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Chris Greger Humanities 41A Spring 2014

Essay Assignment #1: Aesthetic Evaluation Paper
What thou lovest well remains, The rest is dross. What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee. What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage. Ezra Pound, Canto 81 (1945) “Aesthetics” is an impressive word for a fun concept: it refers to the effort to figure out why we like or dislike certain forms of expression or works of art – why we think a particular song or painting is beautiful, a particular movie or poem horrible. Why bother to do this? Well for one thing, it’s a most personal and rewarding form of critical thinking. It asks you to take one of the most familiar judgments we all make, and to take it seriously, to figure out what the basis of that judgment is, and how best to communicate it to someone else. For another thing, it allows you to get to know better and more intimately the things you love. If the thing is worth loving, Ezra Pound writes above, you’ll love it all the more as you come to understand it better. And in the process, you may come to understand more about yourself, about your own likes and dislikes. The Task Pick a single cultural artifact or work of art that really grabs your attention for whatever reason. Then, write a 3 page paper answering the following question about it:  What is the most unique and interesting thing about this work of art for you? Why? Answering this question will take some serious thought and close observations, perhaps even a little easy research. Remember, the answer you ultimately come up with to this question will form the thesis of the essay you write. Your argument will be an effort to explain and support the claim you’re making in your thesis. Here’s how you should go about writing a paper like this Pick a great topic Pick a work that really genuinely grabbed your attention – that you liked or disliked, that raised an interesting question, that you thought was bizarre or interesting, that stood out for whatever reason. Ideally, it should be something connected to the material and period we’ve been discussing thus far in the class, but it doesn’t have to be. If there is another work of art that you find really compelling, whether contemporary or from another era, you may write on that topic, too. Take the focus question seriously This is one of the most interesting sorts of critical analysis you can write, because it asks you to confront a series of questions that (assuming you’ve chosen a topic you care about) are deeply relevant to you. Here are some tasks you’ll need to perform in answering the focus question (These tasks might serve as a good outline):

a) What, exactly, is my response to the work of art I’ve chosen? This will likely take some careful thought, and your answer may change the more you think about and read about the work you’re focusing on. Start with the most basic judgment – thumbs up or thumbs down? Then, proceed to refine your judgment by asking questions like an irritating 6 year old: Why? Why? Why? In other words: Why do I like this? (because it makes me feel nostalgic, for instance). Why does it make me feel nostalgic? (because of the look on the mother’s face and the way the child is playing in the background). Why do I like that it makes me feel nostalgic? (because it makes me feel…you get the idea). b) What, exactly, is it about this work that I’m responding to? This is where you use your responses, above, to direct you towards a more careful examination of the work of art in front of you. Make a list of 5 or 6 specific aspects of this work that you are responding to, that make it particularly interesting to you. Be able to point to actual, specific places in the song or on the painting. c) Be sure to consider as many aspects of the sort of media you’re working on as possible. Different forms of art depend on different tools to achieve their effects, and you should consider as many of them as possible. Paintings use color, shape, depictions of people, lines, subject matter. Songs use lyrics, melodies, beats, production values. Movies use story, character, acting, music, editing, etc. d) What is unique about the way this work of art operates? What makes it special? The best way to answer this question is to contrast it to another work of art that is of the same sort. If you like one particular painting of a Madonna, or party song, or James Bond movie, or sculpture, the best way to figure out what’s unique about it and why it works so well is to hold it up against another Madonna, or party song, and figure out why it’s better (or isn’t). To research, or not to research? Feel free to do some informal research on the internet or whatever to see what other folks have to say about the work you’re focusing on, if it helps you. But you absolutely don’t have to. If you do read up on what other people have to say on your subject remember, it’s only relevant if it helps you understand or explain your responses to the work. This paper should use your reactions to better understand the work of art – stay focused on telling me what you like or dislike, what you think, explaining as specifically as possible why you like or dislike, why you think the way you do. Prose. Clarity is the number one priority. Try to be as polished as possible in your prose, but a few grammar errors are not as big a deal as fuzzy, vague, unclear thinking is. Know what you want to say, and then say it as clearly as possible. That’s the number one rule of academic writing. Grading Criteria      Explain clearly your response to the work – this’ll be your thesis. Point to specific details in the work that you’re responding to – try and consider all the different aspects of whatever medium your work of art uses (see task “c,” above). Explain what’s unique about this work by contrasting it to something else of the same sort. Organize your paper in a sensible way – each paragraph should make a clear point. Write prose that is as clear as possible. Thursday 2/27, Friday 2/28

Due Dates:

What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? Does it give me pleasure? and if so, what sort or degree of pleasure? How is my nature modified by its presence, and under its influence? Walter Pater, Preface to The Renaissance (1870)