Processes of study in the arts and humanities
Processes of study in the arts and humanities

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Processes of study in the arts and humanities

6.2.3 Precise reference to ‘linear’ texts

You may find it more difficult to provide evidence from texts in which sounds, words or images follow on from one another over time (such as music and videos, plays and novels). Music is perhaps particularly hard to pin down. Sounds weave in and out of each other so that at first you may experience the music as seamless. But there are different ‘movements’ or ‘passages’ in music; moments at which a ‘melody’ is first introduced and later passages when it is repeated, for example. You can distinguish between these and other, different passages in the music by locating them within a description of the music's ‘development’, making precise reference to its structure. A certain ‘chord’ sounds just after the ‘first repetition’ of the melody, for instance; or just before the trumpet ‘fanfare’. You can also identify and describe the patterning and effects of different elements of the music, such as its ‘harmony’, ‘rhythm’ and ‘timbre’ (the quality of sound associated with different instruments or voices).

Although novels, play-texts and film-scripts are written rather than aural texts, they are similar in the way that they unfold bit by bit, in a linear way. Here too you can identify particular developments or moments by locating them within the overall structure – in this case, of the ‘plot’ – and again by reference to time and event (after the scene at the ball, when the characters first meet, before the picnic, during the thunder storm). And, as with music, you can describe and discuss formal elements, such as ‘character’, ‘tone of voice’, ‘dialogue’, ‘point of view’. However, in these cases, you can also quote relevant words, sentences and short ‘speeches’ from the text.

When you are discussing the performance of a play or moving images, you again think in terms of ‘plot’ and structure, identifying particular moments in the ways we have just seen. Here again, you can include your own sketches or diagrams to provide evidence of the visual relationships you are discussing.

Multiple texts

Very often you will be studying ‘the art’ or ‘the literature’ of a particular period and therefore a number of texts rather than just one. Or perhaps you will be using a range of different documents as the basis of your interpretation of an historical event. And what if your subject is interdisciplinary (Religious or Classical Studies, say) and you study many different kinds of text (written, visual and symbolic), ‘bringing together’ your judgements of them to explain certain beliefs, practices or ways of living?

In all these cases, the processes of analysis, interpretation and judgement we have discussed still apply to each particular work of art, building, document, ceremony and so forth that you study. And the kinds of evidence you use to justify your judgements of these different texts are also just as we have seen. However, the danger here is that you may be tempted to analyse and interpret these many texts less carefully than you might when dealing with only one or two – moving too quickly towards your judgements, and then too quickly again towards their implications for the times, beliefs or ways of life you are discussing. This is known as ‘reading off the text’ (that is, off its surface), and you should try not to do it.

For example, if your subject is Religious Studies and you are discussing the beliefs of, say, Browning's contemporaries, there will be many different sources you might study – hymns, paintings, scientific theories, church buildings, accounts of religious ceremonies… In this situation, it is better to select a few representative texts and talk about them in some detail rather than opting for thin coverage of a large number of them. In the end, precise and detailed reference to fewer texts makes for a more convincing case.


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