About 2,500 words later and I’ve just finished writing my essay for Conceptual Art and its Aftermath in Britain.
It’s that time of year when the library starts getting busier, most of the books you need are on-loan, and the books you have taken out are being recalled (the other day I took a book out and one day later it was recalled. Ridiculous). And it’s all because most of us are busy with writing our pre-Christmas essays. Yay.
Seeing as I’ve just finished my essay, I’m going to give you some pointers on how I think a good History of Art essay should be written! Obviously each and everyone of us has their own way of doing things, and I may have missed some things out, so don’t take what I say as gospel. This is just how I go about it! Here goes…
- Find out which artist(s)/movement/period interests you. I recommend writing about a topic that actually interests you, because it makes everything so much more bearable. Going to lectures and seminars should help you decide which artists or movements you like the most.
- Do your research. This is an obvious one I guess. Have a look at the reading list provided by your professor for an idea on which books to take out the library. The David Wilson Library has loads of art history books, so really make the most of it. Also have a look online. Art museum websites are fairly good, such as the Tate, but avoid doing your research on unofficial websites that aren’t reliable. When doing research, try to learn as much as you can about the historical context and the biography of the artist(s) you’re focusing on, because this will help when analysing specific artworks. Look for things that you can discuss in your essay.
- Decide on a specific, interesting argument to discuss in your essay. For some modules, your tutor will provide you with a list of titles to choose from when writing your essay – this makes choosing a line of argument fairly easy. However, for Conceptual Art I had to come up with my own essay title. I really struggled at first to come up with an interesting line of argument that would make for a good, thought-provoking read. The best piece of advice I can give at this point is to make sure you have something to say. It sounds a bit obvious, I know, but you need to make sure that your reader has actually learned something after reading your essay. Focus on something specific about the artist, avoid talking generally about them, and avoid reciting their biography. Try to write critically and avoid being too descriptive.
- Choose a few artworks to discuss in your essay. With History of Art you’re going to want to analyse some artworks to back up your points. I think around four, maybe five artworks is enough if you want to go into quite a lot of depth for each one. The artworks you choose should provide a lot of scope for discussion and be relevant to your line of argument. When I choose artworks for my essays, I don’t necessarily choose the ones that I like most. I choose them based on whether they will help me develop my argument.
- Make an essay plan. Plan and structure what you’re going to say into an introduction, middle, and conclusion. You can even plan each individual paragraph if you want. I think a lot of people rush over essay planning and go straight into writing the real thing, which doesn’t work for everyone. Making a plan will help you to give your thoughts and ideas a bit more structure and coherence.
- Write your essay. Obviously quite an important part of the essay-writing process. I don’t really know what else to say apart from: write! I should mention at this point about coming up with an essay title. A lot of professors will tell you to write your essay and then come up with a title afterwards. While this can work for a lot of people, I like to have a good idea of what my title is going to be before I start writing. So, do whatever suits you best. Come up with a title either before or after writing the essay. Both ways work. If you come up with a title before writing, just make sure that when you do start writing, you stick to what the title is asking you to write. Coming up with a title afterwards is fairly easy as you can tailor it towards what you’ve discussed in the essay.
- Cite the sources you use and provide a bibliography. This can be tedious but it’s important that you don’t neglect this part. You don’t want to be penalised for plagiarism. Each department varies with the type of referencing they prefer, so make sure to ask your professor if you have any doubts.
- Check your work. Make sure what you’ve written is clear and makes sense. Make sure the information you provided is accurate. Check your grammar. Check for any spelling mistakes. You know the drill.
- Complete the final touches. Make sure your essay is paragraphed and double-spaced. Choose a simple, readable font. Add headers and footers for your student number, name of module, page numbers, etc.
- Submit your essay. You finished your essay! Woo! Once you’re completely happy with it, you’ll be ready to submit it. You’ll need to submit a hard copy and an electronic copy on Turnitin.
There we have it! Thank you for reading and I hope some of you found this useful!