Writing Art History

"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all." - Michelangelo Buonarroti

 
Michelangelo, Moses from the Tomb of Pope Julius II, c. 1513 - 1515.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It is commonly assumed that vision is immediate. It seems direct, uncomplicated, and instantaneous—which is why it has arguably become the master sense for the delivery of information in the contemporary technological world. However, just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it. Just because something is available instantly to vision does not mean that it is available instantly to consciousness."
- Jennifer L. Roberts
 
Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Shepardess, 1732 - 1806.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Questions Art Historians Ask
   
  • Chronology = When was it made? How old is it?
  • Provenance = Where was it made? Who paid for it, and when?
  • Artist = Who made it? Under what conditions was the work conceived?
  • Style = How does it look? Is that look particular to a time, place or artist?
  • Subject = Who and what is depicted? What story is being told?
  • Iconography = What symbols are used and what do they mean?
  • Form = How was the work composed and made?
Consider the formal elements such as composition, materials, technique, line, color, texture, space, mass, volume, perspective, foreshortening, proportion, scale, etc.
Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, Giovanna Cenami, 1434.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To analyze a work of art:
 
1. Describe the work
 
2. What questions do you ask of the work?
 
3. Choose a method to better understand the work

Remember, you the viewer, use the method to better understand the artwork. Sometimes the artist uses a method to make the work, but the work NEVER uses the methods because it's a thing, not a person.

 
4. Develop an argument that articulates meaning
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, c. 1484 - 1486.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Historical Methodologies
   
Formalism
considers the visual elements of a work such as line, composition, color, media to interpret meaning
   
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Iconography
identifies the symbols in a work, and uses their definition to interpret meaning
   
Semiotics
identifies symbols in a work, and considers why they mean what they mean to interpret meaning
   
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Feminism
considers the socio-economic position of women represented, implied, making, or viewing the work, as well as issues of equality and power (or the lack thereof) to interpret meaning
 
Marxism
considers economic factors related to Marx's theory of class and power to interpret meaning
 
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Biography
considers the life of the artist, and/ or significant events in their lives to interpret meaning
   
Psychoanalysis
considers the unconscious effects of traumatic events or experiences in the life of the artist or viewer, or shared by a society, to interpret meaning
 
It is always a good idea to also consider a work's historical context.

 

 

Methodology Flash Cards
 
Understanding How to Use the Art Historical Methodologies
 
Approaches to Art essay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MLA vs. CMS
George Bellows, Stag at Sharkey's, 1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited vs. Footnotes
Thomas Eakins, The Wrestlers, 1899

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Manual of Style Footnote citations (no Bibliography)
 

1. Author’s First name, Last name, Title of Book (Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication), page number.

 
Corresponding Bibliography Entry:
Last Name, First name. Title of Book. Place of publication: Publisher, Year of publication.
 
Single Author Book

2 Steven T. Brown, Tokyo Cyberpunk: Posthumanism in Japanese Visual Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 124.

 
Magazine or Journal Article

3 Bill Wasik, “#Riot: How Social Media Fuels Social Unrest,” Wired, January 2012: 76-83, URL.

 
Journal Article Accessed through Online Database or Website
4 Erwin Panofsky, “Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 64, no. 372 (1934): 117-119, & 122-127, http://www.theslideprojector.com/pdffiles/art261/janvaneycksarnolfiniportrait.pdf
 
Additional Resources:
   
Purdue OWL CMS style guide
Berkeley's guide to evaluating sources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donatello, David, c.1446 - 1460.