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English essay: Description of Senses

English essay: Description of Senses


  • Proficiency in advanced college level reading and writing within the art and design fields;
  • The ability to write for both specialized and general audiences.
  • Write complex ideas clearly and correctly (e.g., spelling, grammar, punctuation);
  • Write extemporaneously about subjects in the art and design field.
    In the art and design fields formal analysis (Links to an external site.) focuses on the elements and principles of the work of art such as line, shape, color, texture, rhythm, contrast and balance to help us communicate what we see. Taking cues from a more literary model, how can we use descriptive language to create a vivid visual image in the reader’s mind?
  • This Writing Exercise assignment is to focus on your sensory experience, to enhance your writing, and to support and enhance the content and skills needed for writing your Formal Analysis Paper. This assignment is based on Rebecca McClanahan’s book Word Painting, published by Writer’s Digest Books, 1999. In particular, Chapter 4: The Nose and Mouth and Hand and Ear of the Beholder.

Goal: Type a 1 1⁄2-2 page (total) paper that explores your sensory perception of places and objects. (CHECK YOUR UNDERSTANDING: “Total” means you will have approximately one-two paragraphs for each exercise.)

Exercise 1: Describe a place (for example, your room) solely in terms of one sense. “Mute” the other senses while you explore just the smells for instance, or the textures of the place.

Exercise 2: Describe an object by mixing two sense impressions (for example smells and sounds). You can use this list to help you think of your other senses besides vision. (All excerpts from McClanahan’s book)

Smell-This is the smell most closely related to memory. This sense is hard to write about because, as Diane Ackerman says in her book Natural History of the Senses, it is “the mute sense, the one without words” She says that there is a weak connection between the smell center and the language center of our brains: “We can describe a sight using visual adjectives-but when we try to describe a smell, it’s usually in terms of other things…usually we resort to describing how they make us feel.” (McClanahan pg. 65)

Taste-Close to smell. Moving beyond a straightforward naming (Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Buttermilk biscuits) a writer can describe a taste in terms of the tongue’s gustatory map: sweet, salty, sour, bitter. For a writer who uses strong descriptions of taste read Marcel Proust; he often borrows from the other senses to describe: the cakes are “squat” “plump” “shaped like” “the fluted valve of a scallop shell” and he uses his sense of touch to describe eating the cakes and drinking tea “the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touches my palate…a shudder ran through me.” (McClanahan pg. 72)

Touch-An intimate sense. This can be a way to engage your imagination through observing the texture of the object, for example, or how the materials have been manipulated. This is a good way for artists and designers to relate to the visual stimulus through their experience of making things.

Sound-The inner voice, real or imagined, or music is often heard in response to something. One sees a high-pitched, dry, silver metallic object suspended before one’s eyes. Or hears the way a subject might talk in a photograph. The sound of words themselves is often a way to enter into one’s response to a work. A fizzled photograph. An ornery, organized, orb of a head.

Synesthesia-The use of one sense to describe another “It smells like sparkling gases” “tastes like a mouthful of bees” “green is fresh/like a new pair of lungs” (McClanahan pg. 78)