Writing Assignments

Rethinking the Introductory Art History Survey: A Practical, Somewhat Theoretical, and Inspirational Guide


Formal analysis due in two parts: Feb 8 and Feb 22 (15%) – Choose a original work of art that you wish to write about. Spend about an hour examining it, taking brief notes about its size, form, composition, and subject matter. Think about how your eye moves across or through it. What causes your eye to do that? Look away and then back, where does your eye first rest? Once you feel that you can describe the work without looking at it again you are ready to write. Describe the work in such a way that you can recreate it for someone who cannot see it. You should start by giving an overall description of the form, shape and size of the piece then give a rough outline of the composition. If it is a landscape painting, for example, you should start by saying something like: “A landscape dominated by a large tree in the central front of the picture plane and level ground stretching away from the tree on either side as far as the horizon line in the middle of the picture plane half way up the canvas. Several figures are arrayed around the tree, some sitting, some standing.” After you have given the reader a general idea of the image describe the most salient visual details that draw the eye around the image. These details can be the light, color, careful design, striking facial features or gestures etc.

Note: Your paper should include footnotes if you have read anything about the image you are analyzing. Your paper should also include a good copy of the image with the source of this copy cited in the paper.

      Feb. 8 - Brief description of the image you have chosen to write the formal analysis on explaining why you have chosen it.

      Feb. 22 – Final due

Comparative Historial Analysis due April 4 (15%) - Choose at least two works of art from distinctly different time periods that have the same subject matter. Research when, where, why and how the two works were made. Based upon this research draw some conclusions regarding what accounts for the differences and similarities between the two works. Your paper should begin with brief, clear and evocative formal analyses of both works, be about 7 to 10 pages long have clear and correct footnotes and bibliography that demonstrate your ability to find a number of different types of sources.

Glossary of terms due April 30 (15%) –  Anita Berber: Imaging a Weimar Performance Artist Your glossary should consist of no fewer than 15 words taken from the readings that you have done for this class. Each entry should include:

The word; A definition of the word from a current dictionary and/or a book of contemporary art historical terms (such as Bill Ashcroft et. al, Post-Colonial Studies The key concepts, London: Routledge, 1998); An example of author’s use of the term and a sentence or two description of how you understand the term’s use in the art history have read so far. For example:

Subject (with a particular focus on subjectivity): Graham defines subjectivity in his article as “how subjects are created, how these subjects police themselves, and how they so internalize an authoritarian order that their own position of subjected-ness to structures of dominance is understood as part of the natural order.” (Mark Miller Graham, “Future of Art History and the Undoing of the Survey,” Art Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3, Rethinking the Introductory Art History Survey (Autumn, 1995), pp. 30-34, p. 31). In Raymond William’s Key Words A vocabulary of culture and society, (revised edition, 1983) he defines subject with its conventional contrast: object(ive). He goes through the history of the use of the terms explaining their essential distinctions as focused in subjective as “based on impressions rather than facts, and hence as influenced by personal feelings and relatively unreliable”. (Williams, p. 311) But then he goes on to critique this absolute definition noting “In this context a sense of something shameful, or at least weak, attaches to subjective, although everyone will admit that there are subjective factors, which have usually to be put in their place.” (Williams, p. 312) He ends by noting that “Subjective and objective, we might say, need to be thought through – in the language rather than within any particular school – every time we wish to use them seriously.” (Williams, p. 312) This leads me back Graham who I think was concerned to focus on the idea of subjectivity as something imposed by an external force on the powerless student who is taking (or shall we say “subjected to”) the survey. I take the importance of the use of the term here to be that if the student perceives him or herself to be unable to sufficiently appreciate the artistic production that the survey deems canonical then the student is encouraged to assume that this lack of appreciation is evidence of his or her own insufficiency.  

Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012, 7:30 AM