History and Criticism of Photography CRITICISM PAPER


An important component of this class is practicing informed art criticism and developing rigorous critical thinking skills through writing. Your goal in this paper is to engage, digest, and respond to a particular single photographic work. Rather than giving a broad, generic account of an artist, I want you to choose ONE work by a contemporary artist and critically analyze its form and meaning within the broader context of contemporary art and culture.
A written analysis of a photograph must be descriptive, evaluative, and interpretive. It must argue a thesis (a defined point of view), but it can only do this well from an informed perspective. You are encouraged to include some biographical information on the artist and a discussion of other work by that artist, but only when it is directly relevant to that one work. What I do not want is a watered-down version of secondary source material (a generalized summary of the artist?s life and his/her body of work). The purpose of this paper is to offer a close ?reading? and interpretation of the artwork, not to regurgitate biographical information (?Ansel Adams was born in? blah, blah, blah). Try to keep focused on answering the question, ?what does it mean to photograph this subject in this way, in this context?? DO NOT add useless filler- this is not a book report.
While the paper is primarily focused on a single work, you are free to make whatever connections you think are relevant to understanding the work. References to influential books, historical events, societal changes, philosophical shifts in the culture at large may help to invigorate your interpretation of the work. If relevant, you are encouraged to quote the artist’s own words or cite passages from art critics. You can trace specific influences or draw parallels to developments in other art forms, such as music, literature, theatre, film, television, or you could look for links between art and science, philosophy, technology, media, etc. In other words, there are many ways to move outward from the art and many paths that can lead you closer into the art itself. Since you cannot possibly do them all, you are free to follow your own path?but keep it focused, making the connections you feel are most significant.
Spend time with the work, look closely and with great care, so that you see, experience, and consider all that it has to offer (if possible, it?s a good idea to choose a work that you can experience in person). I would also encourage you to choose an artist/work that will be interesting, challenging, and relevant to your own work.
Consider these three criteria to good art criticism that you should keep in mind:
quality of visual analysis (how well you ?work? the visual characteristics of the art)
o quality of ideas (your thesis, your angle of approach, the connections you make)
quality of writing (how well you structure your paper, your sentences, and how effectively you choose your words).
To help you out, I am providing a list of works (attached) that have a wealth of existing criticism and research to work from. You may choose a different work, but must have it approved by the professor first to ensure you are choosing a critically significant work, not just a personal favorite.
Choose a single photograph or photographic artwork to write about.
You need to reference at least 2 source texts: books or journal articles (internet sites not acceptable sources for this paper! Use the internet ONLY for preliminary research and to help you find books and journals.) USE LINK +
You need to argue a thesis: you need to present an interpretation or ?reading? of the work and argue for why the work should be interpreted in that way
You need to include a reproduction of the artwork ? scan or high-quality jpeg.
Your paper needs to be a minimum of 1500 words, maximum of 2000 (4-5 pages)
See Formatting information on the next page.
This is a formal academic paper that you can use toward your Writing Competency, however- these responses don?t need to be stuffy and without personality. They best papers will have your own voice in them, and will reflect a genuine wrestling match with the art. Consider any other disciplines or fields of study (literature, history, philosophy, economics, quantum physics, etc.) that you could use to make sense of what you are experiencing.
This paper will be due at the beginning of the class session on _______________. Emailing it to me later in the day will be considered LATE. This is not a studio class response exercise, it?s a serious academic paper.
Suggested Photographs to write about:
These are just a few photographs that have raised issues or been written about extensively in the history of photo criticism. You are free to choose any photographic work from any photographer/artist in any period of time, but you will want to be sure to choose the image of theirs that has a wealth of critical research available to you, not simply your favorite one.
(note, most of these will NOT be covered in class lectures prior to the due date of this paper- the burden of research is on YOU.)
Timothy O?Sullivan, The Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, 1863
Julia Margaret Cameron, The Kiss of Peace, 1869
Alfred Stieglitz, The Steerage, 1907
Alfred Stieglitz, Equivalents (series- choose one), 1930
Andr? Kert?sz, Satiric Dancer, 1926
Brassa?, Bijou of Montmartre, 1932
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932
Margaret Bourke-White, Breadline During the Louisville Flood, 1937
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941
Richard Avedon, In the American West, 1978-1985 (choose ONE)
Diane Arbus, Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, 1962
Diane Arbus, Jewish Giant at Home in the Bronx with Parents, 1970
Criticism Papers Guidelines for Formatting
1. HEADER: At the top of the first page please include the following:
o Your Name
o Criticism Paper
o Artist, Title (date)
Your paper needs to be a minimum of 1500 words, maximum of 2000 (4-5 pages)
Your paper must be double-spaced (not single or 1.5).
All citations/footnotes need to use Turabian formatting (examples are on the following pages)
Use Times New Roman font in a standard 12 font size for your text (and please do not italicize or boldface the entire text).
Margins should be 1 inch all the way around: top, bottom, left, and right.
Indent (about five spaces) the beginning of each paragraph. Do not leave an extra space between paragraph blocks; that is a practice used in formal business letters and documents.
Align text to the left; do not justify the right margin.
Citing other sources (the artist, respected art historians, etc.) can be a wonderful way of making your paper (a) powerful (because it will be well-informed) and (b) clear (because it will wrestle with specific facts and opinions, rather than just operating on generalizations). As you do this, it is very important to cite all the sources that you rely on and/or quote. Citing one’s sources is not simply a defensive move (to keep from plagiarizing) as much as it is the way in which scholarship generates further research. Your reader must be able to retrace your steps in order to recover your sources.
Document your sources in the following format:
Use footnotes at the bottom of the page (endnotes, which follow the last page of your text, are also acceptable, but I prefer footnotes).
In these footnotes, give complete references using the Turabian format (see The Chicago Manual of Style by Kate Turabian). See example on next page.
No Bibliography is necessary for these shorter Criticism Papers
(Examples of FOOTNOTES)
Do not invert the author’s name in a footnote (or endnote):
1 Arthur Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1997), 45.
2 Karen L. Kleinfelder, ?Welcome to the Hyperreal,? in The Great American Pop Art Store: Multiples of the Sixties, edited by Constance W. Glenn (Santa Monica: Smart Art Press, 1997), 96.
3 David Pagel, ?Visual Stimulation in L.A.: Painting from Another Planet,? Flash Art 31, no. 201 (Summer 1998), 117.
4 Mark C. Taylor, ?What Derrida Really Meant,? University of Chicago Press Online; available from https://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/derrida/taylorderrida.html; Internet; accessed 27 November 2006.
The citation should always cite who is speaking. For instance, if you want to quote Warhol, but you found the quote in someone else’s text, the citation should read as follows:
2 Andy Warhol, quoted in Carter Ratcliff, Andy Warhol (New York: Abbeville Press, 1983), 55.
For repeated references to a single text, simply list the author’s last name and the page number (do not use ?p.?). If the next reference that follows is from the same source, then use ?Ibid.? and the page number. Or if the next reference is from the same source and page, then simply ?Ibid.? will suffice:
1 Kleinfelder, 96.
2 Ibid., 97.
3 Ibid.
(Example of a page of text with properly formatted citations, block quote, and footnotes)
from solemn gazes. The longer a viewer stares back at Marshall?s somber figures, the more any condensation of this group into a monolithic ?flat? category seems to break down. Indeed, despite their flat, monochromatic skin tones, a distinctive and complex personality seems to emerge from each figure. In constructing his black figures in a way that would elicit this conceptual tension, Marshall proposes what he sees to be an important distinction:
The problem was how to bring that figure close to being a stereotypical representation without collapsing completely into stereotype. I was playing out the boundary between a completely flattened-out stereotype, a cartoon, and a fully resonant, complicated, authentic representation?a black archetype, which is a very different thing. The archetype allows for degrees of complexity that the stereotype always minimizes or undermines.12
By pushing the representation of his figures as closely to stereotype as possible?without entirely collapsing into one?he attempts to delineate between stereotype and archetype. As Marshall holds the two in tension, we see the thinness of the stereotype undermine itself; but does this necessarily suggest that anything like a racial ?archetype? emerges here? Strangely, we do seem to get glimpses of a ?fully resonant, complicated, authentic representation? within Marshall?s flat figures, but to attribute this to the operation of a ?black archetype? seems to suggest a kind of racial essentialism that threatens to justify a different?though equally problematic?kind of stereotyping.
The title of this work is in itself a helpful key to further our understanding of this problem. Initially, the title De Style plays off of (a) the painting?s barber shop setting and the distinctive hairdos that adorn Marshall?s figures and (b) common black vernacular: ?it?s de style.? However, the title also operates as a pun on the name of an early twentieth-century Dutch abstract art movement, de Stijl. Piet Mondrian, the most prominent artist in the de Stijl movement, provides the model on which Marshall structured this composition. 3 De Style has a very distinct underlying grid with
CRITICISM PAPER TIPS & SUGGESTIONS (adapted from Jonathan Anderson)
In order to closely ?read? a work of art, you must ask good questions about the work. To help you out, here are three sets of basic questions that you should get in the habit of asking. They are meant to help you pry open a work of art?to open up meanings?not to close them off. By asking these questions, don?t expect to find simple answers; instead, expect them to allow you to dig deeper into the work, prompting further questions and, thus, thicker meanings.
1. WHAT is it? WHAT do you see?
what did the artist make? what is this object?
is the surface slick, textured, thin, thick, glossy, matte, rough, reflective, raw??
what materials are these? where do these materials come from, or what are they associated with?
how big is it? is it monumental or intimate? does it engulf you or does it correspond to the size of your body?
is it an object that stands in your space, or does it seem like a ?window? that you peer through?
what references or representations does it make? (is it composed to look like something other than what it is?)
in these references, do you recognize any stories, characters, objects, words, etc.?
in looking at the composition as a whole and comparing its parts, what is large; what?s small? what’s high; what?s low? what is light/dark? warm/ cool?
what is in the center of the image and what is on the edges?
what path do you notice your eye taking as you continue looking at the work? do you find yourself continually looking at certain parts/areas/sections of the work?
does the work unfold/change over time or is it static? is it temporary or is it supposed to last indefinitely? is the passage of time significant to the way you experience this?
if there are human forms, what are they doing and in what direction are they looking or moving? do they seem graceful and proportionate, or dismembered and distorted?
what is the title? does it seem like the title is important to the artist?
2. HOW was it made? HOW is it constructed, arranged, composed?
what photographic medium was used to make the work and how is that significant to the meaning of the work or how we view it?
Where did the artist make this image? might that be significant?
Is it part of a series/body of work, or a single image?
what do you imagine the artist?s shooting process would have looked like? was it slow, meticulous, quick, violent, careless, haphazard, exhausting, isolated, collaborative??
what kind of technology was necessary for making?or viewing?this work?
did the artist make this work for a specific context, or simply for any viewing space or location?
is this thing primarily a document of an event that happened somewhere specific?
what other artworks might this artist have had in mind while making this?
how is color (or B/W value) used? is it realistic or emotional? natural or artificial? what does the color/value remind you of?mud, blood, winter, bubblegum, advertising, plastic, a computer screen?
3. WHY does is matter? WHY was it made? what does it mean?
what associations come to mind? does it remind you of ancient rituals, skyscrapers, childhood toys, worn photographs, scientific formulas, television, billboards, the desert, an abandoned building, the Last Supper, a shattered window??
does it seem to have dark emotions or is it humorous? is it ironic or dead-serious? is it celebratory, critical, mournful??
does it seem to be responding to other artwork(s) that you are aware of?
does this way of working potentially change the ways that we think about art-making?
when was it made? what historical, social, political, religious, economic, geographic context did it come out of, and in what ways is it dialoguing with that context?
who made the work? what is his or her story/background? what do we know about this person? what other work did this artist make before and after this? was this work made early or late in his or her career? how does this fit in that longer trajectory?
what other disciplines, activities, or fields of study could you use to make sense of this work (literature, history, philosophy, economics, quantum physics, taxidermy?)?

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