ART 009.305: WRITING ABOUT ASIAN ART Spring 1995
Professor Michael W. Meister
WATU fellow and TA: Ms Anna Sloan
This course is a laboratory course in writing, with written
exercises every week. We will ask you to share these exercises with
other students for comment and criticism and in some cases to rewrite and
rework an exercise as a second assignment. We ask you to save all of
your written work in a portfolio. You may also wish to keep a written
"journal" as part of this portfolio as you look at art, read, or work on
assignments. Writing (like exercise) improves the more you do it.
The subject matter represented in this course, "Asian art," is
meant both to inform you and to give you pleasure. The subject of this
course, however, is "writing about" (both art and Asia). To write well,
reading is a major component - both to read well, to read good stuff, and
to read often. We have ordered two survey books on Indian and Chinese
art and one one short study on "looking" at sacred art in India as
reference for you in your reading, writing, and thinking. These are
available at the Penn Book Center:
Roy Craven, A Concise History of Indian Art;
Michael Sullivan, The Arts of China;
Dianna Eck, Dar an, Seeing the Divine in India.
I also would recommend, when you get over to the Philadelphia Museum of
Art, that you buy a copy of an excellent catalogue of an Indian painting
exhibition that is currently on sale in their bookstore for a very low price:
Stella Kramrisch, Painted Delight.
There will be a "reading pack" of articles for your use.
WATU recommends that you write journal entries on your reading; that is,
consecutive but personal sentences on your response to what you've read
(not a book review). This is a good exercise in writing (like arobics or
learning to ride) and what you write should stay in your portfolio (or
you can share it with other students on the listserver).
There are major collections in the Philadelphia area representing
Asia's great civilisations for you to visit and to draw upon in your
writing. To experience art as well as to write and learn about it is
part of your learning. We will be visiting some of these collections,
starting with the University Museum.
SAMPLE ASSIGNMENTS FROM 1995
I. ART 009: WRITING ABOUT ASIAN ART 19 Jan. 95
Looking at an object and describing it takes concentration and a
careful choice of words. The first task is to accurately represent what
is there. In the University Museum today we will ask you to look at a
work of Asian art and to begin to take notes for a description of this
object. Please complete this description (with further visits to the
Museum if you wish to revisit the object) over the week-end to hand in on
Please word-process your written work. It both makes it easier
for us to read and much easier for you to make further revisions. We
will talk about the process of description, and look at some good
examples, next week.
II. ART 009: WRITING ABOUT ASIAN ART 24 Jan. 95
After today's class discussion, please re-visit the object in the
University Museum you wrote about for today. Please experiment with
writing a two-page "pre-iconographic" description of the same object,
focusing on what you see.
III. ART 009: WRITING ABOUT ART 31 Jan. 95
Writing assignment: 6 pages, due next Tuesday.
Take your response to an object in the University Museum's
rotunda and your "pre-iconographic description" and edit them into a
final description of the object that begins to investigate the
"iconology" and historical setting for the object. For this you will
have to look up material in Michael Sullivan's text or in other sources
you find in the library. Please give your sources as a bibliography at
the end of your paper.
Your response now should consist of three elements, which you may
choose to weave together or to keep separate (this is the way I have
described these three components in previous years):
I. Describe what is there and what you see (i.e., material, size,
color, condition, type of figure, pose, ornaments, etc., as if you were
making an inventory for the museum). This should avoid value-laden words
(ugly, beautiful, erotic) or interpretation (tree-sprite, Venus,
Christian) but can suggest qualities in the work (subtle curve, convex
II. Respond to the object (here you should try to qualify your sense
of what the sculpture itself communicates to you through sculptural or
artistic means rather than subject-matter).
III. Find one or more sources to tell you what the subject-matter is
about; when and where the object was made; etc. Tell me what sources
you've been able to find, what they tell you about your image, and how
they help you to understand the image, its making, and use.
Reading assignment (for discussion next week):
Read John Rosenfield's "expository" review of Buddhist art in India and
compare it to his "scholarly" essay on dated images from Sarnath (both of
these are on your supplementary reading list and on reserve in the Fine
IV. ART 009: WRITING ABOUT ART 23 Feb. 95
Writing assignment: Voice
"THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS ESSAY FOR A HEAD"
Take the descriptive passage the class collectively has written from the
listserver and edit and expand it into a short essay on this head and on
what you remember of what I have told you about India, temples, and the
site of Kiradu. Try to give this essay your own "voice" (i.e. point of
view, tone, position).
1. Your next assignment will concern an analysis of the structure of my
article on "The Pearl Roundel in Chinese Textile Design." Anna will be
talking to you about this next week.
2. An assignment following the Spring break will concern the two
Chapters in Roger Fry's Last Lectures on "Indian Art" and "Chinese
Art." (It would also be useful if you looked up Roger Fry to know just a
little about who he was.)