University of Minnesota
interdisciplinary studies of writing
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Publications abstract: Writing and the Visual Arts: An Analysis of Critical Writing and Its Impact on the Student of Visual Arts

bus stopTom Rose, Studio Arts

Writing and comprehension of written texts on the visual arts is necessary to the understanding of the concepts upon which visual art is based. This study conducted three surveys of students in a variety of intermediate and advanced undergraduate classes in Studio Arts to collect information about their understanding of the relationship between an ability to write and the development of ideas in a visual discipline. A fourth survey was given to faculty members to assess their attitudes toward the relationship between critical studies and the visual arts, as well as how important a role critical studies should play in the department's curriculum.

The first survey asked students about what distinguishes the visual arts as a discipline, their beliefs as to the relative importance of writing in relation to the visual arts as a discipline, and what sources the students use in attempting to delineate their visual work. The second survey was more concerned with the students' own activities and beliefs in their ability to function within specific theoretical realms. Survey three asked a number of questions about the students' own beliefs in their writing abilities, their educational backgrounds in writing, and their responses to the type of writing that they are required to do as University students and as studio arts students.

Analysis of the returned surveys suggests four main categories of student response: the "writing involved" group; the "moderately involved" group; the "somewhat writing involved" group; and the "writing resistant" group. The "writing involved" is a small but vocal group of students who strongly believe in the necessity of writing and criticism in allowing for the on-going development and contextual positioning of their work. These students feel that the department should ask students to write more and place greater emphasis on critical analysis.

A sizable majority of students make up the "moderately" and "somewhat involved" groups. These students tend to see writing as important for clarifying already existing visual ideas. These students gave a wide variety of responses ranging from those who do self-directed writing in relation to their own work, to those who seem to have a vague belief that writing and reading is important in an academic sense, but seem to lack most of the skills or habits to actually make this part of their art-making activity.

The fourth group, the "writing resistant" students, represent the smallest number of respondents, but is strong in its belief that writing and even oral expression have little or nothing to do with any type of visual arts activity. The most extreme members of this group feel that writing is harmful in the sense of limiting visual art-making.

Few faculty returned their surveys, which could suggest their relative lack of interest in this topic.