AH23: MODERN ART Professor Baker
For this first assignment, you must visit a major museum collection in the Los Angeles area
(LACMA, the Hammer Museum, the Getty, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, etc.) and
choose two works of art from the time period 1860 to 1910 and by artists that we are dealing
with in this course (consult Professor Baker or your TA if you are unsure if the artist is included
in our studies). While it is the most distant from campus, the Norton Simon Museum holds the
most important collection of 19th-century art in Los Angeles.
In making your choice, you should look for two paintings that you feel are dissimilar in their
form, as the ensuing project will be to compare and contrast the two works to elucidate their meaning(s).
This is NOT a research paper; no footnotes, no further reading; just looking and writing and
drawing. The first component of your assignment is to make two compositional sketches of the
works chosen, one drawing of each. Use pencil and paper; charcoal pencil is acceptable, pen and
ink however is not. You should not use lined paper or notebook paper. Clearly label your sketch
with title and author and date of the work in question. You will not be graded on your inherent
artistic ability, but you will need to capture the major compositional elements, the formal
arrangement, the shading and treatment of light, with as much detail as possible. Think of your
drawing as a “translation,” as accurate as possible, but still a translation, since drawing and
painting are not the same language. Drawings are to be submitted with your final written papers.
Only AFTER having analyzed the form of your chosen works visually, and attempting to
replicate how they are put together manually, write a 4-5 page, typed, and double-spaced formal
analysis of the works. Pay close attention in your written description to all the elements of
formal organization: composition and the arrangement of forms (symmetrical, asymmetrical,
ordered, random, etc.), color choices and combinations, the quality and types of line deployed,
the manner of paint application and the use of brush strokes, the massing of volumes in space
and the interplay of volume and void (or what is also called positive and negative space), the
rhythms of forms deployed in coherent relations to one another within the work, major
orthogonals or axes of organization, the style terms that might be applicable (decorative,
sculptural, linear, painterly, hard-edged, biomorphic, etc.). Invent terms if you feel that you need
to, but open yourself visually to the formal qualities of the two works and attempt to describe
the forms in as much detail as possible.
However, a formal ANALYSIS must work beyond mere formal description to make some
tentative claims for how these forms, isolated and described in a kind of story or narrative in
your paper, combine to create MEANING. Your analysis should thus build to a reading of the
works in terms of their formal organization (or disorganization as the case may be). Compare
and contrast the two works and what makes them different formally in order to arrive at your
claims for their meanings. In building to your conclusions about the works’ meanings, you may
wish to consider in such a formal analysis how the works relate to the medium of painting and
thus potentially to the modernist imperative to “self-criticism,” to an analysis and reflection upon
the medium as a modernist art.
Assignments due on Thursday, February 2. No extensions, no late papers. Upload to
your TA’s Bruinlearn Site by 2pm and bring hardcopies of your drawings to lecture to be
submitted to your TA.
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