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English Artworks Analysis Paper

WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Formal Analysis/Compare Contrast essay

This assignment meets the following ART100W Course Goals/Objectives and Learning Competencies GELO 1–5, CLO 1–2:

• Proficiency in reading and writing about issues in the art and design fields • Write complex ideas clearly and correctly (e.g., spelling, grammar, punctuation) • Use standard art and design vocabulary and forms of writing appropriate to art and design

disciplines • Pre-write, organize, compose, revise, and edit documents

• Advancement of students’ critical thinking ____________________________________________________________________________

“All the arts live by words. Each work of art demands its response; and the urge that drives human beings to create—like the creations that result from this strange instinct—is inseparable from a form of ‘literature,’ whether written or not…May not the prime motive of any work be the wish to give rise to discussion, if only between the mind and itself?”

—Paul Valery (1871-1945) ____________________________________________________________________________


For this assignment, you will write a minimum of ​four–five pages (1000-1250 words, double spaced, ​standard academic formatting​), formal analysis essay ​that compares and contrasts two images selected from the Artstor Digital Library. ​In addition to the four–five pages of text, students will create an additional Illustration Page(s) for the images (each with a caption). ​In the body text, you will refer to the images in you Illustration Page as (Figure 1), (Figure 2), so the reader knows which image you are referring to.


Artstor has instructions how to set up an account: https://support.artstor.org/hc/en-us/ articles/360021181213-How-to-register-for-an-account

Also: https://artstor.libguides.com/instructor s


• ​You may use the first/second person or third person voice ​for this assignment. If you need to review what that is, read this PDF compiled by the St. Louis Community College, “Point of View in Academic Writing.” https://www.stlcc.edu/docs/student- support/academic-support/college-writing-center/point-of-view-in-academic-writing.pdf

• The tone is formal or semi-formal, even if written in the the first person. See Purdue

Writing Center “Levels of Formality.” https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/


• Your audience consists of your peers, your instructor, and Dept. of Art and Art


You must consciously attempt to use sensory description and active, vivid verbs throughout the essay. This may seem counter to some of the more “objective” aims of formal analysis, but it is a rhetorical device that will pull the reader in by appealing to their senses. This is especially effective with the storytelling aspects of interpretation.


• I encourage you to start your online research when you receive this instruction sheet. Set up your Artstor Digital Library account and start to browse the site. A good place to start is: https://library.artstor.org/#/browse/library

• You will develop content that incorporates the basic format of formal analysis:

description, analysis, interpretation, and judgment.

• You will be comparing and contrasting two images of your choice.

• There are supplemental reference materials on Canvas, some which is linked on this

instruction sheet as well. In particular, please review the documents on visual art


THE ESSAY FORM: We are writing a compare–contrast essay that uses

formal ​analysis.


GUIDING PRINCIPLES: ​The challenge of writing a formal analysis is not to simply

follow a formula. You must choose what you want the reader to look at ​based on the

point(s) you are trying to make about the work​. Everything you choose to write about

must be there for a reason.

• Think of yourself like a tour guide, or as if you are giving a lecture or presentation

and want to show the audience your point of view.

The following is ​a guideline (not a one-size fits all formula) ​with examples containing

four basic components or stages of formal analysis as defined by art educator Edmund

B. Feldman​. ​We can use this guideline as a way to slow down and see what is in front

of us.

For the essay, you first introduce the works you will discuss. ​That means write down the basic facts: artists name, title, date, medium. This orients the reader. In Artstor, you can find this information on the “Item Details” column to the right of the image.

1) ​DESCRIPTION: ​Describe the ​visual facts ​of the work. Describe the work without using value words such as “beautiful” or “ugly.” Make objective or value-neutral* statements about the work in question. These are the material facts of the work. Exclude interpretations and evaluations, and, instead, take an objective inventory of

the work. Point out materials or technologies used to create the artwork. *A test of objectivity would be that most people would agree with your statement.

Thinking style ​examples: • ​What is the size of the work and the media or material used? • ​What are the elements used in the work of art? • ​Describe the artist’s use of color. How many colors have been used? • ​Describe the textures. • ​Describe the lines in the work. • ​What kinds of shapes do you see? • ​How is the work displayed? • ​How many objects or materials are presented?

NOTE: Keep in mind the “Guiding Principles.” You are not writing down details for the sake of filling the page, you are setting the stage for how you want the reader to engage with the work(s).

2) ANALYSIS: Although the term here relates closely to Feldman’s notion of “description,” ​the term “analysis” builds upon the initial discussion of identifying and describing an artwork’s most basic visual elements and material, and going beyond that to understand why it looks as it does. This means, looking at the picture, sculpture, or whatever the work may be and identifying how the principles of the work of art organize its elements. Make statements about ​the relations among the things you named in the description ​(step 1). For example, you could note similarities and dissimilarities in formal elements–such things as color, shape, or direction. Take note of continuities (such as the color red repeated throughout the work) and of connections (for example, the shape of a window repeated in the shape of a table) between these formal elements and the subject matter. What kind of spatial devices are used to create dimensionality? Do you see examples of repetition or rhythm?

Thinking style ​examples: • ​Is your eye drawn to any particular area of the image? • ​Is there an element that stands out in the composition? • ​Is the composition balanced?

• ​Does the work look flat or does it give a feeling of depth or space? • ​Is there symmetry, asymmetry, use of negative space, repetition?

• ​What seem to be the relationship between objects in the installation?

AGAIN: Keep in mind the “Guiding Principles.”

3) INTERPRETATION: ​The purpose of the interpretation is to comprehend each individual’s response to works of art or design. These are personal interpretations that can be emotional and/or intellectual, involving the mood and feeling or philosophical speculation that each individual sees in a work of art. For example, your interpretation can draw on art history and theory, psychology, politics, or cultural issues. Everyone brings his/her/their own experiences and associations to each and every encounter with an artwork. Therefore, works of art and design have unique meanings for each viewer. This third stage of looking allows you to vocalize your own interpretations, making connections with the work before you and, perhaps, the things that you have experienced and thought about in your own life. Ideally, the content you created in steps 1 and 2 support your interpretation.

Thinking style ​examples: • ​What kind of mood or feeling do you get from the image? • ​Do you “see” a story? • ​If you could imagine yourself within the image, how would you feel? • ​What sounds or music do you hear? • ​Why do you think the artist chose this particular subject to sculpt? • ​What is the content of the work of art? • ​What meaning or ideas are being expressed by the work? • ​What seems to be the artist’s intention? • ​How does the presentation of the object as it has been documented affect your interpretation?

4) JUDGMENT: ​Everyone appreciates different things about art. This fourth stage of looking at art is about judging if an artwork is successful and ​to explain why or why not. ​You can compare and contrast different aspects that you think are strong or weak, or simply focus on the work’s strength or weakness. Judgment is entirely personal and does not have to match the opinion or taste of anyone else. It is important for each individual to develop an understanding of and feel confident about what they do or do not ​like—and ​to clearly and thoughtfully communicate why.

Thinking style ​examples:

• What do you think is the most important aspect of the work? • Is it successful in expressing content such as a mood, idea, or feeling? • Is it aesthetically pleasing? • Is it successful in representing a subject? • What do you like or dislike about the work?

• Do you agree with its politics or social commentary?

What you write as your judgment might function as a lead in to your conclusion or closing statements; it’s important not to just “drop off” at the end of your essay. Leave your reader with a sense that her time was well spent. What do you want her to learn, discover, think about, or question?


• For a discussion about how to approach writing a visual art comparison essay here is a link to “Writing an Art History Essay,” written by Professor Anthony Sams at Ivy Tech Community College. His instructions provide a good orientation to the challenges of writing a Formal Analysis: https://www.ivytech.edu/files/ARTH101-Writing.pdf

• Practical advice (for creating charts and diagrams) for writing a compare–contrast essay can be found from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/comparing-and-contrasting

DRAFT VERSION OF YOUR ESSAY: ​Your draft should be fairly complete, with a minimum of 2-3 pages of content development.

You should at minimum have:

• selected the artwork you will write about and know where to find the identifying information from Artstor • have a clear idea what the specific topic or focus of your paper will be and or your “judgment criteria” • well-developed details and ideas that correspond to each aspect of formal analysis • an organizational plan and or outline that clearly communicates how you will organize

your paper • there should be no or few grammar or punctuation errors: the draft should be legible and coherent

FINAL VERSION: As stated before, your paper will include an Illustration Page(s)


Your illustration page will have the image(s), centered, with a caption. You can use one page for each image, or one page with both images: the goal is image readability. We will go over this in class, but when writing the caption, in Artstor, you will find the identifying information in the “Item Details” to the right of the image. If you look at the navigation widow at the top right of the web page, you’ll see “cite this item.” Clicking this will give you options for captioning the image. Use “Chicago” style. You can also download the image using Artstor tools.

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