of an Original Artwork (Sample Assignment)
The purpose of this assignment is to allow you to develop
your skills through the analysis of an original work of
art; a secondary purpose is to expand your awareness of
the museums role in the display of art.
Write a two-to-three page, double-spaced, word-processed
essay on one of the paintings from the list provided at
the end of this assignment (not included here.)
paper must address the following and you must formulate
an argument as to why youve chosen to discuss the
aspects you have:
context of the object's display.
thorough analysis of one of the formal elements: line,
shape, light/dark, space, color, or principles of design.
discussion of the medium and technique employed in the
Choosing and Observing the Work:
Examine several of the works of art from the list provided.
The paintings are all in the National Gallery of Art, Washington,
DC. Most works are in the West Building; the 20th-Century
paintings are in the East Building.
Formal Analysis: After locating and examining several
of the works from the list (and check the accession numbers
following the titles on the list below to ascertain that
youve found the correct object), you must choose the
one you wish to analyze.
that this exercise is to be a formal analysis, not a description
of subject matter.
Look carefully at the work.
yourself questions about it and record your observations.
at the work, you should try to ascertain which is the
most important visual element. For example, if it is a
painting involving large areas of color, then perhaps
line is not particularly relevant to the students
should concentrate on those elements that are of particular
relevance to the specific work chosen and eliminate those
that are not. You will undoubtedly discover that one visual
element is linked to another (e.g. color helps to create
a coherent composition).
is fine for you to call attention to how these elements
interrelate, but the paper must not focus on more than
one of them.
and Analysis: Consider that an essay is not just a list
of observations: you must expand upon them by analyzing
what the artist has done in order to achieve the observed
effect or why the observed effect is important to the form
(not the subject matter) of the work as a whole. Here are
suggestions that you can use for getting at that kind of
What do you notice about the medium and technique (this
is more difficult to do when looking at slides or plates
in the book)?
there ways in which the medium or technique contribute
to the visual element you have chosen to analyze?
about the painted or sculpted surface?
about the support (the canvas or panel)?
the artist take advantage of the specific traits of the
medium or does s/he seem more to resist them?
Museum Context: Now you must consider the way in
which the work is installed.
is its scale?
is it placed?
do things like the frame or lighting affect your perception
of the work?
is it displayed with?
is the room arranged?
do the nearby works affect your perception of your chosen
does the label provide?
and Revisit: After spending some time analyzing your
chosen work, you may wish to leave it and take a break.
return to the work to see if any new observations occur
to you or if your initial observations hold up.
consolidating your material into some sort of organized
format before you leave the gallery. If you return home
with a disjointed list of observations, you may find it
difficult to organize them later into a paper without
having the object in front of you.