Prompt: Museum of the North and Representations of the Sublime




Contributed by Jen Schell


The Museum of the North and  Representations of the Sublime

Many Alaskan artists–poets, painters, sculptors, photographers–have attempted to capture the sublime in their work. Put more simply, they have tried to represent in an artistic form the special and awe-inspiring qualities of life in Alaska. Other artists prefer to focus on more mundane aspects of Alaskan landscapes, animals, and peoples.  For these individuals, the sublime in not necessarily all that important to their artistic vision.

For this assignment, I would like you to write about one of the pieces of art in the Museum of the North, which is located on UAF’s North Ridge. You will have to visit the museum to complete the assignment. Choose just one object about which you want to write. Your piece can be a painting, photograph, sculpture, beadwork item, taxidermy animal, quilt, installment, cooking implement, ceremonial mask, or harpoon. Of course, there are other possibilities. Just make sure that you find your object interesting or compelling in some way. Carefully observe (or photograph) your piece so that you can write about it later.

In the first part of the paper, you should introduce your piece of art and describe it in great detail. Make sure that, after reading your description, your readers can visualize the object. Next, you should analyze the object in terms of how it represents (or does not represent) the sublime. Some questions: What does the object represent? What does it mean? What kind of vision of life in Alaska is the piece trying to present to viewers? How does the object depict landscapes, peoples, animals, plants? What other functions (practical, ceremonial, spiritual, etc.) does the piece have? Why might these other functions be important to mark? What does the object mean to you? Why did you choose it? Why do some artists focus on the sublime aspects of Alaska and others do not? Does the object attempt to capture the kind of sublime that Edmund Burke discusses? Does it represent another kind of sublime (like the technological)? How successful is the object at capturing the sublime? Is the piece, itself, sublime in some way?

Helpful Hints:  

  • Choose only a few questions to address in your paper.
  • You can’t know what the artists and/or the museum curators were thinking when they created the piece/exhibit (or what they were trying to say), but you can discuss what the piece/exhibit means to you.
  • You may want to include pictures in your paper. Make sure that you have a detailed, written description of the object as well. Observation is important to this assignment.  
  • If there is signage (title, captions, etc.) on your exhibit, you should write it down, so you can quote it.
  • You may want to do research on your piece/exhibit.  If you do, you need to have a “Works Cited’ page.
  • The technical requirements are the same as the last paper (2-4 pages).

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