Description in Art

This last weeks class topic was a little shorter than usual due to us peer reviewing each others’ short review first drafts. The topic was description and interpretation and we looked to the readings to help define these things. Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Slave Ship was a painting that really stuck out to me and made a difference to me during this class discussion. Seeing the painting from a distance, it really is just a beautiful work of art. The colors and brush strokes really get your attention and I couldn’t get enough of them. However, the title looming over you helps break the spell and allows you to start looking into the details. For instance, the bodies in the water. John Ruskin’s article does little to hide his approval of the painting, in fact he plainly states how much he likes it and even uses the word ‘perfect.’ Cutting out his blatant liking though and focusing on simply how he describes the details, you can still tell that he enjoys this piece. The language he uses is very poetic and he avoids actually describing the horror that is happening in the scene. We talked in class about how hard it is to remain perfectly objective even in your descriptions, which are supposed to be without bias. I would say that Ruskin was not choosing to remain objective in this description, but I think it shows how your word choice can say which way you’re leaning. Using a word like ‘fantastic’ is going to leave the reader with a more positive feel than a basic description of a large, blue wave.




  1. The point made in this entry at the end is what really speaks to me. I feel it is obvious that word choice is affected by personal bias as well as alludes to it, however, last session we were all made blatantly more aware of this and the affects it has on our own critiques. I still think that Ruskin’s vivid description is stated as is, as a way to evoke the emotion of what it feels like to be murdered/ not be helped. Many of the words he uses (fantastic, etc) are words that can go both ways— they merely add to the immensity of the noun but can do so equally as negatively as positively.


  2. Caylee, I also found the painting we reviewed/looked at in class to be breathtaking. I had glanced at it before, but never did I notice the intricate details of the waves, etc. Nor did I know the story behind it, or the fact that there are faint silhouettes of people in the water. I found Ruskin’s “description” of the piece to be refreshing and of a style that I rarely encounter. I agree with you that even without his blatant description(s), it is apparent that he is fond of this piece. Also, I’m glad we were instructed to read this piece because it’s a great example to read over while working on being objective in our writing. I have a hard time with this, but after reading this I have realized what I can do to make my writing better.


  3. It comes out of habit where our word choice for certain things comes to play. Like I can say this cup of coffee is amazingly delicious and can easily already influence you in thinking it is delicious as you try it yourself. It is hard to be very objective in your description as we tried it ourselves in the short review short. However I do agree with you Caylee, in this instance Ruskin was not choosing to be objective but however show us and proves that the use of word choice is important and plays a big role in writing.



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