“Essay” by You, ft. Me

Reader, today we’re going to talk about something I tend to do a lot that I am sure you have noticed. It pains me to admit it, but the truth hurts, right?

Dear Reader, I talk too much.

I said it, I said it; don’t make me say it again. The issue is that I’m passionate about the things I like, okay… and I kind of like most things. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You know that feeling! You find something that just sparks the creativity in you and you keep talking about it and pointing out all the little nuances of it because isn’t it so cool how all of them fit together and did you notice how this is reminiscent of something else and so on, etc. It’s not like you suddenly think you’re an expert in all things related to that topic. No, you are fully aware that all you’re doing is marveling at someone else’s genius. You just get so excited by it that you can’t stop talking.

this is 100% real visual of me

Cue me and visual analysis.

I love visuals. Maybe it’s because I’m blind as a bat (not quite literally, but my optometrist told me that post-college I will basically have to get Lasik or be legally blind hoorah) but I love sitting there, zooming in to minuscule aspects of a painting and noticing the brushstrokes and the contrasts and the colors, oh my.

It’s pretty helpful when the students’ second essay is all about visual analysis.

However, the problem with talking too much is that sometimes I’m scared that I’m doing the analysis for them.

With this essay way more than The Aeneid one, students have been coming in to brainstorm their topics and figure out how the heck one does a visual analysis. I’m fairly certain that students are, in one way or another, exposed to literary analysis throughout high school, but visual analysis is usually (tragically) glossed over. It’s understandable, if not expected, that even beginning the process is giving the students a lot of trouble. A bunch of my appointments since the essay was scheduled have solely been about where to even start.

(Side note: I do appreciate that this essay is being assigned in Fall quarter as opposed to Winter, as it was when I took this course. In my opinion, literary and visual analysis are probably the backbones to most disciplinary analyses in the Humanities. Having students get this under their tool belt now is definitely a benefit for them. When I took the course, having to do visual analysis of a painting and then two weeks later be asked to do the same with a movie when I had just learned how to even do a good visual analysis was hell. Props to the course scheduler!)

The problems with the students coming in blind are two-fold:

  • I have to spend a good amount of time in the meeting going over the theory of visual analysis. That is, I explain the three aspects of analysis; explain how to create an argument about what the artist is arguing; give examples of important concepts that they should know, such as juxtaposition, chiaroscuro, and sight lines; and do a super-quick sample analysis of something so they know how to put all of these things into motion.
  • I’m scared that I’m guiding the students too much.

The first is less of an issue. If they don’t know this information, it would be wrong (and anti-directive) of me to not give them this basis. I may not be their teacher, but I am a resource that they can use to get information. Granted, I am no expert. I try to make it clear to the student that they should really be looking into this stuff on their own as well, as certain mediums even have things to look for (such as focus in photography or brushstrokes in painting), and it would be frankly impossible for me to go over all of the details that they should keep in mind within 30 minutes.

The second is a big issue. I don’t remember who wrote about this, but we read an article about the issue of collaboration in the writing center. For The Aeneid, I was not really concerned that I was doing the work for the student (maybe because I too was confused reading the text). However, when students come to me with nothing, inevitably I have to give them something.

Sessions usually run like this: for ten minutes, I go on about visual analysis; then I direct them to the visual and ask what they think the artist’s “perspective of empire” is; then we spend whatever time we have left doing analysis and pulling evidence. I would say all of the appointments I have had about brainstorming have gone this way, and to me they’re super effective. However, during that last segment, I tend to talk too much.

This is exactly the opposite of what I believe and exactly what I want to avoid.

I’ll ask questions guiding them to certain aspects of the painting I think are important. I spend a lot of time asking them about lighting, because that’s always important to me. When they do a solid analysis of some visual element (honestly it makes me so proud when they do), then I always do the whole “and how does this support your thesis?” gig.

The problem is that I’m expecting answers. I have an idea of what their visual analysis should sound like the second I look at their painting/picture/whatever because as the session is going, I’m mentally constructing an analysis myself. When there are weird silences because the student doesn’t know where to look, then I’ll offer a little bit of analysis so they can see how they should approach the painting.

But if I do analysis and they use it, does that make it collaboration or plagiarism?

I want to believe it’s collaborative. I always make sure the students are doing more of the talking after the “here’s visual analysis in a nutshell” spiel. I always make sure to ask what they think is important in the visual before anything else.

But I talk too much. At least, I feel like I do. And I have expectations and ideas already in place that guide everything I’m telling or asking of them. So, are these their thoughts? Or are these my thoughts in their words?

I really really really hope its not the second.