A Handy Dandy Guide to

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					                                              A Handy Dandy Guide to
                                           WRITING ABOUT ART
                                                  Brought to you by CTLR


A FEW THINGS TO NOTE
 Art history professors are nice people, and all of them are willing to help with your paper. Don’t be afraid to talk to them.
 Writing about art is not the same as writing about literature. Art cannot be analyzed as a “visual text.” Works of art are
   much more subjective than works of literature because they immediately lose meaning when they are extracted out of their
   historical-social context. What does this mean for your paper?
            o Your personal observations and analyses of the artwork are valid, but they must be made in accordance with
                the historical and scholarly context of a piece of art. Pay attention to what art historians are saying!
            o If you make an observation or interpret a painting in a new way and you cannot find any research proposing
                the same idea, try to find an example in another artist’s work from the same time period or try to find a
                cultural/historical context for your new idea. You need to back up your opinion with more than visual data
                from the work of art.
            o Here are some examples:
                       BAD: The use of red in Vermeer’s paintings signifies love because red always means love.
                       BETTER: The use of red in depictions of Christ traditionally signifies blood and thus Christ’s
                          sacrifice. Here are 15 examples of religious texts that bespeak the significance of red.
 Responding to visual stimuli in writing gets complicated quickly--- clarity is essential for writing about art. Strive for
   precision and a clearly explained argument over flourish, complexity, and syntactic creativity
 The organization of your argument must be clear and active. Feel free to lay out your entire argument at the very
   beginning.
            o First person is okay
            o Phrasing such as, “In this paper I will argue…” is okay…especially if it gives a higher level of clarity in your
                argument.

HOW TO START
 Start the process EARLY. You don’t have to start writing weeks in advance, but you need to order materials via ILL.
 Pick a general topic (i.e. Jackson Pollock, the Parthenon Frieze, Botticelli’s mythological paintings, the Portinari
  Altarpiece)
 Start your inquiry with a general source like your textbook or Grove Encyclopedia of Art (accessible on the LIS Database
  Website and provides general information and a bibliography)
 Search a research database (the best is the Bibliography of the History of Art) for recent and relevant articles, books, and
  anthologies. Find the articles and books in Middlebury’s collection or order them from other libraries

GENERATING A THESIS
 Prof Garrison: Read around. Read many different opinions and approaches to your general topic. Try to find out what
  isn’t being said in these articles instead of trying to generate what you want to say from thin air.

RESEARCH
 Judy Watts is the art history library liaison. She can help you access research tools for art history research
          o Email: jwatts/ Office: Lib 206
 Use Chicago Citation Style (see handout)
 Sources should be varied
          o Books are good, but are often too general in subject.
          o Academic articles are often more pointed and scholarly than books.
          o Exhibition catalogues contain articles and analyses of individual works.
 Sources should be (for the most part) current-- art history changes quickly and ideas from the 1940s are outdated
 Books in the Middlebury library are often outdated…order your sources early on ILL/Nexpress
 Read critically—don’t accept every argument you read as fact!

FINISHING
 You need to include images, especially if you are referencing images that were not discussed at length in class.
 Don’t forget a title!!!! It can be bi-partite. One line addresses the general subject of your paper the other addresses your
   specific argument.
                                            TYPES OF ASSIGNMENTS:
FORMAL ANALYSIS
 Usually 2-4 pages in length
 Often, the analysis is a piece in the Middlebury Museum of Art
 Consists of analyzing the formal qualities of one object and analyzing what these characteristics might tell us about the
  society that created them
 No really research required, but some background research might be helpful.
 Do not just describe the piece. It is an analysis!

COMPARISON
 Usually 4-8 pages in length
 Requires you to compare and contrast two similar works of art
 You cannot simply list the differences, but analyze what these differences in similarity mean.
 Topics should have some sort of connection to each other
          o pick two paintings by the same artist, two buildings within the same tradition, two illustrations from the same
                manuscript, or two paintings of the same subject by different artists
 John Hunisak: Pick one element (i.e. color, composition), trace it through two different works, and analyze what is means.
          o Eg. Trace the differences in composition used in two “Madonna and Child” paintings by two Italian
                Renaissance artists. What do these say about each artist’s style or the changing art market?
 Organization can be either the “Layering” or “Lumping” style. See attached except from Barnett.
 You must demonstrate that you consulted and considered outside research, although in-depth secondary research is not
  the central focus of your paper.
 Examples of thesis statements:

The Utrecht Psalter’s illuminations are visual representations of the political agenda of the ecclesiastical institutions against
Carolingian rule. Specifically, in Psalms 1 and 18, we find an iconographic program that breaks Psalter tradition in order to
promote a paradigm of dynastic subordination to the ecclesiastical authority.

The ancient Shinto shrines and the newly imported Buddhist temples in Japan have their own distinct architectural traits that
express the relationship between experience and functionality. In particular, the formal architectural qualities of the Ise Shrine
and Horyuji Temple echo the fundamental beliefs and rituals of Shinto and Buddhism, respectively.

RESEARCH PAPER
 Usually between 8-12 pages
 Uses on average 10-15 sources
 Can be on 1 object, a movement, an artist
 Must have a strong, pointed thesis that is provable within the page limits.
 Examples of a Thesis:

The Duomo of Pisa represents a completely unique expression of the Romanesque style, incorporating architectural elements
from Muslim traditions, from Byzantine and contemporary Italian precedents, and even from Ancient Roman models.
However, the innovative spirit of Buschetto’s design is not only rooted in his adaptation of international styles into one
coherent building, but in his ability to express an individualized and glorified Pisan identity through his adaptation and
appropriation of foreign precedents into a unique building.

Through complex iconographical and compositional relationships between St. Anthony and disease, Hieronymus Bosch
created an altarpiece that could be used as a devotional vehicle for spiritual and therapeutic healing in a hospital setting.

While Haring fulfills the certain definition of the marginalized artist given by the traditional art world and this definition forces
his work to communicate this cultural mediation, his work is not always intentionally representative of the marginalized other,
but instead of his own personal struggles.