I decided to pursue my thoughts about Marshall's work a bit further and I decided on a little aesthetics/rhetoric experiment.
My inquiry was to find out whether I could observe the work at several different levels, all descriptive, and each time using less words to describe what I saw.
This is a challenge I encounter frequently when reviewing books for the American Library Association journal "CHOICE," where my comments are limited to 191 words. Most of the time I enjoy the challenge and I especially like presenting it to students.
In all of my classes I assign writing within strict word constraints, ten words, 100 words, 500 words. If you've tried something like this you may have noticed that students don't particularly like to be held responsible for limited word counts. All of us like some wiggle room, especially when we're not quite sure how to organize our thoughts.
But I think it's important to try. Words are an abstraction and when we put anything into words, whether oral or written, we are creating an abstraction. Can words help solve problems by taking apart an image, a situation, a phenomenon, and abstracting it? I think yes. And further, I think this can work in all kinds of settings, not just art criticism but science problem solving and, hey, why not? conflict resolution.
Anyway, here's my exercise in "taking apart" and abstracting what I consider to be a formidable piece of art.
I studied each panel and wrote my "long" description, then came back to each panel and wrote a shorter description, and finally returned a second time to write my "short" description, comprised of only one word. Below I've included some photos of the panels and all of my written work. Of course I'd love to hear what you think about this approach.
James Kerry Marshall
Color woodcut with hand coloring
The city endless grid stamped like dollar bills a sky of floating clouds
17 blocks straight line perspective
The brick wall yellow and flower box fake planting?
Five flowers three bricks angle
The rug a lamp inside a line a space an opening
Rug and wall horizon table plays
An upturned head a hand outreached a host in shorts ballet
Shoes and legs three men kitchen
Spare couch with resting hand food plates on floor & table
Three plates one hand
Three men sit on the green rug under lampshade and black box
Back and front torsos, verticals
A corner bisect pink & yellow quiet but empty & expectant
Two panels and a rug
A frank pink wall but lighter than the wall in panel 5 a corridor
Large panel narrow run of rug
Opens a door and first glimpse of new space. The door is pink
Door jamb white formal angles
A bed well made recessed under a black hole in the bedroom private
Shadow of a a vase & flowers in a shadowy black vertical rectangle
Turn the corner for another pink wall a rectangle a lost black face