New Media/New Terrain: Pioneering a Ph.D. in Creative Research

Summer 2010: v.06 n.01: 2010 CAA Conference Edition, 2010

Jessica Walker
Independent Artist


New media, by its title suggests emergent forms of communication and representation, which introduce a convergence of methodologies and avenues for collaboration across multiple disciplines. Within this contemporary paradigm, new media artists are the producers of content and scholarly researchers who contribute to a global economy of knowledge through creative inquiry, published writings and exhibited works. In recognizing the academic roles of new media artists, educational institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad have established Ph.D. programs where cultural theory, scientific research and art practice meet within single departments, labs and centers. The development of interdisciplinary think tanks like the MIT Media Lab, the Planetary Collegium and the University of Washington’s DXARTS Center, to cite a few examples, represent how advanced research portals are shaping a new terrain with the field. With the emergence of the Ph.D. has come a critical debate about how this will affect the MFA and its long-standing status as the recognized terminal degree within fine art practice. It is increasingly critical to examine how advanced research is shaping new territories for artists to inhabit.

The panel discussion titled “New Media/New Terrain: Pioneering a Ph.D. in Creative Research” chaired by independent artist, Jessica Walker at the 2010 College Art Association Conference, was hosted by the New Media Caucus with the purpose of making visible some of the reasons why artists choose to undergo advanced research. Three influential new media artist/scholars convened to provide insight into Ph.D. research as art practice. Victoria Vesna, Jonah Brucker-Cohen and James Coupe addressed questions surrounding the challenges artists face when presenting creative research through traditional standards while also addressing how innovative curricula are being shaped to meet the needs of contemporary new media artists.

Fig 1: From left to right, James Couple, Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Jessica Walker and Victoria Vesna at the 2010 College Art Association Conference.

Fig 1: From left to right, James Couple, Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Jessica Walker and Victoria Vesna at the 2010 College Art Association Conference.

Victoria Vesna is a media artist and Professor at the Department of Design and Media Arts at the UCLA School of the Arts. She is also director of the UCLA Art|Sci center and director of Research and a Visiting Professor at Parson’s Art, Media + Technology program. Her work can be defined as experimental creative research that resides between disciplines and technologies. She explores how communication technologies affect collective behavior and how perceptions of identity shift in relation to scientific innovation. Victoria has exhibited her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions and been an active contributor to new media scholarship through her publications and talks. Currently in press is her book titled “Context Providers: Conditions of Meaning in Media Arts,” which she co-edited with Margot Lovejoy and Christiane Paul. Vesna uses her personal history as a point of departure to discuss the impetus for undergoing Ph.D. research. This is rooted in an understanding about what advanced time and advisement can offer the academic artist.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen is a researcher, artist, and writer. He received his Ph.D. in the Disruptive Design Team of the Networking and Telecommunications Research Group at Trinity College Dublin. He is an adjunct assistant professor of communications at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). He has worked as an R&D OpenLab Fellow at Eyebeam in NYC and been a Research Fellow in the Human Connectedness Group at Media Lab Europe. He received his Masters from ITP in 1999 and was an Interval Research Fellow there until 2001. His work and writing focus on themes of “Deconstructing Networks,” which includes projects that attempt to critically challenge and subvert accepted perceptions of network interaction and experience. Brucker-Cohen’s paper “Legitimizing the Ph.D.” addresses his personal view about differences between the outcomes of MFA versus Ph.D. research as cited through examples from his body of work and published writings.

James Coupe is an artist and Assistant Professor at the University of Washington’s Centre for Digital Art and Experimental Media (DXARTS) where he received his Ph.D. He has a degree in Fine Art from the University of Edinburgh, where he studied sculpture and the history of art. He completed his Masters in Creative Technology at the University of Salford, where he studied robotics, virtual environments and telematics. His work focuses upon emergent systems, aesthetic machines, autonomy and networked consciousness. In 2003, his research on the synchronicity of art and artificial intelligence was recognized through a UK Arts and Humanities Research Board Innovation Award. Coupe provides an overview of the University of Washington’s DXARTS program by outlining the center’s mission and how this is achieved through structured Ph.D. programs and interdisciplinary research areas.


To Ph.D or not to Ph.D?
by Victoria Vesna

Legitimizing the Ph.D. as Creative Research
by Jonah Brucker-Cohen

University of Washington, DXARTS
by James Coupe