How does one narrow down the topic and figure out a thesis statement for a research paper concerning the broader topic of Faith Ringgold and her famous painted story quilts?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To start finding your topic and thesis on the more general topic of Faith Ringgold and her famous painted story quilts, you'll want to start by doing some preliminary research. This won't be the exact same research you will do to prove your thesis once you know what your thesis is, but it will be research to help you familiarize yourself more with the topic, enough to be able to narrow down the topic and figure out what claim you want to make. More specifically, start by researching her biography to learn exactly what her painted story quilts are and what they are derived from. In particular, from articles on the Internet, we can learn that Ringgold is an African-American born in Harlem in 1930 to a mother who was a fashion designer. Her great-great-grandmother had been a slave who used to make quilts for her white masters and taught Ringgold the quilt-making tradition. From there, Ringgold also studied painting and eventually combined quilt-making and painting to create her painted story quilts (Nancy Doyle Fine Art, "Artist Profile: Faith Ringgold"). You'll also want to research what we know about the tradition of African-American quilt-making, such as how they made quilts, what kind of patterns they used, whether or not the quilts were used to record stories, whether or not the quilts contained hidden messages that played a role in the Underground Railroad, and how the quilts related to African roots. Specifically, for the most part, only quilts made for white masters have survived, but research has shown that slaves even made quilts for their own personal use. Research has also been unable to find any concrete evidence that quilts were used to advance the Underground Railroad. Finally, research has also shown that the patterns the slave women used were the same types of patterns used in African textiles, showing that their quilt-making stemmed from African roots ("African American Quilts: Creativity and Improvisations").

The Internet can be helpful for preliminary research, but for a research paper, it's very important to mix media types by looking at books and printed articles. Many books have been written on Ringgold and her work and looking through those should help you develop a better understanding of both her work and the cultural traditions that surround her work, allowing you to formulate your own original claim about her work. You will be able to find pictures of her work online as well, but you will not be able to see the pictures as clearly as if you look at them in books or even in actual exhibits. Some books to look into for your research are Vol. 3 from the David C. Driskell series of African American art, titled Faith Ringgold and written by Lisa E. Farrington and David C. Driskell; Faith Ringgold (Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists) by Mike Venezia; and Faith Ringgold: A View from the Studio by both Faith Ringgold and Curlee Raven Holton.

In order to think of what claim you want to make in your thesis with regards to her work, things to consider as you look through her work are themes, color, texture, and patterns. Also, especially, think about what she is trying to portray about her background, culture, or even history. This is another reason why looking through books will be so important because art criticism on her work will mostly be published in books, and looking at what others have had to say about her work will help you interpret her work on your own. Her work spanned a few different thematic concepts, so to narrow down your topic, you might choose a specific theme to focus on. For example, she has many painted story quilts depicting images of people and many depicting images of the American flag. Once you choose a theme to focus on, you can then think about what she's trying to say through the painted story quilts on that specific theme. If you were to look at her painted story quilt titled Flag Story Quilt, you'll notice that the stars of our flag have been replaced by the heads of white men, and that she uses newspaper clippings to represent the white stripes. Along with the traditional red, white, and blue colors of the American flag, she also includes the colors black, yellow, and even purple. What's more, in the patches representing the red stripes of the American flag, she includes designs rooted in African textile designs, but the swirly designs are also quite violent. Ask yourself what she's trying to portray here about history and society. One possible thesis you might come up with could be along the lines of,

  • Ringgston manipulates colors and images in her painted story quilts concerning the theme of the American flag to show just how much white domination has led to, not only a great deal of violence throughout history, but to an ironic mergence of many different cultures.
rachellopez | Student

You should start by doing a lot of research. You won't know what you want to focus your paper on unless you read all about the topic. Pick something that is interesting and has a lot of support you can expand on. It could be about he family's history which led to the making of the quilt or the story on the quilt itself.

For the thesis you need a claim and three supporting details. Your claim must be clear and concise. Say exactly what you want to prove/inform the audience about. Your three details will further tell the readers what they can expect in your paper as well as help you organize your thoughts.

steamgirl | Student

The way I was taught to narrow down a topic into a thesis was to start with the funnel. I've included an example in the images and the link will take you to where you can get your own to fill in. If you follow through it, your thesis and probably most of your main points for your paper will begin to be laid out for you. There are several different kinds of thesis statements based on what you're trying to portray, you can argue a point, explain something, or analyze points the author made.  The second link can explain more in detail on how to do that as well as some examples.

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