My own responses are in italics throughout the report but please be aware I am now writing retrospectively due to my original posting of this blog having not published for some reason – I was still relatively new to WordPress at the time.
Your enthusiasm for the subject is combined with an enquiring approach to visual experience. Your commitment to ‘read’ the art of the western world in an informed way should enable you to acquire a range of skills and attributes.
It is not easy to find a comfortable writing ‘voice’, but you will need to develop a formal academic writing style for longer pieces, and follow conventions for citing references in the Harvard Reference format (see the OCA guide on this available via the student site).
Try to write clearly and concisely – make sure your analysis is focused. (As you mention, using the Dragon software may help with this.) Remember that short sentences are often easier to control and can help you to make your points more forcefully. Proofread all your work to check that it reads fluently. Look out for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors.
Try to broaden your research – read widely and deeply – to develop more advanced surveys of relevant issues/debates. Compare and contrast information and evaluate others’ arguments.
Ensure blog material is effectively and logically ordered. Use appropriate labels for your work – say if it is an annotation, analysis etc.
General: Undertaking almost any kind of study inevitably means that there is going to be a lot of reading to do. As you have already found, this course has a great deal of reading material, which can be very demanding. Much of the reading for study introduces new ideas and new vocabulary. To get the most out of your reading stop frequently, perhaps at the end of each chunk or paragraph, and jot down a key word or phrase that sums up what you have just read. Make a list of key definitions and concepts to save time looking things up as you go along – you could put them on your blog or in a small notebook, making a short specialist subject dictionary.
The whole of the above notes make total sense and I have since taken on most of what was suggested albeit it my note taking and listing of key definitions/concepts is something that I have had to work on throughout the course.
You may want to get credit for your hard work and achievements with the OCA by formally submitting your work for assessment at the end of the module. More and more people are taking the idea of lifelong learning seriously by submitting their work for assessment but it is entirely up to you. We are just as keen to support you whether you study for pleasure or to gain qualifications. Please consider whether you want to put your work forward for assessment and let me know your decision when you submit Assignment 2. I can then give you feedback on how well your work meets the assessment requirements.
Feedback on assignment
Gallery visit notes – National Gallery (online)
*Make sure that you include a bibliography or refer to the sources you have consulted at the end of each piece of written work you submit.
This has now been corrected.
Seurat – Bathers at Asnières: Your reference to political/economic/social factors included notes on the society of the Third Republic, the rapid pace of urban development (the Industrial Revolution) and the working class.
In relation to the status (and training) of the artist, it was good to see you talk about the traditional École des Beaux-Arts and Seurat’s study under Lehman. Key points: the proximity of Seurat’s palette to that of Delacroix; the artist’s rendering of forms in a blocky simplicity, embodying the monumentality of Millet and the geometric idealization of the classicizing tradition passed onto him by his school training. You recorded the influence on the artist of Impressionism, Ingres, Piero della Francesca, and so-called “primitive” art. You also referred to Seurat’s association with the Symbolists (Moréas) and Émile Zola. (Note that the latter is a ‘he’ and not a ‘she’ as you stated!)
Materials/processes: This was your strongest section. In addition to mentioning Seurat’s special interest in optics and the science of colour (specifically the writings of Chevreul and Blanc) and his resultant use of complementary colours, you alluded to the artist’s experimental application of paint. Consider his development of the ‘balayé’ technique (where the brush is used to apply colours using strokes in a crisscross formation). Remember this is not a pointillist painting – Seurat did not cultivate the technique until after this work was completed (though pointillist touches are evident in the red hat worn by the boy on the right).
You commented on Seurat’s method in planning the painting. This included making 15 oil sketches and 9 drawings, and reworking the composition by later adding the reclining figure in the middle ground, the rowing boat etc.
Critics/thinkers/historians: Try to quote a number of responses. You could reflect on the rejection of the painting by the Paris Salon in 1884, or you could research scholarly comments. E.g. Rey characterised the work as being of a “classical calm”. Russel suggests the painting is “a profound comment upon modern industrial society”. Schapiro focuses on Seurat as the exemplar of the artist who finds inspiration in the science of his era.
I understand the points my tutor has made and added these onto the blog as additional notes at the end of the piece. I have to bear in mind that this one was of the first two assignment studies and so was really just getting to understand what was required.
Velázquez – The Toilet of Venus (‘The Rokeby Venus’): In terms of the political/social factors you mentioned the Spanish Inquisition, the court of Philip IV, and the commissioner – Gaspar Mendez de Haro, marquis of Carpio. (The painting was listed in his collection in 1651, hanging on the ceiling above a bed, indicating that the work was meant as a private erotic image.) Note that the painting was intended as a companion piece to another painting of Venus, seen from the front, suggesting that the unusual orientation of Velazquez’s nude was not the painter’s own idea.
The status/training of the artist and his art: Try to build on your material by looking beyond the artist’s apprenticeship to Pacheco. Think about how all Spanish painters worked under financial and social pressures due to their low professional status as craftsmen, and that some struggled to bring about change. Take a quick look at Velázquez’s Las Meninas, which can be understood as a visual statement of the social rank desired by the painter.
Consider Velázquez’s special relationship with Philip IV – the artist held various central court positions. (There are a number of reports that Velázquez had the opportunity – and obligation – to speak regularly with the king. This access can be considered especially unfettered if we remember that the painter took up residence in an apartment in the Treasury House which was connected by a passageway to the Royal Palace.)
Materials/processes: Key things to observe include the modelling of Venus’s body with infinitely scrupulous and tender gradations of cool and warm colour (white, pink, grey and muted black and red), the minute inflections of light and shade, and the single brushstroke, laden with black paint, tracing the line that runs beneath Venus’s body from the middle of the back to below her calf.
Influences: As you stated, Velázquez was inspired by Italian art, and The Rokeby Venus is a conflation of the Venetian Renaissance inventions of ‘Venus at her mirror with Cupid’ and ‘Reclining Venus’. (See Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino.)
Critics/thinkers: It is worthwhile reviewing the painting in relation to notions of power, the female as object and the concept of the male gaze. (For a feminist reading of the image see Nead’s book The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality.)
As before I have added in the points my tutor has made in the form of notes at the end of the blog piece rather than correct what I have written – this enables me to understand fully the additional points and appreciate again that this was one of the first two assignment studies so was incredibly new to this form of study and writing.
The Open University model for analysing and looking closely at artworks (the study diamond formula) is another helpful guide:
A good plan to follow when constructing your annotations is to record the materials used, the dimensions and date, and then describe elements in the order in which they draw your eye around the image (including background, light source, tonal values, rhythm etc). Always bear in mind questions of patronage and any interesting or unusual facts.
Your annotations were indicative of reasonable visual skills, but a little too cursory – you need to try and move beyond basic observations.
Your piece on Matteo di Giovanni’s The Assumption of the Virgin briefly recorded that the work was originally the central panel of a polyptych. You noticed details such as the ring of musician angels, Mary’s patterned white robes (as the Queen of Heaven she is as ‘fair as the moon’), the dramatically foreshortened Christ flying out of the picture ((Matteo had already painted a strongly foreshortened God the Father in the much earlier altarpiece made for Jacopo Scotti in about 1458), and the gilded background, unifying the composition.
Other points to note:
o Mary lets her girdle drop down to the doubting Thomas who stands by the empty tomb
o the vivacity of the colours (the reds, blues and greens of the angels are echoed in the landscape underneath, with its green fields, and in the tomb with its blue and red panels)
o the artist’s delicate definition of faces and hands
o the influence of artists such as Simone Martini, Sassetta, Antonio del Pollaiuolo and Piero della Francesca
o criticism of the artist’s style – some scholars have remarked on how Matteo seems to have become increasingly conservative, creating works somewhat insular and aristocratic in tone
o Context: It is worth remembering that the Virgin of the Assumption (the Madonna Assunta) was particularly important in Siena and the Sienese ‘contado’ (territory), including Asciano. (Note Siena’s self-naming as the ‘City of the Virgin’.) The cult of the Virgin was the cornerstone of the ‘civil’ religion of Siena and the Assumption Day ceremonies became a key moment for popular spectacle.
I will comment in more detail on your response to Zurbarán’s Saint Francis in Meditation below, but it was good to see you study the artist’s debt to painters such as Caravaggio (using strong contrasts of light and shade to transform the composition into a dramatic ‘tableau vivant’). You also noted down the patched, abrasive texture of the brown robe, how the eyes of Saint Francis are hidden by the shadow of his cowl, and how the rope, with its perfectly rendered knots, suggests scourging.
Try to develop a sustained comparison between the two works you have annotated.
As I reflect on this tutor feedback I can now see how cursory my original annotations were and also have the understanding of what sort of detail I was expected to look at and note and also importantly to understand. I have now amended the annotation and added a note stating it is in accordance with tutor feedback.
Zurbarán – Saint Francis in Meditation
Read through the set criteria carefully. Your text should have been developed into 3 main paragraphs of description, interpretation and evaluation. You need to describe the form, medium, scale, key shapes, and palette. You should interpret the work by addressing the question of function and meaning, analysing distinctive elements, the effect of compositional devices or artistic choices, and why the artwork was created (context) with reference to evidence from other sources. To evaluate the image record positive and negatives responses to the quality of the work and appraise scholarly/critical judgements.
You did expand on certain key areas, but I would recommend that you set aside some time to re-work this material. Use the following guide to help you:
Description: In this section you should expand on some of your remarks concerning the way in which the painting achieves an unsurpassed level of hyperrealism and illusionism. I.e. think about its execution and style – you could mention the transparency, brightness and intensity of the colours, (the painting is a remarkable pictorial exercise in the rendering of variations of ochre tones), how the composition has been edited down to the bare essentials, or the use of severe chiaroscuro to intensify the spiritual drama and bring into sharp focus the sculptural form of the friar deep in prayer.
In addition to recording the habit with its distinctive pointed hood or cappuccino, look at the mark of the stigmata just visible on the figure’s right hand. (This is a reference to the vision experienced by Saint Francis in 1224, which left him with the marks of Christ’s wounds – the stigmata – imprinted on his feet, hands and side.)
Interpretation: Consider how the saint’s intense absorption in his meditation suggests that the painting was probably intended for private devotion, perhaps for a small cell or private chapel. Zurbarán’s close links with the religious orders in Seville and the fact that he shows Saint Francis wearing a habit that became closely associated with the Capuchins may indicate that this painting was originally a Capuchin commission.
In relation to artistic choices, reflect on the influence of Caravaggio, Netherlandish prints, and painted wooden sculptures, or briefly explore the way in which the iconography of Saint Francis changed – the benevolent man of charity was transformed into a fervent penitent, holding a skull as a reminder of the vanity of earthly life.
Expand on relevant contextual issues. E.g. Spain was a nation whose monarchy considered itself the bastion of the Catholic faith in Europe, and the Spanish people saw themselves as chosen by God to preserve intact Christianity’s most profound beliefs and transmit them to the lands recently discovered by the Spanish conquistadores.
You could talk about the significance of the Council of Trent, which re-affirmed the legitimacy of the veneration and cult of images. (It recommended that artists portray Saint Francis more simply to encourage a contemplative attitude conducive to daily meditation.)
Evaluation: How successful do you think the painting is? Refer to scholarly responses. What do you make of nineteenth-century American reactions to Zurbarán and his art? Consider the anti-Baroque, Protestant, Ruskinian taste typical of the period. For those like the art critic Berenson, Spanish art of the Golden Age—with the exception of royal portraits by Velázquez and of works by the ever-popular Murillo— would forever remain suspect. Zurbarán was labelled as a painter of ascetic monks, and the lasting interpretation of his work focused on his apparent enclosure within a sombre and tragic rigidity.
It was not until the 1920s that Zurbarán’s work was reevaluated and he was perceived as one of the principal painters of the Spanish school. Commentaries began to emphasise the artist’s incomparable colour schemes and solemn, emotive and monumental imagery. Zervos remarked that “the essential character of Zurbarán’s work is that it offers all that painting can offer of human truth…”
The original annotation has been amended in accordance with this feedback with additional notes as I start to understand exactly what I should look for and understand about the painting.
I have re-written my analysis totally taking in many of the points listed above but also keeping much of my original written piece too. The area I have had difficulty finding information on is the section on Evaluation and the reactions in the 19th century to Zurbaran and his art etc and also the fact that to include consideration to those last points I have struggled with the 500 word limit – if time permits I would hope to do an additional blog specifically looking at this area but if not I do understand the fact that I am encouraged to look at the reactions by the Americans and also that of the art critics including Berenson.
Learning Logs or Blogs
It is important to check that your blog entries are clearly organised or categorised. Make sure that you have eliminated repetitions in your work.
Your learning blog is a personal record of your own learning, and as such it is a document which is unique to you and cannot be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but I would encourage you to include more reflective/evaluative material. Producing reflective material for each unit will help you to expand your perspective and deepen your understanding. (Stand back from your work – record the challenges you have had on different projects, and how you have resolved them/the strategies you used.) For more information see the OCA guide Introducing learning logs.
These two points are areas I have continued to work on and has resulted in a complete re-organisation of my blog.
Your review of your progress against the assessment criteria was honest.
Knowledge and understanding: Continue to discuss the key contextual issues, recording the appropriate frameworks that contribute to the reception of artworks at the time of their making.
Research skills: You need to use a wide variety of source materials – make sure that you avoid an over-reliance on websites. Engage with more broadly ‘theoretical’ texts so as to deepen your research and expand your comments.
This is something I have continued to work on throughout the course.
Critical and Evaluation skills: Remember to demonstrate your ability to reflect in depth on your development and processes. Synthesise different art historians’ interpretations and explain which you find most convincing and why.
This is a point I still feel is my weak area but have made progress with throughout the course.
Communication skills: This includes showing your grasp of discipline-specific vocabulary and using the required referencing conventions.
I understood this at the time and have continued to make note of the point.
As previously mentioned, your bibliography for each project should employ the Harvard Referencing system. (Individual bibliographies should be recorded at the end of the relevant blog post – do not group all your references for an entire section of the course together in one long list!) I have outlined a couple of the key points below to help you.
State all the items that make up your background reading alphabetically by author. The general format varies depending on the type of work you are citing.
For books, it follows this pattern: Author/editor surname, initials. (Year) Title: subtitle. Edition. Place of Publication: Publisher
For journals, the journal name is italicised, not the article title. The journal volume is in bold:
Author surname, initials. (Year) Title of article. Journal name. Volume number (issue or part number), first-last page numbers
When citing an electronic source, always give the URL (the address of the web page) and the date on which you accessed it.
This has been corrected.
Your strongest blog entries related to your research on selected artists. I particularly liked the personal dimension to your piece on Robert Lenkiewicz, and your appreciation for his ‘social enquiries by visual means’. Similarly, your detailed responses to the expressive, organic willow sculptures of Laura Ellen Bacon, and Anna Danowska’s stained glass pieces were engaging.
Other good sections included your notes on self-portraits. In terms of Cindy Sherman, look at her first series of photographs (Untitled Film Stills) and her use of layers of representation and the concept of voyeurism. Similarly, examine how Sarah Lucas challenges in all of her self-portraits the concept of the gender masquerade (subverting and disrupting our comfort zones). Investigate the role of sexuality in works such as Fried Eggs, Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab, and Au Naturel.
Your discussion of the depiction of the female nude in art was competent, touching as it did on works such as Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Manet’s Olympia. Think about the way in which art creates social constructions of gender or the necessity of challenging the notion that there can be a common experience of images across gender divisions. What does it mean to look from a woman’s point of view? (See Berger’s Ways of Seeing, in which the author argues that male nudes just show men at their best, but the female nude is always a fantasy, a production, of male desire.)
I have added additional notes into the relevant sections taking note of my tutor’s points.
Clark, T.J. (1999) The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. (Revised edition) New Jersey: Princeton University Press
Nethersole, S. (2011) Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces Before 1500. (Exh. Cat.) New Haven: Yale University Press
*See also http://www.googleartproject.com/ and Oxford Art Online (follow the link on the OCA Student website)
Looking ahead to Assignment 2:
Burnett Grossman, J. (2003) Looking at Greek and Roman Sculptures in Stone: A Guide to Terms, Styles and Techniques. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum
National Portrait Gallery, London – Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends (until 25 May)
British Museum, London – Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art (26 March – 5 July)
Pointers for the next assignment
Continue to demonstrate more insight into the wider implications and questions arising from your chosen images.
Ensure that your written material is concise and precise. Check that your work is appropriately structured and that you have purposefully used a range of source materials.
Incorporate more sections of reflection upon your learning experience.
I very much look forward to seeing more of your work in the next assignment.
Overall comments: I remember feeling quite despondent when I received this feedback but also encouraged because I was aware that it was my first assignment and I had a lot to learn. I have spent time adding in notes and correcting the analysis and am aware my vocabulary has increased dramatically and I am using terminology automatically in most instances now – an online dictionary has been my best friend throughout this course though. As I reflect back to this first assignment I realise how much I have learnt and the change in my writing style and realise that this course has given me a passion for art history that I never expected.