Listen to part of a lecture in an art history class.
Last class I passed out your assignment for your first paper, and today I want to spend some time going over it.
Mm...most people never take any art history until they get to college, so many of you have probably never written an art history paper before.
I gave you a list of appropriate works of art for you to write about.
So your next step in this process needs to be to go look at the work you've selected as your topic.
And bring a pencil and a notepad with you, because I don't mean you should just drop by at the museum and glance at it so you can say you've seen it in real life.
You need to go and sit in front of the work and really look at it carefully and slowly.
And keep careful notes about what you see. you'll need them for the kind of art history paper you're going to be writing, it's what we call a formal analysis.
A formal analysis of a work of art, any kind of art, is based on its formal qualities, which means qualities related to the form. things like color…texture…line…shapes…proportion...and composition.
Probably the closest thing to a formal analysis you might have written is for an English class.
If you've say written an analysis of a poem, you've used the same skills. you've given an analysis of the poem by describing and analyzing its form and meter.
A formal analysis paper in art history is very similar.
Now, before you begin writing your formal analysis, you'll want to start with a summary of the overall appearance of the work, a brief description of what you see.
Are there figures---people?
What are they doing? Or is it a landscape... or an abstract representation of something?
Tell what the subject is, and what aspects are emphasized in the painting.
This will give your reader an overview of what the work looks like before you analyze it.
The next part of your paper—the actual formal analysis—will be the longest and most important section of your paper, where you describe and analyze individual design elements.
For this portion of the paper, you're going to rely on the notes you took at the museum, because you should be able to describe in detail the design elements the artist uses, and how they are used.
For example, does the artist use harsh lines or soft lines? are the colors bright or muted?
Focus on the design elements that you feel are most strongly represented in that particular work of art.
And if you don't know where to begin, take note of where your eye goes first.
Then describe things in the order in which your eye moves around the work.
This will help you understand how one part relates to another, the interaction between the different parts of the work.
OK, this kind of analysis should occur throughout the main portion of the paper.
In the last section of your paper, and this goes beyond formal analysis, you comment on the significance of what you have seen. What details of the work convey meaning?
Some significant details will not be apparent to you right away, but if you look long enough, you realize how important they are for your interpretation of the work.
Many years ago, I was writing a formal analysis of a painting of a little boy.
In the painting, a little boy was standing in his nursery, and he was holding a toy bird in his hand, and there were more toys around him in the background of the painting.
Because of the bird he was holding, I assumed at first that the painting was about the innocence of children.
But as I looked at the painting longer, I realized that the boy's eyes looked sad even though there was no discernable expression on his face.
And then it dawned on me that, even though he was surrounded by toys, he was all alone in his nursery.
The boy's eyes were a significant detail in the painting, that I didn't notice at first.