Prior to the course I had a vague idea of the sort of area that I wanted to study. But it was clear from the first assignments that I needed to refine the research proposal significantly. I learned that I needed to avoid assuming that influences would be present without supporting evidence. I also needed to find my own voice in the essay rather than relying on quotes from others.
I undertook an extensive literature review over the course of the first three assignments, to undertake this fully I became a member of the National Art Library and obtained a Reader Pass for the British Library. I also discovered the Lisa Sainsbury Library which is part of The Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures; this proved an invaluable resource for my study.
During the first three assignments I researched not just Japanese art, but also the topic of Orientalism, which I had previously heard of but did not understand in any detail. At the same time, I was investigating a theoretical framework for analysis of the work I would be studying. By the end of Assignment three I was appreciating that it needed more than just a formal analysis of the different artworks, but that the contextual influences of the time were equally important.
By the time I submitted my first draft of the essay in Assignment four I had narrowed the topic down substantially. I decided to concentrate on three artists (having initially considered perhaps writing about four) and selected Van Gogh, Redon and Boies Hopkins who had each produced significant floral images. I chose these three artists as I wanted to consider a range of style, technique and medium. I was also keen to not to have three male artists. Edna Boies Hopkins was an interesting choice, an artist I had not come across before I started my research. The one area I found difficult in the essay was the lack of literature concerning Boies Hopkins compared to Redon and Van Gogh. This made comparison between the three artists more challenging, particularly when considering contextual influences.
From feedback on Assignment four I learned that I was probably using too many direct quotes, that I needed to paraphrase or use my own words more, and not to leave ‘dangling quotes” at the ends of paragraphs. Apart from anything else, relying less on direct quotes enabled me to write more in my own style and use my creativity more. From the feedback I also learned of the importance of introducing sections with a summary of what I will be writing about in that section, of improving the linkages between sections and the need to refer to the theoretical framework throughout.
I am very satisfied with the way that my essay has developed over the five assignments of this course. Although it is much more focused than the original proposal, nevertheless I have been able to research an area that I was particularly interested in. I have learned so much from the research -about Japanese art, I have discovered an artist I had not come across before, and I now know much more about the work of Van Gogh and Redon. I have learned more about Orientalism and how it may manifest itself.
I think that the theoretical framework I used – formal and contextual analysis – has provided the biggest learning curve. I had undertaken formal analysis of works of art on previous History of Art courses but using it to the extent that I did in this essay has given me a richer understanding of how contextual influences can affect an artist’s work – including my own!