How Art Communicates
 
"No human culture is inaccessible to someone who makes the effort to understand, to learn, to inhabit another world." - Henry Louis Gates Jr.
 
Assignment Proposal and Presentation Topic now
due on Canvas
 
Writing Art History Activity
due on Monday, September 20
Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"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
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
 

Edmonia Lewis, The Old Arrow Maker, c. 1872.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

1.

Start your analysis with visual description.

 
  • What do you see? A representation of a woman sitting on a throne.

 
  • What materials is the work made out of? Marble.

 
  • What kind of artwork are you looking at? A sculpture.

 
  • How was it made? It looks like it was carved.

 
  • What elements (shapes, colors, textures, etc.) are repeated? What stands out? It looks weathered and is carved in the neoclassic style. The body is rendered realistically and with natural proportions

 
  • Is the work typical or expected? If so, is the work a part of a series, or related to other works? If not, what makes the work exceptional or unusual? It looks like the sculptor was well trained, but something may have happened to damage the surface of the object. I need more information on the artist and the date the work was made to answer the other questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The work is a realistically rendered figurative representation of a woman sitting on a throne. She appears to be sleeping, or possibly dead. The sculpted work is made of marble who's surface appears weathered and damaged. Althought the marble surface does not glisten, and some of the sculptor's modeling of details on the figure and throne are lost, it is clear that the artist was working in the neoclassic style. A small snake slithers up the arm of the figure, who wears and Egyptian headdress and stylized jewelry. Two male faces, one who also wears an Egyptian headdress, and another who's hair suggests he is Roman, are carved onto the front facing surfaces of the throne's arms. The chair is not massive, but is nonetheless ample, and stands on feet in the shape of a lion's claws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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? If so, is the work a part of a series, or related to other works? If not, what makes the work exceptional or unusual?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?
Bamana Headdresses (), Mali, mid 19th to early 20th century. Wood, metal, brass tacks, and grasses, each about 36" high.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
Bamana Headdresses, , Mali, mid 19th to early 20th century. Wood, metal, brass tacks, and grasses, each about 36" high.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
Titian, Portrait of Laura Dianti, 1520.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.
 
Bamana Headdresses (), Mali, mid 19th to early 20th century. Wood, metal, brass tacks, and grasses, each about 36" high.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edmonia Lewis
1845 - after 1911

 

Edmonia Lewis

Henry Rochner, Carte-de-visite of Edmonia Lewis, c. 1870.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hagar in the Wilderness
Edmonia Lewis, Old Indian Arrowmaker and His Daughter, 1872.

Edmonia Lewis, Hagar in the Wilderness, 1875.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleopatra

Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra, 1876.
William Wetmore Story, Cleopatra, 1869.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death of Cleopatra

Artemisia Gentileschi, Cleopatra, date unknown.
Reginald Arthur, Death of Cleopatra, c. 1914.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

     
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MLA vs. CMS
Modern Language Association
  • Uses "in text" citations, i.e.: (Johnson, 9)
    • Full bibliographic information is given at the end of the paper in a "Works Cited" section
 
Chicago Manual of Style
  • Uses footnote citations
    • Full bibliographic information is given in the footnote
    • A "Bibliography" may be included at the end of the paper to guide your readers to additional sources
Gordon Parks, Eartha Kitt, 1952

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Manual of Style Footnote Citations
 

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:
Writing Art History Guide
Purdue OWL CMS style guide
Berkeley's guide to evaluating sources