Formal Analysis Essay


The major project for this class involves two components: a trip to a museum to locate a suitable painting, and an essay that analyzes and discusses the formal elements of the work. The total number of points involved is 30.

This essay addresses three of the course objectives:

  • Evaluate the impact of culture and technology on the development of art in different historical contexts.
  • Establish a cultural and historical framework for understanding artistic movements and their impact on later movements.
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the language of art history and art criticism.

It also serves as a major assessment tool for the Department of General Studies by helping us to gauge students' progress in the development of communication and critical thinking skills as well as their understanding of art history.

Assignment: Describe the formal characteristics of a painting by an artist included among those we have considered this quarter, and analyze the artist’s creative choices, with regard to how the painting communicates his or her ideas to the viewer and how these reflect the concerns of a particular movement. The chosen artist must be one we have studied this quarter, and the work must be representational (i.e. not abstract).

Several tools have been designed to help you successfully complete your analysis. These include the following, available at the links:

Points: The basic essay is worth up to 25 points (see the top line of the rubric for what's expected from a 25-point essay) if you submit it week 10; an additional 5 points will be added to your grade only if you include the hand-written notes you took on the template during your museum visit. Don't worry about neatness; just take good, thorough notes.

The essay is due week 10. 5 bonus points will be added for early submission (week 9). I will still accept the essay week 11, but 5 points will be subtracted.

Field Trip: The Dallas Museum of Art is open beyond normal hours (until 9) on Thursdays) so instead of attending class Week 8, use the time to visit your museum of choice (or to free up time for a visit on another day). You may visit any of the following:

Dallas Museum of Art: The DMA's collection is eclectic; suitable works from the Baroque through Cubism are on exhibit, and membership is now free. You will have to pay an additional charge (at student rates if you have your ID with you) for special exhibitions, but the majority of the collection is available free of charge.

Kimbell Art Museum: One of the Metroplex's architectural jewels by Louis Kahn, the Kimbell has recently opened its new annex designed by Renzo Piano (who also designed the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas). The permanent collection is free, and includes several suitable works from the Baroque through Cubism.

Amon Carter Museum of American Art: The focus of the Carter is American art, so you may be able to see works by Mary Cassatt or other American Impressionists, along with examples from the Hudson River School.

Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth: The collection includes modern to contemporary works, but some of the collection should be suitable for this assignment. Visit the website and check on holdings first.

Meadows Museum at SMU: The Meadows focuses on Spanish art from a variety of periods, and includes works by Goya and Velasquez in its permanent collection.

Visit the above web pages for hours, special exhibits, and the range of the collection before you go. If you are planning to be out of town at any point during the quarter, it's perfectly acceptable to visit a museum at your destination. Just check with me first, so we can discuss the possibilities. It would help if you'd bring information on the museum and its collection, or we can look it up on the web.


03.30.16