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Assignment I


Writing Assignment I
DUE: Wednesday, September 24

Choose a work from the Parkland Art Faculty exhibit to analyze. In this analysis of the work your purpose is to inform the reader by explaining and evaluating the work for them.

Once you have selected the work you want to analyze note the following things:
Artist Name:
Title of the work: (the title of a work of art should be underlined, in italics or in quotes)

Now take fifteen to twenty minutes to actively look at the piece. How does this work strike you? Does the work appeal to you emotionally or intellectually? Is your reaction negative or positive? Make notes on your initial thoughts about this work.

Here are some suggestions for things you will want to think about when you look at the art work that can help you write your analysis.

Inform -- details are important.. Do not assume that the reader has seen the art work. You must be their eyes. Make note of any information about the piece from the label, notebook or artist’s statement if it is available. Write down a physical description of the piece. What is it? What is the subject matter? How was it made?

Explain -- while keeping the work in focus before you, try to determine what the artist is saying and what messages you are receiving. Whether intentional or unintentional, the artist always makes choices and these choices reveal something about the meaning of the work. Some times they are immediately apparent and sometimes they require considerable time and concentration. To determine how to begin, take clues from what is available to you. Be sure to talk about the materials used by the artist. Why do you think they chose this material? Does the material add anything to the understanding of the piece? Consider if the scale of the work has any bearing on your appreciation. Discuss the formal properties of the work. Line, shape, color, composition, these are the properties that immediately strike you visually and are therefore a good place to start your investigation.

Now address your reaction to the work. Do you like the work? Explain your reason one way or the other. This may sound like a silly question but it can reveal your intuitive response that will lead to a fruitful conclusion. Make note of what you like and dislike about the piece. It is not enough to say “I like this piece, you must explain what it is about the work you like and why you like it.

Evaluate -- Using the knowledge and information you bring to the appreciation of the work, judge whether the artist has something to say. Do you think they communicate this successfully? The usual tools of evaluation are contrast and comparison — relating the work at hand to either the history of art or to other forms of expression, such as literature, music, theater, etc. Comparing and contrasting the work with other work by the same artist or their peers can also be
useful. By keeping to the techniques of contrast and comparison, you make it easier for the reader to relate to your thoughts and opinions rather than struggling to comprehend abstract ideas or personal emotions. Do you see the work differently after studying it?

Writing the analysis -- Write a three page, double spaced, typed analysis of the art work you selected. Do not reduce your type smaller than a size 10 or larger that a size 12. Writing is the least of the work. If you have thought through the steps above carefully, you will find you have an outline in your notes already. Single out one or two examples of pieces to use as comparisons and to illustrate your points. Further ideas may arise as you start to write. Go with these for the first draft. Let the paper sit for a day or two then reread and polish. Let someone else read the paper to be sure your explanation of the piece makes sense. Take advantage of the Writing Clinic offered here at Parkland. Use the terms and vocabulary you are learning in the course.

Remember to address these questions: What attracted you to this work? How and why did it affect you? What do you think was the artist’s intent?

There is no right or wrong here. The reactions to the work are your own thoughts. just be sure to explain what you mean and why you feel the way you do. Support your ideas with examples and comparisons with other art works that are appropriate. Enjoy this exercise, have fun looking at an actual work of art.

“Some Come to the Hand”

Mixed Media Assemblage by Peggy Shaw
At the Parkland College Art Gallery Fall 2003 Art and Design Faculty Exhibit

(Revised November 2003 after grading with Instructor's comments)

There are times when artists realize that the traditional venues they use for personal expression, paper and canvas and clay, have become woefully inadequate for the task at hand. None of these media seem to be imbued by themselves with the necessary characteristics of conveying the artist’s vision to its fullness or totality. If only one could meld the various media and tangible, sculptural objects of interest into one plastic and malleable fusion of thought, idea, and form…

The “assemblage” is the objet d’art that can do this — a mixed media collection of “found” objects or pieces dear to the artist’s heart with reminiscent or referential qualities, combined with any number of multifarious artistic processes, techniques, and materials to create a three-dimensional piece containing elements of each medium. At this year’s Parkland Art and Design Faculty Exhibit Peggy Shaw has followed this path, as have others before her, but rarely with such confidence in the selection and subsequent measured placement of the assemblage’s components into such a quietly elegant and unified series of similar assemblages.

Before we continue with our examination of Ms. Shaw’s work, however, we should first ask, what should we make of the “found” object, several of which are present in all of the assemblages she is exhibiting in the series. At the moment of its possession by its finder/artist, the “found” object enters a new relationship in its SPACE in society. No longer is the item or object only a piece of detritus or flotsam floating in a void of suspended uselessness down the river of society’s discards, awaiting redemption or final rejection. Now it has become a referential timepiece, anchored in place, reminiscent of some moment in the past or some dream of the future, its ding an sich either totally abandoned or submerged into a new existence dependent upon the artist’s vision.

“Some Come to the Hand,” is the title of one Ms. Shaw’s pieces that we will give a closer look and seems to refer to this, the random subconscious selection of the “found” objects in an artist’s collection. Out of the infinite possibilities that each or any of the found objects can interject into the artistic mix, only a few are selected or (in a personal interpretation of the title’s meaning), “come to the hand” to be included in the assemblage.

This particular piece of Ms. Shaw’s, like its siblings also included in the exhibition, utilizes as its support a panel from a discarded and dismembered piece of furniture – maybe a breakfront, maybe a desk – a tongue and groove half-inch thick section of wood approximately twelve by eighteen inches high. Mortises still protrude from the sides of the panels, which originally were stained a deep mahogany and covered with several coats of varnish. Over the years those glazes have mellowed into a crackled, dark patina of age.

Oriented vertically, “Some Come to the Hand” employs a rectangle of plexiglass to define and enclose an inner perimeter where the story of the work is told. Beneath this glass lies a sheet of faded film, dimly showing a smoky image of what appears to be a derelict rowboat, perhaps sunken in a lost lake of waving and silent seagrass. Directly above the boat a toronadic field of circular scratches reinforces the implication of the “lost” condition of the boat — did it just rot away at dock through abandonment or disuse and slowly sink to the grasses below? Or was it swamped by some sudden whirlwind of destiny or fate?

Below the boat a horizontal bar divides the film into a lower section, elongated and enigmatic where a disembodied pair of arms terminates in clasped hands deep under the surface of the murky lake. The devotional gesture only reinforces the work’s dual sense of mystery and closure. To the left of the arms, a twisted tendril of brown thread winds its way to the bottom of the film into a matrix of crushed brown leaves or some organic material – our “found” objects – tinged in red, matted and pasted together. Reading the work from top to bottom, the thread forms an eel-like path from the sunken boat through down through the watery depths to its home in the leaves. Reading in the opposite direction, from bottom to top, the thread seems to channel a muted energy to the surface above.

So many interpretations could be made of this work; to one who is only reading a description of it, it could be imagined as being unsettling, with seemingly vague references of “lost” ideals or missed opportunities — or even some Existentialist sense of homelessness. But there’s a clarity here, not of unease, but of intangible poignant memories more akin to forgotten days at lakeside holiday camp, fragments of long-ago happy days grasped in a wistful sort of way. Some large-scale assemblages like those of Robert Rauschenberg, (“Combine” paintings)[1] are very strident in their presentations, with an almost “in-your-face” expression of their underlying ideologies as statements on the current conditions of the time, but “Some Comes to the Hand” has none of that. Just a sure and steady hand that gives this work subtle meanings filled with evocative moments.

Daniel J. Bornt
Champaign, IL
September 2003

[1] Robert Rauschenberg's Collection is one of the first examples of the artist's "combine" paintings, a breakthrough body of work he began in the mid-1950s. As this characterization suggests, these works combine painted surfaces with three-dimensional found objects, fragments from newspapers and magazines, postcards, and other scavenged imagery. Eventually, Rauschenberg began to create combines that were less paintings than sculptural assemblages with intermittent areas of paint, two-dimensional clippings, and pictures glued to the surface, plus found objects such as tires, umbrellas, suitcases, and in one celebrated instance,
a stuffed sheep. -

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