Precarious Practices: Artists, Work and Knowing-in-Practice

by Maureen K Michael

Institution: University of Stirling
Year: 2015
Keywords: Artists; art-based methodology; practice; visual methods; sociomaterial; professional learning; Art Study and teaching; Artists; Artists' studios; Conceptual art
Record ID: 1394884
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1893/21879


This study presents a new perspective on work practice in conceptual art. Using ethnographic evidence from five visual artists, the study used a combined visual arts and practice orientated perspective to explore the materiality of their everyday work and the sociomaterial practices shaping it. Close scrutiny is given to the forms of expertise embedded in this through concepts of knowing-in-practice and epistemic objects. Emerging from the findings is clearer understanding of how an arts-based methodology might enhance knowledge about artists’ knowing-in-practice. Popular representations of contemporary artists often ignore the realities of precarious work. This is reflected in the professional education of artists with its concentration on studio-based activities and emphasis on the production and products of artmaking. This study reconfigures and reconceptualises the work of artists as assemblages of sociomaterial practices that include, but are not limited to artmaking – so providing a different representation of the work of artists as a continuous collaboration of mundane materials. The study identified seven sociomaterial practices, defined as movement-driven; studio-making; looking; pedagogic; self-promotion; peer support; and pause. As these practices are subject to ever-changing materialities, they are constantly reassembled. Analysis revealed hidden interiors of underemployment and income generation to be significant factors embedded in the mundane materialities of everyday work, revealing resilience and adaptability as key forms of expertise necessary for the assembling of practices. Further, the arts-based methodology of ‘integrated imagework’ created ways of visually analysing the materially-mediated, socially situated nature of knowing in practice, and demonstrated how relational concepts relating to knowing-in-practice might be better analysed. Findings indicate how the professional education of artists – particularly the way the workplace of the studio is understood – could be re-envisioned to support the fluidity of contemporary artistic practices. The studio itself is a form of knowledge – ever changing – forming and being formed by the practices of artists. Adopting this view of studio-based education would be a radical departure from current studio-based pedagogies in contemporary art education. Further, resilience – the capacity to sustain practices that are emergent and constantly unfolding – becomes a form of expertise central to the professional education of artists.