Your assignment is to visit the Menil Collection (1515 Sul Ross Street in Montrose; open Wed. – Sun., 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.) and choose one object from the list below to write about. This is an exercise in observation, formal analysis, and contextual analysis.
Your complete assignment must be approximately 2,000 words (about 6 pages, typed, double-spaced) in order to meet the University requirements for this course.
You may wish to consult Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing about Art, which has a section on formal analysis. This book can be found in the Art and Architecture library. Another useful writing guide is Anne D’Alleva, Look! The Fundamentals of Art History, available at the A & A Library, which will explain formal analysis. If you have myartslab, go to the “ student resources” tab, then “writing and research tutorials.” If you do not understand how to write a formal analysis you will not be able to write this paper successfully.
1. Visit the museum and locate the objects listed below. Choose one from the list to write about.
2. Observe the piece closely. Make at least one, detailed sketch. This will help you notice the details of the piece, and remember them later (you don’t need to turn the sketch in, though if you want to scan it into your paper, that would be great). Make notes about the size, material, colors, and the details of decoration. Observe how it was made, and what condition it is currently in (is it worn, fragmentary, etc.). Observe the piece closely, but be sure NOT to touch. Many of these pieces are fragile and delicate.
3. Using your notes and sketches, write your paper, which will consist of the following components. Please title each section accordingly (e.g., begin the first paragraph by writing “A. Identification”). Please adhere to the guidelines for length for each section.
A. Identification. Identify the work. Include the information from the label. When and where was the work made? State the subject matter . You should also state which culture and period (from the list I provide you for exams) the work fits into (=approx. 1 paragraph).
B. Description & Formal Analysis. Describe the piece, from the basics of size, material, colors, and form, to details such as brushwork in a painting, or surface texture. You should also provide a detailed formal analysis of what you are seeing and its effects. Consider how the visual elements of the piece communicate to the viewer. For example, you might note that all the subjects of a given painting gaze toward the center, drawing the gaze of the viewer toward the center, where Christ is shown crucified.
(=approx. 2 pages).
C. Original context. Think about the role of the piece at the time it was made. Discuss the broad context: the period from which it dates. Then narrow your focus, and consider the more particular context: was the piece for public or private viewing? For a church, or a palace, or a home, or a grave? Who would have seen it? What purpose did it serve? You will have to make an educated guess about this… use what you know about the history and culture. (=approx. 1 page).
D. Current context. How is the piece displayed at the Menil Collection? In your opinion, does the display enhance the power of the piece, or detract from it? Does the museum provide a context to help you understand the piece (through the label, or through the place and manner in which it is displayed)? How is your experience of the piece affected by its display at the Menil Collection? Is your experience different here than if you were seeing it in its original context? Does the current condition of the piece affect your perception of it (for example, is it damaged)?
E. Parallels. Can you find a work in your textbook that is similar to the piece in the museum? How are the two similar or different? You should attempt to find something from the same culture and period, if possible, to help you understand the museum piece.
F. Personal response. How do you feel about the piece? What moved you to choose it? Do you find it powerful? Beautiful? Ugly? Interesting? Puzzling? Be specific: explain what aspects of it are powerful, interesting, puzzling, etc.
G. Conclusion. Briefly wrap up your paper by summing up what you feel to be your most important point about the piece.
(= 1 paragraph).
4. After writing your paper, carefully proofread it. Mistakes in spelling and grammar will count against your grade.
5. You must cite all sources used in writing your paper. If information does not come from your own brain, you must cite the source (whether it is a quote or a paraphrase). This is not a research paper, and you will not find these objects published anywhere. You do not need to consult sources beyond your textbook. You may wish to consult other sources in order to help you understand the piece or the context from which it comes, but be sure the focus of your paper remains the piece itself. You may use Wikipedia, but be sure to cite it properly. All sources should be cited, preferably using parenthetical notation, and you must include a bibliography (you will, at minimum, have your textbook to cite). I prefer the Chicago style author-date, or MLA (parenthetical notation).
6. You will turn in your paper electronically to Turnitin.com. You will find the link to Turnitin.com on our Blackboard site. Be sure to get a receipt from Turnitin.com so you know your paper was received. Turnitin.com checks for plagiarism; be aware that if any portion of your paper is too similar to another student’s paper, or to a published work (including work on the internet), Turnitin will identify the similarity. You may wish to review the University policy regarding plagiarism to familiarize yourself with the penalties.
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