Research into art needs as much freedom as artistic experiments

9 June 2017

The American artist Jeremiah Day is the first of four artists who will gain his doctorate with funding from the NWO programme ‘PhD Research in the Arts’. His lively and voluminous doctoral thesis is a bundling of transcriptions, notes, photography and written reflections, which jointly form a response to six years of research into the status of art in public life that was realised via a highly personal process. Day’s conclusion: doctoral research into art must enjoy the same enormous freedom as that on which artistic experiments depend. He defended his hefty tome ‘A Kind of Imagination that has Nothing to Do with Fiction: Art in Public Life’ on Friday 9 June 2017 at the VU Amsterdam.

Jeremiah Day accompanied by Bart de Kroon: To a Person sitting in Darkness (#4 Helicopters). Performance in CCA, Glasgow, UKJeremiah Day accompanied by Bart de Kroon: To a Person sitting in Darkness (#4 Helicopters). Performance in CCA, Glasgow, UK

In their work, artists investigate how ‘we’ relate to reality. The theoretical framework of the PhD Research in the Arts programme states that the knowledge this yields can be analysed by artists and expanded and linked to scientific knowledge. The project ‘A Kind of Imagination that has Nothing To Do with Fiction? Allan Kaprow and Hannah Arendt and a Practice for a New Publicness of Art’ was realised by Jeremiah Day in practice. In his own words ‘it was a mix of personal research, speculation, experimentation and reflection on and in concrete circumstances, and intertwined with the efforts of other people, public affairs and political events in the foreground.’

‘While the artistic community continues to talk about politics,’ says Jeremiah Day, ‘society mainly approaches art as a tool. Whether that is in the economy, in fashion or as a well-intended social work… but art has to be put to use. Does modern art, however, have something worthwhile to contribute to the political debate? How can contemporary artistic practice realise its ambition to fulfil a role in public life? That was the starting point.’‘

Hannah Arendt and ‘outsiders’

An experimental exploration of the work of the German-American philosopher and political thinker Hannah Arendt formed the golden thread in the research. Together with cultural philosopher Fred Dewey, ‘outsiders’ from the American avant-garde such as Allan Kaprow, Simone Forti and Amiri Baraka formed examples for this renewed engagement between culture and the public, according to Day.

Various elements led in in any case to a thesis that captures the imagination, a richly illustrated volume of almost 430 pages full of photography, impressionistic interview reports, theoretical treatises and personal observations. In his thesis the author does not avoid controversial standpoints: against the Dutch 2011 budget cuts for culture, for European collaboration, and against the NATO-led ‘Global War on Terror’.

Day’s experimental project should ultimately contribute to the development of methods and models for doctoral education in artistic practice. ‘One conclusion from the process,’ says Day, ‘is that doctoral research in the arts should enjoy the same enormous freedom as that on which artistic experiments depend and should even call into question the ’normal practices’ within the academic world’.

More information

Jeremiah Wales Day (1974) completed his doctoral thesis at VU Amsterdam with funding from NWO and the Mondriaan Fonds. Supervisor is professor W. (Wouter) Davidts. Associate supervisors are professor D.M. (Diederik) Oostdijk and Dr H. (Henk) Slager.


Source: NWO