Wednesday, 20 March 2013

To PhD or not to PhD? Interview with David Hancock

In research for my article for Axis Web, To PhD or not to PhD?, I have recently spoken to David Hancock about his experiences studying towards a practice-based PhD at the University of Salford.

Do you think an artist need a PhD to be successful in their career?

No, not as artist, it makes no difference, but if you want to get into teaching in higher education then it is a great help. The advertisements I have seen recently require candidates to have a PhD.

What were the benefits of the PhD (ie. funds, time, facilities.etc)?

I receive a grant of £13,500 each year for 3 years. I also received a further £300 each year for study trips. I have had full use of the facilities at the University, the support of great staff, and interaction with the students across a number of courses at both MA and BA level.  I have to teach a minimum of 6 hours per week as part of my PhD. It has also allowed to focus on my work for 3 years. My PhD is practice based, so my research is drawn from my own work and this informs my research, so it has been an incredibly productive period in terms of output, but also in terms of developing ideas through research.

What attracted you to studying towards a PhD initially?

I had recently gone back into education as an opportunity to shake up my practice. My career was badly affected by the crash in 2008.  I lost my collectors, representation, and opportunities to exhibit. I did a Masters to open up new ways of working. After 2 years on the Masters, I felt there was a lot more I could achieve through continuing with my education, so I applied to do a PhD.

On retrospect, do you think the doctorate has enhanced your practice/career? If so, how? If not, how so?

Yes. The written and research aspects of the PhD has enhanced my practical work providing reasons to explore my ideas through other means. In order to answer the questions posed by the research, I have explored creative outlets that I would not have done or thought of previously. This is also due to the University environment, and what I have learnt from the students, staff, and the courses I have taught on.

Do you see differences between artists practice in ideas, content and form that are engaged in academic research (such as PhD) and those who work outside the academic environment post BA/MA education?

Not especially. I think any good artist will have a strong and well researched rationale for making a particular body of work. The PhD is more an opportunity to get this down in a more structured way and expand upon the research. You would go much further with a PhD, and expand into other areas, but as I have found, this creates new outlets to explore. I have found the process creative and inspiring, and I think the work I have made during the PhD has been my strongest to date, and this can be evidenced in the opportunities I have had to exhibit the work.

Would you ever consider that studying towards a PhD is a sign that you are struggling as an artist outside of education?

If you mean struggling financially, then to some extent this is true. The PhD has offered me financial stability which is a good environment to making work. I can focus on the work and not worry about having to take on other jobs that diminishes my time in the studio. An artist would not do a PhD to advance their career in the art world. It wouldn't help you get representation with a top gallery. The PhD isn't judged on the quality of the artwork, just on the ability of the artwork to be used as a methodology to answer an academic question. It is not a badge of artistic quality, as that is too subjective for a PhD.  


David Hancock graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 1996 and has been exhibiting widely since. He has appeared in a number of prominent exhibitions such as the John Moores 21, Young Masters and the BP Portrait Prize. He has had solo and group shows across the UK and Europe as well as New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He is currently undertaking a PhD at University of Salford. Hancock currently has a solo exhibition 'Cosplay' at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which runs until 1st June 2013.

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