Students have written essays in response to a work of art, and both the writings and chosen works will be on view May 11 - 23, 2021 in the Museum.
This assignment is deceivingly simple: student writers spend an hour with an artwork from the Martin’s permanent collection, and then they write a microessay of no more than 750 words in conversation with this object.
This process is an act of ekphrasis, which comes from a Greco-Roman exercise in which a writer produces a vivid description of a piece of visual art. Ekphrasis is a combination of ek (see) and phrasis (speak), meaning “to call an inanimate object by its name.” Thus, a Word + Image essay tells the story of a painting, drawing, collage, or print—while telling the writer’s story, too. As Jeanette Winterson has said, “I have to work for art if I want art to work on me.”
The writer cannot treat the art as illustrative—as if the object can only reflect the essayist. Rather, the artwork must complicate, extend, or even reverse the expectations suggested by the writer’s text: a reciprocity of storytelling and meaning-making.
In the end, the essay’s structure is formed by the dialogue between words and image: the agreements, arguments, explorations, and thought experiments the writer sees in the artwork—and that the artwork sees in the writer.