Formal Analysis Paper


Paper Overview

The Paper is worth 100 points. It will consist of a 1-2 page written description and analysis of a work of art using terminology from Chapters 2-5. This is an exercise in recognizing visual elements and principles of design in works of art and demonstrating an understanding of how they relate to each other to create meaning. his is an assignment to help you recognize visual elements and principles of design in works of art. For this assignment, you are to discuss the form, content, and subject matter of a work of art and how they relate to each other. Please follow the outline I’ve provided.

This is not a research paper, you will not need to do additional research. This paper is about looking and seeing, and is based on your observations of the visual elements and principles of design from Chapters 3 and 4, Style in Chapter 5, and the discussion of the relationship between form and content from Chapter 2. If you do reference a source other than the text, please cite this reference according to the APA or Chicago Manual of Style. The use of any secondary reference without providing citation is plagiarism and will receive a score of 0. Repeated incidents of plagiarism are reported to the Academic Affairs Office and the student receives an “F “grade in the course.

Select a work of art

Select one of the following listed works of art. Analysis papers submitted using a work of art other than one of those listed will not be accepted.

· The Approach of Krishna. c. 1600 – 1670. Pahari region, India. Basophil style. Fig. 18.10, pg. 309.

· Thomas Cole. The Oxbow. 1836. Fig. 21.6, pg. 365.

· Vincent van Gogh. The Sower. 1888. Fig. 21.29, pg. 384.

· Kerry James Marshall. Better Homes, Better Gardens. 1994, Fig 25.7, pg. 266.

· Diego Rivera. The Liberation of the Peon. 1931. Fig. 23.18, pg. 423.

Any paper submitted that does not analyze one of the works listed above will be returned for re-submission.


One to two pages (not including title page or images if you choose to include one or either), double-spaced, 10 or 12 point type (Times or Times New Roman only), 1″ margins. Follows and addresses each visual element and principle of design in the order they are listed in the outline. You can write in paragraph form or simply list each term and address how it is used in the work you selected from the list.

Make sure you proofread your papers for issues with grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other errors. In addition, make sure your paper includes a thesis statement. Your grade will reflect your ability to follow these guidelines.

The preferred format to complete the Midterm Paper is Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx). If these formats are not available, other acceptable formats are ASCII (.txt), rich text format (.rtf), and Open Office (.odt).

If you reference a source other than the text (not required), please cite this reference according to the MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style. The use of any secondary reference without providing citation is plagiarism and will receive a score of 0. Repeated incidents of plagiarism are reported to the Academic Affairs Office and the student receives an “F “grade in the course.

Paper Outline

Introduction (First Paragraph)

In the first paragraph, called the introduction, you will include:

· An identification of the work of art you selected: The name of the artist, title (which is underlined or italicized every time you use the title in your paper), date, and medium.

· Your initial interpretation of the subject – what is this piece about?

· A very brief visual description of the work.

· Thesis statement – usually the last line or so of your first paragraph clarifying the type of paper you are writing. What is this assignment, therefore your paper, about?


Your formal analysis should include a description of the piece using terminology (Visual Elements and Principles of Design in the order they are listed in the outline provided), and details of the work that have led you to come to some understanding of what the artist is communicating. Your analysis should have a sense of order, moving purposefully through your description, from one term to the next, with regard to each specific element. How do the visual elements and principles of design work within the work of art to create the meaning you are addressing? Remember that your analysis should not be just a mechanical, physical description. Please use descriptive language and adjectives to describe your work.

To aid in writing a formal analysis, you should think as if you were describing the work of art to someone who has never seen it before. What do you see? When your reader finishes reading your analysis, she/he should have a complete mental picture of what the work looks like. This section is the most important part of this assignment.

Follow the outlined list of terms below to help in your analysis. Address each – in the order they are listed – and simply fill in your response to how each is used in the piece. Each term you are required to address is in bold type. The additional information included in the outline is there to help you with your observations. Remember, this is an exercise in looking, seeing, and interpreting what you see, it is not a research paper.

Papers submitted with terms addressed in a random order will be returned for clarification and reorganization, and considered late. Additionally, papers submitted analyzing a work not listed in the requirements will also be returned for re-submission and considered late.

Visual Elements (Terms)

A. Line: what types of lines do you see in the piece? Provide examples. Are the outlines (whether perceived or actual) smooth, fuzzy, clear? Are the main lines vertical, horizontal, diagonal, or curved, or a combination of any of these? Are the lines jagged and full of energy? Sketchy? Geometric? Curvilinear? Bold? Subtle?

· Actual and Implied Line – look for both types of lines

B. Shape: what types of shapes do you see? Provide examples.

2. Geometric Shapes

2. Organic Shapes

1. Mass: How is mass implied?

1. Space: how is the illusion of space created in the piece? How did the artist convey the idea and illusion of space? What type of spatial devices are used? What is the relation of the main figure to the space around it? Are the main figures entirely within the space (if the artwork is a painting), or are parts of the bodies cut off by the edge of the artwork? Is the setting illusionistic, as if one could enter the space of the painting, or is it flat and more two-dimensional, a space that one could not possibly enter? Consider the following spatial devices in your analysis:

4. Two-Dimensional Space

4. Illusion of Depth – Implied Depth

2. Overlapping, Diminishing Size, Vertical Placement

4. Perspective

3. Linear perspective

3. Atmospheric or Aerial Perspective

1. Time and Motion: are time or motion evident? If so, how are they conveyed?

5. Implying Motion – if evident, how is it implied?

5. Actual Motion

1. Light: How is the illusion of light created? Are shadows visible? If so, where? Are there dark shadows, light shadows, or both? How do the shadows, of present, effect the work?

6. Seeing Light

. Value (or tone)

· Implied Light

. Chiaroscuro

. Strong Value Contrasts

. Minimal Value Contrasts

· Light as Medium?

. Color: Is color important in the piece? How is it used? What type of colors are used in the work – bright, dull, complimentary? Does the artist use colors to draw your attention to specific areas of the work? If so, how?

. Texture: Is texture actual or implied? If a sculpture, is the surface smooth and polished or rough? Are there several textures conveyed? Where and How? If a painting, is there any texture to the paint surface? Are the brushstrokes invisible; visibly brushy, sketchy, loose and flowing; or tight and controlled?

Principles of Design

A. Unity and Variety – How is the piece unified? What elements offer some variety?

B. Balance: how is balance created?

1. Symmetrical Balance or Asymmetrical Balance

C. Emphasis and Subordination: what is the focal point?

1. Emphasis – what is emphasized?

2. Subordination – what is subordinated?

D. Directional Forces: do lines or repeated elements create paths for the eyes to follow? Directional forces typically direct our eyes to the area of emphasis.

E. Contrast: any variation of value, color, or scale, for example, creates contrast.

F. Repetition and Rhythm – Do elements repeat? If so, describe what is repeating and how this works in the piece you selected.

G. Scale and Proportion: How big is the artwork? Are the figures or objects in the work life-sized, larger or smaller than life? How does the size affect the work? Does the whole or even individual parts of the figure(s) or natural objects in the work look natural? Why did you come to this conclusion?


Your conclusion should consist of a restatement of your thesis and your initial response to the piece. After your analysis, has your initial interpretation of the meaning changed? If so, in what way? If not, how has your analysis reinforced your initial interpretation? Review your thesis statement and share ways in which your impression of the work has changed.



Paper Grading


Description: Visual Elements: 75 points possible. There are 15 terms; each term is worth 5 points for a total of 75 points. Clearly identify all terms you are addressing. Any term not addressed will receive 0 points. Provide specific examples. For example, don’t just say “there are lines,” give specific examples of how line is used in the piece you selected. You will receive 1-5 points for each term based on the depth of your response to each term.

Conclusion: 15 points possible.

Visual Elements Term Description Grading

“A” term Descriptions, 5 points

1. Concrete and relevant terms used

2. Meaningful determinations based on insightful and personal observations

3. Superior analysis of theme / artwork

4. Clearly outstanding use of terminology

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