WRITING ABOUT LOOKING
Instructor: James Hargrove
Tel. (215) 765-8743
Office Hours by appointment.
Writing Center: 4th Floor, Bennett Hall; Tel. 898-8525;
Undergraduate Writing Advisors: Main office at Writers House (Locust Walk at 38th Street), also at Hill House and McClelland Hall in the Quad. Walk-in hours 7 to 10pm Sunday through Thursday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Painting, sculpture and architecture shape much of the visual context of our lives; yet when it comes to articulating in words what we see around us, we are often at a loss to express ourselves. Learning how to describe, discuss and analyze the material world constitutes the foundation of art historical writing. This course will focus on writing the visual with an exploration of works of art from the past three centuries, taking advantage of the rich art collections available in the city of Philadelphia. Using works of painting, sculpture, photography and architecture, students will develop ideas and practice writing techniques based on visual evidence.
One of our observational aims is to study the machinations of our own intellectual transference from optical perception to cerebral idea. Images are not words. They do not communicate with words. We, however, must use words to discuss them. Learning how to bridge this great divide in the act of writing will be one of our most important goals. Since the minute pen is put to paper a writer brings a perspective to their work, another aspect of this course will be an enquiry into some of the different kinds of perspectives that are brought to bear on writing about art history. To that end, we will be reading a variety of art historical essays and articles emphasizing different perspectives and different personal and communal voices.
No prior knowledge of art history is required. Nor will this course function as a survey of Western Art over the past three centuries. Instead we are going to use art to develop our abilities to think analytically and to gather evidence from observation. As part of the developmental process and as our larger goal, we will use the skills necessary to understand the visual world in order to express ourselves clearly, cogently and effectively in writing. Students will be expected to write short response papers to these articles in order to develop a range of reading and writing skills based on textual argument. The course will begin with a formal analysis paper on a specific work of art, to be followed during the semester with other small papers focusing on images or the critical reading of texts. Finally, students will undertake a longer writing and research assignment on a work of art of their own choice. Part of the writing process will involve giving a brief presentation of one’s research a couple of weeks before handing in the written paper.
1. Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing about Art, New York: Longman, 1997.
2. John Berger, Ways of Seeing, London: BBC and Penguin Books, 1972.
3. Auguste Rodin, Art, New York: Dover Publications.
4. Bulkpack, Available at Wharton Reprographics, Lower Level, Steinberg-Dietrich Hall (on Locust Walk). Price: $14.85. Listed under my name (Hargrove).
The readings for each meeting are assigned in advance (see Course Schedule.) There is a written assignment attached to most of the readings. You are expected to complete all readings (and their respective written assignments) prior to coming to class. Discussion of the readings is an important component of each class meeting. We can only have full debate and discussion if everyone is ready to participate.
The main purpose of this course is to help you become a better writer. Towards that end, you will be writing, and frequently re-writing, on a regular basis. Regardless of your initial level of ability and experience, the practice you will get in this class will make you a better writer. I have constructed the course to make different demands on your skills throughout the semester. The assignments are arranged in a specific order from the relatively simple to the more demanding to take into account the development of your writing skills as the semester progresses. Though we will be focusing on art historical writing, the skills you will learn will be transferable to any of the kinds of writing you will need to do while at university and in your life ahead.
On several occasions throughout the semester you will be writing response papers. These are generally two-page informal assignments attached to the readings and intended to help you focus your thoughts and ideas with regard to the readings before you get to class. Once in class, you will be able to use your response papers to prompt your memory. Informal assignments will be handed in at each class for which one is assigned. In keeping with their informal nature, they are not graded, though you will have to include them in your portfolio at the end of the semester.
You will write three formal assignments during the semester. Most of these are small and geared to help you develop specific writing, reading, looking and thinking skills that you will then apply to the fifth formal assignment – the research paper. In all of these assignments you will practice developing a thesis and using evidence effectively to support it. You will receive feedback from the instructor and your peers on your writing and will then be able to submit a final revised version. Formal assignments will be graded at the end of the semester as part of your portfolio.
At the end of the course, you will turn in a portfolio including your informal assignments/ logs, in-class writing exercises, both the draftts and final versions of your formal assignments, peer review comments and a self-evaluative cover letter. Your portfolio is designed to reveal your growth as a writer over the course of the semester. Presentation is important. I suggest a three-ring binder to keep your work organized.
All written work must be typed and double-spaced on 8" x 11" paper with one-inch margins. The required font is Times New Roman or Courier except on separate title pages (where you may be as creative as you like.) The pages must be numbered, and all assignments must be proof-read, spell-checked, stapled and turned in on time. Papers may not be submitted electronically. You should always keep a spare copy on a disk in the event of something happening to your computer. I will not accept late work.
During the course of the semester I will arrange independent teacher-student conferences. This will give you the opportunity to ask me questions, try out new ideas, discuss organizational strategies, and address anything else about the course in a one-to-one meeting. I am happy to discuss your work at other times as well, and you should feel free to e-mail me for an appointment.
Penn’s writing seminars emphasize peer review of papers and revisions. Reading and commenting on colleagues’ work in a constructive manner is an essential part of the writing process. As a writer, the review sessions enable you to hear from readers besides your instructor, and to see other ways of handling writing problems. You will have a chance to discuss your work in-depth by working in small groups with your peers. You will be responsible for getting copies of your papers to your group and reading all the papers before the scheduled peer review session in class. I may also use these peer review days to respond in class to common problems in the latest paper.
At the end of the course, you will be expected to present your research paper orally and with the use of slides. (I will help you learn how to pull slides from the slide library or, if necessary, make them.) This will be a very low-pressure and relaxed event, basically a kind of show-and-tell for grown-ups. It should be fun (at least a little) and will provide you with the opportunity to hear how your own writing sounds when read out loud and of course, how the writing of others sounds. It is the responsibility of everyone listening to your presentation to try to come up with constructive commentary.
Attendance and Participation
As a seminar, the success of our class depends on your active participation. Your contribution to class discussions and the peer review process is vital to what we can accomplish together. Obviously, regular attendance is absolutely necessary and expected. The only excused absences will be for medical reasons (with a note from Student Health or your doctor) or verified emergencies. Three unexcused absences will result in automatic failure. We will all find our time in class most rewarding with the regular attendance and active participation of all students.
You will be given a √+, √, or √- mark on your informal assignments. These marks are meant to be general indicators of what I think of your work. Think of them as fingerposts: (√+) directing you to carry on with good work; (√) indicating that your ideas are good, but with a bit more thought could be much more interesting; or (√-) that you need to make a bigger effort to engage with the readings and to articulate your thoughts succinctly. You will not be given letter grades on your formal assignments, though you will receive extensive comments. At the end of the semester, you will be given a final grade after I have read your completed portfolio. In this class, writing is to be understood as a process. You will write extensively on a variety of subjects and have a chance to revise your work with the benefit of feedback from me and your peers without the pressure of letter grades looming over every word you venture to put on paper. I will review your work with you throughout the semester, so there should be no surprises at the end of the class. Your overall course grade will be based upon your portfolio, participation in class discussions, peer review work, and presentations. The quality of your work and the degree of improvement will be the basic benchmarks by which your grade will be determined. Average work that meets the minimum requirements of the class will receive a "C" grade; good work will receive a "B" grade; outstanding effort and quality will earn an "A" grade. Any evidence of plagiarism will result in a failing grade.
Jan. 16: Introduction to the course and to each other. Discussion of the syllabus and of your interests and aims for this class. Some basic formal analysis – Caillebotte.
Readings: Sylvan Barnet, "Writing About Art" and "Analysis" in A Short Guide to Writing About Art, pp. 1-85.
Informal Assignment I: Response Paper. While you are reading the chapters in Sylvan Barnet’s book, write down what you find interesting, helpful, complicated or confusing along with any questions or ideas the reading provoked. You may write down your thoughts in any way that you like. The purpose of the assignment is for you to have a set of ideas to bring to next week’s class discussion. Due Jan. 23.
Jan. 18: In-class practice of the formal analysis of works of art. An in-class writing exercise.
Jan. 23: Informal Assignment I due.
Discussion of the Barnet readings; some discussion of the relationship between looking at the material world, writing, and daily life. Stroll over to the Furness building to get a group start on the first Formal Writing Assignment.
Readings: John Berger, Ways of Seeing – the whole book (it is small and quick.)
Informal Assignment II: Response Paper to Ways of Seeing. In two pages write down a personal response to Berger’s book. This should not be a summary. Rather, it is a bit like your first set of notes to the Barnet readings, but this time lay out your thoughts more formally in sentences and paragraphs. Try arranging your thoughts into an argument, taking into consideration the author’s purposes and perspective along with the physical format of the book itself.
Formal Assignment I:
Formal Analysis Paper. Draft due in class on Jan. 30 (next Tuesday.) Bring extra copies for your Peer Group.
Jan. 25: Informal Assignment II due.
Discussion of Ways of Seeing, learning how to look and how to express our thoughts about what we see.
Jan. 30: Formal Assignment I (draft) due. Don’t forget the extra copies for your Peer Group.
General class discussion of the paper and of looking at architecture, followed by Peer Review of Formal Analysis Paper.
Susan Sidlauskas, "Resisting Narrative: The Problem of Edgar Degas’ Interior" in Art Bulletin, Vol. 75, Dec. 1993.
Informal Assignment III: Response Paper. Write down an organized response in two pages to the Sidlauskas article. It is a long article and may be tough-going at points. Don’t worry. I am not expecting that you will understand everything. What is important is that you make note of the things you do not understand and bring them to class for discussion. Apply your critical response to the things you do understand – in particular to the issue of narrative and to the author’s methodology and writing. It is the methodology for examining a single painting and the style of writing that are most important for our purposes.
Feb. 1: Informal Assignment III due.
Discussion of the Sidlauskas article and methodologies for scholarly writing.
Formal Assignment: Revise your Formal Analysis paper and submit it as the final version at next week’s class (Feb. 6).
Feb. 6: Final version of Formal Assignment I due.
Visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Bring Pencils!!!! No Pens allowed in Museum.) Experience of the object - looking at 19th Century art in a formal context. Thinking about the display of art.
Julian Bell, "What is art? Is that art?" pp. 7-9; "Images and Marks" pp. 9-39; and "Sight and Knowledge" pp. 40-82 in What is Painting?
Feb. 13: Visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Bring Pencils!!!! No Pens allowed in Museum.) 20th Century art – attitude adjustment. Thinking about the display of art.
Readings: Auguste Rodin, Art: Conversations with Paul Gsell, Berkeley, 1984.
Informal Assignment IV: Response Paper. Write down your thoughts, questions, responses to the Rodin readings to bring to the next class.
Feb. 15: Informal Assignment IV due.
Visit to the Rodin Museum. Learning to look at sculpture and reflecting on Rodin’s own words as we examine some of his works.
Readings: John Ruskin, "Selection from Praeterita" pp. 26-54 in England and its Aesthetes: Biography and Taste, G+B Arts, 1997.
Informal Assignment V: Response Paper. Write a 2-page response to one of the readings, (either this week’s or next week’s) asking and answering for yourself what purposes these kinds of readings might serve in our class.
Feb. 20: Informal Assignment V due.
The Personal Aesthetic: Taste, Experience and Writing about the Visual World. Discussion of the Ruskin reading, of objectivity and subjectivity in writing about the material world.
Reading: Adrian Stokes "Inside Out" pp. 69-118 in England and its Aesthetes: Biography and Taste, G+B Arts, 1997.
Feb. 22: The Personal Aesthetic: Taste, Experience and Writing about the Visual World II.
Discussion of the Stokes reading. An in-class essay on an "aesthetic experience" of your own.
Readings: Sylvan Barnet, "Style in Writing" pp. 136-153 in A Short Guide to Writing About Art.
Informal Assignment VI: Find a current review of the work of an artist (dead or living) or of a museum or gallery exhibition. These will most likely be in the Sunday edition of newspapers or in journals such as Art News or Art in America. Read the review and try to dissect the critics style, methodology and opinions. Write these things down in a two-page response along with your own opinions of the review.
Feb. 27: Informal Assignment VI due.
Professional Writing outside of Academia or that Dubious Character – the Art Critic. In-class review of the writings of some contemporary art critics. Dissection of their style, what works and what does not work. In-class analysis of some examples of recent art criticism in the popular press.
Robert Herbert, "Method and Meaning in Monet," Art in America, Vol. 67, September, 1979.
March 1: The Scholarly Difference – How do you see what you see?
Discussion of the Herbert article, some objectives and methodology in writing about the visual world.
Formal Assignment II: Photo-Journalism essay Vision and the Daily World, draft due at next class (March 6).
March 6: Formal Assignment II (draft) due for Peer Review. Bring extra copies of your paper to class for peer review!
Writing about representation in our daily lives. Discussion of Photo-Journalism essays. In-class peer review.
Formal Assignment II: Final version of Vision and the Daily World.
March 8: Final Version of Formal Assignment II due.
Visit to the Fine Arts Library to learn how to use it and to make a start on doing research. Begin thinking about Research Paper Topic.
Readings: Sylvan Barnet, "Some Critical Approaches" pp. 104-120 and "The Research Paper" pp. 187-212 in A Short Guide to Writing About Art.
March 20: Research Paper Proposal Due.
Writing a Research Paper in Art History and Solving Research Problems; open discussion with everyone participating on the progress they are making and any problems or successes they are having in their research and writing. Discussion of some research and writing techniques.
Reading: Michael Baxandall, "Introduction" and "Pictures and Ideas: Chardin’s A Lady Taking Tea," in Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures, 1985.
March 22: Getting Serious or a bit of S&M for the Art History Crowd. Discussion of the Baxandall chapters, how they are written , what kind of art history is being enacted, and how they function as examples and lessons for the art history writer.
Informal Assignment VII: The Critical Art Historian.
March 27: Informal Assignment VII due.
Discussion of the readings from the Informal Assignment, concentrating on what exactly the authors say and how they say it.
Reading: Julian Barnes, "Shipwreck," in A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, New York: Knopf, 1989.
March 29: Writing about Looking as Literature: Art, the Novel and Imaginative Prose. Discussion of Barnes’s incorporation of the painting by Gericault into a modern novel.
Informal Assignment VIII: A Feast for the Senses.
April 3: From the Profound to the Mundane – Writing about looking in everyday life. Discussion of Informal Assignment VIII and various other components of daily visual experience.
April 5: Research Paper Presentations
April 10: Research Paper Presentations
April 12: Research Paper Presentations
April 17: Research Paper Presentations
April 19: Research Paper Presentations
April 24: Research Paper Presentations
Monday, April 30 (12:00 Noon): LAST DAY TO HAND IN PORTFOLIOS