Books: How to Write About Contemporary Art

I get the feeling that Glinda Williams’ book How to Write About Contemporary Art would be a book that my tutor wishes he could hit me over the head with! To be fair, it doesn’t say anything new that isn’t in my feedback forms but for some reason I wasn’t getting the lightbulb moment until I read this book. Glinda Williams discusses a lot of the errors that I have been making in my essay writing but handily gives examples which seem to have made things click. (Famous last words to type before submitting my final first draft of this course). Below are my notes which I intend to try to incorporate in future: Continue reading “Books: How to Write About Contemporary Art”


Research: Beginning Theory

Notes from Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory

These notes have been made to supplement my essay on Victoria Hislop’s The Island in particular. The original draft of this essay can be found here.


The aim of stylistics is to “show how the technical linguistic features of a literary work, such as the grammatical structure of its sentences, contribute to its overall meanings and effects”. (p196)

A ‘floating signifier’ is “the idea that the meanings established through language are innately fluid, indeterminate, and shifting.” (p197) This idea is generally ignored in stylistics

Look into the structure of sentences ie what is the subject and what is the object. For example he [subject] touched her [object] (p205)

A problem (see Stanley Fish What is Stylistics and Why are they Saying such Terrible Things About It?) is that there is always a gap between the linguistic features identified in the text and the interpretation of them offered by the stylistician – hermeneutic gap ‘hermeneutic’ refers to act of interpretation (p206)

“common feature of poetry is to break habitual collocation patterns, so that words not usually seen together suddenly occur. Poets divorce words from their usual partners and provide unlikely new partnerships between words which we would never have imagined together” (p210)


Gérard Genette – how the tale is told:

  1. basic narrative mode ‘mimetic’ (dramatised/scenic) or ‘diegetic’ (telling/relating)?
  2. how is narrative focalised? (viewpoint)
  3. who is telling the story? (narrator/character)
  4. how is time handled? flash back -> analepsis. flash forward -> prolepsis
  5. how is story ‘packaged’? frame/embedded narratives (look at relative balance between frame and embedded narrative)
  6. how are speech and thought represented? direct and tagged vs indirect speech. each inserted tag is a reminder of the presence of a narrator that tends towards telling rather than showing (mimesis)


Four areas:

  1. ‘the wilderness’ (deserts, oceans, uninhabited regions etc) often entered as if instinctively by those who would ‘find’ themselves
  2. ‘scenic sublime’ (forests, lakes, mountains, cliffs, waterfalls etc)
  3. ‘the countryside’ (hills, fields, woods etc)
  4. ‘domestic picturesque’ (parks, gardens, lanes)


  1. re-read major literary works from ecocentric perspective, to look at representation of natural world
  2. extend applicability of a range of ecocentric concepts eg growth and energy, balance/imbalance, symbiosis/mutability, sustainability
  3. give canonical emphasis to writers who foreground nature
  4. extend range of literary criticism by placing emphasis on ‘factual’ writing, reflective essays, memoirs, travel
  5. turn away from ‘social constructivism’ and ‘linguistic determinism’ and emphasise values of meticulous observation, collective ethical responsibility and claims of world beyond ourselves.


Barry, P. (2009) Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory Manchester: Manchester University Press

Assignment 4 – Photography Reflective Commentary

In writing the essay for Assignment 4, I have attempted to demonstrate understanding of the historic and cultural contexts of La Jetée as they seemed particularly relevant. It also seemed appropriate to reference later works by Chris Marker and others that were influenced by the film.

As I felt that the photography was integral to this work, I attempted to justify that argument using other sources and theoretical arguments from people such as Susan Sontag and the concept of the role of the reader. This was introduced when reading Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ in Part 2 (Creative Reading) and I wanted to start trying to tie together the learning from different sections.

I have tried to use a variety of sources but am still having difficulty finding primary sources. For example, I found a quote from Marker to Jacques Ledoux however I could not find the original letter, only quote from it in Darke’s book. I have tried to engage with the overarching themes of time and place in this essay as well as focussing on the importance of Marker’s use of photography.

I have attempted to act on my tutor’s feedback from earlier assignments, for example including a link in my bibliography to ensure that I am cross-referencing all my work.

As I mentioned in Part 3 Exercise 3 I have felt conflicted studying Photography. Whilst I have always enjoyed taking photographs, it was frustrating to realise how little stamina I have compared to a decade ago. To compensate for fluctuating energy and the shake I develop when tired, I realised that I needed to capitalise on higher energy levels by not procrastinating and planning ideas for practical tasks in advance.

Studying photography has shown me that it is worth looking to other disciplines for ideas on composition, colour combination and subject matter. Discussions with someone who had worked with David Bailey made it clear that the only way to get better at photography was to take lots of photographs so in future I intend to be more confident using trial and error to learn how to improve my understanding of my own camera and lenses.

Artists such as Ben Shahn and Yvan Salomone who use photography as prompts for their art fascinated me. Although it is challenging for me to undertake too much photography, I am keen to use it as a way to supplement my broader creative work. Reading Dialogue with Photography it became apparent that many photographers such as Minor White and Brassaï also engage in other creative practices.

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