Writing About Art
Welcome to the 2016 Writing About Art series on AHTR Weekly.
As art history instructors, many of us struggle with teaching writing as part of our course material. Even though art history presents a wonderful framework within which to scaffold basic writing and research skills, we often find ourselves ill-prepared for tackling the complexities of these tasks, especially since we rarely receive training in this area. Our struggles range from figuring out how to effectively teach the basics of writing mechanics, to providing students with the crucial but complex ability to research and analyze artworks; from figuring out how to help students understand plagiarism to choosing what genres, formats, and technologies are most important for students to master for writing in the twenty-first century. All this happens, often, amidst courses where we are asking students to master a staggering amount of raw information about artworks themselves. How can we do it all, and do it well? Why are we doing it in the first place, and should we be?
To begin digging into some of these questions, throughout 2016 we will be publishing a series of blog posts by guest authors (art historians, museum and university professionals, and instructors from related fields) here on AHTR Weekly. In the context of AHTR as a space for thinking about digital learning and innovation, in addition to sharing best practices for teaching writing, our goal for these discussions is to also spur fresh and self-reflexive thinking about the means and media through which we do so.
These discussions will then feed into the development and expansion of the Writing About Art section of the AHTR website, which we are looking to populate with both links to existing resources, as well as newly-generated content — slideshows, videos, articles, and sample assignments and lesson plans — under three main headings (described in more detail below): Art History Writing Basics, Art History Methods for Writing and Analysis, and Writing Assignment Guides. This post is one of many upcoming opportunities to welcome your feedback and input on what these could and should contain.
Art History Writing Basics. This section will include resources on writing mechanics (formulating an argument, organizing a paper, common grammar struggles, using citations and quotations) and research strategies (teaching library and web research, evaluating sources, creating bibliographies, and writing traditional research papers).
Art History Methods for Writing and Analysis. This section will include resources on the various methodologies utilized by art historians, from the canonical approaches of formal analysis, iconography and iconology, stylistic analysis, biography, and patronage, to Critical Theory, feminist critique and identity studies.
Writing Assignment and Evaluation Guides. In this section, we will include guides and templates for a wide range of writing assignments, as well as guides for how to best evaluate various types of written work. Examples of assignments might include thematic essays or response papers, museum papers, annotated bibliographies, and research papers, but also artist statements, exhibition reviews, critical essays, as well as natively digital formats such as blog posts, scripts for podcasts, videos, museum audio guides, or Wikipedia contributions. This section may also include tips for utilizing peer review and collaborative writing in the classroom; low-stakes writing assignments; avoiding and dealing with plagiarism; and effective grading strategies for writing assignments.
Our ultimate aim is for the AHTR Writing About Art section to provide instructors of Art History and visual culture with a robust set of tools for approaching writing in the classroom in the digital age, whether they are seasoned or first-time instructors, and regardless of their students’ level, and to create a dynamic and stimulating hub for discussion of this ever-changing pedagogical landscape.