Overview & Getting Started
Your second essay for this course will continue our exploration of how argument manifests in visual mediums by
examining the relationship between art and argument. Weâll start this assignment with a class visit to the Smithsonianâs
American Art Museum on February 23, where youâll select a work of art to write about. You may choose any type of visual
art that is on display in the museum (& yes, you may bring a camera when we visit â they are welcome in the permanent
collection, just not special exhibits).
1. Visit the American Art Museum and browse their exhibits and collections. Two visits to the museum are required â one
with class and one on your own. For your first visit, try to narrow your selection down to 23
possible pieces of art and
consider possible approaches and directions. Use your second visit to finalize your selection.
2. Ultimately, you should choose a piece of art that you believe contains an argument, be it implicit or explicit. You should
be able to show how this argument manifests via a critical reading of the artwork. This is not unlike the work you did
analyzing a wordless novel for Essay 1, except that you are working only with a single image (as well as a more formal set
3. Do NOT look at critical sources (reviews, academic scholarship) on the artwork (see note on source use on reverse)
4. You will need to employ two sources, however (see reverse). One of these will function as a lens/method for conducting
your analysis (ala McCloud in Essay 1).
5. In writing your paper, will first make a claim (thesis) as to what the argument is, describe the image/artwork, and then
analyze and interpret/evaluate its argument, ultimately drawing conclusions to any possible larger significances or
connections that the argument may hold (note that the five italicized words here indicate the major components of your
paper). Youâll use your two sources to both provide context and to aid in your analysis.
To summarize, your essay should have a central thesis, that is, it should make a supportable claim as to what you believe
your image is arguing. Youâll also want to describe your object and all its visual elements, and then support your claim by
analyzing how the argument manifests visually, examining key details and individual components. You should also
interpret and evaluate this argument, considering how it is working as a whole (the effect of all of the components brought
together). Again, be specific and use evidence from your image to support and argue your claim. When selecting an
image, be sure that its argument possesses enough depth for you to write a 6 page (or more!) essay.
You may include images within your essay, but will need to account for this in your page count, which must be 6 pages of
text (or more).
For this assignment, you may choose any work of art that is located in the Smithsonianâs American Art Museum
(http://americanart.si.edu/). Weâll spend one hour at the museum as a classÍ¾ a second visit (on your own) is also required.
Please note that the National Portrait Gallery, while housed in the same building as the American Art Museum, is not an
option for this assignment.
You may choose from any type of artwork found in the museum (painting, sculpture, photography, mixedmedia,
installation, textile art, and many other forms are acceptable â if you are unsure, talk to me). [You may consider multiple
pieces by the same artist (esp. within a specific exhibit or collection), but youâll need to pick one primary image to focus on.
If you are taking this approach, let me know].
Take a notebook (and camera, if youâd like) with you as you visit the museum. Youâll want to find a piece of art that contains
an argument that you can support primarily with details from the art image itself. Write down your first thoughts on the piece
you selected and any questions you have about it. Also, think about theories, concepts, or ideas that you might relate to the
piece and could potentially use as a lens. These initial reactions will serve you well as you brainstorm for your paper.
**Important Disclaimer** You
Overview & Getting Started
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