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

Lee Krasner, Sun Woman I, 1957.











Wall Street Journal, Pep Montserrat












Art presents us with puzzles to solve...



"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.











Remember to use the following format when writing about a work:
Artist, Title, Date.
Robert Rauschenberg, Odalisk, 1955 - 1958.
"In Odalisk, Rauschenberg's combine operates with full force."












To analyze a work of art:
Start your analysis with a visual description of the work
Robert Rauschenberg, Odalisk, 1955 - 1958.













To analyze a work of art:
1. Describe the work
Remember to underline or bold the title of the work in your written analysis.
2. What questions do you ask of the work?
Robert Rauschenberg, Odalisk, 1955 - 1958.












To analyze a work of art:
1. Describe the work
Remember to underline or bold the title of the work in your written analysis.
2. What questions do you ask of the work?
3. Choose a method to better understand the work

The method you use often depends on the type of questions you are asking.

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.
Robert Rauschenberg, Odalisk, 1955 - 1958.












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.
Jackson Pollock, Moon Woman, 1942.






















Art Historical Methodologies
considers the visual elements of a work such as line, composition, color, media to interpret meaning
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identifies the symbols in a work, and uses their definition to interpret meaning
identifies symbols in a work, and considers why they mean what they mean to interpret meaning
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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
considers economic factors related to Marx's theory of class and power to interpret meaning
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considers the life of the artist, and/ or significant events in their lives to interpret meaning
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











Gordon Parks, Eartha Kitt, 1952











Works Cited vs. Footnotes
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.
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











Willem De Kooning, Woman, 1944.