Media not the only message

July 22, 2010

I admire Peter Hill's commitment to "keeping it visual" in studio-art PhDs ("How to pass the sight test", 15 July), but he appears to claim special status for studio artists. I can assure him that the debate is no less rampant in the field of music, where composers and performers struggle to have the nature of their research recognised in "purely" musical terms (keeping it aural, you might say).

PhD candidates, for instance, are frequently called upon to provide lengthy pieces of written work in support of their aural submissions. Although the debate is carried out in sonic terms - just as "the revolutionary work of the Impressionists ... was argued out in paint on canvas" - there is a long history of composers writing about their own philosophies and strategies (Richard Wagner springs to mind). Even the Impressionists' debate was not confined to canvas; rather, although artistic debate may be focused in terms of its medium, it quickly enters the realm of discourse, be that written or spoken, and this is nothing to be too frightened of.

Are the letters of Vincent Van Gogh so different from those of Wagner in revealing his thinking about his art? Are they not in some way helpful? Written or spoken support of sonic or visual arguments can make matters clearer to those who lack the language of the medium. It is right to enable artists to forge their arguments in their chosen media, but let us not shun language's potential to support them.

Freya Jarman, Department of music, University of Liverpool.

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