Tutor Report on Assignment 4 with my response

My responses to my tutor’s feedback are in italic font throughout the report.

Overall Comments

Your material shows a solid grasp of concepts, very competent visual skills, and communication of the appropriate historical contexts/ideas. It is good to see you expanding your annotations and surveys of other visual materials via additional in-depth written responses on your blog.

Your use of online information is good, but you need to try and demonstrate more of your research by referring to different sources to develop your commentary. Check that you have provided plenty of evidence of your ability to question or push your enquiries further when synthesising new information.

You need to show that you can:

  •  identify other people’s positions, arguments and conclusions
  • evaluate the evidence for alternative points of view (i.e. weigh up opposing arguments
  • and evidence fairly) 
  • read between the lines, and identify false or unfair assumptions (recognise denoted [literal/explicit] and connoted [additional/latent] meanings)
  • reflect on issues in an organised way
  • draw conclusions about whether arguments are valid and justifiable

As I mentioned in my previous feedback, continue to include (at regular intervals) further evaluative/reflective material that demonstrates your critical thinking skills and your awareness of your development (think about significant learning points).

Assessment potential

I understand your aim is to go for the Textiles Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment. In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.

Feedback on assignment

Assignment 4

Reading notes

Review your notes – check that there is not too much overlapping material and that information is securely categorised.

Rococo, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism

Key themes to stress: patronage, education, materials and modernity. In addition to recording the information that struck you the most and mapping the relevant intellectual and cultural climates, you included a definition of Rococo (a style of art and decoration characterized by lightness, pastel colours, grace, playfulness, and intimacy) and briefly explored the work of artists such as Watteau and Fragonard.

Think a bit more about the impact of the Enlightenment on the arts, and how the business of the artist was conceived of as the imitation of nature, which as far as high art was concerned, meant having an intelligent grasp of the processes used to produce classical art.

I understand my tutor’s point directly above and have amended my notes and added responses to what she has asked me to consider at the end of those notes.  As I have worked through my tutor notes I have come to realise the level of understand I have now reached with my reading and research and my responses I feel are showing that knowledge.

As you stated, Winckelmann held up Greek statuary for imitation as the embodiment of perfection, but Enlightenment Neoclassicism in its broadest sense attempted not only direct borrowings from the antique, but also an emulation of the order, unity, proportion and harmony felt to underpin all classical art. Consider the principles of classical composition, which were based on the notion of a clear focus on a central motif (a hero, martyr or saint); grand, unifying effects of light and shade that would not distract the eye to the detriment of mental focus on an elevating subject; noble simplicity, balance and symmetry.

Over the course of the last few months I have seen art works in my local country houses and understand my tutor’s point on the central motif etc – the central figures are the focus through the skilled use of light and shade and as I think about this I can fully understand how the classical composition has been used to such great effect. I have also responded to this paragraph at the end of the notes.

Explore further how Enlightenment artists and critics were emboldened to demand greater naturalism or realism in art, in both style and subject matter (resulting from the popularity of Dutch and Flemish paintings). Reflect on the way in which this greater respect for nature was seen as a moral solution to the luxury and corruption of the Rococo’s aristocratic patrons.

Again this paragraph has been responded to at the end of my notes.

In terms of Romanticism and the shift in attitudes and cultural responses, try to list as many features as you can of Romantic art and artists, such as:

  • the idea of the Romantic artist as set apart from humanity, because they possess a mysterious faculty of genius/inspiration
  • the growing status of feeling/emphasis on sentiment
  • the increasing incorporation of the personal and private into public culture and an increasing use of public culture for self-promotion
  • the compulsion to innovate and modernise
  • the attraction towards the Gothic and the fantastic

I have responded to this list in my notes having given considerable thought to it – a period I did not think I fully understood I have come to realise I appreciate the style and era far more than I had given myself credit for even if my answers are brief.

You incorporated references to Géricault, Turner and Constable. In relation to the latter, note the innovative use of sweeping brushstrokes and how in the context of the dominant aesthetic of the classical picturesque, this technique was seen as a means of gaining access to the artist’s individual identity (ref. the Romantic fascination with a deeper, more primal process of communication).

You alluded to the ongoing dialogue, from 1834 onwards, between Delacroix and Ingres, and how their rivalry centered on the supremacy of line and draftsmanship, championed by Ingres, versus that of colour, advocated by his rival (echoing the seventeenth-century debate between the Poussinists and Rubenists).

Your note on photography (ref. its role in science and art) covered important figures such as Daguerre. (Photography was understood to be the gold standard of optical realism, but pioneers like Julia Margaret Cameron challenged photography’s status as a faithful copy of reality in pursuit of art.)

I am much happier with the last 3 points from my tutor as I felt at the time I had got to grips with the period and certainly with the development of photography.  I fully understand Constable’s use of brushstrokes and his technique and also the relevance to artists individual identity.

Realism, Impressionism, and Post-Impressionism

As you recorded, the nineteenth century was an age of revolutions that included an increased emphasis on secularism, the advent of mechanisation through industrialisation, the rise of the bourgeoisie, and an emphasis on the public sphere.

The main questions for this period are shown below – check that you have answered them in your notes:

  • How did the subject matter of art change from the Realist period through to the Post-Impressionists?
  • What contributed to those changes?
  • How did the formal approaches differ?
  • How did the exhibition strategies differ?
  • How did the art from this period pave the way to the modernism of the early twentieth century?

I have added these questions at the end of my notes and answered them accordingly if I do not feel I had done so or I had not answered clearly and concisely.

You mentioned the primary ‘Realist’ artists – Daumier, Courbet, Millet and Manet, but when exploring the concept of modernity in their work (and in the art of the Impressionists), look at a primary text such as Baudelaire’s essay The Painter of Modern Life, in which the male artist is described as an outsider, an “observer, philosopher, flâneur” and as “the painter of the passing moment”.

Try to review Realism’s emphasis on labour (which bleeds over into the work of Caillebotte and Degas, illustrating that no definitive line can be drawn between the subjects or formal aspects of one movement and another). Labour was a major issue due to decades of industrialisation that had radically changed the nature of work – both in the country and in the city. Peasants/rural labour (Courbet) and urban workers (Manet) both became common subjects.

I have considered this paragraph and added the relevant footnote to my blog.

Your discussion of Impressionism, including characteristics such as visible brushstrokes, and the attempt to capture movement (ref. Monet, Degas etc.) was solid. (Ref. also the ordinary subject matter representative of the modern transformation of Paris – nothing monumental as during the Neoclassical or Romantic period and with little or no political implications as during Realism.) As you stated, in addition to taking charge of their subject matter, the Impressionists organised their own exhibitions as well – again, a product of modernity.

Try to demonstrate how, rather than the impression of the spectacle of the external world (a focus of the Impressionists), the Post-Impressionist artists, such as Van Gogh, turned toward the expression of the internal psychology of the individual. As you mentioned, others, such as Cézanne and Seurat practiced an analytical approach using colour to build form.

As I write this response I am nearing the end of Assignment 5 and it is only now I fully understand the internalisation of the artist in terms of expressionism – the artists deliberately chose to externalise their internal emotions and memories through their use of colour and shape to portray the world around them with a concentration on abstract shapes and forms.  I have also added a footnote to the relevant blog in response to this paragraph.

It was good to see you note the growing awareness and interest of these artists in non-western art, including Japonisme (specifically, prints from the ukiyo-e school, which not only focused on transitory and everyday subjects, but were striking for their lack of perspective and shadow, flat areas of strong colour, and compositional freedom).

Annotated Images

Remember to engage with a broad range of sources.

Wilkie – Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Despatch: As you indicated, this work describes the effects of a great moment in history upon everyday people, in a particular street on a particular day, and encompasses a range of gestures, textures and expressions.

You gave a solid account of the physical qualities of the image (including the use of colour and light) and, in your extra blog section comparing and contrasting your chosen images, you recorded important facts such as the commissioning of the painting by the Duke of Wellington (who also suggested the setting).

Under the guidance of the Duke, who evidently changed his mind in this respect, Wilkie largely replaced the original old soldiers with younger serving men as he established the composition in 1819. (The project was a protracted one, with the artist making several oil sketches and dozens of drawings. The final crucial developments came in 1820 as Wilkie pulled the despatch itself nearer the centre of the composition.)

You referred to the regimental uniforms, which allowed Wilkie to build a microcosm of the British army and indeed of Empire, as the different uniforms stood for the places from which the regiments had been raised, and for the battles at which they had distinguished themselves. Consequently, the subject, for all its precise setting in time and place, was fundamentally symbolic.

For a useful interpretation of Wilkie’s painting read and reflect on the following quote from Beth Wright’s Painting and History during the French Restoration – Abandoned by the Past:

“Géricault and Delacroix appreciated, as Romantics and liberals, Wilkie’s portrayal of aspects of historical truth that hitherto had been excluded from painting. They recognised that Wilkie was a pioneer in visualising history as experience rather than as action. This sense of the past was socially and nationally oriented and sought the imaginative resurrection of a populace’s sentiments instead of the concrete representation of a hero’s acts. The visual implications of this shift would affect composition, temporal allusion, and the viewer’s role. In Wilkie’s Chelsea Pensioners we see the other side of historical experience, which had been excluded from dramatic enactments of the execution of monarchs: the nation, not as a chorus but as a community of individuals who contribute toward and respond to world events.”

I have added my reflection to this quote at the end of my blog piece  regarding the comparisons between the two annotations.

It is worth emphasising the straightforward disingenuousness inherent in showing Chelsea so full of healthy, cheerful soldiers. With the close of the French Wars had come mass demobilisation and the presence of large numbers of disorientated, destitute, and mutilated former soldiers around the capital. (Their perceived potential for organised violence gave a dangerous edge to the growing movement for political reform.)

Think about the extraordinary general reception of the painting. When exhibited by the artist at the Royal Academy in 1822, crowds queued up to see it and a rail had to be placed in front to hold back the crush of people.

The above point and my thoughts have been added into the blog – this art work for me is an extraordinary work which shows a very different  aspect to the end of the French Wars. The annotation has been corrected.

Wright – Arkwright’s Mill: This annotation really benefited from your visit to Derby Museum and Art Gallery. You outlined how the painting (believed to be among the last works in Wright’s career and presumably commissioned by Arkwright) depicts the world’s first water-powered cotton mill, and functions as a key record of the changes that the early Industrial Revolution wrought on the landscape of Derbyshire.

You alluded to Wright’s obsession with describing everything as precisely as possible, and how the viewer’s eye is constantly drawn to one meticulous detail after another (e.g. the mill building, the aqueduct transporting water across the road to power the factory, the factory manager’s house). (Note that some critics argue that Wright’s exactitude gives a measure of austerity to his work.)

I particularly liked your material on the ‘Romantic’ aspects of the painting and its ‘philosophical’ (or sublime) landscape. For Wright, nature sustains its integrity in the presence of industry – the Georgian domestic architecture of Arkwright’s mill intrudes on the scene no more than might a brightly lit country house. I.e. the painting makes visible a rare moment in British taste – the first, and almost the only time when an artist and his patron could unite in finding beauty in industrial modernity. (Contrast this to John Sell Cotman’s Bedlam Furnace, which suggests a decided change in the portrayal of industrial sites.)

You touched on the fact that Wright was absorbed by patterns of light and shade (ref. the quality of the natural light as it vitalises the geological formations of the rocks), and you noted the artist’s application of oils. (In the majority of Wright’s landscapes, he alters his touch from one passage to the next, combining thick strokes, stippling, and [to convey the movement of water] markings made with the wooden tip of the brush.)

In comparing Wilkie’s and Wright’s paintings you referred to their historical and cultural frameworks, and included some detailed and perceptive comments on each artist’s style, technique, and use of light, tone, and space etc. Just remember that a comparative piece of writing is about analysis not merely description. Every time you describe something about the artwork, you should explain why that particular aspect is noteworthy. This is the distinction between the WHAT and the WHY: what did you notice about the artwork, and why is it important?

The above distinguishing between ‘what’ and ‘why’ is something I need to add to the comparison and also to bear in mind for my final analysis. The annotation has been corrected.

As I indicated in my feedback on Assignment 3, if you are comparing and contrasting multiple images, it is important to work on the structure of your piece and use the ‘point-by-point’ method. In this method, you identify points of comparison and contrast and allow those points to be the main ideas; as you support those main ideas, you will discuss the works. (This is different to merely describing one work, then the next work – a style known as ‘block-by-block’—that often leads to a lot of description but not a lot of analysis.)


The perception of women in the nineteenth-century

Prior to Formal Assessment, I would recommend that you revise your response to this task. It is important that your writing is logically organised and focused on the most relevant set of issues. Your assessors will want to see that you can engage with a theoretical approach and pursue a particular line of questioning in depth. So, make sure that you have clearly answered the specific question of ‘What do these paintings tell us about gender relations in the nineteenth century?’

Start by acknowledging that the perceptions of your selected artists (and those of their contemporaries) were, of necessity, circumscribed within a certain sexual economy. I.e. include a couple of sentences that make clear that, for the most part, the nineteenth-century conceived of gender as a binary of masculine versus feminine, and had very strong (and pervasive) ideas about how a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ should behave.

So, men belonged to the public sphere, in the realms of politics, commerce, religion and academia. Women, on the other hand, belonged to the private sphere, raising the family and caring for the home – they were expected to be delicate, subordinate and demure. (Note that in this power-imbalanced society, art had traditionally helped to construct women as objects of male desire and possession or as pedestal madonnas.)

As you indicated, however, it was also, increasingly, a modern urban world of work and entertainment, in which the appearance of women in public spaces, though never entirely unproblematic, was nevertheless becoming increasingly commonplace. (Have a look at Pollock’s essay Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity for more on this.)

In terms of Degas’ The Dance Class, think about:

  • The artist’s ambivalent artistic approach toward women – sometimes reinforcing accepted values, sometimes questioning them. (Recent scholarship places Degas in one of two camps: first, the notion that Degas is inherently misogynistic; second, that Degas did, in fact, privilege his women with more agency than they would have otherwise been afforded.)
  • The ways in which Degas’ portrayals of dancers, with their emphasis on work (capturing the complex mid-movement [pirouette en dedans], the basic steps and the dancer in ‘reposte’), contrast with the customary renderings of the Parisian ballet dancer as flirtatious and sexually available. (Ref. the idea of dancers as criminally Other, born into the sinister underclass that Paris’s elite males entered for sex.)
  • The key features of Degas’ compositions, including the unusual viewpoints, cropped figures, angularity, asymmetry, and compressed spaces. (I.e. we cannot find a ballet painting whose focus is not dispersed, whose viewpoint is not dizzying, whose figures do not slide uncontrollably about.)

Try to sharpen up your remarks regarding Manet’s A Bar at the FoliesBergère. You might like to say a bit more about the melancholy, distracted expression of the female, Suzon, and the inconsistency to the relationship between the reflections in the mirror and the real things. (A brief note on the inspiration and influence for the work [Velázquez’s Las Meninas] could be included.)

The main point to discuss is that seduction and selling are at the centre of this painting, though their object is not just the fashionable woman at the counter. (I.e. you need to review the image in light of broader discourses of mass consumption: there is the display of goods on the counter provocatively positioned to beckon us, but also there is the idea that artists positioned themselves in a culture of display and commodities, soliciting the eyes of consuming spectators.) Evaluate the complex phallic symbolism and sexual connotations used, where the bottles are phallic, the trapeze artist is sexual activity, and the chandeliers are round and vaginal.

As you stated, Cabanel’s portrait of Mary Victoria Leiter reflects the wealthy sitter’s social aspirations. Do you think the artist reduces female character to a function of public image? I.e. what do you make of the argument that the painting is both a work of art and a space for the display of contemporary fashion, reflecting a reductive commodity fetishism?

A brief conclusion, reiterating how each artist approached the topic of gender would have been helpful.

I knew I was not happy about this analysis and so take on board all the suggestions and it has been re-worked and amended in accordance with this feedback.

Proposal for illustrated review (Assignment 5) – A biographical analysis of the art of Artemisia Gentileschi

As previously discussed, try to focus on one key image that you can research in-depth and rigorously assess. Given the word count, my concern with comparing/contrasting a number of Artemisia’s paintings of female figures is that you would be limited to presenting a superficial treatment of each artwork, thereby restricting your ability to demonstrate your visual skills.

Artemisia’s Judith Decapitating Holofernes of 1620 would be a good image to focus on. You could briefly talk about the facts of Artemisia’s life (and other useful contextual information), before moving on to analyse details in the painting (perhaps a note on the iconographic similarities to Caravaggio’s work could be incorporated).

You would then be able to concentrate on the idea of ‘Judith as Artemisia’ and how it seems irresistible to discuss Artemisia’s rape in connection with her painting. Don’t forget to address the criticisms of this approach though (i.e. think about the pitfalls of compulsive biographism and the creation of myths surrounding the artist).

Practical considerations need to be taken into account – e.g. the availability of suitable materials and a realistic assessment of time constraints.

Essay checklist:

Spell-check, grammar-check and proofread your document. Your essay should use a standard serif font (12 point). Remember to format your work – check it is properly spaced etc. Use the Harvard Referencing System.

What your essay should ‘do’:

Analyse: consider existing opinions; describe ideas and their interrelationship; understand the foundations of their arguments

Compare: examine similarities and differences between ideas and interpretations

Define: give clear statements of fact

Discuss: describe different aspects of the subject; relate particular examples to the bigger picture; show how certain elements are related, and others not; develop ideas in relation to underlying premises, evidence, interpretations; work towards a reasoned conclusion Evaluate: appreciate the distinction between different aspects of the subject and between existing scholarly interpretations; appreciate the difference between facts, interpretations, and opinions

Synthesise: present a concise and accurate overview of a topic based on examination of a range of evidence; draw together different strands of argument and/or interpretation convincingly

Summarise: outline the main points briefly or retrospectively at the end.

All this advice has been noted for when I am writing my essay.

Learning Logs or Blogs Note:

Not only is your blog an important part of the OCA learning process, it can have a significant impact on how assessors see your portfolio of work.

Your material addressing the assessment criteria was good but make sure you regularly include blog posts that deal with your personal review of your skills development. Reflective passages should help you to develop your  academic writing ‘voice’, so chart the ways in which you are building on your prior knowledge, spotting trends/recurring themes etc. At the end of every blog entry, ask yourself how the visit/exercise/project has helped you to improve your critical and evaluation skills.

In your work you refer to a number of interesting ideas, but to get maximum credit for this I would recommend trying to get into the habit of consistently analysing the value of various methodologies (expanding on key approaches where possible). Continue to show evidence of your familiarity with and confidence in using visual, historical, and textual sources (to supplement the information you have found online).

Amongst your more thorough entries, your review of your visit to Kedleston Hall stood out. Your detailed account of Robert Adam’s design (deriving, as you observed, in part, from Holkham) and his reference to Roman antiquity (e.g. the Pantheon-like interior, the use of a triumphal arch [the exemplar being the Arch of Constantine], the Corinthian columns etc) was very good. Your observations on the furniture by John Linnell added to your piece.

In terms of your experiments with watercolour (exploring the versatility of the medium and how to build strong structural rhythms), you made effective use of peer feedback via the OCA’s online student community.

Moving beyond the set exercises and activities, you provided a thoughtful review of the Joseph Wright Gallery and images such as A Blacksmith’s Shop, The Widow of an Indian Chief watching the Arms of her Deceased Husband, and The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus. Similarly, your ongoing investigations into Ilam church’s painting by B. Viviani were excellent, showing your enthusiasm and your developing independent study skills.

I am happy with this feedback and understand the advice given.

Suggested reading/viewing

Boggs, J. Sutherland et al. (1988) Degas. (Exh. cat) New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Brombert, B.A. (1996) Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Chadwick, W. (2007) Women, Art, and Society (4th edition). London: Thames & Hudson Egerton, J. (1990) Wright of Derby. (Exh. cat.) London: Tate Publishing

Neuman, R. (2012) Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture. Cambridge: Pearson

Looking ahead to Assignment 5:

Chipp, H. (1992) Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Foster, H. et al. (2012) Art Since 1900: Modernism-AntimodernismPostmodernism (2nd edition). London: Thames & Hudson

Harrison, C. & Wood, P. (2003) Art in Theory 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Oxford: Blackwell

Hughes, R. (2001) The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change. London: Thames & Hudson

Pointers for the next assignment

  • Continue to work on your sections of analysis. Make sure you have recognised and explained the visual choices that your chosen artist has made in creating the artwork. Select the relevant information to support and develop your claims. 
  • Have the confidence to read short sections of more challenging books and academic journals.
  • Revise and refine your material for your illustrated review – combine, evaluate, and structure critical and theoretical perspectives. 
  • As this is your penultimate submission, you should start checking through your work and note down what you have achieved, and what you might have done better, reflecting on the course as a whole. I look forward to seeing your final assignment on the 12th of September.

* *Further to our email conversations and your aim to submit your work for Formal Assessment at the November event, you will have 6 weeks to complete your final assignment. You will then need to submit everything to OCA by the 30th September. However, should you opt to follow my advice and give yourself a little more time (!) by working towards the March assessment event instead, the deadline for Assignment 5 will not be until October or early November. Please be in contact with the OCA office if you need to alter your formal assessment plans.

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