Seeing as a Critic: Debriefing

or, How to Read Notes

The thing with seeing as a critic is to control the observations. A stance from the balcony holds off on evaluation and interpretation. That's the material I've struck out in the first few paragraphs: evaluative and interpretive language. You can do the rest if you'd like. What happens if you remove the high-level interpretive language is that you're forced to look at the object again - to describe what's seen rather than sketching in the interpretation.


The Girl With The Pearl Earring

Starts with a description of context. This is a necessary move when it comes to developing a full description for further analysis, as S&P will mention in chaps 3 and 4.

Jan Vermeer is an artist known for hi use of color and for his surprisingly real portrayals of day-to-day life in post-renaissance Dutch society. Girl With a Pearl Earring is one of his most famous pieces, and to this day is a freeze-frame of one girl in her daily activities.

The challenge in describing from a balcony view and using neutral language is keeping the tendency to evaluate, to swallow details of viewing in generalities (clean organization, simple layout), and to describe not the object but a possible response to it

The portrait is simple- there is a girl looking over her shoulder toward the viewer. Her mouth remains open, as though she has been caught off guard; a girl pausing in her work to notice the individual watching her. A crisp black background draws the eyes toward her face and her eyes, which realistically reflect light. Her skin, though the painting has aged and cracked, remains youthful and soft looking, and the fabric drapes realistically.

Upon noticing her face and soft expression, however, one thing catches the eye of the viewer- a perfectly round pearl earring, hanging just above the neckline of her coat. While the rest of her clothing remains plain, this simple touch adds a shine to the right half of the image, balancing out the small glimmer in her eyes and on her lips. The reflection in the pearl casts light on her jaw as well, lighting up a part of her face that would have been hidden by shadows. Most of the colors remain muted, and through this the piece retains a very soft tone. However, the addition of the earring adds a touch of elegance and vibrancy.
[...]

As S&P mention in chap 3, and again in chap 4, a good description continues until you can characterize the work. That is what seems to be happening in this last paragraph, which moves away from describing to include context again and a characterization.

The light source in the image is positioned outside of the image (unlike in many of Vermeer's paintings where the setting is an entire room) and therefore is removed as a possible focus- the girl herself is undeniably the subject of the painting, and there is no background or activity to distract from this. The painting is a snapshot of one particular girl, not even her activities or her situation.


Rice University home page

This second sample is neutral, and well observed. It is also shows that the work is being systematically observed. The organization shows up when it's paragraphed.

The Rice University home page consists of many images, they are either of a group of people standing together for the photo, or of the campus. There are also photos of professors talking with students and just the students alone. Each of the photos has a caption, the largest of the photos is a general slideshow reflecting different elements of the campus. The other photos have captions; such as "New Kids on the Block" or "Rice in the Top 5" or even "Graduate Mix n' Mingle." Each of these photos is not only a photo and caption, but also a link that you can click on.

There is an event calendar of upcoming dates, each of the highlighted dates also has a headline under it,

these headlines are interesting. One of the headlines reads, "Education Equity, Politics and Policy in Texas" another for the same date reads "Continuing Studies: Fall Preview." Beyond that, there is a more headlines column where there are several interesting links to follow. At the top there are certain categories such as "Admission", "About", "Faculty and Students", etc. Each of these titles brings up a large list of options when it is clicked on.

The color scheme for the whole site is very consistent, for the background it uses white, and for all the important items such as headers and logos it uses shades of blue. There is also greys and blacks but on less attention grabbing items.

The logo of the school is presented largely on top, with an attention grabbing saying under it, "Unconventional Wisdom." It is also presented on bottom.

The last item that takes up a very large area is the comment bar. It appears as if students and faculty can all leave comments about the school and upcoming events.

National Weather Service Page


This was originally done as a bulleted list, which allows the note-taker to readily re-roganize the notes as they start to form clusters. Part of the idea in notes is to keep analysis and interpretation at bay for a while so you can see if there are other ways of making sense. The end of approaching a text from a critical perspective is to explain how a text works rhetorically, so holding off until you have all the elements objectified in some notes is helpful.

These notes are mostly neutral observations, but some observations are becoming analysis, but that analysis is well-controlled, and the analytical statements are connected to description of the page. The observer is taking her analytical terms from the exercise assignment: closeness to audience, register ...

A style of urgency and currency can be observed throughout the webpage, with Current Conditions listed first and foremost, followed by tonight's forecast. This is followed in sequence of the remainder of the week and into Monday, staying within the immediate future.

The observer also mentions the presence of and placement of "an immediate severe weather warning." It stays tentative, but notice how that, too, is part of the urgency, along with the register.
Beneath the initial links to the site's different sections, an immediate severe weather warning is presented. It describes the Storm Prediction Center's forecasting for a risk of severe thunderstorms across parts of the Upper Midwest with specific time and places affected. Register of text here is ominous and forewarning.
Closeness to audience is indicated with text and information that applies directly to one's immediate environment.

Here, the mention of urgency becomes unnecessary: the observation is that "potentially dangerous weather predictions ... are presented in red text." I'd bracket urgent because that's a rhetorical effect signaled by the red text in an otherwise pastel area.

What's interesting is how the observer makes the description dense, by keeping the specifics "(black, white, soft blue, navy blue)" right next to the general observation "mainly neutral".

The color palette is mainly neutral (black, white, soft blue, navy blue) with the exception of any urgent potentially dangerous weather predictions, which are presented in red text. Headings (Current Conditions, Bemidji, MN 7-Day Forecast, Detailed Forecast and Additional Forecasts and Information) are larger and blue, rather than black like the majority of the remaining text. Side headings are orange. The site is easily navigated due to these clear, legible headings

At this point, the observer starts moving towards an analytical view - at an appropriate moment at the end of her list. Again, S&P mention this tendency to move into analysis in chap 3. This paragraph characterizes the page and signals that it's time to move into analysis.

This rhetorical object is highly interactive in that it offers its viewers so many options-- the ability to search and seek out any location's forecast, so many links to explore, an interactive map with zoom capability and choice in type (either topographic, street, satellite or ocean), as well as a Forecast Discussion page on which readers can comment and a "Comments? Questions? Please Contact Us" link.

S&P mention in chap 3 that as you describe, you start to work towards analysis, so it's time for her to do so. It's already seeded in her observations of design, color, and register. She can begin to analyze how this page creates and moderated a sense of urgency in the context of everyday weather.



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