Toolmaking as an indicator of artistic research

It is often difficult to define the borders between immediate artistic expression and artistic research. As shown in the examples here, in the minds of many of us the artistic research and the craft of tool-making are frequently very closely knit together. The creation of tools for an artistic research project helps us easier distinguish it from an unconscious act of creating/performing art. The importance of tools for research is clear – just ask yourselves: is research without tools at all possible?

Let us for a second have a look at what a tool is: a tool is simply an implement used to achieve a goal. Any implement, and any goal.

                When encountering a specific problem, the composer/researcher is often prompted to develop a solution, be it a hardware, a software or a methodological one, which would enable him/her to overcome a said problem. And after the obstacle is overcome, this entity, this tool – remains. Remains to be fine tuned, expanded, re-used, re-purposed, shared. Outgrowing the boundaries of a single art-piece, it gets a life of its own.

                Similar to Whorf’s and Wittgenstein’s assumption that language plays a decisive role in shaping our view of reality, so do we shape our tools and our tools shape us[1]. Our social practices co-evolve with our use of new tools and the refinements we make to existing tools. Tools, and by extend, technologies (since the simplest form of technology is the development and use of basic tools) “… don’t just fill antecedently existing needs and they don’t do so merely by amplifying what we can do. They let us do new things, not only to solve old problems but also to frame new ones.”(…) “(…) but they also enable us to think thoughts and understand ideas that we couldn’t think or understand without them.”[2]


[1]              “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” – John Culkin, 1967. Misattributed to Marshall McLuhan, but actually written by Father John Culkin, SJ., a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and friend of McLuhan.

[2] “Strange tools – Art and human nature”, Alva Noë, Hill and Wang, New York, 2015