Interdisciplinary: Discuss (Level 5)

Charles Avery – The Islanders

This installation, a the 2009 Tate Triennial, thoroughly summed up, for me, my practice at the time. I couldn’t understand why, but I love the fun of it all. The fact that the artist included his drawings of the creatures to go with the models, which almost undermines the models as being accurate representations of the supposed creatures and the all-inclusive presentation of his thought process in inventing this island were definitely what drew my attention though. Why had I not seen this all-inclusive type of work before?

Avery left/got kicked out of Goldsmiths because he refused to focus on one medium, or one philosophy, or one theme. He limited himself by inventing this odd little island world and creating a paradise focusing on violence, escapism and everything that popped into his busy head. The fact that it is displayed as a museum piece rather than work in a gallery, to me, comes across as very anti ‘fine art’, in it’s blatant “These were my ideas, now view them. Do not interpret”. This I enjoyed. It showed that there was more to art than creating something with a hidden meaning, as I was being taught at the time. Why does the meaning have to be hidden? It made no sense to me.

This freedom of thought is what led me to explore the term ‘interdisciplinary’ and ultimately led me to come for interview on this course. The ideas surrounding Avery’s work seem to be reflected a lot through this course; the openness to theory in practice; the freedom of media and lack of limitations within one project; the ability to work in your own way, whether that’s lots of little project or one never ending project that runs one through to the other (probably best termed as openness to obsession in Avery’s case); and the inclusive nature of projects, with every stage having an effect on the outcome.

Patrick Kirk-Smith.

Ryan Johnson, at the Saatchi Gallery London.

An example of Interdisciplinary art.

Sentinel (Orange) (detail) Sentinel (Orange) (detail)

Sentinal. 2008, casting tape, rebar, plywood, cement, plastic, spray paint, glass, aluminium, and enamel paint. 327.7 x 124.5 x 55.9cm.

Firstly interdisciplinary art is about not being restricted as an artist, it is encouraged to make links between disciplines to form a highly flexible practice. Johnson has created his work using a variety of media that all work together to make his pieces. His work symbolizes the hollowed skin to form a disembodied armour, an a time consuming tick tock face. The orange represents the colour of medical tape but also doubles as an emergency suit uniform, defining an image of hero, past and present and the figure of safety and reassurance in society. Johnson’s sculptures in the series are also equipped with marker pens so that the audience can interact with the sculptures, writing on them messages just like it would be done on a plaster cast of a patient. This is also described as,

“The public outpouring of adulation becoming graffiti defacement of monuments no longer valued.”

Johnson makes links between ‘stuff’ his work is made from and its actual function, clocks replacing faces, as time is a burden to us all. Steel rods are formed as ligaments, the scuptures aesthetically show the walking wounded. It is a comical way of demonstrating the tell tale signs of age. When even reaching for the phone seems impossible, the unanswered calls are scribed on the sculpture.

Sentinel (Please Hold)

Sentinel (please hold.) 2008. casting tape, rebar, plywood, cement, plastic, spray paint, glass, aluminium, and enamel paint. 348 x 299.7 x 182.9 cm.


Interdisciplinary art

I believe interdisciplinary art in its core to be working across different disciplines, having skills (or making the effort to gain those skills), perhaps not to perfection, to work in any medium, and any field. For example Naum Gabo first studied medicine and engineering before turning to sculpture. This allowed him an understanding of the technical side of things, and later art was introduced. Perhaps this also allows for the public to access the work better? Today so much work is conceptual that for someone who hasn’t studied art, and sometimes even for us, it’s hard to see what the work is about, and you need to in order to understand it. However, in cases of interdisciplinary art, accessibility is widened to a larger audience, perhaps someone with an engineering background has more appreciation for art that he or she can understand (in the way it was made, or the connotations to the materials etc.).

Naum Gabo, Linear Construction in Space No. 4

Another example is Joseph Cornell. I don’t know if I would literally class him as an interdisciplinary artist, because his contact with science was more conceptual, but maybe a concept can be interdisciplinary too? Isn’t the point of it in a way to have no limits, no certain way of thinking? Maybe everyone perceives it slightly differently, and we all have our own interdisciplinary ways…

Joseph Cornell, Soap Bubble Set, 1936.



To me to be an interdisciplinary is to work across a broad range of disciplines and in doing so discover connections between them in your work that makes your practice unique.

Dane Patterson

Dane Patterson can draw like crazy; but many steps—performance, sculpture, and photography—lead up to it” Wong Yap, 2010

There is a lot of art out there. I think being an interdisciplinary artist puts you in a good position as your work, in its very nature, sets you apart from other work due to the unusual combination of methods you employ. Dane Patterson is a fantastically talented draughtsman. Using simple materials such as graphite and colour pencil he renders his drawings to quality of photographs. He is obviously very skilled however I feel to make an impact you need to be selective in what your draw. This is where Patterson demonstrates interdisciplinary practice as he draws performance. He carries out personal tasks such testing out how much he can carry or uses himself as a photo-album for an event. This is something that often in purely photographed to document and exhibit. In drawing from the photographs I think Patterson is discussing the immediacy of performance and photography against the permanence of drawn work. You could not draw a performance from live action to the level he does and the decision to continue his process from performance to photography and then into drawing shows the level to which you can develop interdisciplinary work.

Wong Yap, C, 2010,  On Be(com)ing an Artist, Citizen and Arts Community member [online] Available at: [accessed on 24th March 2011]

Claire Selman


Laura Holmes:

I believe the term ‘Interdisciplinary’ to be very much like the nature of this course – it’s what you make of it. To each of us it will mean something different, in the same way that we have each explored the same briefs but have all taken different avenues to reach an outcome or response to the original. For me when I look at a brief, each step of the way is interdisciplinary, from initial research to the final outcome. It is a crossover and integration between academic disciplines and creative practices, and where both worlds can inform and develop one another. It is informed by past, present and even future to some extent.

Collaboration has been an important part of developing my practice. One artist who I have researched in relation to this is Mark Cooper:

His work is interdisciplinary in the sense that he uses a variety of media, and often works with community groups or schools. The content for his pieces ‘address a range of curricular and conceptual concerns’ and are inform by social issues and themes.

In my opinion, without an open mind one cannot be categorized as ‘interdisciplinary’. It is about being open to ideas, change, and new experiences; not only for the maker, but for the viewer as well.


Interdisciplinary art can be as complicated as you like, or it can be as simple as 1 2 3 4 5!



3 Responses to Interdisciplinary: Discuss (Level 5)

  1. For me being an Interdisciplinary artist/designer is all about being versatile and adaptable, being able to work alongside non artistic disciplines using our creative talents to enhance the world around us. Interdisciplinary is not just about the diversity of materials and processes we use it is also about the unique approach we apply to non-artistic industries, combining disciplines to stimulate the imagination of others.
    Members of society which are not involved with art and design are often blind to the fact that most of what they come into contact with on a daily basis has been designed or realized by a creative individual. The importance of Art and Design in itself is undervalued and through an interdisciplinary approach this barrier can be broken. Creativity has the power to bring people together from different professions and create a positive environment.
    Karen Guthrie and Nina Pope are interdisciplinary collaborative artists that ‘make a difference’ through the work they do with the community and a great example of how we as creatives can change things for the better.
    “The idea of the project was to harness the enthusiasm of the local residents’ group for growing their own food and to create an iconic garden for them to learn and experiment with this, one that would be inspiring to visitors too. In our response to the brief to design the permanent garden at the site, we included a clause that the success (or not) of the ‘harvest garden’ would inform how a productive community garden would be included in the permanent scheme: In this way, the current project can be seen as a social and horticultural experiment. Unlike most allotments, it was crucial to us that the garden to be cultivated communally, that no one ‘owned’ any of it. We employed a Garden Club Leader to regularly head up gardening sessions on site and provide encouragement and knowledge and the site is open dawn to dusk with – so far- no security or vandalism issues.”

  2. Katie Broadley says:

    Interdisciplinary has pretty much already been summed up with the previous points and I would simple like to extend on these by showing more examples of interdisciplinary.
    These artists use a mixture of science and digital art to create abstract pieces that define how interdisciplinary works. In this modern era art is not always as straight forward as paint on canvas or charcoal on paper. With so many materials and techniques accessible to us, art goes through many stages of different media before the final outcome is complete.

    Neutron Star Scattering off a Super Massive Black Hole, Tim Koby 2011.

    Powering the Eye, Praveena Joseph-de Saram and Michael J. Berry.

    Viscous Flow, Shelley Chan, Josue Sznitman and Alexander J. Smits

    Therapeutic Illumination, David Nagib.

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