Creative Arts and Ethics

At ANU, all research involving human participants or animals has to go through a process of ethics review. This means you need ethics approval for projects that are for an Honours or postgraduate thesis, books or book chapters and journal articles.

Other projects, like an exhibited artwork or art performance, may also need ethics approval. It's hard to define where 'art' and 'research' overlap. Some general guidance is provided below.

    When do you need ethics approval?

    • Any item from the list of examples of “research” from the National Statement definition below, including:
      • Interviewing or surveying other people for a publication including articles in academic journals, books and chapters, honours and postgraduate theses, etc.
      • Using personal data (including recordings, photos, film, quotes, opinions, health or demographic data) for a publication including articles in academic journals, books and chapters, honours and postgraduate theses, etc.
      • Using samples from humans (e.g., bones, teeth, hair, cadavers…)
    • Study or research in illegal activities, or artworks/performances about/involving illegal activities (e.g., vandalism or graffiti in a non-approved site)

    When might you need ethics approval?

    • Using human models/sitters for an artwork including as subject(s) for photography, film or other digital media
    • Using human participants in an art performance
    • Observing general public’s behaviour (e.g., in relation to an artwork or performance), performances involving members of the public, asking for public contribution to an artwork (e.g., writing messages on a canvas)
      • there is an exception in the National Statement for covert observation in public places where people might reasonably expect to be observed, but sometimes ethics approval is still required
    • Interviewing or surveying people for ideas or content for a literary work, artwork or performance
    • Using personal data (including recordings, photos, film, quotes, opinions, health or demographic data) in a publically displayed artwork

    Importance of consent and agreement

    Consent is a key ethical consideration in this area of study. 

    • Participants may disagree with an artistic interpretation of information/data they have provided (e.g., the way that the photo was taken of them, the way that a photo was distorted or manipulated, the way that their image was drawn…)
      • What will the process of consent be, and how will consent be obtained and continuously negotiated?
    • Are there any risks to participants: distressing topics; how identifiable will the participants be; does the artwork present any social or legal harm?
    • Are the human participants also considered co-creators of the artwork?
      • If so, there are also considerations of authorship/attribution/IP and a contract may be required.

    How do you define "research"?

    The definition of "research" can be quite broad, and sometimes includes art.

    British Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) states that research:

    "…includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.”

    National Statement on the Ethical Conduct of Human Research describes research as:

    "… investigation undertaken to gain knowledge and understanding or to train researchers… Human research is conducted with or about people, or their data or tissue. Human participation in research is therefore to be understood broadly, to include the involvement of human beings through:

    • taking part in surveys, interviews or focus groups;
    • undergoing psychological, physiological or medical testing or treatment;
    • being observed by researchers;
    • researchers having access to their personal documents or other materials;
    • the collection and use of their body organs, tissues or fluids (eg skin, blood, urine, saliva, hair, bones, tumour and other biopsy specimens) or their exhaled breath;
    • access to their information (in individually identifiable, re-identifiable or nonidentifiable form) as part of an existing published or unpublished source or database.”
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