Formal Analysis Word count between: 850 ~ 1000 words (2½ ~ 3 pages, Times New Ro
Word count between: 850 ~ 1000 words (2½ ~ 3 pages, Times New Roman 12 pt font, double spaced)
You may choose any artwork made between 700 CE to 1700 CE from a museum collection in New York.
Knowing how to write a formal analysis is a fundamental skill that will help you glean, organize and present information from visual imagery in an effective way. Often called visual analysis, this type of critical explanation uses the aspects of an artwork you can see to reveal what the artist is trying to say and how.
Your paper should have three parts:
Part I – Caption information (use the example below as a template)
Assad Ibn Kariba Launches a Night Attack on the Camp of Malik Iraj, ca. 1564-1569 CE
Attributed to Basavana, Shravana, and Tara
Folio from the Hamzanama, ca. 1564-1569.
Ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on cloth; mounted on paper, 27 x 21 ¼ in
The Metropolitan Museum of Art; accession number: 18.44.1
Part II – Description + Formal analysis
In a few sentences, describe the artwork so that the reader gets a sense of what it looks like. What is shown? What is the subject and what aspects are emphasized? What elements are dominant? These first few sentences are not an analysis of the work yet, it’s just a description.
Then comes the formal analysis. This is the main part of your paper and it should be the longest in length. Here you should talk about the artwork using the following visual elements (maybe not all):
Composition (framing, angles)
Balance / Movement
Line / Brushwork
Light / Tone
Time / Movement
Part III – Conclusions
This is the part of the paper where you go beyond description and offer a conclusion and your own informed opinion about the work. Any statements you make about the work should be based on the formal analysis in Part II above. This section should be no more than 1 or 2 paragraphs.
In this section, discuss how and why the visual elements used by the artist create meaning. For example, what is the symbolism of aniconic statuary? Here you should support your discussion of the content of the artwork with facts about the artwork (context).
For Part II and Part III :
Stand in front of your artwork and ask yourself the following questions. Make detailed notes.
What do you see?
Read the label – what can we tell from the label? Artist’s name, media/materials, when and where the piece was made, ETC.
What about the composition? Is it balanced, symmetrical, asymmetrical? Why?
Where is the viewer meant to stand in relation to the work? Is there one viewpoint or multiple viewing points?
How big is the work? How does size affect your reaction to the work? How does size affect the depiction of the subject?
Identify the subject matter. Be certain to describe all of the components depicted. Is this artwork telling a story? Is it religious or mythological?
Is the subject ideal or real? Describe the style. Is this a realistic depiction? Is it abstract? Is the style of this work similar to styles we have studied?
How does the artist use line, color, light and shadow?
What is the material like? Why might the artist have used this material?
Note textures and the quality of the surface of the work. What adjectives could you use throughout your analysis? Eg. shiny, dull, had, soft, rough, smooth.
What was the artist trying to say about his or her subject?
Describe why you selected this work. What do you like / dislike about it?
Where is this work located? What other works are near it to the right and to the left (I just want the brief details/comparisons, not a full analysis). Does it relate to its surroundings at all? Is this work popular? Do other people stop and look at it? What are some of the reactions you overhear?
Where was it originally meant to have been seen, and how is the current context different? What might it have been like to view it in its original context?
Make sure that you are able to articulate the difference between mere description unconnected to any developing ideas in your essay (bad) and formal analysis that connects and deepens as your essay progresses (good). You must use CLAIM + EVIDENCE.
Eg. “This work is very beautiful. The sculpture has two arms, two legs and is covered by a long garment.” NO
Eg. “The figure/sculpture is wearing a long garment that emphasizes the proportion and length of her body. In keeping with Hellenistic tradition, the effect makes the figure seem life-like, as if the clothing might move if you touched it or if the sculpture could walk. This is contradicted by the fact that the work is actually made from very beautiful, hard and immoveable white marble.” YES!
If you are working on an object from a collection besides the MMA, let me know via email the collection and object you want to work on.
Remember: You must see the object in person.
If you are unsure of your artwork choice, want to use a different collection, or would like suggestions on artworks that would be interesting, please ask!
Most of you will not need to cite any sources or use footnotes, but if you do, use the Chicago Manual of Style format.
Here is an example:
Dorinda Neave, Asian Art. Boston: Pearson, 2015.
For more help, see the citation guide below.
Citation guide: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide/citation-guide-1.html
Helpful video on how to do visual analysis: https://youtu.be/6qOCb-I9hgc