Step 1: Preparation

Read the document titled Representation in the Arts (below), which provides a brief history of the development and use of two contrasting aesthetic approaches, mimesis and abstraction, as found in both the visual arts and the literary arts, with references to illustrative examples on the Internet.

(NOTE: The web links in the document below can be activated by using ctrl-click (in Windows) or command-click (on a Mac), or you can use the “Download” link that appears above the document box to open a regular webpage version of the file and use the links normally.)

Representation in the Arts

Next, review the information in the two documents below, Art Vocabulary Lesson and Poetry Vocabulary Lesson. You might find the information in these documents helpful in composing your response to the task posed in the following steps.

Art Vocabulary Lesson

Poetry Vocabulary Lesson

Finally, the document below provides additional information about the two cultural and stylistic movements known as Romanticism and Modernism, which may prove useful to your consideration of the works below.

More on Romanticism and ModernismPreview the document

Step 2: Works to be Discussed

Examine the four examples provided below. These examples include two paintings and two poems, and they represent two different periods or movements in recent Western cultural history. One painting (Massacre at Chios, by Eugene Delacroix) and one poem (“Annabel Lee,” by Edgar Allan Poe) represent the Romantic period. The other painting (Guernica, by Pablo Picasso) and the other poem (“anyone lived in a pretty how town,” by E. E. Cummings) represent the Modernist period. The two paintings deal with similar subject matters, and the same is true of the two poems.


Massacre at Chios (Eugene Delacroix)


Guernica (Pablo Picasso)



(Use the scroll-bars to the right of each poem to see the entire poem.)

Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Annabel Lee (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

E. E. Cummings’s poem — anyone lived in a pretty how town (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Step 3: Write the Analysis

Write a response that draws comparisons and contrasts, first between the two paintings and then between the two poems (you must address both the paintings and the poems). Give thoughtful consideration to the following questions: What characteristics can you identify in each example that make it either Romantic or Modernist? (Use the document above, More on Romanticism and Modernism, to help you with this.) How does each example balance the mimetic impulse against the abstracting impulse? (Another way of asking this question would be, how does each example mix the use of mimetic technique and the use of abstract technique?) Which technique seems strongest in each work? Do you detect any use of symbolism or idealism in any of the examples? Provide specific reasons, using multiple details from each painting or poem, to illustrate the answers you give to the above questions. Also, given these examples, what general comparisons can you make between the Romantic way of representing the world — or the human experience of it — and the Modernist methods of representation? What are the strengths of each style? The weaknesses of each? Drawing from these examples, or from the earlier examples found in the document Representation in the Arts, what do you find most valuable in the impulse to mimesis? And in the impulse to abstraction?

Step 4: Post Initial Response

Using the link below, post your response from Step 3 (above) as a message in the Discussions board thread titled Discussion 2. (Put your response into the body of the posted message; do not use an attached file.) Most students need at least 400-500 words to adequately address most of the questions I’ve posed, although you may use more if you need to. Your response should be informed by the background information provided above (including any examples I might have referred to in that background information) and by the Art Vocabulary Lesson and the Poetry Vocabulary Lesson.


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