CLP 163: 1992 "Rules and Suggestions for Term Papers." Handout for lecture class

History of Art 131B Spring Semester 1992

RULES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR TERM PAPERS (Similar instructions were handed out to students in every lecture couse I taught.)

Papers will be due in Monday, May 4th, one week before the last day of class; this will give me time to read them, comment, and return them at the time of the Final, or before. Late papers will automatically be graded lower. I have developed, over the years, a stony-hearted response to sad stories about ailing relatives and computer crashes. The papers should be 10-15 pages in length, typed, double-spaced; for graduate students, 15-20 pages.

When you have finished typing, please reread to catch typing errors, misspellings, etc. I certainly don’t grade on the basis of neatness or good prose style, but a paper that is sloppy in these respects inevitably makes a less favorable impression than it otherwise would. It is in your interest, after you have invested so much time and thought in the term paper, to take a little extra time to go over it and correct typos.

Always make a Xerox or other copy of your paper to keep (and give me the original); never give anyone an only copy of a paper. However careful we may be, things get lost.

The topic is to be chosen by you (choosing a good topic on your own is part of the assignment), with the following stipulations. Please read them carefully before coming to talk with me, and especially before beginning to write your paper.

1. The topic must fall within the main subject matter of the course, which in our case is Chinese painting, Yüan through early Ch'ing.

2. The paper must deal primarily with the works of art, rather than with Chinese history, philosophy, religion, literature, social history, or something else. On the other hand, it is not only permissable but absolutely desirable to relate the paintings somehow to these other concerns, if you can do it convincingly, or to use them in some way to cast light on the paintings.

3. The topic must be narrow enough to allow you to treat it in some depth in a paper of this length. It should have a focus that encourages you to develop an argument, an original way of thinking about your topic. You can choose for your topic some motif or subject category; some artist (although a major artist can’t be effectively treated in such a short paper, unless you select some special aspect or problem associated with that artist); a group of stylistically related works; some problem or feature of painting technique. Or you might focus on a single painting, bringing in others for context and comparison. (A comparison is not in itself a topic--it is a device used in calling attention to some features of one work by putting it beside another. Don’t come in saying “I want to compare Chao Meng-fu’s ‘Village by the Water’ with Huang Kung-wang’s ‘Fu-ch'un Mountains’ for my term paper.”) Or you could do a study of the kind suggested in paragraph 2, above.

4. The topic must be discussed and cleared with me before you begin. Come to see me during an office hour (Mondays 2-3:30, 419 Doe Library) as soon as you have an idea; I will help you define the topic and make suggestions for readings, paintings to consider, etc. If you have several ideas, I can suggest which one seems most promising. Look ahead in the books we use, do some reading in advance, to find a topic that interests you. Do not come to me without any ideas, and expect me to choose a topic for you; I won’t. Do not put off choosing a topic and seeing me until shortly before the paper is due, then take home a few books and throw something together over the weekend: a paper done that way doesn’t fool anybody. Do not try to catch me after class to discuss the paper; I am (usually) happy to talk with students after class, and to help with problems that you encounter in working on the paper, once the initial conference has been held; but that initial conference must be in my office, where books and references are available. Extra office hours will be scheduled later for people who cannot make the Monday 2-3:30 time. But sign up soon; don’t put if off.

Form (the following is meant to be suggestive and helpful, not restrictive; other forms are possible): You would ordinarily begin with a paragraph or two of introduction, in which you state and define your theme, perhaps cite earlier writings about it, and provide some brief background for what follows. In the main body of your paper you would discuss the works of art and otherwise develop your argument, keeping always in mind the topic and point of your paper. Every discussion of every work should somehow advance your argument. These discussions will lead to your conclusion, in which you sum up the understanding you have reached in the course of writing the paper, perhaps suggesting solutions to problems raised at the beginning. A conclusion that simply restates what we knew at the beginning isn’t impressive. (If you haven’t written a paper of this kind before, now is the time to start. I will have an extra hour to discuss term-paper writing; save up your questions and come to that.)

Because of the sparsity of good English-language writing on particular specialized subjects in later Chinese painting, your papers will ordinarily not be proper research papers; they will be based on your own observations and analyses, supplemented by what you may find in books. Research papers are also possible, however, in some cases; if you have an idea for one, talk with me about it. When you take something substantial from a written source, you should acknowledge the debt with a footnote citation. Never “lift” whole sentences or paragraphs, or even phrases, from some written source without acknowledging it in this way, and putting it in quotations marks. Otherwise it is plagiarism.

Foreign words not yet assimilated into English (technical terms, etc.) are properly printed in italics; in typed manuscript, the equivalent is underlining. Use either the Wade-Giles or the pinyin romanization for Chinese names and terms, but whichever you use, use it consistently.

Footnotes should be added, as noted above, in the usual manner to identify sources of quotations and important information. There should be a bibliography, for which the usual rules apply. Don’t pad it (that is, insert books and articles you haven’t really used, to impress the reader). Works of art referred to should always be identified clearly (artist, subject, date if any, sometimes collection if this helps to identify it); and, if you don’t have a (Xerox) illustration of it with your paper, there should always be a reference to some reproduction, so that I can be sure which work you mean. Xeroxes of reproductions are advisable for exact identification; in that case, number them and refer to them by number in your text: fig. 1, fig. 2, etc. (Be careful with books when Xeroxing. Books in Durant Hall basement are not available for Xeroxing.)

Don’t refer to the illustration as though it were the work of art--don’t write, that is, “Fig. 6, painted when the artist was fifty years old ...” or something like that.

Here are some term paper topics from a previous 131B course, which will give you clues for suitable topics; all were written after consultations with me about defining the topic.

- Chinese geomancy and Yuan dynasty landscape painting.
- Yuan dynasty bamboo painting: theory and practice.
- Ni Tsan: composition and space in his landscape paintings.
- Portraiture in Yuan painting.
- Geometrization and “formal construction” in later Chinese painting, and affinities with Cezanne.
- Political symbolism in paintings by Kung Hsien (17th century).
- Meanings of the horse motif in Yuan painting.
- Tai Chin and the Ma Yuan tradition.
- Shen Chou’s “Tiger Hill” album (Cleveland Museum).
- Hung-jen and his debt to Ni Tsan.
- Old trees in the paintings of Wen Cheng-ming.
- Real and ideal figures in the paintings of Chou Ch’en.
- Representations of women in later Chinese painting.
- Representations of historical themes in Ming academy painting.
- The theme of the fisherman in Yuan-Ming painting.
- Expressionism in the painting of Hsü Wei.
- The “Ch’ien Hsüan” scroll of insects etc. in the Detroit Art Institute.
- Wang Chen-p’eng and his “Dragon Boat Festival” paintings.

Common faults: Over-dependence on written sources; simply paraphrasing what others have said. Lack of a clear theme, or failure to stick to your theme. General woolliness of thought; running on about the spirituality or primitiveness or modernity or some other vaguely-indicated quality of your work, without identifying the features or the work that create or contribute to that effect.

Words commonly misspelled: spatial; parallel; silhouette; precede, proceed, recede; sight, cite, site; prominent; dominant; lose, loose; vertical (not verticle); foliage (not foilage); deity; separate; monastery; symmetry; dimension; eminent, imminent; connoisseur; definite; literati (plural), literatus (singular).

Words commonly misused: enormity (doesn’t mean “enormousness”); dimensional (by itself); dominant (adjective), dominate (verb); simplistic (doesn’t mean “simple”); fortuitous (doesn’t mean “fortunate”). Avoid the word “stylized”: unclear in meaning. Avoid “fancy” words (“format” when you mean simply “form”, etc.)

Miscellaneous admonitions. Learn to distinguish “its” from “it’s” (be one of the few who still do). “It’s” can only be used as a contraction of “it is”. So, remember: it’s = it is, always. (The dog wagged it’s tail = The dog wagged it is tail.)

Also: i before e except after c, please. Exceptions: Neither the weird foreigner nor the financier seizes leisure at its height; or when pronounced like a, as in feign.

Damp and disgusting spots in your prose style: "and/or" (we got along without it for centuries, still can and should.) “At this point in time” and similar trendy phrases. Jargon of all kinds. Capitalizing words for “elevated” effect (Nature, Art, etc.) is low-class (Chinese: su).

"Both x and y" is OK; "x as well as y" is also OK. But "both x as well as y" isn't OK, it's redundant, incorrect.

A dash (on a typewriter) is two hyphens, no space before or after--not space-hyphen-space or something else.

Be consistent in questions of authenticity: it’s all right to express uncertainty about whether a work is genuine, but not to suggest that it’s a fake and then discuss it as a reliable work of the artist. Don’t be overly subjective: avoid too much of “I think ...” and “this looks to me ...” etc. The reader knows, without being told each time, that what you write in your paper represents your opinion.

Watch out for old books, not on my reading list; many of those easily available from the public library etc. are unreliable and obsolete. Ask me if unsure.

Highly recommended: William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, New York, 1959; also in paperback reprint. Brief, entertaining; everyone who writes English, or would like to, should own it and read it. Other, more recent books on style are also valuable, e.g. Joseph M. Williams, Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 3rd edition, 1989; Barnet and Stubbs’ Practical Guide to Writing, revised edition, 1975 (paperback); and Sylvan Barnet, Writing About Art (3rd edition, 1989).

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