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an art history research paper

Pick an object that you really like, from a NYC collection, something that falls within the dates of the things we are studying in our seminar (roughly speaking: prehistoric times to late 18th century) and something from a country, region, culture that interests you. This could be a room, a sculpture, a vase, a painting, armor, jewelry, chariot, porcelain cup, weapon, tapestry, furniture, instrument, and the list goes on and on. You have a huge selection.

Be creative!!! Yes, describe your object but describe it with LOVE, (assuming you love your object of choice.) This is not a formal analysis. I don’t need to know about every single detail. Just the details that matter. Yes, you SHOULD think about your object’s visual/aesthetic characteristics: size, color(s), materials, textures, etc etc. But MORE IMPORTANT, consider the social & cultural CONTEXT: where/when was it made?, for whom was it made?, how was it made?, are there others like it?, was it for a private or elite audience?, or perhaps for a broader audience? Does it convey something about the intended “user” or “patron” or maybe it is more generic and may have been used by many different people or, perhaps, it appeared in a place for many people to see? How does/did the object convey its particular message/purpose and does it do so “successfully”? How did it “communicate”? What’s “special” about the piece? This idea of being “special” is, of course, relative — “special” might indicate that it was made using new technologies of the time period—technologies that may have been considered “modern”, or the workmanship was particularly exquisite, or it conveys its purpose in especially unusual ways, or it is somehow “poetic”, that it may function on different levels or convey different narratives—narratives that relate to the object itself, but also to the larger culture, and relate, perhaps, even to something contemporary — as I sometimes tried to do in class!!!

That is, it may have been made in a specific time and far-away place but, just maybe, it somehow speaks to something more current/contemporary to you as well. How might we think about ancient objects and then, perhaps, somehow make these things relevant to us in the present? Imagine even, that one day in the distant future, students may study your designs or artwork and question why/how those things may be significant to them? As I’ve said, one goal is to breathe life into this material, to imagine these things in a fully living/breathing/colorful, 3-dimensional world (not just some old stuff sitting statically and silently in a museum display case.) I think these are some of the ways we may make historical material resonate more for us. You might also contemplate such seemingly “abstract” ideas like the concept of time and perception of space which has been discussed in class. In the 21st century we all have radically different concepts of time and space — so you might also take this into consideration. And, how might your object speak to you or perhaps make you consider your own work differently? (This would be an excellent opportunity to add something from class to your Learning Portfolio, which is something that I ask you to do anyway.)

Use your imagination and have some fun with this while also trying to be accurate and “scholarly” with your research. Think a bit about the film “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” which didn’t directly relate to much of our subject matter yet, it beautifully addresses the very act of IMAGE & THING MAKING, of STORY TELLING & COMMUNICATION, and THE HUMAN IMPULSE TO INVENT, to SOLVE, and to be CREATIVE OR INNOVATIVE. Such an approach might open up different avenues for you to think about historical objects, and ultimately make for much richer and more interesting papers.

Please don’t forget: it should be a minimum of 8 pages (NOT including title page, illustrations, footnotes, and bibliography), 12pt type, double-space (remember your footnote function on your laptops, as well as inserting page numbers. You want the paper to look and read like a university-level assignment, not high school, so all these little things are actually very important.) Please simply provide the basic, museum label information on the title page: name/title, type of object, date, material, dimensions, country, etc, etc. This info. is necessary but does not have to appear in the body of your papers.

I would like you all to consider which object you will write about for this final research paper since the semester ends next month! If you have time and feel like going to a museum at your leisure then this might be a good time to do this. Or, open up the Metropolitan Museum’s website and peruse the collections. Try to find something that you not only really like but that will be relatively easy to do research on. Feel free to ask me what I think about a particular object, if you wish. I can also help you think about different ways to research and organize your paper. And remember, an Annotated Bibliography will be due approximately 2 weeks before the end of the semester.

AND remember:
All papers must be typed in Times New Roman font (12 points), be double-spaced, with a 1 inch margin on all sides, on white paper (size: 11” x 8.5”). Do NOT forget to put your name and a title page, and to number (paginate) your pages, and staple.


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