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ENGL 212: The Craft of Literature

Citizen Project

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Your assignment asks you to conduct background research on of the images or artworks featured in Claudia Rankine's Citizen. In this sense, your primary sources are Rankine's text and the image on which you choose to anchor your analysis. Your background research may include information about the creator/artist, the specific artwork, the form or style of the piece, or any contextual or thematic elements significant to the image.

The resources on this guide will help you interpret the images in Rankine's text and identify tertiary and secondary sources for your annotated bibliography.

Locating Images

Before you begin analyzing your piece, consider looking for additional images of the work. Viewing a work of art in text can be limiting, because its size, scope, and details cannot be easily ascertained. Locating additional images can provide you with different angles or details to consider in your analysis. Digital images can be found through library resources like ArtStor and Oxford Art Online, via the artist's website (if available), or an open web search. 

Resources for Locating Images

Analyzing a Work of Art

The following questions may help you interpret your chosen image or identify components for further research.

As you view a work of art, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my personal response to the work? What do I feel?
  • What is the title? Does it help explain the work?
  • When, where, and why was the work made? By whom?
  • What is the medium of the work?
  • What is the size of the work?
  • What is the subject matter? Is there symbolic meaning?
  • How does the work reflect its time? Historical? Cultural? Political? Social?
  • How do the visual elements (line, color, space, texture) contribute to the work? What about the design (proportion, balance, unity/variety, rhythm)?
  • What is the focal point of the work that draws in the viewer's eye?
  • If the work represents a person, what is the facial expression? Gestures? Posture? Position of the body or hands?

For information about formal analysis, see The Art of Writing about Art and A Short Guide to Writing about Art (also ebook version available).

Practice Evaluating Images

In your breakout rooms, consider the following images of Kara Walker's Darkytown Rebellion (2001).

Darkytown Rebellion by Kara Walker on Google Arts & Culture
As you examine these images, consider the following. Be prepared to report your findings to the class! 
  • Rate the image resolution. Are the details of the image clear or grainy? 
  • Are the colors, light, and balance accurate?
  • Comment on the image size. Is it large enough for study and research?
  • What information is provided about the image? Artist? Date? Original size? Medium? Where the image originally came from?
  • Are there copyright or other use restrictions? Explain.
  • What elements of this work might warrant further research? What needs clarification or explanation? How would your analysis enhance a viewer's interpretation or experience of the artwork?