Teaching Writing About Art

Teaching the art of writing requires a different set of skills (and more time) than teaching survey art history, but your art history students need strong writing skills to succeed with the written assignments you set them.

What can you do to support strong student writing?

  • At the start of the semester, make all your writing handouts available to students on Blackboard. Handouts on how to write a thesis, a short style guide for written assignments, and a grading rubric are available on the Assignments & Exams page. An “observation prompts” handout that will guide note-taking at the museum is available on the Museum page
  • Make use of the writing center or other student support services at your institution. Early in the semester, invite Writing Center staff to present their services briefly during a lecture, and direct students of all ability levels to take drafts of their work to the WC. Writing Center resources for students and faculty are also often accessible online.
  • Set low-stakes writing assignments regularly in class. Perhaps the first 5 minutes of each class could be set aside for a brief written formal analysis of one of the objects you’ll discuss together that lesson. Instead of lengthy grading, when students hand in these assignments, use a simple check/check plus/check minus system for feedback, and ask those who seem to struggle to meet with you in-person during your office hour or attend the writing center.
  • Create time in the syllabus (often difficult in a fast-paced survey) to go over some of the basics of writing and language arts. You may find this Power Point workshop useful as a template for your lesson in class.
  • Encourage students to form peer partnerships or peer writing groups outside of class time where they can swap their final drafts with each other for feedback on content and structure. Peer review can be tricky (students are not often equipped to give precise feedback on issues of grammar or accurate historical information), but asking them to read examples of other work gives them a context for their own, and fosters collegiality.
  • Actively offer students time during your office hour to go over drafts of their writing, or brainstorming thesis or content ideas for their assignment.

4 responses to “Teaching Writing About Art”

  1. Mary Prevo says:

    Check out Marjorie Munsterberg’s site. http://writingaboutart.org/index.html
    I have found it very useful.

  2. Are you familiar with Kathy Walsh-Piper’s “Image to Wrod: Art and Creative Writing”? I reviewed the book when it came out and didn’t try applying any ideas until this summer when I used ekphrastic writing as an exercise for my art history workshop in MICA’s precollege program. (I was inspired by the fantastic Blanton Poetry Project at UT-Austin which I saw in Jan 2015.) Results were really exceptional–and I discovered that for these novice writers, creative form (NOT being restricted to an academic structure like critical analysis) encouraged them to look more carefully, think more deeply and revise more intensively. happy to share if anyone wants to know more.

  3. Jennifer Freeman says:

    Ellen, I would love to know more about your ekphrasis assignment!

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