“The goal of a formal analysis is to explain how the formal elements of a work of art affect the representation of the subject matter and expressive content. The emphasis should be on analyzing the formal elements not interpreting the artwork. That said, an understanding of the meaning of the work is the final goal of any formal analysis.” (Pokinski, Deborah. Writing a Formal Analysis in Art History. Hamilton.edu, www.hamilton.edu/documents/formal%20analysis%20Art%20History.pdf.)
Here are a few helpful links to further explain this concept:
This assignment should have NO OUTSIDE RESEARCH. Your 3 page formal analysis should rely on observable truths and demonstrate your understanding of formal elements of design. Any formal elements used in the paper should be bolded for emphasis.
Students should compare and contrast the following formal elements and concepts in each painting:
Quality of line
Light and Shadow
Space and form
Naturalism vs. Abstraction
While a formal analysis looks primarily at the form and not the content – here, be sure to discuss HOW the differences in these formal elements effects the emotional response the viewer has to each painting. Example: how is Nolde’s image of Christ more emotionally charged than Montegna’s?
Be sure your paper has a strong introduction and conclusion.
A few reminders when writing about art:
This is a formal academic paper – therefore – first person narrative voice should not be used. (No “I,” “me,” “my.”)
Titles of artwork should always be in italics.
Artists should never be referred to be only their first name: Nolde, or Emil Nolde, but never just Emil.
Try to avoid words like “great,” or “things” or “gets” as descriptors or adjectives – be more specific. Instead of saying “the artist is great at rendering naturalistic space…” consider “the artist’s representation of three dimensional space if effective because…”
Do your best not to leave room for your reader to ask “how,” or why?”
Use either MLA or APA style guides.