Skill of Describing

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Skill of Describing

  1. 1. Art 108 Ancient to Medieval Westchester Community College Fall 2013 Professor Melissa Hall The Skill of Describing Image source: http://smarthistory.tumblr.com/post/36663164164/barberini-faun-c-220-b-c-e-marble-glyptothek
  2. 2. The Skill of Describing One of the most important skills you will learn in this class is how to describe a work of art Visitors at the Metropolitan Museum viewing the Euphronioskrater. Image source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/11/arts/design/11voge.html?pagewanted=all
  3. 3. The Skill of Describing There are four basic components to a visual description Visual Analysis 1. Identification 2. Subject matter description 3. Stylistic analysis 4. Contextual analysis (explanation of meaning/function/purpose
  4. 4. The Skill of Describing These four components will form the building blocks of your Visual Analysis essay Image source: www.thinkandthrive.com
  5. 5. Identification First, we must properly identify the art work we will describe Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  6. 6. Identification This is the information you will find on the museum label, or “object page” on the museum website King Menkaura and Queen Museum of Fine Arts, Boston http://media.mfa.org/audio/ENG_401.mp3
  7. 7. Title Civilization Date Dimensions Medium
  8. 8. Identification Just as you are expected to provide the author, title, date and place of publication when writing about books and articles, this information is required when writing about works of art
  9. 9. Subject Matter Description Now, we are ready to describe the work Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  10. 10. Subject Matter Description To start, we must explain “who” or “what” is represented Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  11. 11. Subject Matter Description Now if I asked you to identify “who or what is represented” in this picture, it would be a no- brainer because George Washington is such a familiar figure Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of George Washington (The Landsdowne Portrait), 1796 Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery
  12. 12. Subject Matter Description But to identify “who or what is represented” in ancient art requires the kind of background knowledge you will be learning in this class Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE
  13. 13. Subject Matter Description Sally Student read ahead in her textbook and learned that Menkaure was a Pharaoh of the 4th dynasty in Egypt; he built one of the great pyramids at Giza Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  14. 14. Subject Matter Description The woman is believed to be his wife, whose name is too difficult to pronounce – so my students nicknamed her “Kim” Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  15. 15. Subject Matter Description A good description must also have descriptive detail “Descriptive details allow sensory recreations of experiences, objects, or imaginings. In other words, description encourages a more concrete or sensory experience of a subject, one which allows the reader to transport himself or herself into a scene. Writing that lacks description is in danger of being plain or overly general.”
ADefinitionof Descriptive Detail (Colorado State University) Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  16. 16. Subject Matter Description When describing a work of art, imagine that you are talking to someone on the phone, or that your reader has their eyes closed Image source: http://link2power.org/wordpress/2011/05/can-you-hear-me-now/
  17. 17. Subject Matter Description Your job is to bring the image to life so they can “see” it, without looking at a picture Image source: http://megaanswers.com/how-are-we-able-to-sense-light-even-with-the- eyes-closed/
  18. 18. Subject Matter Description Some things to consider in your description: 1. Physical appearance 2. Pose 3. Facial expression and gestures 4. Costume and attributes Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  19. 19. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Chris Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College I chose it because it is a good example of “descriptive writing” Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  20. 20. Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . .
  21. 21. Subject Matter Description I think you will agree that a good description helps us see the work more clearly But now I want to analyze the specific features of the statue that Professor Witcombe described Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  22. 22. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . . Pose Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  23. 23. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . . Pose Physical appearance Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  24. 24. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . . Pose Physical appearance Costume/attributes Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  25. 25. Subject Matter Description A good description must also go beyond the obvious to reveal something deeper about the “personality” of the work: “There is a significant difference between choosing details simply to describe something and selecting details that not only describe, but also reveal . . . . ”
Pursuasive Writing, Colorado State University Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  26. 26. Subject Matter Description Avoid the “laundry list” description that simply lists details, with no guiding sense of purpose Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  27. 27. Subject Matter Description Your description should have a clear idea of what you want to “show” your reader about the work Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  28. 28. Subject Matter Description In fact, this can be translated into the familiar writing categories of a “thesis” and “supporting detail” Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  29. 29. Subject Matter Description Professor Witcombe’s description actually has a “thesis” He wants to “argue” or “show” that Menkaure is a “majestic” godlike figure Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE How does he do this?
  30. 30. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . . He does this by being selective about the details he describes, and by using “persuasive” language Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  31. 31. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . . He describes the pose as “assertive;” and the king as “mature,” “vigorous” “slender” and physically fit . . . . Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  32. 32. Subject Matter Description Here is a description written by Professor Witcombe, from Sweetbriar College “Menkaure is portrayed in the familiar Egyptian pose standing as if at attention with his left leg extended forward, his arms held stiff at his sides, and his fists clenched holding some unidentified cylindrical objects. His stance appears assertive, indicative of his power. He is represented as a mature yet vigorous man, perhaps in his thirties, with slender hips, broad shoulders, and well- developed arms . . . . On his head he wears a nemes, or headdress, the sides of which are pulled back behind his rather large ears, with the lappets falling to either side of his chest. The beard and the headdress are the primary symbols of his pharaonic status. Besides the headdress, the only other article of clothing he wears is a shendjyt kilt which is folded across the front, with one end falling down beneath, and held in place with a belt round his waist . . . . Notice that the description is “showing,” rather than “telling” – he doesn’t just “say” that Menkaure is majestic and godlike, he shows us through his description Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  33. 33. Showing versus Telling The reader will have no problem imagining the statue (even if they don’t have a picture!), and will reach the same conclusion as the author: this is truly a majestic representation of the Pharaoh! Wow . . . It sounds like Menkaure is totally awesome!
  34. 34. Subject Matter Description Describing works of “narrative art” can be even more complicated, because it is necessary to “read the story out loud,” much like a comic strip Stele of Naramsin
  35. 35. Subject Matter Description Your “Annotated Image Assignments” will help you practice this skill
  36. 36. Style Style refers to the visual characteristics of a work of art Stela of Mentuwoser, 1944 CE. Metropolitan Museum
  37. 37. Style Since this is only an introductory presentation, I will save further discussion of this until later, when you have had a chance to learn more about it Stela of Mentuwoser, 1944 CE. Metropolitan Museum
  38. 38. Style Your “Annotated Image Assignments” will also help you become comfortable with analyzing style
  39. 39. Contextual Analysis In addition to describing the work of art, we must also explain its original function and meaning Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  40. 40. Contextual Analysis Some questions to consider: 1. Where was it originally located? 2. Who was it for, and who would have seen it? 3. What was it’s “purpose,” or what “message” was it supposed to communicate? Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  41. 41. Contextual Analysis As we will learn, statues of the Pharoah were made to be placed in tombs, and their purpose was to provide a substitute body for the Pharaoh’s soul (or “Ka”) to live in for eternity Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  42. 42. Contextual Analysis Just think about it: if you could hire someone to build you a body that you could live in for eternity, how would you want it to look? Image source: http://www.capitalbay.com/news/top-stories/344473-engaged- bodybuilders-become-first-couple-to-both-win-world-championship-honours-at-same- event.html
  43. 43. Contextual Analysis The purpose of Egyptian statues shaped everything about the way they looked – and your description should also be mindful of this Menkaure and Khamerernebty(?),Egypt 2490-2472 BCE Museum of Fine Arts Boston
  44. 44. Contextual Analysis This time, I want to use your textbook’s description of the Seated Statue of Khafreon page 38 [You can also find it online] Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  45. 45. Contextual Analysis What I like about this description is how it is guided by a general thesis about the original function/purpose/meaning of the statue Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  46. 46. Contextual Analysis The description begins with an explanation of the purpose of the statue: Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE “Sculptors created images of the deceased to serve as abodes for the ka should the mummies be destroyed.”
  47. 47. Contextual Analysis Now let’s pay attention to how this statement functions as a kind of “thesis” that guides the description and analysis of the work Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  48. 48. Contextual Analysis The author begins by telling us where this statue was originally found (in a temple that was attached to the Pharaoh’s tomb) This is not a random fact: the location of the statue is directly relevant to its purpose as a permanent body for the king’s Ka Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  49. 49. Contextual Analysis Next, the author explains that the statue was made from a very hard stone, which would have taken considerable effort to obtain, since it came from far away Again, this is not a random fact, or information for the sake of information: since these statues were expected to last for eternity the material was important: hard stone was desirable because it would literally last forever! Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  50. 50. Contextual Analysis The author then identifies several symbols or attributes that identify the figure as a Pharaoh 1. The intertwined lotus and papyrus, symbolizing the Pharaoh’s role as “unifier” of Egypt 2. The bird protecting his head, symbolizing the falcon-god Horus (we will learn later that the Pharaoh was considered divine, and that he was the living embodiment of the god Horus) 3. The false beard, nemes headdress, and ureaus cobra are also identified as common attributes of Egyptian kingship; that is how we know this statue represents a Pharaoh Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  51. 51. Contextual Analysis The author then describes the physical appearance of the king, using the same kind of persuasive language that Professor Witcombe used in his description of Menkaure: He describes Khafre as having a “flawless body” and “perfect face.” Again, this is not just a personal opinion: the author is calling attention to the way the sculptor made the statue appear ageless and “perfect” in order to express the idea of his “godlike nature” Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  52. 52. Contextual Analysis The author then describes the formal qualities of the statue (this would fall into the category of “style”), noting that it is “compact” and “solid,” and that there are “no breakable parts” (i.e. there are no spaces between the arms and legs that might be easily broken if the statue was knocked over) This isn’t random description either: the author is calling attention to the solid and blocky appearance of the statue, in order to help us understand that this is relevant to the statue’s purpose of lasting for eternity As the author puts it: “the form manifests the purpose: to last for eternity.” Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  53. 53. Contextual Analysis Finally, the author describes the figure’s pose, describing it as “frontal, rigid, and bilaterally symmetrical” This analysis of style is not an opinion, nor is it a critique; instead, the author wants us to understand that the rigidity and “serenity” of the pose is directly related to its purpose of providing an everlasting body for the Pharaoh’s soul: “The sculptor suppressed all movement and with it the notion of time, creating an eternal stillness.” Seated Statue of Khafrec. 2520-2494 BCE
  54. 54. The Skill of Describing Describing works of art can sometimes be challenging, but you will be practicing the “skill of describing” throughout the semester Image source: http://www.hangtogetherblog.com/2013/01/15/reality-based- cultural-conversations-what-corporations-can-teach-us/words-cant-describe/
  55. 55. The Skill of Describing And you will have ample opportunity to listen to others describe works of art in the assigned Smarthistory conversations
  56. 56. The Skill of Describing To get a taste of how wonderful a good description can be, listen to Met curator Catharine Roehrig describe this treasure from the museum’s Egyptian Collection Statue of an Offering Bearer, Egypt, Middle Kingdom, c. 1981-1975 BCE Metropolitan Museum
  57. 57. The Skill of Describing As you listen, pay attention to what aspects of her description refer to: 1. Subject matter: who does the statue depict? What is she doing/wearing/holding? How does she appear? 2. Style: is this statue typical of Egyptian art? 3. Purpose: where was this originally located? What was its purpose? Statue of an Offering Bearer, Egypt, Middle Kingdom, c. 1981-1975 BCE Metropolitan Museum
  58. 58. http://82nd-and-fifth.metmuseum.org/sustenance

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