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Art History: A Preliminary Handbook

by Dr. Robert J. Belton

Some Other Things to Remember

1. Keep in mind that a work of art functions on the three levels of form, content, and context. Try to keep them reasonably distinct for the sake of clear discussion, but do take all three into account in your conclusion, discerning how they interact with one another. You do not have to follow the sequence given, but be sure to deal with all the topics pertinent to the work of art you discuss.

2. You may do a graphic stylistic analysis -- that is, you may support your observations and discussion of the formal structure with drawings and illustrations, if they serve your purposes well.

3. Every work of art involves the element of choices. Certain possibilities have been employed, others rejected. Sometimes a useful exercise is to consider alternatives to see what these choices are and why they occur. Compare the work at hand with others of similar subjects to see alternative solutions, but remember that you are really writing about one work.

4. The term "realism" is not a universally valid criterion, since all works of art are real, regardless of what they refer to. Moreover, under the influence of semiotics and post-structuralism, most current writing on art replaces "this image is..." with "this image means...." (In other words, no matter how "realistic" the image looks, it's really a network of signs.) Of course, artists can both allude to and create a human experience. How does they adjust the work to reconcile this duality? Do they idealize outer reality in the work or do they impose themselves upon it? Do they simply render that reality or do they comment on it? To what degree do they create a self-denoting reality?

5. There are so many aspects and elements in any work of art that no one can completely comprehend a given work. Your own experience is, therefore, as important and can be as profound and wide-ranging as your capacity permits. This does not mean you have subjective license, for you still must substantiate everything you say. The more you look and think, the more you will see, feel and understand. Take your time.

© Copyright 1996 Robert J. Belton

Last reviewed shim12/19/2012 11:13:53 PM