A Short Guide to Writing about Art

A Short Guide to Writing about Art

by Sylvan Barnet

Paperback(3rd ed)

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Overview

Key Benefit: A Short Guide to Writing About Art, Eighth Edition, the best-selling book of its kind, equips students to analyze pictures (drawings, paintings, photographs), sculptures and architecture, and prepares them with the tools they need to present their ideas in effective writing. Key Topics:This concise yet thorough guide to “seeing and saying” addresses a wealth of fundamental matters, such as distinguishing between description and analysis, writing a comparison, using peer review, documenting sources, and editing the final essay. Market: This book is a perfect complement to any art course where writing is involved

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780673396679
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 01/28/1989
Series: Short Guide Ser.
Edition description: 3rd ed
Pages: 170

Read an Excerpt

PREFACE:

Preface

Another book for the student of art to read? I can only echo William James's report of the unwed mother's defense: "It's such a little baby."

Still, a few additional words may be useful. Everyone knows that students today do not write as well as they used to. Probably they never did, but it is a truth universally acknowledged (by English teachers) that the cure is not harder work from instructors in composition courses; rather, the only cure is a demand, on the part of the entire faculty, that students in all classes write decently. But instructors outside of departments of English understandably say that they lack the time—and perhaps the skill—to teach writing in addition to, say, art.

This book may offer a remedy. Students who read it—and it is short enough to be read in addition to whatever texts the instructor regularly requires— should be able to improve their essays

  • by getting ideas both about works of art and about approaches to art, from the first four chapters ("Writing about Art," "Analysis," "Writing a Comparison," "How to Write an Effective Essay"), and from Chapter 6 ("Some Critical Approaches")
  • by studying the principles on writing explained in Chapter 5, "Style in Writing" (e.g., on tone, paragraphing, and concreteness), and Chapters 7, 8, and 9 ("Art-Historical Research," "Writing a Research Paper," and "Manuscript Form")
  • by studying the short models throughout the book, which give the student a sense of some of the ways in which people talk about art

As Robert Frost said, writing is a matter of having ideas. This book tries to helpstudents to have ideas by suggesting questions they may ask themselves as they contemplate works of art. After all, instructors want papers that say something, papers with substance, not papers whose only virtue is that they are neatly typed and that the footnotes are in the proper form.

One is reminded of a story that Giambologna (1529-1608) in his old age told about himself. The young Flemish sculptor (his original name was jean de Boulogne), having moved to Rome, went to visit the aged Michelangelo. To show what he could do, Giambologna brought with him a carefully finished, highly polished wax model of a sculpture. The master took the model, crushed it, shaped it into something very different from Giambologna's original, and handed it back, saying, "Now learn the art of modeling before you learn the art of finishing." This story about Michelangelo as a teacher is harrowing, but it is also edifying (and it is pleasant to be able to say that Giambologna reportedly told it with pleasure). The point of telling it here is not to recommend a way of teaching; the point is that a highly finished surface is all very well, but we need substance first of all. A good essay, to repeat, says something.

A Short Guide to Writing about Art contains notes and two sample essays by students, an essay by a professor, and numerous model paragraphs by students and by published scholars such as Rudolf Arnheim, Albert Elsen, Mary D. Garrard, Anne Hollander, and Leo Steinberg. These discussions, as well as the numerous questions that are suggested, should help students to understand the sorts of things one says, and the ways one says them, when writing about art. After all, people do write about art, not only in the classroom but in learned journals, catalogs, and even in newspapers and magazines.

A NOTE ON THE SIXTH EDITION

I have been in love with painting ever since I became conscious of it at the age of six. I drew some pictures which I thought fairly good when I was fifty, but really nothing I did before the age of seventy was of any value at all. At seventy-three I have at last caught every aspect of nature— birds, fish, animals, insects, trees, grasses, all. When I am eighty I shall have developed still further, and will really master the secrets of art at ninety. When I reach one hundred my art will be truly sublime, and my final goal will be attained around the age of one hundred and ten, when every line and dot I draw will be imbued with life.
—Hokusai (I780-I849)

Probably all artists share Hokusai's self-assessment. And so do all writers of textbooks. Each edition of this book seemed satisfactory to me when I sent the manuscript to the publisher, but with the passing not of decades but of only a few months I detected inadequacies, and I wanted to say new things. This sixth edition, therefore, not only includes sixth thoughts about many topics discussed in the preceding editions but it also introduces new topics.

The emphasis is still twofold— on seeing and saying, or on getting ideas about art (Chapters 1-4) and on presenting those ideas effectively in writing (Chapters 5-8)— but this edition includes new thoughts about these familiar topics, as well as thoughts about new topics. For instance, the pages concerned with generating ideas contain new material about:

  • the canon
  • cultural materialism
  • queertheory
  • realism and idealism
  • critical values
  • the uses of the Internet

The pages concerned with effective writing contain:

  • boxed summaries, each with "A Rule for Writers"
  • seven checklists for revising paragraphs, writing a comparison, evaluating a web site, and researching on the internet

and the discussion of documentation now includes:

  • Chicago Manual Style
  • the Art Bulletin Style Guide
  • forms used for Asian names
  • citations of electronic sources

Eleven illustrations are new, including Segal's The Diner, Paik's TV Bud` dha, Brancusi's Torso, and a photograph of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Much of the new material concerned with generating ideas responds to relatively new trends in the study of art. Today an interest in political, economic, and social implications of art has in large measure replaced the h earlier interest in matters of style, authenticity, and quality. In short, contemporary interest seems to have moved from the text to the context, from the artwork as a unique object with its distinctive meaning to the artwork as a manifestation of something more important (gender, politics, ethnicity), from aesthetics to a criticism of social and political cultures. This shift in the study of art is a response to a shift in art itself— the shift from Modernism to Post-Modernism. In the first half of the twentieth century, art— in the movement called Modernism— sloughed off the earlier concern with subject matter, illusionism, and beauty; what F counted was the artist's sensibility. Post-Modernism, rejecting this elite ` sensibility, sees artists as deeply embedded in their society, understood only in the context of that society. The emphasis is now on the historical conditions governing the production and consumption of art.

Nevertheless, A Short Guide continues to give generous space to the formal analysis of art. I continue to use the term art rather than visual culture, though I uneasily recall Andy Warhol's observation that in America most people think that Art is a man's name. I grant, too, that visual culture has the advantage of including works— for instance, boomerangs, nose rings, and Native American feathered bonnets— that we might call art but that are not called art by the cultures that produced them. Indeed, one has only to do a very little reading to learn that many languages do not include a word for art; apparently no Native American language has such a word, and the Japanese invented such a word only after coming into contact with European ideas. My use of art, then, should be considered not only affection for an old word but also shorthand for visual culture.

Table of Contents

Preface.

1. Writing About Art.

        The Writing Process.

        What is Art?

Why Write About Art?

The Writer's Audience as a Collaborator.

The Functions of Critical Writing.

A Sample Critical Essay.

        Douglas Lee, “Whistler’s Japanese Mother.

        The Thesis and the Organization.

        A Note on Outlining.

What is an Interpretation–and Are All Interpretations Equally Valid?

        Interpretation and Interpretations.

        Who Creates “Meaning”–Artist or Viewer?

        When We Look, Do We See a Masterpiece–or Ourselves?

        The Relevance of Context: The Effect of the Museum and the Picture Book.

        Arguing an Interpretation (Supporting a Thesis).

Expressing Opinions: The Writer's “I”.

What Writing About Art Is: A Very Short View.

Checklist of Basic Matters.

2. Analysis.

Analytic Thinking: Seeing and Saying.

Subject Matter and Content.

Form and Content.

Getting Ideas: Asking Questions to Get Answers.

        Basic Questions.

        Drawing and Painting.

        Sculpture.

        Architecture.

        A Cautionary Word about Slides and Reproductions.

        Photography.

        Video Art.

        Another Look at the Questions.

Formal Analysis.

        What Formal Analysis is.

        Formal Analysis Versus Description.

        Opposition to Formal Analysis.

Style as the Shaper of Form.

Sample Essay: A Formal Analysis.

        Stephen Beer, “Formal Analysis: Prince Khunera as a Scribe.”

        Behind the Scene: Beer’s Essay, From Early Responses to Final Version.

Postscript: Thoughts About the Words “Realistic” and “Idealized”.

3. Writing a Comparison.

Comparing as a Way of Discovering.

Two Ways of Organizing a Comparison.

Sample Essay: A Student's Comparison.

        Rebecca Bedell, John Singleton Copley's Early Development: From Mrs. Joseph Mann to Mrs. Ezekial Goldthwait.

Checklist for Writing a Comparison.

4. Writing an Entry in an Exhibition Catalog.

Keeping the Audience in Mind.

A Sample Entry.

A Checklist for Writing a Catalog Entry.

5. Writing a Review for an Exhibition.

What a Review Is.

Drafting a Review.

A Checklist for Writing a Review.

Three Sample Reviews.

        Phyllis Tuchman, “Mark Rothko.”

        Ken Johnson, “Mark Rothko.”

        Anonymous, “Mark Rothko.”

6. How to Write an Effective Essay.

Looking Closely: Approaching a First Draft.

Revising: Achieving a Readable Draft.

Peer Review.

Checklist for Peer Review.

Preparing the Final Version.

7. Style in Writing.

Principles of Style.

Get the Right Word.

        Denotation.

        Connotation.

        Concreteness.

        A Note on Technical Language.

        Tone.

        Repetition.

        The Sound of Sense, the Sense of Sound.

Write Effective Sentences.

        Economy.

        Wordy Beginnings.

         Passive Voice.

        Parallels.

        Variety.

        Subordination.

        A Note on Comma Splices (or Comma Faults and Run-On Sentences (or Fused Sentences), and How to Correct Them.

        Write Unified and Coherent Paragraphs.

Checklist for Revising Paragraphs.

A Note on Tenses.

8. Some Critical Approaches.

Social History: The New Art History and Marxism.

Gender Studies: Feminist Criticism and Gay and Lesbian Studies.

Biographical Studies.

Psychoanalytic Studies.

Iconography and Iconology.

9. Art–Historical Research.

        Connoisseurship.

         History and Criticism.

Some Critical Values.

Historical Scholarship and Values.

10. Writing a Research Paper.

A Concise Overview.

Primary and Secondary Materials.

From Subject to Thesis.

Finding the Material.

        The Library Catalog.

        Browsing in Encyclopedias, Books, and Book Reviews.

        Indexes and Databases to Published Material.

        Other Guides.

Art Research on the Internet and the World Wide Web.

        The Internet and the Web.

        Where to Start.

        Web Search Engines.

        Web Subject Directories.

        Art-Related Directoreis.

        Finding, Viewing and Downloading Images.

        Evaluating Web Sites.

        Checklist for Evaluatig Web Sites.

        Referencing for Electronic Documentation.

        Citations for Electronic Materials.

        Posting Questions.

        Embedding URLs in Your Paper.

Keeping a Sense of Proportion.

Reading and Taking Notes.

Drafting and Revising the Paper.

Checklist for Reviewing a Revised draft of a Research Paper.

11. Manuscript Form.

Basic Manuscript Form.

Some Conventions of Language Usage.

        The Apostrophe.

        Capitalization.

        The dash.

        The Hyphen.

        Foreign Words and Quotations in Foreign Languages.

        Left and Right.

        Names.

        Avoiding Sexist Language.

        Avoiding Eurocentric Language.

        Spelling.

        Titles.

        Italics and Underlining.

Quotations and Quotation Marks.

Acknowledging Sources.

        Borrowing without Plagiarizing.

        Fair Use of Common Knowledge.

        “But How Else Can I Put It?”

Documentation.

Footnotes and Endnotes.

        Kinds of Notes.

        Footnote Numbers ad Positions.

        Footnote Style.

Chicago Manual Style.

        Books.

        Journals and Newspapers.

        Secondhand References.

        Subsequent References.

        Interviews, Lectures and Letters.

        Electronic Citations.

        Bibliography (List of Works Cited).

        Bibliographic Style.

Art Bulletin Style.

        Preparing The Manuscript.

        Text (Including Text of Footnotes.

        Text References, Footnotes and Frequently Cited Sources.

        Captions.

Corrections in the Final Copy.

12. Essay Examinations.

What Examinations Are.

Writing Essay Answers.

Last Words.

Credits.

 

Index.

Preface

PREFACE:

Preface

Another book for the student of art to read? I can only echo William James's report of the unwed mother's defense: "It's such a little baby."

Still, a few additional words may be useful. Everyone knows that students today do not write as well as they used to. Probably they never did, but it is a truth universally acknowledged (by English teachers) that the cure is not harder work from instructors in composition courses; rather, the only cure is a demand, on the part of the entire faculty, that students in all classes write decently. But instructors outside of departments of English understandably say that they lack the time—and perhaps the skill—to teach writing in addition to, say, art.

This book may offer a remedy. Students who read it—and it is short enough to be read in addition to whatever texts the instructor regularly requires— should be able to improve their essays

  • by getting ideas both about works of art and about approaches to art, from the first four chapters ("Writing about Art," "Analysis," "Writing a Comparison," "How to Write an Effective Essay"), and from Chapter 6 ("Some Critical Approaches")
  • by studying the principles on writing explained in Chapter 5, "Style in Writing" (e.g., on tone, paragraphing, and concreteness), and Chapters 7, 8, and 9 ("Art-Historical Research," "Writing a Research Paper," and "Manuscript Form")
  • by studying the short models throughout the book, which give the student a sense of some of the ways in which people talk about art

As Robert Frost said, writing is a matter of having ideas. This book tries tohelpstudents to have ideas by suggesting questions they may ask themselves as they contemplate works of art. After all, instructors want papers that say something, papers with substance, not papers whose only virtue is that they are neatly typed and that the footnotes are in the proper form.

One is reminded of a story that Giambologna (1529-1608) in his old age told about himself. The young Flemish sculptor (his original name was jean de Boulogne), having moved to Rome, went to visit the aged Michelangelo. To show what he could do, Giambologna brought with him a carefully finished, highly polished wax model of a sculpture. The master took the model, crushed it, shaped it into something very different from Giambologna's original, and handed it back, saying, "Now learn the art of modeling before you learn the art of finishing." This story about Michelangelo as a teacher is harrowing, but it is also edifying (and it is pleasant to be able to say that Giambologna reportedly told it with pleasure). The point of telling it here is not to recommend a way of teaching; the point is that a highly finished surface is all very well, but we need substance first of all. A good essay, to repeat, says something.

A Short Guide to Writing about Art contains notes and two sample essays by students, an essay by a professor, and numerous model paragraphs by students and by published scholars such as Rudolf Arnheim, Albert Elsen, Mary D. Garrard, Anne Hollander, and Leo Steinberg. These discussions, as well as the numerous questions that are suggested, should help students to understand the sorts of things one says, and the ways one says them, when writing about art. After all, people do write about art, not only in the classroom but in learned journals, catalogs, and even in newspapers and magazines.

A NOTE ON THE SIXTH EDITION

I have been in love with painting ever since I became conscious of it at the age of six. I drew some pictures which I thought fairly good when I was fifty, but really nothing I did before the age of seventy was of any value at all. At seventy-three I have at last caught every aspect of nature— birds, fish, animals, insects, trees, grasses, all. When I am eighty I shall have developed still further, and will really master the secrets of art at ninety. When I reach one hundred my art will be truly sublime, and my final goal will be attained around the age of one hundred and ten, when every line and dot I draw will be imbued with life.
—Hokusai (I780-I849)

Probably all artists share Hokusai's self-assessment. And so do all writers of textbooks. Each edition of this book seemed satisfactory to me when I sent the manuscript to the publisher, but with the passing not of decades but of only a few months I detected inadequacies, and I wanted to say new things. This sixth edition, therefore, not only includes sixth thoughts about many topics discussed in the preceding editions but it also introduces new topics.

The emphasis is still twofold— on seeing and saying, or on getting ideas about art (Chapters 1-4) and on presenting those ideas effectively in writing (Chapters 5-8)— but this edition includes new thoughts about these familiar topics, as well as thoughts about new topics. For instance, the pages concerned with generating ideas contain new material about:

  • the canon
  • cultural materialism
  • queertheory
  • realism and idealism
  • critical values
  • the uses of the Internet

The pages concerned with effective writing contain:

  • boxed summaries, each with "A Rule for Writers"
  • seven checklists for revising paragraphs, writing a comparison, evaluating a web site, and researching on the internet

and the discussion of documentation now includes:

  • Chicago Manual Style
  • the Art Bulletin Style Guide
  • forms used for Asian names
  • citations of electronic sources

Eleven illustrations are new, including Segal's The Diner, Paik's TV Bud` dha, Brancusi's Torso, and a photograph of the Guggenheim Bilbao.

Much of the new material concerned with generating ideas responds to relatively new trends in the study of art. Today an interest in political, economic, and social implications of art has in large measure replaced the h earlier interest in matters of style, authenticity, and quality. In short, contemporary interest seems to have moved from the text to the context, from the artwork as a unique object with its distinctive meaning to the artwork as a manifestation of something more important (gender, politics, ethnicity), from aesthetics to a criticism of social and political cultures. This shift in the study of art is a response to a shift in art itself— the shift from Modernism to Post-Modernism. In the first half of the twentieth century, art— in the movement called Modernism— sloughed off the earlier concern with subject matter, illusionism, and beauty; what F counted was the artist's sensibility. Post-Modernism, rejecting this elite ` sensibility, sees artists as deeply embedded in their society, understood only in the context of that society. The emphasis is now on the historical conditions governing the production and consumption of art.

Nevertheless, A Short Guide continues to give generous space to the formal analysis of art. I continue to use the term art rather than visual culture, though I uneasily recall Andy Warhol's observation that in America most people think that Art is a man's name. I grant, too, that visual culture has the advantage of including works— for instance, boomerangs, nose rings, and Native American feathered bonnets— that we might call art but that are not called art by the cultures that produced them. Indeed, one has only to do a very little reading to learn that many languages do not include a word for art; apparently no Native American language has such a word, and the Japanese invented such a word only after coming into contact with European ideas. My use of art, then, should be considered not only affection for an old word but also shorthand for visual culture.

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