about /contributor / title / genre / course / search / program in writing & rhetoric / sunysb home page


Using Art to Create Summary/Response

Assignment Summary

This is a warm-up for the summary and response paper, for which students choose or are given a text to summarize and respond to. I begin by explaining what summary and response to a text is, and how it differs from the full-blown textual analysis essay that they will need to write in WRT 102 for their portfolios. I explain that responses to a text may or may not need to be backed up ("proved") by the text, and that sometimes a response can simply be intuitive with no clear "cause and effect" relationship to a text. Then I point out that intuitive responses can lead to such an investigation of cause and effect relationship between their responses and the text. We also talk about the different meanings of "text," and how non-verbal media can be read, and is therefore a text.

I use The Art Box, a set of postcards which can be purchased for about $10 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, passing out a card to each student in the class. If they don't like the picture or feel uncomfortable with the image, they can choose another. (If you are doing the assignment in the computer classroom, there are many websites with reproductions of art to use instead; see also MOMA's site or the Art Institute of Chicago's, for example.) I pass out a worksheet with the questions listed below. They have 20 minutes or so to fill out the worksheet. Then they trade pictures with the students next to them and repeat the process with the second picture. When finished, they compare their worksheet with the other student's. I tell them to pay attention to the differences and similarities between their responses.

If time allows, you can follow this assignment with a homework assignment in which they write a summary/response essay based on the exercise.

Here are the questions on the worksheet (you can download the worksheet to print here and below):

1. Choose a picture from The Art Box. If you don't like the one you choose, or don't feel comfortable with it, choose another.

2. Describe what is physically apparent in the picture, as a detached observer. Pay attention to detail. Even describe what you don't understand or comprehend, as if you were observing bacteria in a dish, etc.

3. Describe the emotional content of the picture. This can be what you perceive in the picture, what you think the artist felt, what you feel, etc.

4. Describe the values that you detect in the picture (i.e., patriotism, free speech, devotion to God, etc.)

5. Briefly, try to tell the story that the picture is acting out or hinting at. If you can't see one happening, try to make one up by combining the elements that you do see.

6. Describe something that the picture seems to be arguing or proposing, taking 3, 4, and 5 into consideration. If one isn't apparent, don't be afraid to stretch credulity.

7. Describe one thing that seems to be missing from the picture.

8. Go back to number 2 and, under 3-7, list physical details which support your answers for 3,4,5,6, and 7.

9. After you're finished, swap pictures with a partner and do the exercise with that picture. Now compare the results with your partner.

Instructor's Comments

My students liked doing this as a break from the grind of reading and responding to each other's papers, and it seemed to help them realize that reading and responding to a text could be creative work. It also helped a few of them see that it was ok for people to read texts and come up with different, albeit related, meanings. This assignment also helps them to see how summary/response, text analysis, and even argument are all part of a related writing process.

genre summary and response
course WRT 101
activity type individual writing assignment, one-on-one discussion
skills close reading, close observation, analysis, summarizing, thesis development
duration 1 class
art postcards (enough for entire class)
handouts: worksheet (html, Word document)
contributor: Cynthia Davidson