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In AR120: Seeing and Writing, sixteen students explored through writing encounters with the visual world–in the classroom, in the Colby College Museum of Art, and in their  daily lives. We engaged with a range of media and technologies, including photography, video, painting, and the Internet. Our assumption was that writing about a visual experience or a work of art is an act of interpretation that requires creative and critical skills. Our goals were to learn to translate an art of seeing into words; to analyze images in themselves and in relation to specific histories, cultures, values, and identities; to understand the role that images can play in a variety of contemporary contexts; and to develop a thesis supported by careful looking, reading, and research. 

These learning goals were addressed through four major writing assignments, the creation of this website, and the public presentation of student work at the Colby Liberal Arts Symposium (CLAS) on May 1, 2014.

Writing project 1: critical analysis of an image and its appropriation

Each student selected one image (any image) and one recontextualization or appropriation of that image. S/he then asked: How does the image’s meanings and effects on the viewer shift as it moves from one form and context to another? What has changed in the compositionality of the image or the technological and social aspects of its audiencing? Who or what stimulated those changes, and to what ends?

Writing project 2: compositional analysis of a work of art

For this assignment, students selected paintings (one per student) from the exhibition The Lunder Collection: AGift of Artto Colby College, currently on view at the Colby College Museum of Art. We spent a whole class looking closely at the selected paintings and describing them in as much detail as possible, invoking the visual vocabulary of art historians. They then translated those observations into essays that considered the artworks’ medium and technique, content, use of color and light, spatial organization, and mood or atmosphere.

Writing project 3: semiotic analysis of an advertisement

Students were asked to find a visually stimulating commercial advertisement and observe what and how it communicates to viewers by engaging with the rhetoric and techniques of semiology, or the study of signs. In addition to identifying the signifiers and signifieds in their advertisements, students applied the critical skills they learned in previous assignments that focused on audiencing and visual composition.

Writing project 4: discourse analysis

In the final writing project in AR120, each student returned to one of their major writing assignments and transformed it through library research. We learned how to identify, collect, and evaluate a variety of research materials–both texts and images–and then incorporate them into an existing piece of writing. The goal of this assignment was to revisit a topic and learn how to expand its parameters and implications. How, we asked, can a single image possibly represent or belong to a discourse–a system of ideas larger than itself?

Website and CLAS

This website allowed the class to share with the Colby community what and how it learned about seeing and writing. The site will be debuted at the CLAS on May 1, when students in AR120 will also discuss the process and outcomes of their image-based research. We invite you to comment on the individual essays posted here and share with us your own ideas about the visual world we live in.