand, the communication of the research contents can use different medias other than text: films, videos, recorded speech, graphisms, sounds, images.

Behind the term research, there are many words that come to complicate its effective implementation: “innovation”, “scientific aspects”, “discourses”, etc. Is there a loss of sense when the discourse comes after the fact? The Cage lectures are no less, nor more research than his musical works. The criteria “discourse” is not sufficient to define research, nor the one of “science”, because a whole number of things should be summoned. One cannot therefore proceed with a single entry. What is complicated is to intertwine all the elements with each other.


Artistic Research – Avenues to Reflect

1. Research through the Elaboration of the Artistic Act

The principal enigma that needs to be resolved has to do with the situation of the artist in today’s society: is research an inherent obligation for the artistic act today? And, if the answer is positive, how can research be distinguished from the artistic act? In the perspectives of a coexistence of historical times, which is an important aspect of our society of electronic communication, it is quite possible to continue to consider that autonomous art – the one exclusively devoted to the production of works outside any circumstantial or contingent consideration – still plays an important part in the field of practices. But the possibilities offered by the new media fundamentally change the deal of artistic practices in considerably facilitating their access and in allowing amateurs to create their own means of production. These amateurs have time at hand – that professionals often have difficulty to find – for thinking through their own practice or for getting in a position favoring experimentation. The stakes of the obligation to present the work on stage – the living spectacle – are modified: processes limited to small groups, devoid of the objective to produce definitive works of art, devoid of the obligatory presence of a contemplative external public, become possible. In this type of context, it is possible to envision research as an integral part of practice, because the practice addresses at once the rationales of the production, of the interactivity between participants, and between the participants with the materials to be used.

Several factors contribute to identify artistic research to practical processes. The research linked to artistic education leads directly to practical artistic acts.: there is no pedagogical action without a direct effect on artistic practice, on ways to envisage the material production of the artistic objects, and consequently on their plasticity itself; and vice-versa, a given practice leading to particular artistic results always implies some methods of knowledge transmission in order to attain it. As soon as one is preoccupied by education, one realizes how until now effective practices have failed to concern researchers, that is the processes leading to artistic productions, everything that occurs before the emergence of the work.

2. Alternative Research Models

Other models should be considered that do not correspond to what is done in the world of the university, notably those already elaborated by personalities such as Bruno Latour, Antoine Hennion and Isabelle Stengers. In spite of the fact that since about twenty years, we have been facing a movement, over the medium to long term, of normalization of research, other models can be envisioned if we limit ourselves to an independent intellectual content. But it is not evident how to adopt these models in order to realize, at the margins of the institutions, something different while using the same terms. There are no other alternatives than to create some pockets of resistance using a diversity of models. The pockets of resistance become necessary in face of the great complexity of globalization and the challenges it poses to the great democratic models. Deindustrialization has risen to unbelievable proportions, the working class movement disappeared in less than twenty years. There should be some places and circumstances that allow people to maintain a spirit of resistance for at least a certain time. It is necessary to have some kaïros, some reaction to opportune time, in seizing all the occasions that can occur.

The question of markets and their role in the control of artistic production is increasingly disturbing. At the same time, the markets succeeded in liberating and disseminating the techniques that allow alternative inventions, something the musicians from the elite could not achieve. It is important to be able to develop a reflective approach to the tools of dissemination, to software, to the issues raised by business markets, in order to develop possible rationales for alternative public policies.

An institution like the Cefedem AuRA remains determined by the professional context in which it develops its actions. In general, musicians are less preoccupied by research issues than the actors of the other artistic domains. We can see that musicians have a strong tendency to return to an outdated corporatism. Concerning the norms of the definition of a musician and her/his activities in the professional milieu, the development of the Cefedem AuRA as a place of questioning these norms was completely improbable. This pocket of resistance allowed many people to invent their own line of action. Today, a possible focus of resistance is not to limit the Cefedem’s program of study to teacher’s training, but to turn to the education of practicing musicians at the heart of their practices both of transmission and of elaboration of their art: a reflexive thinking on music and art, on accompanying amateur practices, on the double social and artistic rationale that underlies the actual role of musicians in society. One can assert a singular approach.

3. Administrative Obstacles

There is an astonishing paradox between the reality of the institutions of artistic education and the injunction to develop research and intellectual thinking. All the schools of the arts have to face budget reductions; all the sectors of practices have made great efforts. The incitation to research is developed in an environment that remains very rigid and without the means to provide adequate responses. As soon as new pedagogical projects are proposed, even if they are neither exceptional nor experimental, but that are near the realities of what it is possible to do, many obstacles and roadblocks appear. The arts schools lag behind in the use of new technologies (video, image rights, diffusion issues), and the few tools they are capable of developing are not available to students and teachers. In the domain of popular music (officially called in France musiques actuelles amplifiées, amplified actual music), there exists in Copenhagen an “incredible” department: spaces full of the newest technologies available to users. However, the department collaborates directly with the record labels that impose their criteria, this does not correspond to the role of public institutions. In the public service of music education, the participants are not there to obey the demands of the market place, to produce groups conforming to its rules and to release commercial products. The public service has to bring its own independent vision. People are encouraged to do new things, but as soon as a proposition is formulated, it comes up against the rigidity of the system. The only thing that we do not know how to do, it is to change the system.

4. The question of Research Spaces and Publications

One can see the importance of the existence of research spaces, precisely in order to change the rigid systems just mentioned. It is very important for a research group to have an adequate place and to be able to make it function: this is linked to the available time of the participants and their ability to attract some funding. In order for artistic research to be viable, militant approaches are not enough. It is also necessary to have the capacity to develop some forms of visibility associated with the public expression of the practices (the stage, education). How should we proceed so that what has been discovered, updated, can be heard somewhere as an element that cannot be ignored. In order for this research-resistance to exist, the conditions that would move the constraints imposed by the institutions have to be determined. How can we make sure that this research would be promoted and could cross the threshold of confidentiality, of self-confinement?

What is important is to build some traces. Resistance should be conducted through some existent things, through the “bringing to life”, it implies therefore publications that give full account of the different aspects of the place one occupies. The absence in the musicians’ world of an association that would be capable of defending something other than traditional (if not reactionary) objects is sorely evident. Why is it so difficult to federate the points of view that are not along those lines? How to get out of isolation? Making the path in life by walking would be a good start.

Those who exist in an institutional place often think that the things that are possible have to be envisaged outside the institutions. But those who are outside suffer from isolation and anonymity, from the plethora of information. A public place, whatever it might be, has the merit to exist, it gives a margin of possibilities. The Cefedem has had the good fortune to have been able to develop independently from the conservatories and the universities. The PaaLabRes collective hopes that the digital space being developed will be to some extent the equivalent of a place that seems up to now unavailable. Enseigner la Musique has been the essential tool for disseminating the practices developed at the Cefedem AuRA and other associated places.


Widening Research

1. Research Before the Doctorate

In the world of universities, real research starts at the doctorate level. Nevertheless, the idea that one can carry some research project from the very start of higher education, or even before that, is perfectly viable. Several places in Europe and in the world have been able to experiment this idea with success.[8] To introduce research from undergraduate level onwards is a way to refuse that the laws of the market place should define what could be expected of students at the end of their studies. The Rector of the Lille University said recently[9] that today the social sciences and the arts are no longer just tools to be acquired to shine in society, but are becoming completely indispensable to surpass the fact that machines in the hard sciences are going to be able to do all possible things replacing the humans. In music, the historical definitions of professional occupation are collapsing: we do not know to what we should train the students. The issue is not to train musicians to acquire a pre-established technique, but to do research would give them a more distanced point of view on their actions. They will be able in that way to continually reinvent their practices, rather than to reproduce fixed models. This creates another rationale for resistance: to imagine what will be the nature of the professional occupation tomorrow is not possible anymore, but it is also necessary to realize that the “professional occupation invented by contemporaries never existed”, it is invented along the way throughout history.

In the process of widening the concept of research to contexts fairly different from the one limited to doctoral studies and accredited laboratories, three levels can be observed in the education framework: a) the formal research of university doctoral studies and laboratories; b) preparation to research that concerns higher education as a whole; and c) learning through research that can be done at any level, including at that of children beginners. Moreover, it must be realized that these three levels are themselves distinct from experimental postures that are in operation today in many domains. Numerous approaches of this type exist at the same time in education institutions, in working places, in everyday life and in artistic practices that can be qualified as “reflective practices”.

2. Research Before and Outside Higher Education

Within the music schools (specialized music education at primary and secondary levels) there is a surprising presence of high-level groups whose members do not particularly demand rehearsal spaces, or supports for technical production or advertising. They come to these public institutions specifically to develop research projects, outside any consideration for acquiring a professional trade. These projects are very often centered on meeting other aesthetics and different ways to practice music.

Today, in music schools, there are many study programs (in the process of experimentation) in which the students are solicited in collective situations to learn specific things in an active manner by trial and error, in a different temporality than the one traditionally used and by varying in diverse ways the learning situations.[10] In these programs, research is inextricably a corollary to learning, not only on the side of the leadership of the teachers who have to continually redefine their actions in relation to the contexts given by the students, but also on the side of the students putting themselves in research situations. The idea of research is a posture that is assumed on an everyday basis, it is not a pretentious access to formalism, and it changes completely the sense of artistic studies. The goal is to develop enlightened practitioners, capable of carrying out inventive actions in an autonomous manner.

Performers are often the butt of caricatures, incapable of carrying research on their own, but, to take an example, a model exists today in the revitalization of old music in which there is a collective work on interpretation, which can be qualified as a research in acts. It is then possible to start with an affirmative that what one is doing is research.

It is very important, even necessary, to be able to document these numerous new manners to envision teaching in music schools, the practitioners should be encouraged to write texts, producing videos, using all the possible media so that a collective knowledge can be developed, which would nourish the reflection on practices.

This documentation would help to see more precisely what constitutes artistic research; there is by the way a strong demand in the artistic world for the diffusion of such documents.

3. Research Outside the Norms

Many activities of research are carried out by people who never speak about it, who never write a single line about it. It does not prevent them from inventing things that do not inevitably correspond to the sense of innovation promoted by the governmental instances. How can we give full account of what remains a blind spot? To make these practices known would be a way to restore the meaning that one can give to democracy. In effect, there is an obvious unfairness in the large number of closures instituted to control access to research: in music, perfect pitch, dictation, standard sound, etc. It does not function in this way in reality, as there are many people whose practice does not correspond to these norms. The ones who feel they can legitimately speak about their practices, and who are willing to do it, do not do it for clearly argued reasons. They are willing to speak about them, and do it because they have some ideas in their mind. Behind their initiatives, some social strategies are in process. It is necessary to determine why one does things, to recognize what strategies are in place, to fully assume them, to make them known to the public. There is the need to break down some walls, of not thinking all this out of the blue, outside a context, without the presence of strategic objectives, to explicit what one is ready to defend.

Report realized and translated by Jean-Charles François – 2015-18.
English translation realized in collaboration with Nancy François.

Post-scriptum to the debate:
Exchange Forum PAALabRes “Artistic Research”

Following the debate organized on Novermber 2, 2015 on artistic research several questions remain to be clarified or discussed. We propose an exchange forum on the following questions:

  1. To what extent do artistic practices today necessitate processes of research inherent to their acts, yet remaining distinct from them?
  2. The issue of methods and criteria specific to research carried out by the practitioners themselves in relationship to their own artistic practices.
  3. The issue of a strong representation in people’s minds of a dichotomy between theory and practice. Is it the case that the distinction between fundamental, intellectual or formal research (considered as theoretical) and professional training (considered as practical) introduces more confusion in this debate between practice and theory (practicing theory and theorizing implicitly the practices)? Is the questioning on artistic practices – professional or other – of the domain of theory? Can it be done without some references to practical examples?
  4. Issues concerning the usefulness of research: the distance between the usefulness of a research activity for a given group of humans and the fact that if things are defined as useful from the beginning of a fundamental or artistic research, one refuses to accept that the results might be unpredictable. Is there the necessity to make a distinction between “usefulness” and “utilitarianism”?
  5. Issues concerned with the status of written texts in relation to artistic research and creation: to what extent are they part of the research in itself? To what extent are they only tools for communicating the research results?
  6. The contradictions between study tracks that are very often orientated towards individual work and the collective actions of laboratories.

Stories chronicling experiences would be welcome in connection with this notion of artistic research. The description of contexts in which disciplinary fields are in interaction, notably in the confrontation between arts and sciences, would be of great interest for this forum.

PaaLabRes accepts to consider for this debate very short contributions (6 lines for example) as well as more developed texts (one page). The research articles would be considered as potential contributions outside this “debate forum”.

PaaLabRes is in charge of the processes of presentation and of edition of the contributions in a spirit of exchange. Different types of encounters and interactions will be organized in order to continue working on these issues.


[1] The Cefedem AuRA, Centre de Formation des Enseignants de la Musique was created in 1990 by the Ministry of Culture in order to organize a study program leading to the State Diploma for Teaching Music within specialized music education (schools of music and conservatories). The Cefedem Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes based in Lyon developed a research publication, Enseigner la Musique, and created a Study Center on teaching artistic practices and their cultural mediations. See the site:

[2] The collective PaaLabRes, Pratiques Artistiques en Actes, Laboratoire de Recherches, was created in 2011 by ten musicians working in the Lyon region, with the objective to reflect on their own practices,including both the logics of artistic production and of transmission, the logics of research and free reflection.

[3] Informal text by Jean-Charles François, 2012 (unpublished).

[4] Voir La Recherche en art(s), ed. Jehanne Dautrey, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication, Paris : Editions MF, 2010.

[5] Voir Experimental Systems, Future Knowledge in Artistic Research, Michael Schwab (ed.), Ghent, Belgium : Orpheus Institute, distributed by Leuwen University Press, 2013. This series of articles is centered on the research of Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Director at the Max-Planck Institute of the history of sciences department, on the epristemology of experimentation.

[6] For example, the School of Architecture of Saint-Etienne is now developing a track with the Lyon ENS (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon), mixing architecture and writing.

[7] See John Cage, Silence, Cambridge, Mass. And London, England: The M.I.T. Press, 1966; see also John Cage, Empty Words, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1981.

[8] See notably The Reflexive Conservatoire, Studies in Music Education Eds. George Odam and Nicholas Bannan, London : Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Aldershot, England : Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2005. The Cefedem AuRA in its program leading to the Diplôme d’Etat centered the curriculum on students’ projects in the domain of artistic practices, pedagogy and reflection (writing an essay); Jean-Charles François, Eddy Schepens, Karine Hahn, Dominique Clément, « Processus contractuels dans les projets de réalisation musicale des étudiants au Cefedem Rhône-Alpes », Enseigner la Musique N° 9/10, Cefedem Rhône-Alpes, pp. 173-94.

[9] Private conversation with Jacques Moreau, director of the Cefedem AuRA, 2015.

[10] The ENM (Ecole Nationale de Musique) of Villeurbanne is one of the very active places working in this direction, notably in the program EPO (Ecole Par l’Orchestre, Learning through Orchestra) developed by Philippe Genet, Pascal Pariaud and Gérald Venturi, and the one from the Rock department with Gilles Laval.