A formal analysis is an analysis of the forms utilized in the work of art; a specific type of visual description.  It is a close inspection and explanation of visual structure, of the ways in which certain visual elements and principles of design have been arranged and function within a composition.  The formal analysis moves beyond simple description in that it connects the elements of the work to the effects they have on the viewer.  The purest formal analysis is limited to what the viewer sees. Because it explains how the eye is led through a work, this kind of description provides a solid foundation for other types of analysis. To write a formal analysis, you must look closely at an art object and translate your visual observations into written text. However, a formal analysis does not simply record your observations. It also makes a claim about the work of art.

Essay Assignment
Student is required to write a formal analysis of an artwork of their choice.  Objective formal, conceptual, technical observations and personal experiences are to be primarily considered.  In addition, the student will apply his/her understanding of the Elements of Design and the Principles of Organization found in the artwork.  This essay should include a detailed visual and conceptual analysis of that object.

Form describes the physical properties of the work.  Visual form includes and incorporates the medium and the material used to create and design the artwork.  Visual form also includes the Elements of Design and the Principles of Organization.

First introduce the work and state your thesis. Then you describe what you see in the work (the subject matter). What is depicted?
Then using the Elements of Design (Line, Shape, Color, Texture, Space, Time and Motion) and Principles of Organization (Balance, Scale, Unity, Variety, Emphasis, Subordination, Focal Point, Rhythm); explore composition and form- what type of lines are used, how is color used, how are shapes and forms placed in the composition, etc… Then discuss style and techniques- Is the work naturalistic, abstract, Impressionistic, Pop Art? What kind of brush strokes does the artist use? What kind of space is depicted? All of these discussions fall under the concept of form.
Starts with an engaging introduction and draws the reader into the topic.  The introduction is inviting, states the main topic and previews the structure of the paper.  The essay has a clear introduction that tells the thesis statement, fairly clearly worded and point to be argued.  Introduction moves smoothly and coherently to the thesis, which clearly states the papers central point.

Is there a clear opening sentence that begins the essay well?
Is the thesis statement in the introduction and is it clear?
Do I understand what the essay will talk about from reading the intro?
Thesis is identifiable, evident, fairly clearly worded and point to be argued well stated.  Well-developed thesis statement, identifiable (bold or underlined).  Thesis is precise and focused, and it represents a fresh or unique response to the question at hand. The thesis statement

is in the form of declarative sentence that states clearly and concisely states the main point

that the author is trying to make.  The thesis establishes focus that clearly directs the body of the essay.  The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper. 


Pure description of the object without value judgments, analysis, or interpretation; simply describes the artwork/artifact, the subject matter, the medium and material.  Gives the name of the artist; title of the artwork; the style and size of the artwork.  The essay provides an accurate description of the object and its key formal aspects.  Describes the work without using value words.


Analyzes the Visual Elements of Design and the Principles of Organization.  Identifies how the artist has used each elements of design (Line, Shape, Form, Space, Color, Value and Texture, etc.) and principle of organization (Proportions, Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm, Pattern, Unity and Variety, etc.).  Considers the most significant art elements and principles that were used in the artwork/artifact. Thoughtful and clear evaluation based on the learned methods of the discipline; Makes specific claims or responses, backed by reasoning and information; Analysis and responses show understanding of the issues in the area of study; Evaluations show understanding of the assignment goals.

Thesis statement is effectively restated.  Closure to the essay and talks to the beginning; an effective ending/summation of the essay.  No new ideas are introduced; a conclusion that summarizes the topic in an engaging manner.

Does the writer manage to summarize and conclude his/her essay well?
Is there a “final sentence” within a concluding paragraph that completes the essay satisfactorily, rather than leaving the essay mid-thought?
Writers Voice:
The essay is written with some confidence, commitment, and competent manner.  The author has an understanding of the topic and is able to convey this knowledge to the reader in a confident manner. The personality of the writer is evident. The author’s enthusiasm and knowledge bring the subject to life. The tone is appropriate for the topic.

Writing is academic in tone, demonstrating a clear sense of purpose and audience; writers voice is evident, confident and sophisticated.  Vocabulary and phrasing are academically appropriate; consistent, engaging, conveys individual personality and tone appropriate to the audience: appropriate college level.  Ideas original and insightful.  The author has an understanding of the topic and is able to convey this knowledge to the reader in a confident manner.                                                 

Communicates information and ideas with a high degree of clarity and with confidence.  Explores the issues showing thorough comprehension of the text; goes beyond the obvious or class discussion.  Use stylistically sophisticated language that is precise and engaging, with notable sense of voice, awareness of audience and purpose, and varied sentence structure.

Organization and Format:
The essay is very well organized. One idea or scene follows another in a logical sequence with clear transitions.  An intentional organizational strategy has been used that shows careful development of related ideas in coherent, sequential paragraphs.  Each paragraph has a clear topic sentence with supporting information. Writer expresses relationships among ideas; careful and subtle organization enhances effectiveness of communication.

Organizational strategy shows careful development of related ideas (beginning, middle and end); Each topic sentence has supporting information, appropriate, adequate and convincing.  Details are placed in a logical order and the way they are presented effectively keeps the interest of the reader.  The essay has a correct  format, typed, 12 font, double spaced, and each paragraph is indented.  If documentation is required, the information is incorporated appropriately with correct in-text citations, works cited page is correctly formatted.   

Editing and Conventions:
The paper’s prose is clear and meets the expectations of standard written English.  It shows evidence of an advanced stylistic level.  Essay demonstrates evident control of grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage and sentence formation; Sentence structure is clear, varied, and fluid; Words and art terms are used correctly and aptly.  Conventional spelling and grammar is mostly correct.  There are no more than three spelling, grammar, or syntax errors per page of writing. Style is appropriate for audience. Mastery of grammar, spelling, mechanics enhances the effectiveness of communication. Demonstrates control of mechanics, usage, and sentence structure.

Effectively edited the essay, ensuring sentences are forceful, clear, varied, fluid and logical; edited redundant, superfluous information, ideas and phrases.  Demonstrates evident control of grammar; Free from major errors: comma splices, run-on sentences, fragments, spelling, and agreement errors. Writer makes no errors in grammar, spelling or typographical errors that distract the reader from the content.



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