The Art Historian’s Writing Toolbox

During our college courses in the subject, each one of our writers was expected to write pages upon pages of nuanced arguments about any particular subject. Now as bloggers/people of the internet, we address our writing to you but we use many of the same skills. While each writer has their own style, there are three broad categories of sentences that you’ll find in any art historical text:

  1. Formal Analysis: Simply put, this is where the art historian will tell you what they see. Are you considering a painting? A sculpture? Where is it from? How big is it? What is it made of? No observation is too trivial.
  2. Contextualization: Within this category, analyses tend to fall into two sub-categories
    1. Production/Reception: How did the artist make the piece? How would the piece be used? Who would have used the object-the rich, the poor? Would it have been used often (like furniture, a prayerbook) or once in a lifetime (part of a dowry)? How would the general public have felt about the piece? Would they even have seen it?
    2. Historical: This is where the art historian will try to paint the social and political scene of the time in which the art was created, how it was influenced by work of the past (and if it is old enough), how it influenced future works.
  3. Interpretation: Finally, the most interesting part of the paper-this is where the author will attempt to answer that “So what?” question (you know, the one that your grade school writing teacher kept hounding you with). While the author’s tone throughout the piece probably would have tipped you off about how they feel about what they are writing, they will probably also have certain sentences throughout the paper that should inspire you to also think critically about what is being presented. Is it problematic? (probably.) Why? What can we learn from it? Why is it compelling? Ostensibly, this particular type of writing is also why you’re reading our work in the first place-you think that we, as young women in the 21st century, have something interesting to say about art.

The writing that many of us did for academia is vastly different than the writing that you will read from us here (mainly just a shifted focus from formal analysis/history to interpretation and lack of copious amounts of footnotes) but many of the skills are the same. I also believe that many of the skills you would use to analyze art are the same intrinsic ones you use to compile information and process situations in your day-to-day life, even if you aren’t thinking about it. Even if you never took a formal course in Art History, we challenge you to use these skills to continue looking at the world with a critical eye.

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