project: To write a proposal for an
art history-related study, that can serve as the foundation for
a future book, art exhibit, or Master's / Doctoral thesis or
dissertation, and to present your project to your art history
classmates at the end of the semester. This project may be interdisciplinary,
and includes a minimum of four meetings with me, each of approximately
45 minutes in length. During the semester you must present to
me a minimum of THREE drafts, which includes your final draft.
you to take intellectual risks, do graduate level work on a topic
you care deeply about, and to lay the foundations of a project
you can take with you when you graduate from Marist. Since no
one does their best work while looking nervously over their shoulder,
a necessary part of this is that PROVIDED THAT YOU WORK CONSISTENTLY
THROUGH THE SEMESTER AND HAVE REGULAR AND PRODUCTIVE MEETINGS
WITH ME the lowest semester grade you will earn will be an A-minus.
This means that being fully--and hopefully joyously--engaged
in taking intellectual risks and creating a "magnificent
mess" will result in a higher grade than will choosing a
"safe" topic well below your ability and not fully
engaging in scholarly dialog with me.
dates are flexible,
but assume steady work throughout the semester. You should figure
that your problem statement, subproblems, and Need for the Study
should be pretty well in hand by midterm week. Your final draft
is due the Monday of the last week of classes. Our final group
meeting with presentations will be during Exam Week, with the
date to be announced.
of the project:
Length: Approximately 10-15 pages.
Length of end-of-semester presentation: Approximately 15-25 minutes.
Keep in mind that this is a miniature version of a fully developed
I expect you
to be familiar with all of Barnet's A Short Guide to Writing
About Art. You may use any (fairly) recent edition of the
book. If the book is too costly for your budget, the Library
has several copies in the reserve collection. The rest of your
reading will relate directly to your project, and will be a combination
of works you select and ones that I suggest.
Meetings: You must meet with me for a
minimum of four meetings, of approximately 45 minutes each --
altho I encourage you to take full advantage of the opportunity
and meet with me more frequently. The intent of these meetings
is to have the opportunity to interact with faculty one-on-one,
and to engage in a mature intellectual discussion in which we
bounce ideas around to the benefit of your project. We will also
work on the craft of writing a proposal.
Drafts: During the semester you will
give me at least three drafts of your proposal--usually during
or immediately before we meet to discuss your work. These three
drafts will include the final draft for the semester.
footnotes and bibliographic entries should be in the Chicago style (Turabian), which is one of
the main styles used in the field of art. There's no need to
go out and buy anything. Barnet's Short Guide to Writing About
Art outlines the basics (as does the Chicago
style website), and the Library has several volumes of Turabian
available for your use.
/ Format: A
proposal will will be in Microsoft Word format, and consist of
the parts outlined below. Something to keep firmly in mind is
that a successful proposal represents a great deal of work --
to the point that a third to a half of the work on the actual
project is done by the time the proposal is finished. It's helpful
to think about it in terms of writing a competitive proposal
for a grant to fund your project, or for an equally competitive
fellowship that will pay your living expenses as you write your
Masters thesis or Doctoral dissertation.
A helpful image
to keep in mind is to imagine that you are competing for grant
or scholarship money, and that those who will be reading and
evaluating your proposal have a crashing headache and many other things that
must be done. Your job is to write clearly and engagingly enough
that you keep your reviewer reading. Someone with a bad headache
will be tempted to put proposals in the reject pile without reading
them completely. Make it EASY for this person to grasp what your
project entails, why it's important, and how you plan to achieve
The written word
Should be clean as bone
Clear as light,
Firm as stone.
Two words are not
As good as one.
that the final product will look deceptively simple (as does
the outline below) but is very, very hard to do well, and impossible
to achieve in a quick spurt of effort at the end of the semester.
The Problem and
Subproblem sections of your proposal together should--if possible--be
ONE PAGE. Your
Problem Statement and Subproblems are the executive summary of
your project. Remember that your imagined reader who is evaluating
your proposal has a bad headache, and has no desire or energy
to "dig" for what it is you propose to do with your
project. Presenting a concise one page summary gives your reader
an overview at a glance.
statement: In approximately 25-30 words
(not counting "and," "an," "the,"
etc.) what is it that you are proposing to do? The trick is to
make it both specific AND leave enough room for the project to
grow and develop. Let's take as a somewhat silly (but clear cut)
example the project of :
"To develop and
lead a volunteer-staffed effort to bake iced layer cakes "from
scratch," for use in homeless shelters in Poughkeepsie,
NY for one year."
This, then, is a silly
but clear-cut example of a problem statement.
Note that it starts
with the word "TO,"
and that in this example there's an indication of WHO will benefit.
Sometimes it's appropriate to end the problem statement with
a short sentence that gives clarification.
It's important to
keep in mind that starting your problem statement with "To
prove..." is a weak and dangerous beginning, as you risk painting yourself
into the proverbial corner: You may find as you complete your
study that the thing you were going to "prove" is nonsense!
A much better strategy is to use language that leaves the findings
of your study open. "To discern ..." is often a good
opening to a problem statement.
Two great benefits
of writing a problem statement
are a) that it forces you to think through what you're doing,
and b) a well-written problem statement is a strong start to
your proposal and a wonderfully compact description of your project
that you can use to promote yourself and your work.
Especially the first
time you do it, a problem statement is hard to write--much like writing a haiku,
a poem which in its English form is three lines and
a total of seventeen syllables. If you're approaching the problem
statement in the right way you'll find that you'll write a draft,
questions will arise, you'll do more reading, and then revise--doing
this over and over until everything falls into place.
You should figure
that it will probably take until the middle of the semester before
your Problem Statement, Subproblems, and Need for the Study start
If you find that it comes easily and you're "done"
within a couple of weeks of starting your project, then almost
certainly your work is much more superficial than it should be.
More reading and careful thought as you work on your subproblems
and Need for the study will lead to revision of your problem
statement (and subproblems, and need!) and a project of greater
depth and sophistication.
Here are two examples
of problem statements
written by outstanding Marist Art History Capping students. Each
student started with a general idea, a question, or something
that really bothered her. Each read widely and deeply in her
chosen topic, and our one-on-one meetings were productive scholarly
dialogs: asking questions of one another and together finding
new ways of looking at the problem. One student flourished with
frequent and lively dialog; the other preferred fewer and quieter
meetings. Both took the meetings and dialog as springboards for
further independent work.
To determine the
need for a new direction that is "pure art", untainted
by capitalism. James Castle is a useful test case because he
was unaware of current trends in art and only recently has been
designated an artist.
To discern how American
artists were influenced by French Impressionism, with particular
focus on Edmund Tarbell, who was the only artist to successfully
transform the painting style into something genuinely American.
Subproblems: What steps or actions need to be taken
in order to achieve the project you describe in the problem statement?
What steps or actions do you need to take in order to bring your
cake and ultimate use into reality? These subproblems are a summary
of your METHOD.
Let's return to
the silly example of the cake: Problem
Statement: "To develop and lead a volunteer-staffed effort
to bake iced layer cakes "from scratch," for use in
homeless shelters in Poughkeepsie, NY for one year."
Using the example
of the cake, here are some possible subproblems, which also start with the
Subproblem 1: To identify
the shelters and determine the number of cakes needed weekly.
Subproblem 2: To gain
access to a kitchen with sufficient capacity and equipment to
bake the cakes, which also satisfies requirements of the Health
Subproblem 3: To enlist
the aid of volunteer workers.
Subproblem 4: To find
or develop an appropriate recipe (or recipes).
Subproblem 5: To acquire
the necessary ingredients.
Subproblem 6: To establish
and carry out an appropriate production workflow.
Subproblem 7: To establish
and carry out a reliable method of distribution of the cakes.
Subproblem 8: To evaluate
at the six month point whether the program is a success, and
to determine whether the program should be extended and additional
Please note that
this is a deliberately simple example. Your proposal will be considerably more
sophisticated, and your subproblems will address major facets
of your study. Remember that the Subproblems are a summary of
your METHOD, and you will expand on them
in your Method section.
will need this section, but sometimes the definitions are implicit
in your problem statement and subproblems. For example, a "iced
layer cake" is self explanatory, but you would need to define
a "shelter." So, in the Definitions section you list
the terms you need to define (each term getting its own brief
paragraph), and give the definition you choose to use in your
project. You DON'T need to use a dictionary definition for this,
altho your terminology should make sense to a general reader.
You might, for example, define a shelter as a facility that houses
homeless people on a temporary basis (as opposed to more long
term housing solutions). Part of the function of the Definitions
section is to help pinpoint the range of your project.
defined your terms, then you state your delimitations (if any).
For example: You may decide that your cake distribution will
be limited to shelters that serve a particular clientele, or
might include only faith-based, volunteer-run shelters. The delimitation
paragraphs should be brief --you'll explain the the rationale
(why you made this choice) under "Need."
is an essay -- usually carefully documented (documentation =
footnotes) -- in which you explain carefully WHY your project
What's so great
about your project?
Why should anyone give you money to carry it out? Why should
anyone care? To continue with our example of the cakes, Why cake
instead of leading a volunteer-run project to produce a hearty
soup? What makes the almost home-made cake better than just raising
money and buying mass produced cupcakes, which would be much
cheaper and less labor intensive? How will the project benefit
everyone directly involved--homeless clients, volunteers, paid
staff? How will the project benefit the local community?
If we shift the
example to an academic one,
How does the knowledge gained in the completion of your project
contribute to the field or benefit your target audience? What
existing studies have demonstrated that this is an important
topic or issue to address, and / or what established person in
the field has noted that your topic needs serious attention?
It's important to
keep in mind the image of the reader with a headache. Make it clear in the first
paragraph WHY your project is important, and then develop this
in your subsequent paragraphs. If you bury your argument in the
middle of your essay, or put it at the end you will risk having
your reader toss your proposal on the reject pile. Make it easy
Consider using a
a paragraph or opening sentence that--when effective--captures
the reader's attention and piques their interest so they will
want to read more. A clear-cut example of this is the opening
of Robertson Davies' novel The Rebel Angels:
"Hadn't you heard? Parlebane is back."
"Oh my God!" . . . **
of the Literature is
in a sense a continuation of your Need essay, and certainly is
a demonstration that you are familiar with your field.
It will be a continuation
of your Need essay
because you are demonstrating that no one else has done significant
work on the important issues that your study addresses--or if
they have--then yours is a new and important approach. In the
Need essay, you can make a general statement about this, with
a few supporting examples. In the Review of Literature you show that
this is true.
Your Review of the
Literature shows that you know what you're talking about. If your imagined reader with
a headache has read this far, then you've done well, and then
your Reader will want to be satisfied that you know your field.
The Review of the Literature is an opportunity to demonstrate
this, and also to educate your reader--who may not be an expert
in your field.
the illustration of the cake project, What literature exists on volunteer food production
for homeless shelters? What do the various authors say? Have
any people written specifically on a cake project similar to
yours? If so, what do they say? Are there books / articles on
related topics, but nothing on YOUR topic. If there's nothing
or almost nothing on your topic this is cause for celebration.
Switching back to
the academic context, another
way of saying this is that you're establishing your credibility
as a person who not only has good ideas, but who is familiar
with the literature that relates to his or her topic. AND you
need to demonstrate that someone else hasn't already researched
/ written about exactly the same thing. In writing this section,
you want to demonstrate familiarity with your field, but you
don't want your discussion to be so detailed that you lose your
reader's interest. Please keep in mind also that there's a blurred
line between "Need" and "Review of the Literature."
You may mention a study, article, or book in "Need,"
and then continue the discussion in "Review of the Literature."
is the section in which you spell out HOW you will address each
subproblem: For subproblem 1, for example, How will you identify
which shelters will participate and what number of cakes are
needed? For subproblem 3, How are you going to recruit your volunteers
and keep your staffing at levels high enough to get the job done
consistently for a year? For subproblem 8, what criteria and
methods will you use to arrive at your evaluation?
is the section in which you present a selected list of the sources
you consulted for your project. Your Bibliography
should be balanced, at least 20 titles long, and may be
divided up into sections according to your judgment.
of your proposal:
must be in the University
of Chicago style, which is a standard one for art history.
Details of Woman with wax tablets and stylus (so-called
Place of discovery: Pompeii. Date: 24 May 1760
Photographer: Carole Raddato
Text of "Art History Proposal Assignment © Jan Mainzer
* Anonymous, cited by Madeleine
L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet (1972; reprint, San Francisco:
Perennial Library, and imprint of Harer & Row, n.d.) p. 149.
** Robertson Davies, The Rebel
© Jan Mainzer