Each year during the spring semester, I teach an Essay Workshop for the VCS fourth-year students. The class serves three purposes. First, it introduces the essay as a literary form with a specific history and purpose. Second, it uses a series of short writing assignments to help students improve their writing skills. This leads up to the course’s final component, the preparation of a 15 to 20-page paper to satisfy the written component of their end-of-the-year thesis requirement. Here is fuller description from SVA’s course catalog:
The essay is a literary form perfect for grappling with complex ideas in a direct and personal manner. Less rigid than the scholarly treatise, its openness allows a writer tremendous flexibility in considering a chosen topic from numerous angles. In this course, we will examine the uses and particular strengths of the essay by reading and discussing a wide range of examples, as well as writing short essays in a variety of styles. Our reading will range from the invention of the modern essay in the 16th century by Montaigne to opinion pieces in current magazines. Writing assignments will explore uses of the essay for diverse purposes, including satire, humor, advocacy, art criticism, and the investigation of contemporary issues. The goal throughout will be to help students identify different means of writing available to them as they begin to conceive of and develop the written component of their thesis projects.
Earlier this semester, I asked the students to write a short piece about something outside the art world that has influenced their studio practice. The idea was to get them thinking about the relationship between artmaking and the larger cultural currents that shape our interests, tastes, and sense of self.
The students’ responses to the assignment were wonderfully diverse, presenting a broad spectrum of thoughts on the interdependence of art and life. I’d like to share some of that variety with the blog’s readers, so (with the students’ permission) I will present some of their essays over the next few posts, in alteration with other topics I’ve got lined up.
First up tomorrow: a piece on art, film, and video by Justin Elm.