FA19ARTH250 Writing Assignment 1 FormalAnalysis



Writing Assignment 1: Formal Analysis Paper

For this assignment, you must write a formal analysis of the work of art you have chosen to research this semester. Formal analysis focuses not only on what you are seeing, but also on why it is there and how it is presented. Formal analysis is a way of explaining how the visual elements you describe work together to form a whole composition and convey meaning. Submit your paper on Moodle using the Writing Assignment 1 Turnitin link.

Your paper should be between 750 and 1000 words, not including your name, any footnotes, etc.

Your analysis will address the form of the work: line, shape, composition, color, texture, handling of the medium, etc.

Please use the writing assignment checklist, available on Moodle under Writing Assignment 1, as a guide when you write your paper. Review the checklist before writing your paper to make sure that you are following it correctly. The checklist has very specific rules and guidelines for how to write your paper, how long it should be, etc.

Please also use Barnet’s chapter on formal analysis as a guide (on Moodle).

Although you will be researching your object, for this paper, base your comments solely on what you see, rather than any research. This paper should not involve any research at all.

The following example is from a student paper on Kathe Kollwitz’s lithograph, Death Reaches for a Child (1934).


“The placement of the figures in space plays an essential role in the picture. The three figures occupy the bulk of the framed area. The woman technically occupies the most drawn space; however, the figure of Death dominates and controls the space of the other figures. His head almost touches the uppermost border, but he does not strain against it. In a sense, the figure of Death becomes the top part of the frame. The vertical nature of Death’s domination over the mother and child makes the compression of space all the more menacing. The woman strains against the borders that Death constricts. She attempts to break out of these confines with her extended elbow, which pushes against the right-hand edge of the picture, but resistance is futile. Her arm is necessarily attached to the arm of Death, as all three figures are inextricably bound both physically and symbolically.”

For this assignment, your paper should have:

A) an introduction that provides a clear thesis statement that you will support through observable details. The introduction should include a brief description of the work of art. Tell your reader what you will say in the paper.

· Example of an effective thesis statement:In Club Night, George Bellows uses high contrast, shape, and line to capture the energy of the athletes and provide an evocative and sensational interpretation of the club scene.

· image2.jpg

B) a comprehensive description of the work. Pretend that your reader does not have the image available. Show me that you have looked closely at the work and really spent time with it.

C) a body of developed supporting paragraphs that not only describe but also analyze the work’s specific visual characteristics.

· Example of effective analysis: “Bellows traces the boxers’ limbs with distinct, arcing lines that define the curvature of each muscle and give the viewer a sense of the energy in their bodies. These long brushstrokes convey stability and fluidity, whereas the short brushstrokes in the boxers’ upper bodies suggest an immense accumulation of tension, like a coiled spring. Additionally, strong diagonal lines in the boxers create a sense of lunging, dynamic movement.”

D) If you you can identify the figures or subject matter, go ahead and do so, but give reasons for your identification. However, it is not necessary to identity them. If you can identify the style/period, you may comment on that, but it is not required. You don’t need to speculate about the meaning of symbols—it’s fine to just describe them.

E) a conclusion. You should not waste this final paragraph by merely repeating your thesis and supporting points. You may want to return to an examination of the work as a whole: its broader implications, its stylistic significance. However, you should not introduce any new concepts that you have not discussed in the paper.

Some questions to get you thinking:

· How successful is the illusion of three-dimensionality? How deep is the illusionistic space? Is perspective being used? If so, what kind(s)?

· How successful is modeling with light and shadow?

· How accurate is the anatomy?

· Is the artist interested in the observation of naturalistic detail? Or does the artist omit close observation of detail?

· How is the work arranged compositionally?

· How do all the elements you have noted work together to project visual meanings?

· How are the surfaces handled? That is, are they rough, smooth…?

· Is the work naturalistic or abstract?

· Do the visual elements create harmony? Conflict?

· The list below provides useful vocabulary terms which can give you some ideas about what to discuss.

Formal elements of painting:

picture plane



· Hue

· Value

· Saturation

· Intensity

· warm/cool

· primary/secondary

· complementary


· contour lines

· lines of direction or movement




technique [linear vs. painterly]

illusionistic space

Formal elements of sculpture:


in-the-round vs. relief


shape [organic vs. geometric]

open form /closed form [silhouette]




light and shadow


technique [additive vs. subtractive]