- Visit any museum that contains works of art fitting in the time period and regions covered in class (i.e. anything from the 14th century to the present day and was created by an American or European artist). The work you choose can be of any medium, as long as it fits within these parameters.
- Study the work carefully while viewing it in the museum. Be sure to take a notebook and pencil with you so you can take extensive notes about what you see. This is a more effective way to study the work rather than viewing a reproduction of the work online or in a textbook. It also allows you to experience the full three-dimensionality of the art. (Note that most museums do not allow you to write with pens, but you can write with pencils). Before you make a trip to see the work, it would be in your best interest to review or take with you the document titled “Questions to ask when examining a work of art.” This is posted on Canvas under “Files” in the “Final Paper” folder. This document will give you an idea of what to observe and note when you are viewing the work.
- Complete a 5-7 page paper about the work of art you chose and studied in the museum. Make sure to identify the basic information about the work in your introductory paragraph; this includes the artist, title, date, medium, and the location of the work (where you viewed it; and if it’s part of a traveling exhibition, identify its permanent home). Basic information about the artist and subject matter of the work may also be appropriate for your introductory paragraph. The bulk of your paper is a thorough formal analysis of the work; while this requires a detailed visual analysis of the work, it goes beyond the visuals and discuss how the work is a product of the culture, time period, and/or art movement in which it was created.
Also, don’t forget to include your thesis about the work; this is often the last sentence(s) of the first paragraph. Your thesis statement can be up to a few sentences and can make an argument about a variety of issues in the work. It doesn’t have to be anything too original or complicated, but it must make a claim about the work that will guide the direction and focus of the rest of your paper. (See sample theses included in “Tips for Final Paper and Visual Analysis” attached below.)
When completing your formal analysis (the body of your essay), address aspects such as the material, composition, technique/style of the artist, subject matter, iconography, and/or the historical context of the work. While much of this information will be unveiled as you examine the work in the museum, much of it may also require additional outside research. The information included in your formal analysis should ultimately help to support your thesis statement of the work of art. In other words, you will validate your argument through your detailed analysis of the art work and any incorporated information taken from outside sources.
*Remember that you do not need to discuss every single minute detail of the work in your formal analysis, but focus on those details that help support your thesis about the work.
- Your paper should be the standard format: size 12 Times font, one-inch margins, and double-spaced, and 5-7 pages (excluding your image(s) and bibliography included at the end of your essay).
- Be sure to include any images discussed throughout your paper at the end of your essay, and label them as indicated below.
Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656, oil on canvas
- You are encouraged to include references to other works we have studied in class or other works at the museum in order to supplement your discussion, but the primary focus of your discussion should be your chosen object observed at the museum.
- Also, you must cite any direct quotes or paraphrased original information using footnotes in the Chicago-style format. Include a bibliography at the end of your essay, on a separate page, also using the Chicago-style format. You must use at least FIVE sources for your paper, three of which must be non-internet sources. Please see the guidelines concerning outside sources that’s explained in “Tips for Final Paper and Visual Analysis.” Any sources included that are not considered credible academic sources will not count toward the required six.
To receive guidance about the Chicago-style format, you can visit the link below:
*When you are writing your essay, please review the “Tips for Final Paper and Visual Analysis” document attached below.
Tips for Final Paper and Visual Analysis
Sample Theses about Single Works of Art:
- In his Primavera, Botticelli’s not only represents an allegory of spring, but he also attempted to depict a model of a desirable Florentine woman in the Renaissance.
- Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks demonstrates the artist’s interest in obscurity, mystery, and delving into the psyche of his subjects.
- Through his use of innovative and unusual perspectives, Mantegna’s focus in Dead Christ lies in his interest to physically involve the viewer in hopes of inspiring empathy and compassion among his audience.
Format of Your Essay:
In writing a formal analysis, focus on creating a logical order so that your reader doesn’t get lost. Don’t ever assume that because your instructor has seen the work, he or she knows what you are talking about. Here are a couple of options:
- summarize the overall appearance, then describe the details of the object
- describe the composition and then move on to a description of the materials used (acrylic, watercolor, plaster)
- begin discussing one side of the work and then move across the object to the other side
- describe things in the order in which they draw your eye around the object, starting with the first thing you notice and moving to the next
*See more tips from this source at https://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/art-history/
Other Miscellaneous Tips:
- When describing works of art, write in the present tense. While references to the life of the artist and the historical period surrounding the work should generally be in the past, formal analyses should always be in the present, as should as any descriptions of the works themselves.
- Trust your eyes. If a work elicits a certain reaction, there is almost always a reason for this response. Learn to articulate your instincts in a way that helps your audience understand more about the work and its intended function.
- Ask why an artist made a specific decision, and then try to imagine how it could have been otherwise. Why is a dress painted red rather than blue? Why choose marble for a medium, if bronze is lighter and less costly? These questions help to place you in the mindset of the artist and gain further insight into the work itself.
- Finally, remember that your task is to translate something that is inherently visual into a verbal form. At times, this can seem rather daunting, and even counterintuitive. Keeping this distinction in mind as you begin to write about art will help to make your task easier and ultimately illuminate the best aspects of both forms of expression.
*See more tips from this source at https://www.hamilton.edu/writing/writing-resources/writing-an-art-history-paper
*To see some examples of well-written essays about a single work of art, see the documents uploaded onto Canvas. These are posted under “Files” in the “Final Paper” folder. These samples can also give you an idea of how to label your images and correctly use the Chicago style format in your footnotes and bibliography.
Non-Credible Sources vs. Credible Sources
The following are examples of non-credible sources to avoid and will not be accepted as one of your six bibliographic sources.
Examples of non-credible sources:
- Blogs, social media posts
- Research articles without citations or a bibliography
- Websites with information not from an author or governmental department
Examples of acceptable, credible sources:
- Non-fiction publications
- Journals, articles
- Essays by scholars published in a journal, magazine, or book
- Websites from credible institutions or university-affiliated institutions
*If you are not sure whether a source is credible, feel free to ask me before the assignment’s due date, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.