final paper 296 |

final paper 296 |

For your term paper, I would like you to peruse the websites for the National Gallery of Art (NGA (Links to an external site.)) in Washington D.C OR the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) (Links to an external site.) in New York City and write a paper that is 4 pages, double spaced, 12-pt font, and in Times New Roman.

This means four (4) pages of TEXT and an additional page dedicated to your citations.

You must find ONE piece of artwork from any time period that catches your attention. You may choose a painting, sculpture, architecture, photograph, print, or mixed media (really, any piece of artwork) at the NGA or the MET.

****Don’t forget to read and watch the info for How to do a formal analysis****

REQUIREMENTS: It is easier for the flow of this assignment to use headers where you see fit. I recommend splitting your paper into two sections: Formal Analysis and Context

Formal Analysis

  • Include the piece’s title, artist, medium, and date.
  • Please analyze your piece by discussing ALL of the following elements:
    1. Consider the characteristics that you see and how it comes from a specific time period.
    2. Give a detailed description of the piece: FOLLOW THE VISUAL ELEMENTS OF DESIGN
      1. Describe the size and placement of objects/figures.
      2. Describe the use of color, and explain how those colors create mood/tone.
      3. Talk about the texture. Does it create mood? Or does it mimic reality?


  • Include the content of the artwork
    1. Explain the type of subject matter and genres—is it about a biblical narrative, allegorical, history, still life, etc. What time period is it from?
    2. Explain any symbols (people, objects, colors, placement can be symbolic).
  • What is the historical or cultural significance?
    1. Does your piece convey a social, religious, or political message?
    2. Define the purpose of objects/figures.
  • Talk about your opinions on the piece. Why did you pick this artwork and what does it mean to you? Why do you think this piece is important to society?

Have fun with this paper. Even think outside of the box!

***If you need help, here is a link to a helpful article on how to compose your art history paper******** (Links to an external site.)


Visual Elements of Design

Element Definition Key Questions Why important
Composition How image is put together. Where things are placed in relationship to one another and to the space of the canvas. What is main figure? How are other figures placed in relation to main figure? What is left out? The way different parts of an image are put together draws the viewers attention to some parts more than others. It also creates tone, mood and meaning.
Elements of Design The different aspects the artist can use to put together the image. Which elements of design are most important in this piece (color, line, texture, shape, form, value, size, text, movement) Meaning comes from what the artist uses and also what they don’t use.
Focal Point Where your attention is drawn to in the picture What is the focal point? What elements of design does the artist use to create the focal point? Understanding the focal point helps you understand the meaning of the picture.
Color All of the colors as well as black, white and neutrals. Monochromatic means using one color. Complementary means using colors opposite one another on the color wheel What colors are used? How do these colors affect the tone, mood and meaning of the image? Are colors used in predictable or unpredictable ways (example: predictable is red for danger) Color can create meaning by creating moods, highlighting particular parts of the image, connecting aspects of the image, or by being symbolic.
Line actual lines in picture or lines created by the placement of other objects How do lines draw your attention towards or away from certain parts of the picture? How are different Artists use lines to draw your attention to the focal point.
Texture Texture is how rough or smooth something is, or the pattern it has. Texture can be real on 3 dimensional art, or represented on 2 dimensional art. Where is texture in the image and how does this texture create an expectation in the audience of a particular touch sensation? Texture links images to real objects and the use of senses other than sight.
Shape The way in which the artist uses circles, squares, rectangles, ovals and other shapes in the art. How are shapes used in the art? Where does shape, or relationships between shapes help your eye to focus? Our eyes tend to focus on familiar shapes and see shapes in two dimensional art through shading and use of light.
Form How light and shading techniques make a 2 dimensional object look like it has 3 dimensions. Where has the artist used shading or light to highlight some aspect of the image? Does some part of the image stand out as having 3 dimensions? Form can contribute to making an image seem more real, and also to add importance to a part of the picture.
Value Degree of light and dark in different parts of the picture. How are light and dark used in this picture? Is there a symbolic use of light and dark? Does the artist use light or dark to highlight the focal point? Value can be used along with color. Extreme changes in value creates contrast which often is used to provide meaning.
Size Size can refer to the overall size of the image and also the relative size of items in the image. Why did the artist choose this size for the piece? What is the meaning of the difference between sizes of elements in the image? Variation in the size of shapes and lines indicates relative significance.
Symbolic Elements Specific parts of the design which have symbolic or historical meaning (such as a cross for Christianity, or triangles for the Trinity). Are any of the aspects of this piece symbolic? Does the artist intend to use the symbolism directly or to invert it? Symbols draw on cultural meanings which can work differently for different audiences.