Writing Art Histories
 

"One could go on forever as to whether the paint should be thick or thin, whether to paint the woman or the square, hard-edge or soft, but after a while such questions become a bore. They are merely problems in aesthetics, having only to do with the outer man. But the painting I have in mind, painting in which inner and outer are inseparable, transcends technique, transcends subjects and moves into the realm of the inevitable." - Lee Krasner

  • Writing Art History Activity due on Canvas Monday, September 13
  • Research Paper Thesis Proposal due on Monday, September 20
  • Discussion Boards:
    • Students must post at least five times to the Class Discussion Board. New discussions will be opened each week.
    • Students must answer each of five Group Discussion Board Posts
Lee Krasner, Sun Woman I, 1957.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"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
 
How My Mother's Apron Unfolds
Arshile Gorky, How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life, 1948.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art communicates messages to us that demand interpretation.
Art presents viewers with puzzles to solve.
Art is a living, active being. It asks us to engage with it.

Wall Street Journal, Pep Montserrat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether we approach art as something to interpret, something to solve, or someone to converse with, there are always multiple approaches we can take to find understanding.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This semester, we will focus on methods that art historians, pulling from other disciplines in the humanities and science, have developed.

Let's get into groups. Please have one member of each group log into this Google Doc.

 

How My Mother's Apron Unfolds

1.

Start your analysis with visual description.

 
  • What do you see?

  • What materials is the work made out of? What kind of artwork are you looking at?

 
  • How was it made?

 
  • What elements (shapes, colors, textures, etc.) are repeated? What stands out?

 
  • Is the work typical or expected? Is your eye drawn to certain features?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How My Mother's Apron Unfolds

1.

Start your analysis with visual description.

 
  • What do you see? A colorful abstract painting.

  • What materials is the work made out of? What kind of artwork are you looking at? This is an oil painting on canvas.

 
  • How was it made? Colorful splotches and quick lines were painted on a white ground. It looks like the painter thinned their paint so that it dripped. The paint appears to have been applied spontaneously, and without a pre-planned sketch in pencil underneath.

 
  • What elements (shapes, colors, textures, etc.) are repeated? What stands out? The colors are reminiscent of a box of crayons; there is a child-like quality to the linework; some areas look smudged and scribbled on, while other shapes seem to be emerging in other areas

 
  • Is the work typical or expected? Is your eye drawn to certain features? Although the marks seem to have been painted quickly, they are not haphazard or random.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How My Mother's Apron Unfolds

This colorful abstract painting features bursts of crayon colors and quick lines painted in black that are splattered across a white ground. It looks like the painter thinned their paint so that it dripped. The paint appears to have been applied spontaneously, and without a pre-planned sketch in pencil underneath. There is a child-like quality to the linework which is echoed in areas that appear to be scribbled on. Indestinct shapes seem to be emerging but are too ambiguous too name.

Arshile Gorky, How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life, 1948.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.
Describe what you see.
2.
Look at the work closely and free associate.
  • What ideas, connections, stories/myths, histories, sensations, or other works come to mind, and may be a relevant path to explore?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.
Describe what you see.
2.
Free associate.
3.
What do you want/need to know about the work to better understand it?
  • Who made it?
  • When was it made?
  • What movement was the artist associated with?
  • What were some of the important concerns at the time that the work was made?
   
 
As you begin to write about the work, remember to use the following format when introducing it to your reader: Artist, Title, Date.
Romare Bearden, The Street, 1964.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
Romare Bearden, River Mist, 1962.
Oil on unprimed linen and oil, casein, and colored on canvas, cut, torn, and mounted on painted board
54 1/4 x 40 7/8 inches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.
Describe what you see.
2.
Free associate.
3.
What do you want/need to know about the work to better understand it?
4.
Let your questions from above guide your research.
  • As you gather information, start to formulate a thesis = a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to argue or prove with evidence.
 
Writing a Thesis Statement
 
  • You will find evidence in the artwork itself, as well as from the sources of information you have gathered.
 
Romare Bearden, The Street, 1964.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art Historical Methodologies
"Approaches to Art" essay
Methodology Flash Cards
 
Contextual Analysis
considers significant historical events and important ideas in a period of time, usually when the artwork was made, and how those events and ways of seeing the world may have influenced the way a work of art looks and how it is used.
     
Formalism
the concept that a work's artistic value is entirely determined by its form; the way the artwork is made, its purely visual aspects, and its medium.
     
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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. Semiotic theory breaks down individual elements of the work (subjects, signs, contexts) in order to make sense of the whole.
     
 
     
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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.
 
 
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Feminism
considers the social, economic, and cultural positions of subjects who are represented, implied, making, or viewing works of art, as well as issues of equality and power (or the lack thereof) related to gender and sex to interpret meaning. Feminism seeks equality and uses Marxism, Semiotics, Psychoanalysis and historical context to analyze and critique the dynamics of power.
     
Marxism

considers the relationship between power, economics and class as depicted in a work of art, or otherwise relative to the work’s reception or the artist’s biography to interpret meaning in a work of art.

     
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Art Histories
 
Modern Language Association (MLA)
vs.
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS)
Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait, 1969.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
 
Footnote Citation for a Single Author Book:

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

 
Footnote Citation for a Journal Article:

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

 
Footnote Citation for a 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