Purpose : To analyze the formal characteristics of an artwork, as it relates to

Purpose : To analyze the formal characteristics of an artwork, as it relates to the work’s expression, message, or meaning.
Video: Formal Analysis Paper (Links to an external site.)
Select a single painting, sculpture, or building that you can view and analyze in person (photographs, posters, or digital images are strongly discouraged). Look at the artwork for a minimum of 90 minutes in one sitting. A large part of your grade will depend on whether or not you actually did this. At the end of your paper, you will write one sentence that says: “I hereby assert that I looked at [Title of artwork] located at [location of painting] on [date] for a total of [#] minutes.”
Description: A formal analysis includes an analysis of the forms appearing in the work you have chosen. These forms give the work its expression, message, or meaning. A formal analysis assumes a work of art (1) is a constructed object (2) has been created with a stable meaning (even though it might not be clear to the viewer) (3) has a meaning that can be ascertained by studying the relationships between the elements of the work.
To aid in writing a formal analysis, you should think as if you were describing the work of art to an intelligent person who has never seen it before. When your reader finishes reading your analysis, they should have a mental picture of what the work looks like. Please provide a photograph of the work on the last page of your formal analysis.
The formal analysis is more than just a description of the work. It should also include a thesis statement that reflects your conclusions about the work. The thesis statement may, in general, answer a question like these:
What do I think is the meaning of this work?
What is the message that this work or artist sends to the viewer?
What is this work all about?
The thesis statement is an important element. It sets the tone for the entire paper, and sets it apart from being a merely descriptive paper. If you are struggling with your thesis, feel free to reach out to the ACU Writing Center (Links to an external site.).
Format for the Paper:
1,000-1,500 Words (Please include a word count at the end of the paper)
Make sure you proofread your papers for incorrect 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.
In the introductory (first) paragraph you will include:
Artist (if known)
Title (which is italicized every time you use the title in your paper),
Medium (if known)
A very brief description of the work
Thesis statement – usually the last line or so of your first paragraph.
From that point, the rest of the formal analysis should include not only a description of the piece, but those details of the work that have led you to come to your thesis. Your paper should not be a random flow of ideas about the work (i.e. stream of consciousness text written the night before the assignment was due). Rather, your paper should have a sense of order, moving purposefully through your description with regard to specific elements (e.g. one paragraph may deal with composition, another with a description of the figures, another with the background, etc.). Finally, in your conclusion (the final paragraph) you should end your paper with a restatement of your thesis.
It is important to remember that your interest here is strictly “formal” (here, formal refers to observing elements of “form” within the artwork, it does not refer to the common usage of “formal” vs. “informal” employed to ensure observation of specific procedures or standards); NO RESEARCH IS TO BE USED IN THIS PAPER. You’re welcome. In other words, you are strictly relying on your ability to visually ‘read’ a work of art and make interpretations based on your analysis of the work. Remember too that your analysis should not be just a mechanical, physical description. Please use descriptive language and adjectives to describe your work. Begin with a general description of the work, and then move on to the more specific elements. In addition, please refer to your syllabus concerning my policy on plagiarism – do not share your thesis or paper with other students and please do not work on your paper with another student. This is not a collaborative assignment.
Things to consider when writing a formal analysis (in no particular order):
Record your first impression(s) of the artwork. What stands out? Is there a focal point (an area to which the artist wants your eye to be drawn)? If so, what formal elements led you to this conclusion? Your impressions can help you reach your thesis.
Line: 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?
Space: If the artist conveys space, what type of space is 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 two-dimensional, a space that one could not possibly enter?
Composition: How are the parts of the work arranged? Is there a stable or unstable composition? Is it dynamic? Full of movement? Or is it static? What is the focal point. Is there a secondary or tertiary focal point? How does the artwork direct your eyes when you look at it? How does the artist encourage this movement?
Texture: Is the surface smooth and polished or rough? Is there evidence of visual texture or patterning by the artist? Are there several textures conveyed? Where and How? Are the brushstrokes visible or invisible? Brushy? Sketchy? Loose and flowing? Or tight and controlled?
Light and Shadow: What role does lighting play in the presentation of the artwork? Are shadows visible? Where? Are there dark shadows, light shadows, or both? How do the shadows affect the work?
Size: 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?
Color: What type of colors are used in the work? Bright? Dull? Warm? Cool? Complementary? Does the artist use colors to draw your attention to specific areas of the work? How? What are the areas of greatest value contrast? What would the work look like if it had no color at all?
Proportions: 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?
Pose: If the work has figures, are the proportions believable? Realistic? Describe the pose(s). Is the figure active, calm, graceful, stiff, tense, or relaxed? Does the figure convey a mood? If there are several figures, how do they relate to each other (do they interact? not?)?
What is the subject of the artwork? What is its title? How does the title relate to the content?
Mood: Do you sense an overall mood in the artwork? Perhaps several different moods? If so, describe them. How does the mood interpret how you view the work?
Once you have spent some time analyzing your work, notice if your first impression of the work has changed, now that you have taken a closer look? How? If you came up with a thesis statement before doing this in-depth analysis, you may want to change it if your impression of the work has changed. Your thesis statement should reflect your view of the object.
Checklist Before Submitting Your Assignment
Stare at the artwork for 90 minutes
Your Name, Course Section, Title of Paper
1,000-1,500 Words
Declaration Sentence indicating how long you looked at the artwork
Image of the Artwork
Word Count at end of paper
Thesis Statement

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