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on 10 May 2010
It's never a very promising sign when the editor of a book that deals with the kind of complex debates addressed here gives the impression that he's not really familiar with the field under discussion as something that is lived with and debated by real people, rather than simply addressed as part of a disembodied 'discourse'. (On p. 118 Naren Barfield is referred to as "she" which, unless he has recently undergone a sex change, may come as a bit of a surprise). This may seem a very trivial point, but I would suggest that it's indicative of a type of "high altitude" thinking that's so busy trying to demonstrate it's own all-inclusive authority that it can't be bothered to really attend to the finer grain of other people's concerns or arguments or to do the necessary homework required to "dig down" into what is actually at stake.

This is a book clearly written to cash in on a change in the American education market but is based on experience that has mostly been gained in European and Australian contexts. It may be of interest and value to those who wish to reflect on doctoral level arts education in the USA, but as a participant in these debates in the UK I can't really recommend this book wholeheartedly to potential PhD applicants or to those involved in supervision. The first section is somewhat confused in intent - who exactly is the audience for these very various - and in some cases very out of date - chapters. (One chapter was written for a conference in 2002 and promotes arguments that have long been discredited by more recent doctoral work). The second section, made up of extracts from the written element of eight PhD projects (without more than the briefest contextual information), is ultimately of dubious value other than as an indicative sample of writing styles.

My main objection to this patchy book it is that, from where I stand, it comes across as a lazy attempt to cash in on an educational situation that really requires a much more considered and thoughtful approach, put together by an editor who really ought to know better. The choice of contributers to the first section inevitably results in an uneven mixture of disparate views that, to someone whose been involved in this area for over ten years, are as predicable as they are dull. This is ultimately a book for those academic managers and administrators who need to "have an informed view" on the subject before they attend that next all-important committee meeting on updating the curriculum, and not really for arts based doctoral students or their supervisors. If you're in the former category, then you may find in useful in parts, if not, you probably will not.

Hopefully in due course someone will recognize just how far short of what is needed this book falls. If we then get a book that really does take the time to look properly at the historical development of the arts practice doctorate, makes informed sense of the issues involved, and examines the potential this has for helping to reform a higher education system that currently singularly fails to grasp what is at stake, this book will have served one useful purpose.
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on 28 June 2009
This is an excellent and thought provoking collection of essays on the place of the new practice-based PhD's for artists, particularly as this now looks set to develop within the USA. It reviews the various shapes this peculiar doctorate has taken within other Anglo-Saxon countries, such as Britain, New Zealand, and Australia, and considers its weaknesses and strengths, looking for what can be learnt and developed. I would recommend this to any art tutors and artists considering the potential of what a Doctorate in Fine Art could mean for them and to understand the cultural and historical territory into which they may find themselves.
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on 20 April 2009
This is a must read for every artist whether he/she is considering an academical career or not, or to anyone interested in this matters.
Art should find it's own place in university not denying its own complexity, by being art and not forcing itself to become anything else.

António Olaio
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