Summer research revisited

Many of you were kind enough to inquire individually about being able to examine one of the reports I write during the summer, about which I made a blog post here. I was able to secure permission from the company for whom I work as a freelancer, though I did have to blur out some details for privacy reasons. It was an interesting challenge to prepare it for presentation here! I am given a standard template in which to compose the reports, and it’s a Word doc, so posting it here would have been virtually impossible. I took a few weeks to mull it over and discussed the problem with our instructional technologist, Ryan Kinser.

We agreed the best approach was to save the paper as a PDF and turn the pages into JPGs. I did that, but ran into some glitches: some pages wouldn’t load, and the file sizes were too large in some cases. After several attempts, I finally decided to compress the PDF size and re-save it as JPGs, and pa-dah! That did the trick. Thus, for you, the images will not be as crisp and sharp as the ones I receive. I am given images that are so finely resolved that I can almost count the threads in the canvas, so other than the smell of the paint and wood I do not feel as though mine is not an equivalent experience to a personal examination. (After all, the person reading your X-rays isn’t looking at a patient either, and no one ever expresses surprise when a diagnosis is correctly made from a picture.)

If a PDF is more comfortable for you to read, I am posting one here:


Among the images below I offer some commentary here and there to explain my process and some quirks of art-historical writing. Just this week I was exploring discipline-specific writing with some English classes and working with my own art history students on their term papers: the oddest thing about writing about art is that it was made in the past but the viewer is seeing it now, so the way verb tenses flow in such a paper seems strange at first but makes sense when one considers that reality.

So, as promised, here it is! Of all the ones I’ve ever written, this one was my favorite. I’m a sucker for still life (especially with food!) and I love a good mystery AND a happy ending, so read on and enjoy. Let me know if you have questions or comments, and many thanks for your interest. I am blushingly gratified so many of you were curious enough to ask. Take away from this anything useful to pass on to your own paper-writers. Isn’t that why we’re here in Blogland?

We start with an introductory page, of course:








then a précis, to define the scope of the problem, followed by a short biography of the artist. I try to keep that to 3/4 of a page, unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise. In terms of the writing process, I like to do the biography when I’m not feeling inspired, or waiting for a book to arrive, that kind of thing. Sometimes the Muse visits, sometimes she doesn’t, but a biography requires very little other than some facts and exposition, and I tell my students that to help them organize their own workflow. Start with the grunt work, wait for a spark to ignite and you’ll be ready when it does.









Next is a visual examination of the work: front, back, details, signature, flaws like cracks or voids in the paint. I had to blur some details, as I mention above, for privacy.




























After we’ve walked through the painting (or sculpture, or print, photograph or drawing), I provide a bibliography of sources. It is a true bibliography, not a works cited, and you will notice the formatting is somewhat altered to account for the aesthetics of the report. Composed in NoodleTools, by the way. (That should be a tagline: “Good enough for million-dollar works of art, good enough for your history paper!”)








I am at liberty to alter the components of the report to fit the situation at hand – I wouldn’t approach a Roman sculpture the way I do a presumed 18th century painting, but here in the case of a known artist, it’s customary to explore his or her overall oeuvre to see if there are useful points of comparison – is this example typical of the artist’s known style, or not? And it must be an apples-to-apples comparison – not much value in comparing still life to landscape or landscape to portraiture. Below I include typical works by the artist in a similar genre. There are live links included in the credit line to allow the reader (alas, not as a JPG as here) to go directly to the works held in museums to see the evidence firsthand.






















And right around page 17, above right, is where things start gettin’ real, as the kids say. I point out that the works I reproduced are not quite as similar as they could be to the subject work I was examining, especially in the case of the oranges in the second painting.








So then I had to consider other options. I won’t go into too many details – this is a very long post! – but it all comes down to search terms. I typed a new combination into a Google search bar and whoa, did I get results. That’s all it took, and then it was full steam ahead after a few pretty sleepless nights. I knew it wasn’t a Melendez, but I couldn’t prove otherwise strongly enough for my own comfort until I had that last piece of evidence. (And who knew there was a Museum of Bread Culture in Germany?! I loved this piece of research.)





























The conclusion wraps up all the points of comparison based on the evidence given, not so very different from your standard five-paragraph English essay.








The last page is actually a disclaimer, which I will not reproduce here for  legal reasons, but that is one particular aspect that doesn’t usually appear in a standard sophomore essay, wink.






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