Children can offer up remarkably sincere reactions to what they see, perhaps because they are yet to undergo the social conditioning that makes us consider consequences before we speak. In other words, they say what they see. Perry (2014, p.116) tells us about one such child who when asked what a contemporary artist does said, “They sit around in Starbucks and eat organic salad.” In answering the same question after looking at the work some contemporary artists produce, the same child said, “They notice things.” Grayson Perry understands that the art experience and the religious experience are quite closely aligned (St Pauls London, 2015) and has adopted a multi-form approach of communication via his outputs.
‘Output’ is a term most commonly used in computing, the transfer of information from internal storage to an external medium. Within the research community it is more often used to describe something that is published, like a book or research paper. The ‘young generation of creators’ (Holden, 2015) may think of it more as anything a practitioner produces for consumption by an audience. Grayson Perry may make a TV or radio programme, a book, a pot, an exhibition, a lecture, a film, a newspaper article or a social media post. We could consider all of them his outputs.
Audiences and participants, consciously or unconsciously, use outputs as a marker to judge the quality of the work. Our senses are constantly building a picture, looking for clues, and asking; is this accessible, relevant and credible? There is a good chance that our outputs may be the only thing audiences will come in to contact with and will determine if they buy-in to the ideas at large, want to be associated with them, or care about them at all. Those in the manufacturing economy understand this can be a massive block to engagement and sales, which is reflected in their large marketing budgets.
Research has the power to change the world and the attitudes of the people in it, but it must enter the public consciousness to do so. The ways we consume information and ‘things’ has changed dramatically in the past few decades, but the form research takes is only just starting to synchronise. The research community can learn a lot from the cultural landscape when it comes to outputs and activities. If you look out at this landscape the variety is there for us all to see. ‘A precondition for expanding genuine public engagement is the provision of standards equivalent to the best society has to offer’ (Furedi, 2004).
We can think of an output as being made up of two things; information based on research, and the tool (or vehicle) that communicates it; INFO + TOOL = OUTPUT. It is therefore of paramount importance to select the right information and the right tool in order to end up with the right output. This equation could be considered a simplified version of the process of making artworks. What do I want to say? How should I say it? What does this mean further down the line? What systems will support these new outputs and how will we measure their success?
In his TV series (The Artistic Garden, 2013), which is really a video essay and love letter to gardening, Monty Don alludes to an interplay between the outputs of Claude Monet (his garden at Giverny and the Water Lilies series), and suggests that as a body of work they are more than the sum of their parts. “The paintings increase our artistic appreciation of the garden, and visiting the garden enables us to appreciate and understand the paintings all the more.” This indicates there is value to be added, not only by the variety of outputs, but in the relationship between them. This shows you can design and make outputs for specific audiences, but also an acknowledgement they are organic in the sense that they will grow or die based on the way people perceive them. A successful output should make the viewer think there are more possibilities in the world than they did before they saw it.
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a nationwide research assessment exercise that evaluates the quality of academic work coming out of universities. 2014 saw the introduction of new ‘research impact’ criteria, described as “any effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”. It suggests the value of research can be measured by its outputs, activities, outcomes and impact.
Over time artists have seen it necessary to develop/build on traditions (eg. medium, what it means to be an artist) to more accurately and conceptually represent their voice. The manufacturing economy has also actively diversified the ways in which it communicates with audiences, for profits. These sectors have spent decades creating and exploring avenues with which to communicate efficiently and effectively. This repository need not just be a library of case studies, but also a list of potential partners, collaborators, clients and facilitators.
Furedi, F. (2004) Where Have all the Intellectuals Gone? London: Continuum
Holden, J. (2015) The Ecology of Culture. Swindon: Arts and Humanities Research Council.
OECD (2002) Frascati Manual. Paris: OECD Publishing
Perry, G. (2014) Playing to the Gallery. London: Penguin Books
REF (2014) Impact Case Studies. Available at: impact.ref.ac.uk/casestudies
St Paul’s London (2015) Grayson Perry speaks at St Paul’s Cathedral on ‘The Things That Matter’. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyiKPS2N-So
‘The Artistic Garden’ (2013) Monty Don’s French Gardens, Series 1, episode 3. Netflix
The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! (2017) [Exhibition]. Arnolfini, Bristol. 27 Sept – 24 Dec 2017