Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A couple of visual writing prompts

The new semester has technically begun, but for my particular campus we start a week later. So, for the past few days I really HAVE been a uniformed member of the delightfully-named pajamahadeen (though not soldiering on in the political wars--just observing).
But in addition to reading blogs and such, I've been giving some thought to how to jazz up the beginning-of-the-semester ritual known as the Writing Sample. Usually I offer a prompt that asks them to think about themselves as writers; this time, though, I'd like them to just BE writers--I'm more interested in their thinking, but I also want them to do a bit of thinking that for them is likely to be unfamiliar. And, given the (to my mind) rousing success of my Honors Comp class, I thought I would try offering my students a couple of images to write in response to for their writing sample. I also confess that I have hopes that some will produce ideas that they might want to consider pursuing in future papers--something that I've not conceived of the samples' doing in the past. My unstated theme this semester is to get my students out of their comfort zones as writers to see what they'll find inside themselves.
So: I've chosen a couple of images, ones that I find, in very different ways, thought-provoking and, even, a bit unsettling:

Velazquez, Las Meninas:

Magritte, Not to Be Reproduced:

Both images ask us to think about ourselves as an audience in relation to what is depicted; not that viewing art should ever be a passive experience, but these paintings can't help but make us more active viewers. I'm curious to see what my students will find to say about them.
If any of my legion of readers have other suggestions for images or comments on these, please make them. I'm considering adding another, less-strange but beautiful image, Vermeer's The Milkmaid, which long-time readers of the Meridian know I have a special fondness for (see this post and this one, if you're curious).


Anonymous said...

Might I suggest "La maison vue du jardin aux roses" Claude Monet (1922-1924)
(Musée Marmottan, Paris)?
By this time Monet had cataracts in both eyes, and was effectively painting from memory.
Now, I don't know about you or your students, but when I think of Monet I think waterlilies, not this sort of swirling, quasi-expressionistic stuff, which personally I find much more interesting. Also the idea of a blind painter (or a deaf composer, for that matter) is fascinating, no?
I saw this painting last week-end in Zürich, and it was more striking in 'person', it was also satisfying to cock your head and discover that the gable and chimney of the house are actually visible in the top-left of the picture. I can't do those Magic Eye things, so this is the closest I can get (and personally I reckon this is probably better, anyway).


John B. said...

Thanks for this painting--I've not seen it before. It must be very late Monet indeed. Like you, I very much like the later waterlilly paintings; technically speaking, they're not abstracts, but it's ironic that, even as Monet paints only what HE sees, the viewer has to work harder to determine just what it is he's seeing--harder than we do when we're looking at most abstract art.
Strangely, when looking at the late paintings, I forget that Monet is going blind. He's still seeing, after all, and (without knowing any biography) those paintings--their size in particular--seem like celebrations of that fact. Maybe--again referring to their size--maybe he wants to give US no choice but to see, as well.
I'm not saying this very well, alas.