CHOOSE 1 PROMPT
Length: 5-7 pages (approximately 250 words per page, 1,250-1,750 words total when you FOLLOW FORMATTING REQUIREMENTS)
Formatting requirements: Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, double-spaced, 1-inch margins. No exceptions. Please include page numbers on each page and word count at the end of the essay. (Works cited, title page, images, and/or any essays submitted with wider than 1-inch margins WILL NOT be counted toward the final page count.)
Prompt: A Formal analysis is one of the fundamental building blocks of art historical writing. It has two principal components:
The detailed description of an artwork’s formal components, such as scale, material, line, color, tone, and composition.
A thoughtful and well-reasoned claim about how these elements come together to produce a particular visual or symbolic effect. Such a claim might, among other things, relate to the particular mood the art object evokes, the symbolic significance of the chosen subject matter, or even the artist’s attitude toward the act of art-making itself.
For this formal analysis assignment, choose one of five works, or compare and contrast two of the following.
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, 1503-1515.
Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors, 1533.
Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656.
Francisco Goya, The Sleep of Reasons Produces Monsters, 1797-1799.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque,
Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886.
Your final submission should consist primarily of your own observations and insights about the work of art you choose, supporting your claims with details from the textbook or any outside sources. No outside research is required, but any research and references (including the textbook) MUST be properly cited using MLA style documentation to receive credit and to avoid plagiarism. Students will receive a zero for plagiarized work.
You may wish to consult the passages on close-observation and formal analysis in Andrei Pop’s helpful guide, “How to Do Things with Pictures” (posted in the essay module). The essay should have an introduction that clearly states your thesis (I should be able to underline your thesis statement easily), supporting paragraphs that further develop your claims, and a conclusion paragraph.
How to proceed…
Any good analysis begins with a period of sustained close-looking. Spend at least 15 minutes looking at the drawing or painting before writing down any observations. Begin to think about how your discrete observations about elements of line, color, etc. might combine to produce an argument about the work as a whole. If you choose to compare and contrast, use these elements to explain how they are different, or how they are similar.
State your claim about the work clearly and succinctly to answer the prompt of your choice, and use the wealth of visual evidence you have collected to back up this claim. Your final submission need not describe every single aspect of the work. Instead, describe only those elements that are significant for your argument.
In the end, a successful visual analysis will be:
Specific and precise. Generalities lead to bland and boring work. Use a rich vocabulary and thoughtful descriptions. I should be able to see what you describe without having the work in front of us.
Creative and surprising. I want to know what you think about this work of art, not what generations of scholars before you have said. Use your own words and your own ideas. Take the time you spend on this project to show us something I wouldn’t be able to see right away.
Well-reasoned and well-written. Make sure the claim you make about the work is supported by the visual evidence. Your argument should originate in the work itself and your prose should be clear and compelling. I want to understand your insights.
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