New York University Beauty with Culture Discussion

Writing about art

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Paper Topic no. 2 – Writing about Art This assignment requires a visit to a museum. Usually you would have gone to a museum in New York, but this semester you’ll have to visit a museum virtually which means you can visit a museum anywhere in the world that allows for virtual visits. I don’t want you to simply select an artwork online, but to have “walked” through at least one exhibition space, although I understand that not all museums have this feature. Google Arts and Cultures has many museums all over the world whose work or spaces you can visit. Please note which virtual museum(s) you visited in your paper and take screen shots of the work(s) as presented in the exhibition spaces Paper Topics: For the assignment choose one topic and focus your essay on the art of one of the cultures discussed in class (Islamic, Southeast Asian, Chinese, Central European). The central issue to discuss is in italics the following questions are to give you some possible directions to consider. Feel free to refer to literature of the relevant culture. Page length is 5-6 pages. 1) Faces and Portraits Looking into a human face in art triggers a deep-rooted reaction to the subject’s humanity but also to their personality. The artist is usually attempting to make the person alive for the viewer. Choose one or two particular images of human faces, in portraits or other works, discuss the extent to which the art does or doesn’t make its subject live for you, preserving the person beyond his/her time period and culture. Look very carefully at the face. In what ways might this be a face you could see on someone walking across street tomorrow afternoon (if you could go outside…), and in what ways is it a face that could only belong to its own time? How are ideal features interpreted? How did the artist want to present the subject and did their decision about how they wanted the person to be seen and interpreted by the viewer help or hinder the modern you to make the person alive again? 2) Beauty and Culture Select two works. Choose one work of art that you found beautiful. Choose another that leaves you cold, that is, that doesn’t move or interest you at all. Discuss what you feel is the source of its beauty (or lack thereof) for you—some aspect of its presentation, subject matter, or style, some personal association or whatever. Then discuss, importantly, how you define yourself by your sense of beauty. For, example, is your sense of a painting’s beauty inherent or imposed on you by cultural influences/training? Is there something in your personal history that contributes to your sense of the beautiful? Does what you find beautiful change as your values and attitudes change in other areas? For this topic, you can use a modern source (from the museum or not) to underscore your notions of the beautiful. Writing about Art (From Musterberg, Marjorie. “Writing About Art.” Writing About Art. Www.ephraimgregor.com, 2008-2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. www.writingaboutart.org) – – – – You will use art as you use a text, that is it will support your ideas. Since you will not have a text to quote from an accurate and precise description is essential as is an illustration (photo or drawing) of the work. Look closely. Visit the art several times if possible. The simplest visual description uses ordinary words to convey what the writer sees. First he or she must look at the subject – slowly, carefully, and repeatedly, if possible – to identify the parts that make the whole. Generally speaking, the best place to begin a visual description is with an explanation of the subject and the materials of the work. Together they provide enough information to orient any reader. In most cases, though, neither will be enough by itself. To say that a work of art shows a woman and a child, but not whether the representation is in two or three dimensions, makes it hard to form even the roughest mental image. If, however, the writer says that the work is a life-size sculpture of a woman and child, the reader can begin to imagine what it might look like. The size of a work is always crucial. Color matters. Three dimensional works of art that occupy space instead of being flat present additional elements to describe. In addition to size, medium, and subject, the writer must indicate what it looks like from different points of view and how it engages the space around it. Since two prompts ask you to relate the artwork to a cultural or social issue, both the description of the object that is both precise (formal) and evocative (ekphrastic) will be essential to a strong paper. o Ekphrasis. One particular kind of visual description, ekphrasis, is also the oldest type of writing about art in the West. The goal of this literary form is to make the reader envision the thing described as if it were physically present. ▪ Homer’s use of ekphrasis: Achilles shield; John Stone’s “Three for Mona Lisa” o Formal analysis is a specific type of visual description. Unlike ekphrasis, it is not meant to evoke the work in the reader’s mind. Instead it is an explanation of visual structure, of the ways in which certain visual elements have been arranged and function within a composition. Strictly speaking, subject is not considered and neither is historical or cultural context. The purest formal analysis is limited to what the viewer sees. Because it explains how the eye is led through a work, this kind of description provides a solid foundation for other types of analysis. An Art Student’s Example Auguste Rodin created The Burgers of Calais (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.407) between 1885 and 1897. The bronze sculpture consists of six life-size male figures standing on a low rectangular base, arranged as if they are within an invisible cube. One figure, who seems to be the leader of the group, is placed almost in the middle of one of the long sides. Otherwise, there is no obvious organization in their positions. Furthermore, there is no point of view from which the six figures can be seen at once. For this reason the monument is visually interesting from all sides and, as the viewer walks it, additional details appear. Even though the burghers do not have much contact with each other, not even eye contact, they create a sense of a group by sharing many things. They are about the same height (around 75”), wear similar long robes, and are barefoot. Although there are differences in the design of the clothes (some are sleeveless, some slit on the side), the deep folds of the simple robes create a strong vertical rhythm throughout the composition. Their disproportionately large hands and feet seem to weigh the men down. Two of them carry large keys. There are pieces of ropes hanging or twisted on some of the figures. Looking at the work from the front (the longer side, with two figures facing towards us), the viewer first sees the man who seems to be the leader of the group, emphasized by an empty space in front of him. He is leaning forward with his shoulders hunched, his arms hanging by his sides, standing on a diagonal that runs from the front right corner towards the back left corner of the base. He is not facing us but turned about 30 degrees towards our left, with his head down. He has a beard, long hair, and he looks concerned. CF Student Example I found the Dancing Celestial Deity (Devata) absolutely striking (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015.500.4.14). The piece was sculpted out of sandstone in the early 12th Century in India, and depicts of many celestial or semi-divine attendants, dancing reverently for the main deity of the temple (Metropolitan Museum of Art). The woman is an “apsara,” which in English, translates to “nymph,” “celestial nymph,” and “celestial maiden” (Metropolitan Museum of Art). In the Recognition of Ṣakuntula, a play by Kalidasa, Śakuntula’s mother, Menaka, was a nymph who was a member of Indra’s (King of the Heavens) court (Nepat). In Indian mythology, Apsaras are beautiful, supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They are often wives of the Gandharvas, the court musicians of Indra. They dance to the music made by the Gandharvas, usually in the palaces of the gods, to entertain, and sometimes to seduce the gods and men. As ethereal beings who inhabit the skies, they may be compared to angels (Metropolitan Museum of Art). This piece certainly does encapsulate angelic features. The sculptor has perfectly captured one continuous whirling movement, giving the piece much movement — it’s almost like she has come to life. The beauty of this piece is in the details, as you can see a clear stylistic shift away from the plain surfaces of the Gupta era. The dancer’s face and body are treated according to prescribed canons of beauty. Her body is contorted in an improbable pose, her legs are projected to her right while her upper torso and head turn sharply left. These extreme flexion effects dance positions (Karanas and Sthanas) are described in the Natyashastra, an ancient dramatic arts treatise. It is understood in Indian aesthetics that such positions enhance appreciation of beauty (Metropolitan Museum of Art). Her eye-catching jewelry and costume serve as a severe contrast with her smooth flesh. She has sharp, angular facial features, which contrast with the roundness of the rest of the figure. The spikes on her crown, the floating and swaying of the necklace, and tassels around the waist amplify (even further) the dancing, rhythmic movement of the nymph. I find this piece beautiful for the feelings it evokes. I feel almost as if I’m swept along with the music with her, completely thrown into that exact moment. How to cite an art object in Works Cited list: Artist Last Name, First Name. Title of Artwork. Composition Year. Institution or private owner and city (if available). Note: When you first cite the work in your paper, cite the museum and accession number (located on the plaque by the work) next to it, i.e. Buddha Ratnasambhava (C2010.19). …
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