Describing about a piece of art (Art and Architecture)

There are two purposes to this assignment. The first is to get you into the habit of looking at works of art and architecture and thinking about them materially, about the ways they are made.

The second purpose is to introduce you to writing scientifically about a work of art. While you are in university you will be required to write to particular formats in order to express your ideas and communicate them clearly.


Choose a locally accessible object or building from the time periods covered in our class, from the collection of the National Museum or the AUB Archaeology Museum, for example.  Other possibilities are archaeological sites, the Musée de la Préhistoire Libanaise, the Sursock Museum or the Mouawad Collection.

Choose an object that interests you, that you like to look at, or that has appeal for you in some other way.

Spend some time with your object, looking at it and thinking about it.  Ask yourself some questions about it.  Then write a careful description of your object.  What materials is it made of?  How was it made?  How did it come to the place where it is now (ancient trade, modern trade)? If there is a descriptive text next to it by the museum staff, how did they come to that identification and date – can it actually be identified or dated? What material or technical characteristics are relevant for understanding its use or provenience? Et cetera….

The act of description should raise many unanswered questions, making it even more interesting in ways you don’t yet anticipate.

When you have described the object, put it into a cultural context.  Find out which culture made it, how was it used, and by whom?  What was its function?  What parallels can you find for its iconography or artistic style, is it usual or unusual for its time period? You might also consider the present-day context of your object if it is very different from the original one.

To successfully put the object into context, you will need to do some research.  I want you to use books and articles in the library to do this and not the internet.  Attached is a preliminary bibliography, to help you get started.  The internet will not be very useful to you for this assignment, as you cannot cite it as a scientific resource.  We will talk in class about the limits of using the internet.  However, you may want to refer to this very useful web site for writing about art:

You will probably find some controversies between your description and your research.  If so, make sure you incorporate these into your paper. Your essay will not be graded necessarily according to simply quoting “scientific truth” from publications about your object, but good questions asked and the right subjects explored to reach a good identification and interpretation. Sometimes objects not easily identifiable are therefore better for this exercise than well-known objects with a lot of mythological references.

Your finished paper should be about 5 double-spaced pages or 1,500 words.  In addition, include illustrations if you think they will be useful.