Formal Analysis Essay

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Write a formal analysis essay on the picture attached below. Has to be 3-5 pages.

Description – pure description of the artwork without value judgments. It answers the question, “What do you see?”

Subject Matter – included as part of the description but includes title.

Note: Remember that subject matter is what you see in the artwork and not the overall theme or meaning of the work.

Analysis – determining what the features suggest and deciding why the artist used those specific features to convey specific ideas. It answers the question, :How did the artist do it?”

Note: Be sure you can support your analysis with visual evidence from the artwork.


How to do Visual Analysis:

Step 1:

*Color: Does the artist use mostly primary colors (yellow, blue, red)?

Secondary colors (orange, green, purple)?Warm colors or cool colors? One or two colors or many colors? Are the colors saturated or unsaturated? Are they used to describe things? Are they used symbolically? Do the colors blend into each other, or are there big steps between them? Etc.

*Line: Are the lines vertical, horizontal, or diagonal? Straight or curved?

Smooth or jerky? Elegant or plain? Thick or thin? Fast-moving or slow-moving? Are they used to indicate surface textures? To show the edges of shapes? Etc.

*Shape and Space: Are the shapes geometric or organic? Are they big or small? Do they overlap? Are shapes crisply defined or indistinct? How does the artist use positive and negative space? Does the space in the picture appear to be deep or shallow or flat? Etc.

*Light and Dark: Does the work include a visible light source? Are light shifts gradual or stark? How does the artist use light and dark to clarify form? To direct our attention to one area and/or away from another area? To stir an emotional response? Etc.

*Texture: Is the actual surface rough or smooth or both? Does the artist convey the illusion of roughness or smoothness? Etc.

Step 2:

Then you will comment on the way the artist organizes these formal elements:

*Rhythm and Repetition: Do any formal elements (colors, lines, shapes) recur in this work? Does this repetition create a sense of visual rhythm? Do you see patterns? Etc.

*Balance: Is the work symmetrical or asymmetrical? Does it line up along a vertical and/or horizontal axis? Do all the elements emerge from some focal point? Does there seem to be a center of gravity? Etc.

*Proportion: What is the size relationship of each part of the composition to each other and to the whole? Etc.

*Unity and Variety: Does the artist achieve a sense of oneness in this work? If so, how? Or does the work appear fragmented? Etc.

*Size and Scale: How large is the work? What’s the effect of the size? Do you

feel dwarfed? Does it feel intimate? How do the sizes of the objects depicted compare to their sizes in the real world? Etc.

Step 3


*The work’s content or meaning

So what does all of this mean? In your opinion, what is the artist trying to say about his or her subject matter? If you think, for example, that the artist meant to give a sense of mysteriousness, everything you describe (e.g., description of lines, shades, shape and space, etc) has somehow contribute to this characteristics.

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