The goal of this activity is to promote a more thoughtful, active, and in-depth approach to studying in general and exam preparation more specifically. This exercise requires you to focus on the creation (and presentation) of a sample art history exam essay in which you are required to compare and contrast two pieces of art with a good attempt at critical thinking and analysis. This will also invite you to think in detail about how a typical college exam essay tests you on learned material as well as how your answers would include information ideally addressed. By focusing on what it takes to craft an effective exam essay question, you will think more deeply and with more subtlety about the material on an upcoming exam. Perhaps most importantly, going through this exercise should also discourage the dreaded “cram the night before” approach to studying undertaken by too many students.
Here’s an example of a compare-and-contrast essay > using two works from the Renaissance and Neoclassicism eras: Michelangelo’s David and Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Notice that these two pieces were chosen because they both are considered by scholars to be representative of their time periods and that both of the artists used unconventional ideas in their depiction of the current political and social conditions of the day. It’s important that you choose two pieces that allow you to make appropriate comparisons relating to the concepts you are learning in your art history class. This is an important first step as you prepare to write an effective essay that covers multiple main issues covered in class.
The Compare & Contrast Map is an interactive graphic organizer that enables students to organize and outline their ideas for different kinds of comparison essays.
Be sure to use the appropriate terminology and skills from the course readings and specific to the discipline of art history. For example, in introductory art history courses, students are required in their exam essays typically to compare and contrast different works demonstrating not only their learned skills of formal visual analysis, but also their ability to place works and monuments in a historical context. This means comparing works not only in terms of the differences in their formal elements, but also in terms of the socio-political, theological, regional or cultural reasons behind those differences.