Writing About Art History: Portraiture and Identity in Philadelphia

Instructor: Susanna Gold
Office Hours.: By appt.,
Jaffe basement, Rm. B-8



ARTH 009, Sect. 301
Spring 2001
Wednesday, 2-5pm
Meyerson B-4

















Charles Willson Peale, The Artist in His Museum, 1822. Oil on canvas, 103 ½" x 80". Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

In this course, students take advantage of Philadelphia’s rich cultural resources to study developments in 18th – 20th-century American portraiture in painting, sculpture and photography. Frequent visits to local museums and archives offer students the opportunity to work directly from objects as they explore the ways in which portraits communicate ideas about self and society through visual properties. Our museum visits are designed to complement critical reading of recent art historical scholarship and lively classroom discussion.

Because this course is associated with "Writing Across the University" (WATU) and is designed to fulfill the undergraduate writing requirement, there is a strong emphasis on the writing process. Over the course of the semester, students develop a series of short essays in which they analyze specific images or evaluate scholarly arguments in preparation for a larger research project on a single work or small group of works in one of Philadelphia’s local collections. Students have the opportunity to refine and polish their written work with peer reviews and individual student-instructor conferences.

This course is also associated with "Speaking Across the University" (SATU), a communications-related program that focuses on speaking skills. Students will work with a SATU advisor as they participate in oral activities such as frequent sharing of informal written work, leading discussion on reading material and sharing final projects in a formal presentation.


(both available at Penn Book Center, 34th and Sansom)

(available at Wharton Reprographics, lower level Steinberg-Dietrich Hall)



All readings and assignments are to be completed in the order in which they are listed on the syllabus, BEFORE coming to class. Come prepared to participate in student-generated class discussion of the reading material by asking questions, answering questions, volunteering your own ideas and relating the material to your own experiences. Make sure to bring the relevant readings and your syllabus to class each day.

In this course, you will write—and rewrite—frequently. You will engage in different types of writing, be exposed to a variety of approaches to writing, and become familiar with the particular conventions of writing in art history. All writing assignments must be double-spaced and printed in 12-point font on 8 ½" x 11" paper with 1" margins and page numbers.

Formal Assignments – There will be three formal assignments during the semester: a visual analysis, a book review and a research paper. For each of these projects, you will receive feedback from your peers and/or from me on your writing and will then have the opportunity to revise your work.

Short Essays – In addition to the formal assignments, you will be asked to complete a series of short, one to two-page writings over the course of the semester. In most instances, these short essays will be graded while others will serve as building blocks for your final projects.

In-Class Writing – You will frequently be asked to write in class. Some of these exercises will be collected, while others will simply serve to facilitate discussion or clarify points of style or grammar.

In addition to class activities, two formal speaking assignments comprise the oral component of this course. Each week during the course of the semester, a different student group will be in charge of leading discussion on the reading material where group members will present an analysis of the articles and engage the class with questions and issues for debate. During the last few class meetings, students will present their research projects to the class in individual polished 10-minute oral presentations. Because students will be at different stages of their research when they present their projects, the presentation is expected to be a work-in-progress talk and will be evaluated according to the ability to communicate research goals and plans rather than the degree of progress. Students will prepare for these assignments during in-class workshops held by the SATU advisor, as well as out-of-class meetings in the SATU center.

There will be several visits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), the Library Company and Jefferson Medical College throughout the semester. You will also be expected to visit the museums outside of class. Students are responsible for their own transportation to and from museums, but admission fees for all class meetings will be paid by the department. I will supply maps and information about public transportation. (You might wish to form travel groups if you ride by cab to save on fare.) To accommodate those with classes before and after our museum meetings, all classes at museums will be held from 2:20 to 4:40. Because our time at the museums is limited, everyone must meet ON TIME at the designated museum.

Reading and commenting on the work of colleagues in a constructive manner is an essential part of the writing process. To prepare for peer review, you will read papers written by your classmates and respond to them in a one-page writing assignment prior to the in-class review meeting. During the meeting, you will discuss your suggestions with the other students and receive feedback from them on your own work.

Each student will participate in two individual student-instructor conferences during the semester. Conferences are intended to offer students personalized feedback on drafts of papers, to allow students the opportunity to ask questions on individual projects and to discuss organizational and planning strategies.

As with any seminar, the success of the class depends on your active participation. Faithful attendance to class meetings is absolutely necessary and expected. Not only do many in-class writing assignments build directly on previous class discussions and activities, but many of these exercises will be collected and graded. Most importantly, your classmates will be dependent on your peer reviews of their writing, and peer-review groups cannot function successfully if all students do not participate.



All formal assignments and short essays will be given a letter grade. In-class writing will be collected periodically and will contribute toward your participation grade. Your final course grade will be computed based on the following percentages:

Visual Analysis 15% 4 Short essays 20%
Book Review 15% Speaking assignments 10%
Class participation 15% Research Paper 25%

Late papers:

Because late papers present problems to yourself, your peers and your instructor, any written work not handed in on the day it is due will result in a grade lowered by 1/3 of a letter for each day it is late. Any evidence of plagiarism will result in automatic failure of the course.

Written work will be evaluated according to:

Participation will be evaluated according to:

Absences will only be excused for medical reasons or verified emergencies. Those with unexcused absences on peer review dates or draft due dates will receive a daily grade of a zero which will diminish your final participation grade considerably and affect the final grade on your written work.





Jan. 17

For next time:

Introduction: Why portraiture? Why museums?

Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art, Ch. 1: "Writing About Art" and Ch. 2: "Analysis," pp. 27-38, 40-45, 49-55, 59-60

Breen, "The Meaning of ‘Likeness’: Portrait-Painting in an Eighteenth-Century Consumer Society"

Baxandall, "Exhibiting Intention: Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects"

Short essay 1 - Response paper:

With the assistance of your handout on critical reading, write a 2-page essay in which you describe what T.H. Breen considers to be the function of 18th-C American portraits. Make sure to explain clearly Breen’s arguments and describe the evidence he uses to support these arguments, including specific examples. What is your personal response to the article? Do you find it convincing? far-fetched? confusing? Why? Did you note any inconsistencies in his argument, or find any difficulties in his writing style? Be specific in your evaluation, making sure to support your ideas with evidence from the reading.

Jan. 24

**Response paper due

*Meet at PMA

For next time:

John Singleton Copley and Colonial American Portraiture



Short essay 2Assessment of PMA Display:

Considering the issues raised by Baxandall, write a 2-page essay in which you evaluate how display techniques contribute to your understanding of a single image or small group of images in the PMA’s Colonial American galleries. Assess the placement of the object(s) in relation to the viewer, and the effects of the lighting and the spacing between objects. Why are particular objects placed adjacent to each other? Judge the type of information offered by identifying labels and/or wall texts. Ask yourself: What does the curator want me to see? What does the curator want me to know about what I am seeing? Make sure to include your own thoughts about the display. Does the display promote an enjoyable and thought-provoking museum experience? How? Can you think of a more satisfying installation, or a more enlightening interpretation, of the object(s)?

Stein, "Charles Willson Peale’s Expressive Design: The Artist in His Museum" (excerpt)

Barnet, "Formal Analysis," pp. 81-93 and "A Student’s Comparison," pp. 107-115

Barnet, Ch. 4: "How to Write an Effective Essay," pp. 116-122 and Ch. 5: "Style in Writing"

Jan. 31

*Meet at PAFA;

Return to class for in-class writing exercises

For next time:

The Self-Portrait; Formal Analysis and Style in Writing




Prepare Formal Analysis draft

Barnet, "Peer Review," pp. 122-123











Feb. 7

**Formal Analysis draft due (bring 3 copies)

For next time:

Peer Review



Student/Instructor conferences: Plan for Revision

Thurs., Feb. 8-Tues., Feb. 12:

In a paragraph or two, describe the goals of your revisions to your visual analysis draft and the strategies you will use to achieve those goals. Bring this essay to your Student/Instructor conference. In the conference, you will explain to me the specifics of your plans to revise your work, and we together will discuss and fine-tune the plans.

Formal Analysis revisions

Booth, Ch. 3: "From Topics to Questions," "Finding a Research Problem," pp. 59-63

Make sure you have been to a museum and chosen your image(s) to work on for your research project. Bring GOOD QUALITY reproductions to class. We will each spend several minutes sharing our project ideas with other.

Barnet, Ch. 8, "Writing a Research Paper" pp. 186-210

Feb. 13

**Visual analysis due

For next time:

Finding a Research Problem; Library Research Strategies


Barnet, "Bibliographic Style," .pp. 250-253

Short Essay 3 – Prospectus & Bibliography

Based on the ideas you have so far and your preliminary research, write a 1-page essay in which you describe your plans for your research project. You should state clearly your research problem, and explain why this problem is interesting and why it is worth researching. Include a list of at least six sources that will be useful for your project, presented in proper bibliographic format.

Barnet, Ch. 6: "Some Critical Approaches," pp. 150-166

Johns, Thomas Eakins: The Heroism of Modern Life, read Preface, Ch. 1, skim Ch. 2, read Ch. 3

Fried, "Realism, Writing, and Disfiguration in Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic" (excerpt)





Feb. 21

*Meet at Jefferson Medical College

** Prospectus due

For next time:

Thomas Eakins




Student/Instructor conferences: Research Project Plans

Thurs., Feb. 22 - Tues., Feb. 27: Meet in Slide Library

Johns, Chs. 4 – 6

Barnet, "Quotations and Quotation Marks," pp. 235-238 and p. 218

Feb. 28

*Meet at PMA

For next time:

Thomas Eakins, cont’d; What makes a good Book Review?


Finish Book Review draft

Burns, "‘The Earnest, Untiring Worker’ and the Magician of the Brush: Gender Politics in the Criticism of Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent

Braithwaite, "They Knew Their Names"

Barnet, Ch. 8, "Writing a Research Paper," pp. 210-214 and Ch. 10, "Essay Examinations," pp. 265-269

Booth, et al, Ch. 7, "Making Good Arguments" and Ch. 8: "Claims and Evidence"

Begin reading, taking notes for research project

March 7

**Book Review draft due (bring 2 copies)

For next time:

Gender and Race in Portraiture; Peer Review



Book Review revisions

Barnet, "Acknowledging Sources," 238-243 and "Footnotes and Endnotes," pp. 243-250.

Continue researching, formulating ideas for research project

March 14

Spring Break – no class












March 21

*Meet at Library Company.

Return to class for in-class writing exercises

**Book review due

For next time:









Guest speaker – Sarah Weatherwax, Curator of Prints & Photos.




Trachtenberg, "Likeness as Identity: Reflections on the Daguerrean Mystique"

Lippard, "Doubletake: The Diary of a Relationship with an Image"

Choose a particular photograph that is meaningful to you or that strikes you (a personal snapshot, advertisements, etc.) Think about why it’s important you and bring it to class if possible.

Continue researching, formulating ideas for research project


March 28

For next time:

Photography, cont’d; In-class Essay Exam

Silver, "Modes of Disclosure: The Construction of Gay Identity and the Rise of Pop Art" (excerpt)

Warhol, Untitled statements

Crow, "Saturday Disasters: Trace & Reference in Early Warhol"

Booth, Ch. 11: "Pre-Drafting and Drafting," Ch. 13: "Revising" and "Quick Tip," pp. 250-254

Continue researching, begin working on drafts of research paper

April 4

For next time:

SATU Workshop; 20th-Century Portraiture

Work on presentations, drafts of research papers

Student/SATU advisor conferences:

Thurs. Apr. 5-Tues. Apr. 17

April 11













April 18

**Research Paper draft due

(bring 2 copies)

For next time:




Read and analyze peer papers – don’t be afraid to mark up the drafts with arrows, circles, underlines, etc. and jot down specific comments and suggestions.

Short Essay 4: Peer review essays:

Write a 1-page evaluation of each of the papers you are reviewing based on your analysis. Try to achieve a balance of praise and suggestions for what could have been done better, but don’t be afraid to bring up problems and offer solutions. Use the following questions as guidelines for your critique: Is the thesis clearly stated? Do all the paragraphs support the thesis? Is there a sufficient use of evidence? Do the ideas flow smoothly and logically from one another? Is there anything that confused you, or that you found unclear? Could the argument be made more explicit? How does the style of writing seem to you? Cite passages that seem particularly articulate, or particularly awkward an offer an alternative way to phrase. What do you particularly like about the paper? What does the author do well? Make sure to use specific examples.

April 25

**Peer Review essays due (bring 2 copies of each)

For final draft:

Peer Review & Conclusion



Barnet, Ch. 9: "Manuscript Form," pp. 221-223

Review Barnet, "Footnotes and Endnotes," pp. 243-250 and "Bibliographic Style," pp. 250-253

May 3

**RESEARCH PAPERS DUE (in my mailbox, 1st floor Jaffe, no later than 4:30 pm!!)




Suggestions for further reading:


Brilliant, Richard. Portraiture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Burns, Sarah. "Old Maverick to Old Master: Whistler in the Public Eye in Turn-of-the-Century America". American Art Journal XXII:1 (1990): 29-49.

Clarke, Graham, ed. The Portrait in Photography. London: Reaktion Books, 1992.

Craven, Wayne. Colonial American Portraiture: The Economic, Religious, Social, Cultural, Philosophical, Scientific, and Aesthetic Foundations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Danly, Susan and Leibold, Cheryl. Eakins and the Photograph: Works by Thomas Eakins and His Circle in the Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Washington: Published for the Academy by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.

Fleischer, Roland E. "Emblems and Colonial American Painting". American Art Journal XX:3 (1988): 2-35.

Fresella-Lee, Nancy. The American Paintings in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: An Illustrated Checklist. Philadelphia : Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1989.

Gallati, Barbara Dayer. William Merritt Chase. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.

Higonnet, Anne. "A Mother Paints Her Daughter." In Berthe Morisot: Images of Women. Cambridge, MA: 1992.

Hatt, Michael. "Muscles, Morals, Mind: The Male Body in Thomas Eakins' Salutat". In The Body Imaged: The Human Form and Visual Culture, edited by Kathleen Adler and Marcia Pointon. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1993.

Kilmurray, Elaine and Ormond, Richard, eds. John Singer Sargent. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Lloyd, Phoebe. "A Death in the Family". Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin LXXVIII/335 (Spring 1982): 3-13.

Lovell, Margaretta M. "Reading Eighteenth-Century American Family Portraits: Social Images and Self-Images". Winterthur Portfolio 22:4 (1987): 243-264.

Lubin, David. "The Agnew Clinic". In Act of Portrayal: Eakins, Sargent, James. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

_____. "The Boit Children". In Act of Portrayal: Eakins, Sargent, James New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Meyer, Richard. "Warhol's Clones". Yale Journal of Criticism 7:1 (1994): 79-109.

Miles, Ellen Gross, ed. The Portrait in Eighteenth-Century America. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1993.

Miller Lillian B., ed. The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870. New York: National Portrait Gallery, 1996.

_____. and David C. Ward, eds. New Perspectives on Charles Willson Peale: A 250th Anniversary Celebration. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991.

Philadelphia Museum of Art. Handbook of the Collections. Philadelphia : Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1995.

_____. Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1994.

Pollock, Griselda. "Mary Cassatt: Painter of Women and Children." In Reading American Art, edited by Marianne Doezema and Elizabeth Milroy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998.

Rebora, Carrie, et al. John Singleton Copley in America. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995.

Richardson, Edgar P., et al. Charles Willson Peale and His World. New York : H.N. Abrams, 1983.

Torchia, Robert W. "The Chess Players by Thomas Eakins". Winterthur Portfolio 26:4:4 (1991): 267-276.

Trachtenberg, Alan. "Illustrious Americans." In Reading American Photographs." New York: Hill and Wang, 1989.

Willis-Thomas, Deborah. VanDerZee, Photographer, 1886-1983. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1993.