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Artist Research Paper Assignment

Knowing how to write a formal analysis of a work of art is a fundamental skill learned in an art appreciation-level class. Students in art history survey and upper-level classes further develop this skill. Use this sheet as a guide when writing a formal analysis paper.Consider the following when analyzing a work of art. Not everything applies to every work of art, nor is it always useful to consider things in the order given. In any analysis, keep in mind the following: HOW and WHY is this a significant work of art?

Part I – General Information

  1. In many cases, this information can be found on a label or in a gallery guidebook. There may be an artist’s statement available in the gallery. If so, indicate in your text or by a footnote or endnote to your paper where you got the information.
  2. Subject Matter (Who or What is Represented?)
  3. Artist or Architect (What person or group made it? Often this is not known. If there is a name, refer to this person as the artist or architect, not “author.” Refer to this person by their last name, not familiarly by their first name.)
  4. Date (When was it made? Is it a copy of something older? Was it made before or after other similar works?)
  5. Provenance (Where was it made? For whom? Is it typical of the art of a geographical area?)
  6. Location (Where is the work of art now? Where was it originally located? Does the viewer look up at it, or down at it? If it is not in its original location, does the viewer see it as the artist intended? Can it be seen on all sides, or just on one?)
  7. Technique and Medium (What materials is it made of? How was it executed? How big or small is it?)

Part II – Brief Description

In a few sentences describe the work. What does it look like? Is it a representation of something? Tell what is shown. Is it an abstraction of something? Tell what the subject is and what aspects are emphasized. Is it a non-objective work? Tell what elements are dominant. This section is not an analysis of the work yet, though some terms used in Part III might be used here. This section is primarily a few sentences to give the reader a sense of what the work looks like.

Part III – Form

This is the key part of your paper. It should be the longest section of the paper. Be sure and think about whether the work of art selected is a two-dimensional or three-dimensional work.

Art Elements

  1. Line (straight, curved, angular, flowing, horizontal, vertical, diagonal, contour, thick, thin, implied etc.)
  2. Shape (what shapes are created and how)
  3. Light and Value (source, flat, strong, contrasting, even, values, emphasis, shadows)
  4. Color (primary, secondary, mixed, complimentary, warm, cool, decorative, values)
  5. Texture and Pattern (real, implied, repeating)
  6. Space (depth, overlapping, kinds of perspective)
  7. Time and Motion

Principles of Design

  1. Unity and Variety
  2. Balance (symmetry, asymmetry)
  3. Emphasis and Subordination
  4. Scale and Proportion (weight, how objects or figures relate to each other and the setting)
  5. Mass/Volume (three-dimensional art)
  6. Rhythm
  7. Function/Setting (architecture)
  8. Interior/Exterior Relationship (architecture)

Part IV – Opinions and Conclusions

This is the part of the paper where you go beyond description and offer a conclusion and your own informed opinion about the work. Any statements you make about the work should be based on the analysis in Part III above.

  1. In this section, discuss how and why the key elements and principles of art used by the artist create meaning.
  2. Support your discussion of content with facts about the work.

General Suggestions

  1. Pay attention to the date the paper is due.
  2. Your instructor may have a list of “approved works” for you to write about, and you must be aware of when the UALR Galleries, or the Arkansas Arts Center Galleries, or other exhibition areas, are open to the public.
  3. You should allow time to view the work you plan to write about and take notes.
  4. Always italicize or underline titles of works of art. If the title is long, you must use the full title the first time you mention it, but may shorten the title for subsequent listings.
  5. Use the present tense in describing works of art.
  6. Be specific: don’t refer to a “picture” or “artwork” if “drawing” or “painting” or “photograph” is more exact.
  7. Remember that any information you use from another source, whether it be your textbook, a wall panel, a museum catalogue, a dictionary of art, the internet, must be documented with a footnote. Failure to do so is considered plagiarism, and violates the behavioral standards of the university. If you do not understand what plagiarism is, refer to this link at the UALR Copyright Central web site: http://www.ualr.edu/copyright/articles/?ID=4
  8. For proper footnote form, refer to the UALR Department of Art website, or to Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing About Art, which is based on the Chicago Manual of Style. MLA style is not acceptable for papers in art history.
  9. Allow time to proofread your paper. Read it out loud and see if it makes sense. If you need help on the technical aspects of writing, use the University Writing Center (569-8343) or On-Line Writing Lab. http://ualr.edu/writingcenter/
  10. Ask your instructor for help if needed.

Further Information

For further information and more discussions about writing a formal analysis, see the following. Some of these sources also give a lot of information about writing a research paper in art history, that is, a paper more ambitious in scope than a formal analysis.

M. Getlein, Gilbert’s Living with Art (10th edition, 2013), pp. 136-139 is a very short analysis of one work.

M. Stokstad and M. W. Cothren, Art History (5th edition, 2014), “Starter Kit,” pp. xxii-xxv is a brief outline.

S. Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art (9th edition, 2008), pp. 113-134 is about formal analysis; the entire book is excellent for all kinds of writing assignments.

R. J. Belton, Art History: A Preliminary Handbookhttp://www.ubc.ca/okanagan/fccs/about/links/resources/arthistory.html is probably more useful for a research paper in art history, but parts of this outline relate to discussing the form of a work of art.

Written Assignments

The Museum Response Paper template can be used as an assignment once or twice during the semester as a way to a) have your students undertake a concise written exercise that b) asks them to look closely at one object (or two if you’d like them to compare and contrast) and c) also asks them to engage with the museum or gallery space to make them aware of the cultural context in which they encounter objects in institutions. This template can be “set up” in class using the museum visit videos and Museum Observation Prompts handout.

This Formal Analysis Assignment provides some great ideas on how to guide students through formal analysis reminding them that the exercise is about looking and analysis and not research and analysis. Students are reluctant to trust their own eyes and their own opinions. For formal analysis papers they often automatically go to an outside source in order to further bolster the assertions they make in their papers. Kimberly Overdevest at the Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, Michigan has had great success with these prompts.

To research or not to research? Asking your students to undertake a research paper as part of the art history survey can be a tricky beast as the range of student experience with elements such as library research and bibliographic citations can be large and crippling. For most mixed-ability or required-credit survey classes, focusing on short papers with limited research allows you and the students to focus on finessing writing skills first. Always consider reaching out to the Writing Center on your campus – a staff member can usually make an in-class visit to tell your students about the range of services on offer which should include workshops and one-to-one appointments.

Presentations – either singly or in groups – can be a good way to have your students think about a class theme from a new angle. See the handout “How to give a great oral presentation,” which also contains a sample grading rubric so students understand instructor expectations as they prepare.

 


 

Writing Guides and Exercises

The “How To Write A Thesis” template is a useful handout for a class exercise post-museum visit, once students have picked their object and can think about what a thesis is and how to construct their own. As part of this in-class exercise, it might be useful to look at examples of previous students’ thesis statements on the Writing Examples PPTwhich includes anonymous examples of past museum response paper excerpts so students understand what a thesis statement, formal analysis paragraph, museum environment analysis, and concluding paragraph might look like (you can, of course, point out the merits and/or pitfalls of each example per your own teaching preferences).

Paper Style Guide handouts


 

Grading Rubrics

The Grading Rubric handouts can be given out in class and/or uploaded to your Bboard, and retooled to fit your objectives for the written assignment.

Grading student papers can be done the old fashioned way (your students hand you a paper copy) or through anti-plagiarism software such as SafeAssign (part of the Blackboard suite) or Turnitin.com (your school may have a license – find out who the Turnitin campus coordinator is for more details). There are ethical considerations to using anti-plagiarism software.

Formal Analysis Rubric Grid

Research Rubric Grid

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