Choose any artwork from the period under study(ca. 1850 – the present) from any fine arts collection (Philadelphia Museum is, of course, the most accessible). I want you to analyze the chosen work to determine how its original audience may have experienced it, and what meaning(s) it may have had for them. You should proceed in the same manner as we do in class, asking yourself all the same questions. First examine the work carefully in order to determine what is shown (this includes both the identities of the things represented, including “setting,” and what actions or events, poses, gestures or expressions if any, seem to be depicted). Then address the issue of subject matter. Is there a narrative context to which the image belongs? Is there any use of symbolism? Is it a scene taken directly from life? Is it a wholly imaginary image, as in Surrealism? Is it an image that references earlier artworks? Is the image directly or indirectly related to any political, social, scientific, religious, or economic concerns, ideas, or assumptions belonging to the artist’s contemporary world? Then carefully observe and describe the formal properties of the work (i.e., composition, the use of color, light and dark, space, texture, line), or howthe things in the artwork are presented. Does the form of the work successfully express the content or meaning of the work?
As you put forward an interpretation of the artwork, substantiate your ideas by means of historical/contextual evidence (texts such as critical reviews of the artist or artwork; artists’ writings;sociological studies of the artist’s world; similarities and differences between the artwork you’re analyzing and those by other artists, etc.).Most of this material is already cited in the secondary art historical literature; you need to research it and report it in your paper.
Of course, you need to tell me who created the artwork, and where, and when? But you should also tell me about any ideas the artist may have had about art, politics, religion, etc., and how they might relate to his/her art (this will provide important evidential support for your interpretation). Tell me what stylistic group or movement, if any, the artist belonged to, and how his/her work embodies the characteristics of the group? (if the work is “Impressionist,” for example, explain what Impressionismis, and then explain how the chosen work is an example of the movement).
The paper should be at least 5 pages long (1250 words). Please provide me with a reproduction (i.e., photo or xeroxed image of the work) and proof that you actually attended a gallery or museum in order to examine the chosen work (e.g., a receipt or admission button, or a photo of yourself at the museum). You should use some form of citation system (footnotes, endnotes) and include a bibliography. You must consult scholarly literature in your research (look on JSTOR, for instance, and read books). At least 4 or 5 sources such as books and articles will do.
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