Formal Analysis Essay

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Basic Requirements:

1. Select an object from your textbook within the time-frame of the course.

2. You must choose an artwork that is NOT on the study guide images list.

3. Your object must be a painting, sculpture, ceramic, or decorative art. Therefore, you may not write about architectural monuments.

4. Remember that the object you choose to write about must fit within the timeframe of your course (Before 1500 C.E. for Art 1.1).

5. Your essay must be 2-3 pages of text (not including a title page).

6. Your paper must be double-spaced with one-inch margins in 12-point font.

If you write a paper about an object on your study guide, an architectural monument, or a work outside the timeframe of your course, then your paper will not be accepted and you will have to submit another one (late paper deductions will apply to the rewrites).

How to Write Your Formal Analysis

1.) Title Page

 Papers start with a separate title page with your name, title of the essay, date, course title, and section number.

 The title of the essay should be creative. Titles such as “Formal Analysis for World Art,” “An Analysis of Object X,” or simply “Object X” are unacceptable. Follow proper title capitalization rules.

2.) Introductory Paragraph

 Your reader needs to have a general sense of the subject and layout of the work before you get into its particulars. Therefore, begin by identifying the work (artist, title, culture, date, etc.) and by conveying a general idea of its physical make-up and what it’s about.

 Make your opening sentence interesting and inviting to the reader.

o Avoid: I chose to write my paper about Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.

o Better: Monet’s Impression, Sunrise is a light-filled painting that is representative of the Impressionist movement in 19th century Paris, France.

 You must address these questions listed below within the first paragraph of your essay, and they should be answered in complete sentences.

• What is the title? Be sure to italicize or underline the title of the work of art.

• Who is the artist (if known)? And what is his/her nationality or region of origin?

• What country or region was it made in? (Japan, India, Flanders, Polynesia, Mesopotamia, etc…)

• Does it belong to a particular movement, age, or school of thought? (Old Kingdom, Paleolithic,

Momoyama Period, Baroque Period, etc…)

• What year was it created? Remember that circa (c. or ca.) means “approximately.”

• What is the medium(s)?

• What is the size/dimension?

• Introduce the subject of the work: what does it depict or represent?

o Avoid: Woman from Willendorf, limestone, 4 3/8”

o Better: The Woman from Willendorf was sculpted out of limestone and stands at a height of 4 3/8 inches.

3.) Detailed Description (Shape, Light, Color, Texture, Space, & Line)

 This section is the bulk of your assignment and counts the most (30 points).

• This is your opportunity to observe closely the work of art you have chosen and to record those observations in writing.

• You must address each of the six formal elements, which include shape, color, light, texture, space, and line. Most students write one to four sentences about each formal element. Some formal elements may be more significant than others for each work of art.

• You should write at least one short paragraph (two to four sentences) for each formal element.

• If you think that an element doesn’t apply in your work, then make sure you say so. I want to know that you thought about and evaluated it, rather than just forgot about it.

• This section is the bulk of your assignment and counts the most (30 points), so be sure to follow these directions closely.

• Shape. Is this a two-dimensional or three-dimensional piece? What are the dominant shapes apparent within the work? Are they geometric? Irregular? How are they organized? Do you detect dominant patterns? Are there shapes that appear to recede into space?

• Light. How does the artist employ effects of light and shading? Does the light appear to come from a single direction? Is the light evenly distributed? Which parts, if any, appear in a strong light? Which parts are in shadow?

• Color. What are the dominant colors employed by the artist? Be sure to list the colors. Are the colors intense, or are they muted? Does the artist use a wide range of colors, or does he restrict himself/herself to a few? Does the artist create color harmonies through analogous colors, such as red and orange? Does he create contrasts through complementary colors, such as red and green?

• Texture. Is the surface of the object soft or rough (to the best of your knowledge)? What are the tactile qualities of the object (meaning how would it feel to touch its various parts)? Discuss actual texture versus intended/implied texture. Is there an illusion of texture? Is the artist trying to mimic actual texture? For example, curly hair on a statue; silk curtains in a painting, etc…

• Space. How does the artist draw the viewer’s eye beyond the picture plane and into the illusionistic space of the picture? Is this a deep or shallow space? How is space suggested: does the scale of figures and objects diminish? Do figures overlap? Does your eye follow receding orthogonals? Does the artist employ atmospheric perspective? Does he/she use foreshortening?

• Line. Is there an emphasis on line? For example, are there sharp diagonals or angels in the work? Are the lines balanced and ordered? Are they agitated? Do they imply directional movement? Does the artist emphasize line? Are the lines broken and lost or clearly defined and distinguished. You can think of line as outlines if no obvious lines are apparent in the work.

4.) Interpretation of the Overall Composition

 In the final part of your paper, your “reading” of the work will become somewhat more subjective as you interpret what the artist is trying to say in the work. In other words, your task is to move from the description of the particular elements of style towards an assessment of how the artist’s use of these elements contributes to the overall meaning of the work. Think of the elements of style as a kind of language. In your last paragraph, explain what is the artist is trying to say about his/her subject through this language?

• As you do this, be as objective as possible. We are not interested at this point in how the work makes you “feel.” Your task is to describe what you or anyone else looking at the work can see. Avoid using the first person since your arguments should develop from the formal elements, not your personal response.

o Avoid: I was disturbed by the painting.

o Better: The sharp, heavy lines outlining the figures and the dark blues which dominate the sky in the background give the painting an ominous and disturbing feeling.

5.) Clear image

 At the end of your paper, you must include a link to your image. Do NOT include the actual image in your paper- just a weblink. Be sure that the image is not too small or too pixilated- we need to be able to see it clearly. If you can’t locate a decent image online, then cite your textbook (include figure #, page #, volume, and edition).

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