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Compare and Contrast Two Western Art Objects at Currier Museum of Art

Step #1: Choosing and Note Taking

Choose one pair of objects (paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, etc.) on view in the Currier Museum of Art (be sure that they are from the Western tradition [no Asian art, for
example] and from 1550 through early 20th century) and write a compare/contrast paper. Be sure to choose two objects that you can relate to one another. They don’t have to be from the same time period, though. DO NOT choose two works by the same artist. Your paper should be 5-7 typed pages, double spaced, 12 point font, standard margins. This
page requirement does not include images! They should be included at the end of the paper and numbered so that you can refer to them in the text.

Step #1: Choosing and Note Taking Take a LOT of notes on each object while at the museum so that all of your “research” is completed by the time you leave. This is not a paper in which you will be asked to do outside research. I don’t need to hear about the artist’s upbringing or detailed discussion of the Napoleonic Wars that spawned a certain picture. This is an exercise in LOOKING and THINKING. Just using your eyes and what you have learned in class, are you able to compare/contrast two works that you haven’t seen before? You don’t need a Works Cited page for this assignment. Take lots of pictures of the work itself as well as the wall label. Write down everything you see with regards to two main areas:

1) Formal Elements (e.g. composition, lighting, color, arrangement, framing, materials, etc.)

2) Contextual Elements

a. Conditions of its origin (why do you think it was made?) Was this a work you think might have been commissioned by someone like the church or a wealthy patron? Or does it seem to be a work that simply expresses the artist’s creativity without a specific patron in mind?

b. What style does it belong to? Can you compare it to other things we’ve seen in class?

c. Does it evoke a certain mood? Does it seem light and open and cheerful? Does it seem dark and introspective?

d. Historical significance: What does it tell you about the time in which it was made? Was it made during the Realist period? Does it seem to be a Romantic reaction against industrialization? Ask yourself what was going on in the world at the time of its creation, and see if you can connect the work to the time period.

Step #2: Beginning the paper

Begin by clearly identifying the works you chose by artist, title, and date (if known). Your first page should contain an introduction in which you state the main point of your comparison and/or contrast (they are both images of women, they are both landscapes, etc.). In other words, clearly state what caused you to see these two works as something
to view as a pairing. Some pairings will have more similarities than differences, and some will have more differences than similarities. Both are fine the goal here is to be able to talk about the two works side-by-side.

Step #3: Construction Your Comparison/Contrast

• In the next few pages, use your visual observations to argue your comparisons and contrasts.

For example, if your thesis states that one painting is calm and meditative, explain how the artist created this mood through subject matter, colors, composition, brushstrokes, lighting, etc.

• Be sure to include many specific details about the way the objects look. If you write that the artist used lots of bright colors, explain exactly which colors he/she used where:

For example, you might support this claim by describing the specific colors used on the clothing worn by one of the figures shown, or you might explain that one artist painted a brilliantly colored landscape (including details about flowers, variety of green tones, color of the sky)

whereas the other artist painted a dusty, dry landscape (including details about grey and brown tones, dead trees, etc.)

• In addition to the work’s formal aspects, you should also be able to situate the work in its proper context:

For example, does it belong to a certain style in art? What elements does it share with styles you have learned about it class? Can you think of works we saw in class that you can compare it to? If you choose landscapes, are they in the Romantic tradition? If you choose two portraits, are they meant to show status/wealth? How do you know that?

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