A tenure-track professor can be promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, and then again to full professor. These promotions are typically based on what you’ve accomplished in three areas of your job: teaching (how well you’ve taught your classes), service (how you’ve contributed to the department/university/field through committees and leadership positions), and creative activity/research (how the art you’ve made has been received by the greater art community).
I think these are all reasonable areas to examine, but I have been concerned for some time about how the creative research area is evaluated. It is not really evaluated on its quality, in and of itself. Instead it is evaluated based on the way it has been received by others–how many exhibitions have you had, were they are fancier museums or local galleries, did art critics write about your work, did they write about them in national art publications or local newspapers, have you received any grants to support this work, how prominent an institution funded these grants, etc. This is all called peer review, and in theory it makes sense. It is a way to at least attempt to compile an objective perspective on how significant your artwork is.
However, I believe there are a number of problems with peer review in practice. For instance, it has tended to continue to prioritize classic forms of publication and exhibition in an era where digital dissemination of one’s work is the norm, and if anything classic venues and magazines are ignored by the majority of the population. It also prioritizes–not on purpose, but through the kinds of things it gives weight–working towards refinement of existing artforms and practices rather than experimenting with new ones.
I am personally much more interested in experimentation, and I prefer to disseminate and present my work in ways that are more likely to be encountered by the average person, rather than focusing on artworld audiences. Therefore, I have decided to make the my eventual promotion process to full professor an artwork, called Loki.
In Loki, I am still chasing excellence, and intend to prove that excellence via peer review, but I am utilizing peer review through non-standard-artworld contexts.
For instance, within the world of comic battle debating, I am a member of the Comic Vine Debater Hall of Fame, am the most-noted debater within the Battles of the Week, am a contender with other respected debaters in one-on-one debates, and am a top-50 wiki-writer in the world’s largest comic wiki. I have achieved certain levels of accomplishment for armor-building within the 501st Legion cosplay group, won a couple cosplay contest prizes, and had my cosplay featured on Marvel’s Costoberfest. I have organized multiple cosplay contests and cons. I have won a Marvel No-Prize. I have given talks about dinosaur aesthetics at prominent paleontology venues like the Museum of the Earth and the Field Museum. I am writing a sci-fi novel as a conceptual art work, and if it is published as hoped, that would count as a form of peer reviewed publishing in a field normally not recognized by the art world. I have been hired to organize a comic store’s comics because of my excellence in that role. All of these are ways I am playing, Loki-style, with the concept of peer review, simultaneously taking its basic concept quite seriously but also trying to subvert its conservative nature within academia.
To create an analogy with comic battle debating: in comic battle debating, we debate by “feats”–in other words, you can’t just say Hulk is stronger than Superman, you have to show feats that prove (or disprove) that argument. Similarly, peer review is based on feats. I plan to use non-standard feats to build my own peer review, as Loki would.
A parallel way to look at these questions would be to ask, what is expertise? Theoretically, someone who is promoted and tenured, and especially someone who is a full professor, is an expert by definition. But what other ways can one gain expertise other than by credentialing, or at least without formal training? My adventures in paleontology and geek culture are both attempts to gain expertise through self-education.
Loki is, famously, the trickster god of the Norse. Tricksters interrogate their context, they poke fun. They do not destroy–after they find a hole, that hole can then be patched. That is my goal here.
Of course, this could all blow up in my face, and I get denied promotion. But I feel that tenure–which comes along with one’s first promotion, and which I have–is a privilege we need to live up to. In other words, I think I have a responsibility to make tenure count, and to try to do things that I couldn’t do unless I already had it. This tilting at the windmills of promotion, with a trickster god as my aegis, seems like an appropriate way to do that.