Your primary concern in this assignment is to attempt to explain how the artist arranges and uses these various elements.Usually you have to go and look at the object for a long time and then write down what you see.Even though you are new to analyzing the visual arts, the skills you have learned in other fields will serve you well in this discipline.
Most assignments will fit into one or more of the types, but don’t try to make your assignment fit them if it does not.
Some professors prefer to take a less traditional approach to the assignments they write, and they may be looking for less traditional responses from their students.
This handout discusses several common types of art history assignments, and talks about various strategies and resources that will help you write your art history papers.
Many students do not get a chance to study art history until they take a college course, so art history may be a new field of study for you.
The basic questions of art history often appear in a few traditional types of assignments. Becoming acquainted with the five types will help you begin to understand your assignment.
Recognize, however, that many assignments combine more than one of these types.This assignment requires a detailed description of the “formal” qualities of the art object (formal here means “related to the form,” not “fancy” or “elegant”).In other words, you’re looking at the individual design elements, such as composition (arrangement of parts of or in the work), color, line, texture, scale, proportion, balance, contrast, and rhythm.Understanding your instructor’s approach to art will help you meet his or her expectations in your writing.When your instructor hands out a paper assignment, first figure out what type of assignment it is.Find out which way your instructor wants you to write your formal analysis in your particular assignment.Most art historians include formal analysis at some point in their essays, so there are a lot of examples to look at in the textbook and other readings, but you will probably have to be more in-depth than they are.Think of the object as a series of decisions that an artist made.Your job is to figure out and describe, explain, and interpret those decisions and why the artist may have made them.You may be asked to look at an object and talk about style.Some instructors will want you to discuss how an object fits into a particular stylistic category—for example, Impressionism, Renaissance, or early Macedonian.