Back To Course10th Grade English: Credit Recovery
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Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.
You probably have some experience writing about novels or poems. But what all do you have to say about a photograph or a sculpture or a film? The good news is that while there are some differences between writing about literature and writing about some other forms of art, for the most part, the central components of these types of responses are the same.
In this lesson, we'll outline the qualities of a good response, consider some approaches to writing responses to other art forms, and give some examples of art that you can use these approaches to write about.
So, getting started writing a response to a form of art other than literature might be a bit intimidating; with that said, it's really helpful to begin by considering how much responses to other art forms have in common with literary responses. Just like writing about literature:
1. Good responses provide specific, clear details.
Whenever writing about a work of art, it's critical that the details you provide in your response be as descriptive as possible. While it's important to cover the basic facts of the sculpture or film or play, such as where it takes place, it's also important to provide specific details.
If, for example, you're writing about a sculpture of a woman that seems sad, you need to tell the reader why. You need to show the reader that she seems sad because of the angle of her head or because of her posture or because of the look in her eyes.
2. Good responses prove the author has thought about the piece.
Keep in mind that one of the main things most teachers are looking for is that you understand and have reflected on what you're responding to. So while it's important to address the who, what, when, where, and why in your response, it's critical that you show that you've developed your own opinion, as well - which brings us to the next quality of good responses.
3. Good responses include descriptive explanations of the reasons behind your opinion.
One of the most common problems that students encounter when writing responses is offering vague, simple statements, such as 'I liked it,' or 'It was interesting;' yes, your teacher or the reader wants to know about your experience of it, but when responding to any art form, you shouldn't just tell us your opinion; you should tell us why you have that opinion.
One of the best ways to do this is to really think about your thesis. A thesis is the main argument or position that you take in a paper or essay. Now, there are different types of response papers, and not all require you to make a formal argument. But even if a formal thesis isn't required, thinking about your main position or positions regarding a piece of art is always a good idea when writing.
Now that we've seen some qualities of good responses, let's consider some approaches to starting your writing. One good place to begin is by asking yourself some relevant questions. Often, asking some pretty obvious questions is really helpful.
1. What is in the piece?
As we spoke before about being descriptive, it's important that you make sure to describe what the piece actually consists of. Look closely at what's in a work and really notice its details - this is critical. This might seem obvious, but it's easy and dangerous to overlook simple facts about a work.
2. What is the context of the piece?
In addition to stating what's in a work, consider the events that were taking place when the work was created, which we call the context of a piece of art. What was going on can really help you cover a lot of ground when writing about a work. Knowing, for example, if a piece is made during a time of war or if the author had just lost a loved one can really help you understand what it might mean.
Another question to ask yourself that might seem odd but can be very helpful is:
3. What is 'not' in the work of art?
This might seem like a strange question, but thinking about the things that might be missing from a piece of art other than literature can offer great insight into its meaning. This is really important in visual art, where a lot of power can be found in what is left out of an image or a film or a painting.
When you're watching a play, for example, 'Who or what is not on stage?' can be just as important of a question as 'Who or what is?'.
4. Begin prewriting
Once you've given thought to these questions, another step might be to prewrite. Prewriting is the process of writing out your basic ideas. In addition to helping you figure out the various points that you want to make in your paper, prewriting can help you narrow down your general thesis. Begin by simply writing your responses to the questions; don't worry about the structure or grammar yet.
Now that we've covered some of the qualities of good responses and thought about some approaches, let's look at some paintings and think about how we might respond to them.
This is a famous painting by René Magritte, and it's a terrific example of the way that an image might seem straightforward but actually isn't:
The French quote below the image states 'This is not a pipe.' So, what might this odd painting and sentence mean, and what can you say about it? Well, as we saw before, details are crucial to touch on. The font, for example, is telling. It's pretty, but not overly fancy, which is interesting given that it's stating something slightly confusing. If you look closely at the 'p's, you'll notice that they look quite a bit like pipes. In this sense, the sentence itself becomes a sort of image.
Or look at the color of the background: it's simple and somewhat calming, which contrasts directly with the surprising message of the painting. Looking closely at these elements of the image are important to understanding that the painting is trying to surprise you so that you begin to think about the nature of language and images and ideas. In other words, looking at the details will give you a lot to write about.
Here's another famous painting made by Claude Monet and part of a series of paintings that focused on water lilies:
It's similar to many nature paintings except that it's focused more tightly on the flowers than many paintings and yet is made up of loose, messy brushstrokes. This is because Monet was attempting to illustrate how experiences, even of things up close, are complicated.
Additionally, the image there is so close up that there is a lot we don't see. We don't see the shape of the pond, we don't see the surroundings except in the reflection, we don't see any humans. And yet, as much as there seems to be many things missing in the painting, if we look closely at the details, we realize that there are actually three layers to the image - what is underneath the water, the water itself, and what is reflected in the water. These details of what is in the image and what is not further help us understand how Monet was illustrating human experience in a surprising way.
In this lesson, we considered how to respond to art forms other than literature and the way that these other mediums differ from literature. We started by looking at qualities of good responses, which include thoughtfulness, specific explanations of opinion, and vivid details. We considered how to approach your response, including prewriting and asking questions, such as what is the context, what is the content, and what is not in the piece? Finally, we looked at a few paintings and considered some ways that we might respond to them.
After watching and re-playing this lesson as necessary, test your ability to:
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Back To Course10th Grade English: Credit Recovery
17 chapters | 164 lessons