In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • PhD in Art and Design
  • Ken Friedman, Guest editor and Jack Ox, Guest editor

Universities around the world are now debating the PhD degree in art and design—and whether to award it. Among the central questions: Is this a research degree as in other fields or a degree for advanced professional practice? If it is a research degree, how should we define artistic research or design research? Should there be multiple models for the PhD degree or several? If there are several, should all degrees represent any common standards? As the world’s leading journal of art, science and technology, Leonardo has a crucial stake in the answers to these questions. Over three years from 2017, the Leonardo Symposium on the PhD in Art and Design will serve as a forum for expert inquiry and debate on the PhD degree in the creative arts, in design and in the interdisciplinary field of artscience.


Universities around the world are debating the PhD degree in art and design. What is it? Should they award it? If so, what standards and criteria apply to a PhD in such fields as art and design? Should universities move to the PhD in place of the MFA?

In the 1970s, the College Art Association (CAA) established the master of fine arts (MFA) degree as the terminal degree for professional practice in art and design. The MFA qualified people for teaching art and design at North American universities, including such top-ranked research universities as Stanford, Yale, University of Michigan or the many campuses of the University of California.

The MFA is not a research degree. It is a degree in professional practice. Since most universities accepted the CAA position on the MFA and there was no PhD in art or design at the time, the MFA has been a terminal degree for many years, the highest in the field, long predating the PhD in the creative arts [1]. While not the equivalent of the PhD as a research degree, it is deemed so for decisions on hiring, tenure and promotion up to the rank of full professor. The MFA is a degree in professional practice for art, design and some fields such as creative writing or theater performance.

In contrast, the doctor of philosophy (PhD) is a research degree. In many universities, the PhD in art and the PhD in design are research degrees, as in other disciplines. MFA students learn the practice of art or design. PhD students learn the practice of research. One question in the current debate is often confusing. What practice do PhD students study to earn a PhD in art or design? Should they receive a PhD for the advanced practice of art or design? Or should they master a series of robust research skills for advanced research in art or design?

The debate on the PhD for art practice began with changes to higher education in the United Kingdom, when standalone art and design schools and polytechnics merged into universities. Some art and design schools, such as the University of the Arts London, also gained university status. Similar transformations took place in continental Europe, as art schools and academies merged into universities or achieved university status. As these changes took place, many universities—including the new universities of the arts—began to question standards for academic appointment in university-level art and design programs. Universities typically require that scholars and scientists hold a PhD to qualify for university positions. When art and design entered the university, the question of the appropriate degree was on the table.

Artistic merit and professional experience were the key criteria for appointing teachers and professors at independent schools of art and design and the academies. In North America, this shifted to the MFA. In Europe, Asia and Australia, some universities now seek a PhD. As a result, many universities have established PhD programs in art or design to fill the perceived need. With the spread of such PhD programs around the world, the debate on the merit, need and proper design of such programs has now come to North America.

The debate is muddied...


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pp. 515-519
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