Write a formal analysis of a work of art that we have studied this term. Your formal analysis should be no shorter than two pages, and no longer than four. This is an essay assignment so your formal analysis should be well-organized, with an introduction, body of discussion, and a conclusion.
You may choose one of the following subjects for your formal analysis. Please indicate in bold the title of your selected artwork at the top of your papers.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Choose from:
- Giotto, Madonna and Child Enthroned (Ognissanti Madonna), 1310
- Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482
- Jan Van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, 1432
- Raphael, The School of Athens, 150911
- Durer, Adam and Eve, 1504
- Bronzino, Allegory of Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, 1542
- Caravaggio, Calling of St. Matthew, 15991600
- Bernini, Ecstasy of St. Theresa, 1642
- Jan Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665
What is a Formal Analysis?
This paper is a formal analysis paper. In this context formal does not refer to fancy clothes. Instead, it refers to the physical characteristics or elements of an artworkâ€“ its shapes, lines, colors, light, texture, and composition. Formal analysis is not just description however. Descriptions are obvious inventories or reports of what the viewer sees whereas a formal analysis involves evaluation of these elements. Your task involves a critical consideration of the elements of artistic style. Although they involve description, good formal analyses evaluate howexpressive content shapes subject matter or meaning. What are the specific characteristics of an artwork? These might include details like material, brush strokes, quality of line, or the choices of composition, which help to identify an artist, period, or culture. An analysis always requires and advances a thesis. A formal analysis is not interpretive (that is the focus is not on the workâ€™s symbolism or its social, political, or historical context).
How to Write a formal analysis?
Your thesis should explain how formal criteria influence the total effect of an image. It is the framework for the details that follow, and it should communicate how an artworkâ€™s formal features affect the viewer.
A sample thesis â€œThe sculpture combines a conventional symmetrical style, on the one hand, with mild asymmetry and a degree of realism on the other.â€ (from the article on writing a formal analysis by Barnet, attached) to this assignment)
Then, support your claim with visual details.
- Target your description. Focus on the features that relate to your thesis.
- Organize these details in a logical order. You might trace a paintingâ€™s contour from left to right, or from background to foreground. Or begin with medium and move to color. There is no single way to write a good formal analysis, but you should try to find a persuasive structure that reinforces your thesis.
- End with a conclusion that explains new ideas or insights gained through the formal analysis.
Some pointers and helpful hints
Questions to ask as you write:
- How does each element contribute to the overall composition?
- How do formal elements relate to each other?
- What are the effects of these formal relationships?
- Develop a strong thesis about the artworkâ€™s visual effect.
- Use specific formal terms to support your thesis (Be sure to discuss the criteria discussed in the article by Barnet)
- Explain how an artworkâ€™s various elements work to further the subject of the work