Sara Muzira

Journal of the Institute of Psycho-Scientific Research Vol.


The Journal of the Institute of Psycho-Science
Volume I: July 2011
Sara Muzira                                                                 Pursuing the By-Product of Art

The principles of psycho-scientific research as applied by the little known and recently established Institute of Psycho-Scientific Research are relatively new. In seeking to discover why visual artists continue to make art in the face of negligible or no economic return and in many cases no cultural recognition either, researchers in the past have come up with little more than ‘I do it because I want to’.[1]
By focusing on the simultaneous reflective thinking and art practice of an individual artist, Muzira has shown that it is possible to identify and measure the by-products of art, and to communicate these through a series of comparative graphing techniques.
This research is the first to identify the intangible and invisible products created alongside each piece of traditional art work.
The question I have been researching is ‘What is the by-product of art?’ In this report I will highlight some of the key artists working in this area, as well as other areas of research. I will outline two main pieces of empirical research undertaken during the three months of the research period, and the outcome of this research.
 The spark
The starting point for this research was a piece of writing by Jean Dubuffet. He describes creating prints. “The equipment is very simple, consisting of three or four tables – two of which hold a piece of glass, or , better still, a sheet of thick rhodoid – a litre of India ink, several hundred sheets of the good offset paper used by printers.”
Dubuffet goes on to describe the process of printing, using dust and bits of pieces from around the house. His writing describes the excitement of what he refers to as ‘the hunt’. In his prints Dubuffet sees fantastical creatures and landscapes, and he is driven to print more and more of his images. The writing suggests that Dubuffet gets a bit carried away with this excitement, but in describing it in the present tense (although it must have been written retrospectively) it does convey a sense that he, as artist, is being driven to carry on working, and is gaining something other than the actual prints. His writing exudes energy and creativity.[2]
I felt a connection with this piece of writing, bizarre though it is. Here is someone trying to capture in words what is really happening while he makes prints.
Several thousand years ago, villager/pastoralists were painting on the walls of caves in Tassili in Algeria – images of giraffes, village life, farming. Some of these were beautiful, some layered upon others. What made these artists go to the considerable effort of making pigment and painting? Did they get the same feeling of ‘stimulation of the spirit’ described by Dubuffet?
Chales van Santen, in his paper ‘The Tassili Prehistoric Rock Paintings’ p.5, suggests that the motivation for these artists was as teaching aids for the traditional bush school, instructing teenagers on all aspects of village life. This is an interesting idea which appeals to the artist-teacher-researcher.[3]
Over the last two years I have visited the British Sugar factory at Bury St Edmunds on many occasions, taking a sketchbook and camera to make visual images. While I never saw any sugar being made as a final product, I saw the range of by-products – top-soil, electricity, cattle-feed, Limex, for example.
This research project aims to answer the question “What is the by-product of art?” Following on from this is the question “How can we measure the by-product of art?”
I have made the assumption, based on anecdotal and personal experience, that there is a by-product to be identified and measured.
Research Field and Literature Review
Other artist-researchers working in this field have applied scientific/empirical research methods to visual images.
Andrea Büttner’s practice has combined traditional large-scale woodcut techniques which result in a traditional image on paper, alongside research covering a number of issues including ‘shame’. In a conversation with Gil Leung she says, ‘I would deprive myself if I stopped carving.’ Also: ‘I do the woodcuts now because I like them.’[4]
Andrea Büttner is working as a professional artist, and is analysing and defining what she does. And yet, she is still talking about deriving pleasure from making something beautiful, in a way that amateur or ‘hobby’ artists might do.
Angela Bulloch’s work has looked at interactivity, including the display of work. Some of her work has reacted to the movements of the viewers, getting away from the ‘please do not touch’ approach of most art galleries. She has done some interesting work with rules – subtly changing rules and how we respond to them.[5]
Visits to the Tracey Emin Show[6] and the Mel Brimfield: This is Performance Art[7] invited consideration of display, and in particular the use of text. In the Mel Brimfield show what appeared to be a very straightforward documentary/museum historical explanation about 20th century art, turned out to be a very funny display and film, where you wondered as viewer what was really true and what wasn’t – and how you would know.
Tracey Emin’s show was more ‘honest’ but still drew me in, reading the text and looking for clues about the artist. I enjoyed her invitations to become friends of her ‘museum’, with subscription form and special offers.
Gabriel Orozco[8]s Obit Series 2008 used headlines from obituaries in the New York Times. I liked the way he ‘borrowed’ words – apparently using headlines and displaying them at random, but actually selecting those he liked, and following a system of his own making for the size of the font (ie following rules – his own rules).
Mark Dion has taken the mirroring of art/science to a different level, displaying ‘real’ science labs, and undertaking ’real’ research (for example his Tste Thames Dig. Dion is interested in systems of classification, and how people bring order into the world.[9]
After some hesitation (or embarrassment) in sharing the Institute’s methodology with outsiders, I shared my research with a fellow artist in London. As a retired government insurance expert, he suggested I look at ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’ by Edward R Tufte[10]. Tufte, in the introduction to the 2nd edition, refers to the ‘intellectual and aesthetic joy of visual evidence, visual reasoning, and visual understanding.’ The book covers an extraordinary range of graphical representation of all sorts of information and statistics, along with advice on how not to present information. A key message is to ensure that the graphics are data-rich.
‘For non-data-ink, less is more.
 For data-ink, less is a bore.’[11]
A trawl through the internet  produced a vast number of graphs, representing just about anything at all that can be graphed. Reassuringly, several of these were apparently hand-drawn and sketchy.

The first research study was based on the whole of College Heath Middle School making a model factory. We aimed to cover the school floor with model sugar factories (in an attempt to produce installation work in the style of Gormley’s Field or Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds.) There was a real feeling of factory production line about it – a lot of decision making and grumbling about the quality of the raw materials, especially glue. The children wrote comments, but the video did a better job of capturing the ‘buzz’ (the by-product).

We did not cover the hall floor, but the common aim created a sense of purpose and shared dialogue.
The second research study has taken myself as the subject. Over a period of 2 months each time I have done any practical art activity, I have simultaneously measured and plotted a by-product. This has resulted in a bank of empirical and comparative graphical data.


Each graph records a moment in time and a piece of practical art work. Reading across the set of data it is clear that a by-product clearly does exist, and that it can be measured with a reasonable degree of accuracy.[12]
After the initial graphs the format was agreed and approved by the Institute for Psycho-science (IPR), and rules for each graph were set and followed rigorously, thereby ensuring that each graph is a true graphical representation of what actually happened at the time recorded.
Coloured sticky dots were used for recording. This enabled the researcher to make decisions about placement unencumbered by rulers or other measuring equipment. The dots were numbered at the time; links were drawn in retrospectively.
On only one occasion the chosen dots were blown away, and the researcher was obliged to change pattern half way through the graph.
Enrolling on a drawing course in London has provided new venues and activities on which to try out these research techniques. The sticky dots have travelled the length of the River Thames in London in a quest for verification of the existence of a by-product.
It also provided opportunities to research informally the by-product of fellow students. For example, “It is exhilarating.”
Unexpected by-products
Once the format of the graphs was agreed, the focus switched to which by-product was being measured, and a new by-product – the words themselves – was noted. Searching for the words led to browsing, noting and eavesdropping to find interesting by-products for the next graph.
On only one occasion was the chosen word rejected in the field and replaced with an alternative. The rules allowed for this change which enabled measurement to take place on that occasion (where otherwise no measurement was possible).
The results of the research undertaken for this paper show conclusively that there is a by-product of art that can be measured.
The practice of art not only produces what we might traditionally think of as “art”[1], but also creates in the practitioner a wealth of ideas, thoughts and reflections, which, once they are measured empirically, appear to multiply exponentially. So, given a reflective artist, each time artwork is created, so too are any number of apparently intangible products which the artist may not be aware of. By recording these at the time of making this research shows that the artist can be made aware of the by-products, and that in doing this the artist is likely to produce even more of these ‘intangibles’ (or ideas).
More artwork seems likely to lead to more ideas, which in turn lead to more ideas.
What more argument could be needed to support the teaching of art in schools, and the encouragement of artists at all levels of ability throughout the community? It must be stressed that this will only be the result if deep reflection is taking place wherever and whenever possible. This too is something that can and should be taught.

[1] Prints, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, and other tangible ‘art works’.v

[1] Sara Selwood, ‘I do it because I want to’: fine artists, self-sufficiency and the arts economy, published in ‘The Dynamics of Now’, by Wimbledon School of Art in association with Tate Publishing 2000, p.167.
[2] Dubuffet, J. “Empreintes, 1957 from Les Lettres Nouvelles (Paris) V, 48, April 1957, pp. 507-527. Published in Chipp, Herschel B, Theories of Modern Art,University of California Press, Berkely California 1968
Angela Bulloch at Esther Schipper
[6] Love is What you Want Hayward Gallery 18May – 29 August
[7] Yorkshire Sculpture Park
[8] Tate Modern 2011-07-21
[10] Published by Graphics Press Ltd Cheshire, Connecticut 2001
[11] Edward R Tufte, ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’ published by Graphics Press LLC, Connecticut, USA, 2009 p. 176
[12] Margins of error are within acceptable limits
[13] Prints, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, and other tangible ‘art works’.