Option 1 (Basic Option): Visual Reading of Street Artwork
Outline: In class and on the walking tours we have unpacked the aesthetics, context, historical significance and the matics of a range of street artworks (and we will continue to do this throughout the semester). On the reader there are useful resources to help you interpret visual culture (such as the Handbook of Visual Analysis) and other resources that frame the social context of public space. Select and photograph a street artwork, research it and write a visual analysis of the work. Students will often select an artwork and talk about why they like/dislike it. I would encourage you to try to move beyond this and pose new questions about the artwork. For example, these types of questions could centre on (but there are many others):
– Spatial context. How does spatial context shape meaning? Spatial context could mean the surface the artwork is affixed to (public/private space, smooth/rough texture, temporary/permanent), the immediate surrounding environment (what stores, artworks or signage are juxtaposed), the social inter-relations of local community (how it affects passers- by, does regionalised knowledge unlock new meaning), socio-political spatial context (for example Banksy stencils in the West Bank) or the context of ‘the street’ itself (public space is inherently re-marked and contested so the artwork may be in jeopardy or ephemeral, as opposed to a static gallery space). Also to flip this question around: how does the artwork shape meaning for the space (for example does street art portraiture help humanize the city)?
– Medium. How does the medium itself (sticker, paste-up, mural) shape the message (for the cultural practitioner themselves or the audience of passers-by)? How does the medium interact with the environment to extend meaning in the artwork? (for example a paste-up that weathers and fades over time may acquire new beauty in decay) – Iconography. If the painting depicts a physical object (portrait, still life, landscape) how is the object represented and what are the key details being used to signify the subject? For example, a painting of an apple is not an apple, but it contains the key visual signifies we perceive that represent an apple to us (circular shape, red/green colour, leaf on top). There are a host of other textures and features of an apple that are removed from the visual image because they are unimportant to human recognition. Another example: when painting portraiture, it’s very important to paint details around the eyes carefully. Why? Because humans perceive facial recognition and non-verbal expression in the eyes above all other features (details of the ear, mouth, neck, nose or places other than the face). Visual culture CCDP20001 – Street Art Assignment 1 often contains a host of assumptions about ‘how we see’ and ‘ways of looking’. A third example: If an indigenous or gendered person is being represented, how are they being signified and what does this say about our own pre-conceived assumptions about their identity?
You don’t necessarily need to answer these questions; you are free to simply explore them within your essays. Original thinking is important, so although I have provided examples above, this is to demonstrate the possibilities for your visual reading, not to offer a template to recreate. To do well on this assignment, you will really need to think critically and expansively about the artwork. The reader can be very helpful because it can take your thinking in new and original directions; it can help you move beyond the pre-conceived framework of popular culture that students often come into the subject with.Please don’t underestimate this assignment. You will need time to think about the artwork to unpack it well; you can’t expect to do this well in one week, before the assignment is due. You may find it easier to simply go looking in the street, take photos and then allow this to inspire an argument or a rethinking of the city, rather than trying to construct an argument a prior and then find an image to support it.
Option 2 (Advanced Option): Visual Essay
Outline: Take a sequence of 3-5 images (preferably taken yourself) and construct a narrative or argument related to street art. The idea of a visual essay is for the images to narrate large parts of the story (think about a graphic novel or movie storyboard, which may have minimal text). Each image can be accompanied with a short caption to structure the argument but the essay should not exceed 1000 words total. Rather than focusing on a single artwork, the visual essay should explore a broader theme related to street art. For example, in the past popular topics for visual essays have been the representation of women in public culture (street art, advertising, self-representation etc) and the commodification of street art (transitions from counter-cultural practices to mainstream commercial culture).
You should try to use the images to convey as much of the information as possible; the text can provide context but you should try to keep each caption concise (under 200 words if possible). The caption should expand upon the image rather than describe it. Use the limited space to develop your writing style. Describing complex concepts succinctly is a valuable skill. You can find sample visual essays from last year by searching for #streetart UOM on Instagram (or Iconosquare if you don’t have an Instagram account). I have also provided two H1 visual essays from last year, on the LMS. CCDP20001 – Street Art Assignment 1
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