Writing Art Historically

You will be asked from time to time to write a critique, either in class or as homework. When you do, you are to write it as an essay, using paragraph structure, and should be written as a persuasive writing

Make an argument (a thesis statement) and back it up
In art history it is not good enough to just write “mood: icky.” When you make an argument, like saying “the mood is tense” you must back it up with evidence from the artwork. You must point out to the reader what is it that conveys this mood, and persuade them that you are correct.

Back up your argument with as many points as you can
This means you need to rely on not just one bit of evidence, but as many bits as you can find yourself. If we know that the main figure is the king, what is it about him that tells us this? His height compared to others? His clothing? The abstraction of his body? All of the above? If it is important enough for you to make an argument, and to write it down, it is important enough for you to back it up.

A thesis statement (an argument) in a paper is like a bully. If he is left all alone someone is going to take him out. If he is running with 3-4 of his closest friends, he is going to raise hell and no one is going stop him.

Be specific
Be specific with your evidence. If that brown shoe held by the dirty child tells you that this picture is about Christmas, then point out to the reader the brown shoe held by the dirty child, and then explain how this shoe functioned as a 16th century Christmas stocking.

Avoid judgments
As art history students we don’t make judgments about the artist’s skill, nor about whether or not we like the artwork. Those kind of judgments belong to a whole other field ;) But what you do want to do is assert your beliefs as to what is important about an artwork, and then convince others of your correctness.

In short:

  •             make an argument (a thesis statement)
  •             back it up with evidence from the artwork
  •             back it up with as many points as you can
  •             cite specific evidence from the artwork that support your thesis
  •             avoid judgments

And finally: persuade the reader