Creative researchers urged to find words to sum up their own art works

March 27, 2008

Practice-based PhDs, where doctorates are awarded for "non-textual" submissions such as a work of art, are becoming more common. Yet researchers in the creative fields still lack a "properly developed language" to describe what they are doing, a debate at Northumbria University heard last week.

The conference, "All Maps Welcome: Doctoral Research Beyond Reading and Writing", was held to discuss how PhDs are being realised through "non-textual" forms of communication.

"You can't just do art, you need to have a reflective commentary on your processes ... and what (researchers) need is a way of being able to talk about what they are doing ... they need a language with a theoretical or philosophical basis," Wendy Wheeler, a reader in English at London Metropolitan University, told Times Higher Education.

"Arts and the sciences aren't that different - it is just that it is much harder for creative people to have a language for what they do," she added.

Practice-based PhDs, where the creation of an artistic work is the form of inquiry, have been rapidly increasing in popularity over the past two decades, although the subject has not been without controversy.

One debate that is currently raging in the field is whether the written component of a PhD, which is usually submitted alongside the work of art, could ever be abandoned, Chris Dorsett, a reader in arts school practices at Northumbria, who organised the conference, told Times Higher Education.

"Some people have an ambition to reach the point where (the artistic work) is the actual thesis," he said. There was also a "certain suspicion" in art schools of why any artist would want to undertake a PhD, he said.

"There is a growing demand. You can feel there is a change going on ... it will be interesting to see how much it changes the arts school sector," he said.

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