Introduction to Art
Capital Community College
14 April 1998
An Analysis of
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, impresses the viewer first with the softness of sunshine and the bucolic pleasures of the countryside. The everyday pursuits of the three common men pictured the plowman, the shepherd, and the fisherman are being carried out in earnest, but with apparent ease and even pleasure. The shepherd lifts his face to the sky, seemingly unconcerned that his sheep are grazing perilously close to the seacliff's edge; the other two are a bit more intent on their work. The details of the foreground the way the plowman's feet tread upon the neatly folded soil behind the plow blend toward the vague but powerful treatment of the background's mysteries: the nearly obscured and whitened mountains, the majestic (if somewhat cloudy) city along the far shore, and the ruined castle in the sea with its cave-like entry.
The glow of the setting sun (its golden light nearly palpable in the sky) is mirrored by a splash of light in the far sea, but its main effect is in the foreground, the illumination of the commonplace activities of the plowman and the shepherd. The most vivid color in the painting is the reddish orange of the plowman's shirt, juxtaposed as it is to the natural earth tones of horse and dirt surrounding it. Even the shepherd's shadow has an ephemeral quality as the light hits him and his plow nearly horizontally. Whatever energy exists in the painting is moving toward the left side; the plowman, face downward, plods in that direction, as does his horse (whose backside also indecorously confronts the viewer). They move downward and to the left, toward the delicate tracery (like a Chinese screen) of the large tree on the left edge.
All of this occurs to the viewer before the central event of the painting (as announced in the painting's title) reveals itself to his attention: the splash of a pair of legs as the fallen Icarus plunges into the sea. In the lower right-hand corner of the painting, the painfully splayed legs, their delicate pinkness, are all that we see of the fallen mythological figure. They are caught at that precise instant that this symbol of human pride or hubris is about to disappear forever from the world's attention (ironically, of course, in a world where no one is paying attention). We are the only ones who will ever know. All of the energies of the painting lead away from this disturbing and important event: the plowman and shepherd, oblivious, go about their business, as does the fully-rigged boat (also moving toward the left), sailing away from the fallen figure. . . .
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2018-02-09 12:42:48
This resource begins with a general description of essay writing and moves to a discussion of common essay genres students may encounter across the curriculum. The four genres of essays (description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres, also known as the modes of discourse, have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these genres and students’ need to understand and produce these types of essays. We hope these resources will help.
The essay is a commonly assigned form of writing that every student will encounter while in academia. Therefore, it is wise for the student to become capable and comfortable with this type of writing early on in her training.
Essays can be a rewarding and challenging type of writing and are often assigned either to be done in class, which requires previous planning and practice (and a bit of creativity) on the part of the student, or as homework, which likewise demands a certain amount of preparation. Many poorly crafted essays have been produced on account of a lack of preparation and confidence. However, students can avoid the discomfort often associated with essay writing by understanding some common genres.
Before delving into its various genres, let’s begin with a basic definition of the essay.
What is an essay?
Though the word essay has come to be understood as a type of writing in Modern English, its origins provide us with some useful insights. The word comes into the English language through the French influence on Middle English; tracing it back further, we find that the French form of the word comes from the Latin verb exigere, which means "to examine, test, or (literally) to drive out." Through the excavation of this ancient word, we are able to unearth the essence of the academic essay: to encourage students to test or examine their ideas concerning a particular topic.
Essays are shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition. As is evidenced by this list of attributes, there is much to be gained by the student who strives to succeed at essay writing.
The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.
This handout should help students become familiar and comfortable with the process of essay composition through the introduction of some common essay genres.
This handout includes a brief introduction to the following genres of essay writing: