This exercise is called a response essay. Looking is not as simple as you may think. Rather than merely describe the object, you will want to analyze it. You need to ask yourself the questions:
- “What associations, ideas or emotions does the work evoke for me?”
- “Why do I have this response? What attributes of this work (lines, colors, subject matter, expressions) evoke those associations, ideas or emotions?
The challenge is to analyze a work of art, separating its parts in order to understand the whole. You must resist the urge to merely describe, and instead evaluate the object.
Organization of the Paper
(Further explanations and examples can be found in the Survival Guide handout)
- The Introduction (Not necessarily in order.)
- Write a Short Description of the Work You Have Chosen. Include identifying subject matter or forms, setting or space, color, and medium, artist and current location.
- State Your Main Argument. A thesis statement related to the overall effect or meaning of the object. (i.e. What does this work mean?)
- State (Briefly) the Ways in Which You Will Prove It. (Forecast your main points.)
- The Main Body: You will describe three or four pieces of evidence from the work you’re looking at to support your thesis statement. This evidence can be from any of the following areas. You don’t need to use them all.
- The medium (the material the work is made with), the medium’s traits, and the artist’s use of the medium.
- The relevant visual elements (i.e.: line, shape and space, composition and relative scale, light and color, style)
- The composition (i.e.: unity/variety, balance, emphasis, focal point)
- The subject matter, if the work is representational. (What does it picture. If there are people, how do they react to each other or the viewer.)
- The relationship the formal elements and composition have to the subject’s meaning (or overall effect).
- The Conclusion
- Restate the Main Argument.
- Place this work of art into the big picture. Relate it to a larger issue, art-historical movement, etc.
- Attach an image of the object (This can be a postcard purchased from the museum bookstore, a photograph, or your sketch. Your own sketch does not need to be professional quality.)
Don’t forget to include the objective information somewhere within the paper: artist, culture, date and period; medium; size; museum. Most, if not all, will be available on the museum label found near the object.
Keep in mind that this is not a narrative essay. In other words, we’re not looking for the story of your museum visit. We’re looking for your persuasive argument about what the work you’ve chosen means and what the evidence is that it means what you say.
Mechanics of the Paper
- The paper should be 1000 words in length. This will turn out to be approximately 5 to 6 paragraphs, and approximately 3-5 pages in length.
- Pages numbered.
- Proper organization, complete sentences, grammar, punctuation, spelling and word choice.
Remember that less-than-graceful writing will count strongly against you, as well as misspellings and typos and other signs of carelessness. Proofread. It helps to have someone else read over your draft before you finalize it. You’ll be amazed at what you miss.
Professor Comments: Great job on the rough draft! On the final skip the headings for each section as it interrupts the flow of the paper.