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Formal Analysis of a Work of Art

Guidelines for the Formal Analysis of a Work of Art

Consider the following when analyzing a work of art. Not everything applies to every work of art, nor is it always useful to consider things in the order given.

Part I – General Information

In many cases, this information can be found on a label or in a gallery guidebook. Additionally, there may be an artist’s statement available in the gallery. If so, indicate in your text or by a footnote or endnote where you obtained the information.

1. Subject Matter
• who or what is represented?
2. Artist or Architect
• what person or group made the work of art?
• often this information is not known
• if there is a name, refer to this person as the artist or architect, not the “author”
• also, refer to the artist by his/her last name
3. Date
• when was it made?
• is it a copy or reproduction of an earlier work of art?
• was it made before or after other similar works?
4. Provenance
• where was it made?
• for whom?
• is it typical of the art of a geographical area?
5. Location
• where is the work of art now?
• where was it originally located?
• ifit is not in its original location, does the viewer see it as the artist intended?
• can it be seen on all sides, or just one?
6. Technique and Medium
• what materials were used in the creation of this work?
• how was it executed?
• what are the dimensions of the work of art?

Part II – Brief Description

In a few sentences describe the work of art. What does it look like? Is it a representation of something? Is it functional, decorative, or both? Is it two-dimensional or three-dimensional?

Explain what is depicted. Is it an abstraction of something? Identify the subject and the aspects of the work that are emphasized. Is it a non-objective work?

This section is not an analysis of the work yet, though some terms used in Part III might be used here. This section is basically a few sentences to give the reader a sense of what the work looks like.

Part III – Form

This is the key part of your paper and therefore should be the longest section. You are not required to discuss each of the Art Elements or Principles of Design—use only what is applicable to your work of art.

Art Elements

1. Line – straight, curved, angular, flowing, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, contour, thick, thin, implied etc.
2. Shape – what shapes are created and how
3. Light and Value – source, flat, strong, contrasting, even, values, emphasis, shadows
4. Color – primary, secondary, mixed, complimentary, warm, cool, decorative, values
5. Texture and Pattern – real, implied, repeating
6. Space – depth, overlapping, kinds of perspective
7. Time and Motion

Principles of Design

1. Unity and Variety
2. Balance – symmetry, asymmetry
3. Emphasis and Subordination
4. Scale and Proportion – weight, how objects or figures relate to each other and the setting
5. Mass/Volume (three-dimensional art)
6. Rhythm
7. Function/Setting (architecture)
8. Interior/ExteriorRelationship (architecture)

Part IV – Opinions and Conclusions

In this part of the paper, feel free to 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 analysis in Part III above.
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