In 2017 the Leonardo Journal ( www.leonardo.info ) will celebrate 50 years of publishing art, science, and technology. As part of the celebrations, we are initiating a three-year symposium issues surrounding the development of the PhD in art and design.
Today, universities around the world are debating the issue of the PhD in art and design. While the MFA is a terminal degree for professional practice, the PhD is a research degree, the doctor of philosophy. The debate began in the UK when independent art and design schools were merged into universities or raised to university status. This led to the question of equivalent standards for academic appointment to once-separate programs within now-unified universities. Universities in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America have now joined the conversation with new PhD programs or serious debates on whether - and how - to build them.
The question of the PhD for art and design raises many challenging issues. First among these is the nature of research, research training, and the PhD. This issue may seem obvious to those who have earned a PhD in the natural sciences, social sciences, or liberal arts. It remains a complicated issue to address in understanding the PhD for art and design. What is the PhD in art? What is the PhD in design? What should a PhD be in a field of professional practice? Are there several kinds of PhD in art and design or one major model? Why pursue such a degree? What is the nature of such a PhD with respect to research quality as distinct from the quality of art or design practice? Why are so many programs struggling or going wrong? Why do universities and accrediting authorities permit problematic programs to continue? Why, in the past, did artists interested in research choose to take a PhD in disciplines outside art? What skills do all researchers require without respect to their discipline? Are there such skills? These are questions to consider, and there are people who have something to say about them, including experienced supervisors. We are reaching out to those with solid experience of doctoral education to draw on their skills and wisdom.
The fresh debate on the PhD in art and design begins in North American universities has global implications. This debate makes it imperative to consider different models of doctoral education elsewhere in the world. Is it reasonable to earn a PhD for a practice-based thesis with an artifact or exhibition in place of the thesis, accompanied by an essay of 20,000 words? Should doctoral programs admit students to research training programs without undergraduate experience in such key skills as analysis, rhetoric, logic, or mathematics? Can undergraduate art and design students with a focus on studio skills hope to succeed in doctoral work when they have had little of no experience in the kinds of information seeking or writing that form the basis for earning a research degree? Is it possible to award PhD degrees for skills and capacities completely different to those in any established research field? In North America, an exhibition of artifacts with a short thesis is the basis for awarding an MFA degree; in the UK and Australia and at some European art schools, this is the basis for awarding a PhD: is it possible to merge these two traditions?
The PhD in art and design has become a significant issue in worldwide university education. As the world's oldest peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal of arts, sciences, and technology, Leonardo has a responsibility to serve as a forum for the conversation. This symposium is our contribution to the emerging dialogue on this issue in North America and around the world.
Manuscript proposals and articles submitted for publication consideration should be sent to: leonardomanuscripts [at] gmail.com