Art formal analysis

I have attached the assignment instructions and will also provide the picture to analyze as I have chosen the art mural by diego rivera “man the controller of the universe”.

For this assignment, visit an original artwork in person.


1) Print off these instructions and  the GALLERY GUIDE (left menu) before you go.

2) Perform a detailed formal analysis of a single work of art. (There are two example of this in your book; Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (p. 44-44) and Las Meninas (190-191).

  1.     a) This is an exercise in looking.  Therefore, any discussion of the artist’s biography, historical context, or your personal experience will not be counted towards the word count.
  2. b) Your essay should include a discussion of all the elements and principles, and discussion of the medium used by the artist.
  3. c)  To organize your essay, your overall argument and conclusion should address how the artists used the principle of emphasis.
  4. d) Your essay should be 1000-1500 words.

3)  An image of you and the artwork.


For the purposes of this assignment please chose your artwork carefully.  No copies or reproductions! 

It must be a work that is publicly exhibited and the main purpose of the object is to be art.

A complete list of acceptable types of art are found on the GALLERY GUIDE.

Some acceptable media are as follows :

  • Sculptures or paintings found in parks or public buildings: including churches, city and federal government buildings, and hospitals.
  • Art found at a Museum of Art or an Art Gallery
  • Murals








A work of art is the product of the dynamic interrelationships between the various art elements and principles as they are utilized by the artist. As you engage with a work of art, ask yourself why the artist made such choices. By looking more closely at artworks and trying to identify the elements and principles of art that have been used to create them, we may further understand the artist’s intended vision and will notice how the artwork often reflects the time and place from which it came.

Elements of Art

Line: Do you see any outlines that define objects, shapes, or forms? Are lines used to emphasize a direction (vertical, horizontal, diagonal)? Describe the important lines: are they straight or curved, short or long, thick or thin? How do you think the artist utilized line to focus attention on certain objects, forms, or people? Are any invisible lines implied? For example, is a hand pointing, is the path of a figure’s gaze creating a psychological line, or is linear perspective used? Do the lines themselves have an expressive quality, as in Van Gogh’s Starry Night?

Light: If the work is a two-dimensional object, is a source of light depicted or implied? Is the light source natural or artificial? Do the shadows created by the light appear true to life, or has the artist distorted them? In what way does he or she depict such shadows—through line, or color? If the object shown is three-dimensional, how does it interact with the light in its setting? How do gradations of shadows and highlights create form or depth, emphasis or order in the composition?

Color: Which colors are predominantly used in this depiction? If the object is black and white, or shades of gray, did the artist choose to do this because of the media he or she was working in, or do such shades create a certain mood or effect? Color can best be described by its hue, tone, and intensity (the hue is its basic shade, for example blue or red). Does the artist’s choice of color create a certain mood? Does he or she make use of complementary colors—red/green, violet/yellow, blue/orange—or analogous ones (those next to each other on the color wheel)? Does the artist utilize colors that are “warm” or “cool”? In which parts of the work? Is atmospheric perspective—in which cool colors recede, creating a blurred background, and warm, clear colors fill the foreground—used? Do you notice any visual effects, such as optical color mixing?

Texture: What is the actual texture on the surface of the object? Is it rough or smooth? What is the implied texture? Are patterns created through the use of texture?

Shape: What shapes do you see? If the work has a flat surface, are the shapes shown on it two-dimensional, or are they made to appear (illusionistically) three-dimensional or volumetric? If the work is a three-dimensional object, how volumetric is its shape? Is it nearly flat, or does it have substantial mass? Is the shape organic (seemingly from nature) or geometric (composed of regular lines and curves)? Can you see any implied shapes? In representations of people, how does shape lend character to a figure? Are these figures proud or timid, strong or weak, beautiful or grotesque?

Form: Did the artist choose geometric or organic form, or a combination of both? Why do you think the artist made these choices?

Volume and mass: Has the artist used volume or mass to express any feelings or communicate any ideas? Is the work a closed or open volume?

Space: How does the form created by shape and line fill the space of the composition? Is there negative, or empty, space without objects in it? If the artwork is three-dimensional, how does it fill our space? Is it our size, or does it dwarf us? If the piece is two-dimensional, is the space flat, or does it visually project into ours? How does the artist create depth in the image (by means of layering figures/objects, linear perspective, atmospheric perspective, isometric perspective, foreshortening of figures)?

Time and motion: Does the artwork in some way communicate the passage of time? For example, it may tell a story or narrate a series of events. Consider whether the work involves motion (implied or actual) in any way. Remember that even a static artwork, such as a painting or a sculpture, can express motion.

Value: Are there any significant value changes (i.e. changes in the degrees of darkness or lightness) in the work? If so, why do you think the artist used value in this way?

Principles of Art

Artists utilize the elements of art to produce these design principles.

Emphasis: The emphasis of a work refers to a focal point in the image or object. What is your eye drawn to? Does the artist create tension or intrigue us by creating more than one area of interest? Or is the work of art afocal—that is, the viewer cannot find a particular place to rest the eye? Is there a psychological focus created through the elements of art?

Scale and proportion: What is the size of all the forms and how do they relate proportionally to one another? Did the artist create objects larger in scale in order to emphasize them? Or was scale used to create depth? Are objects located in the foreground, middle ground, or background? Look at the scale of the artwork itself. Is it larger or smaller than you expected?

Balance: Balance is produced by the visual weight of shapes and forms within a composition. Balance can be symmetrical—in which each side of an artwork is the same—or asymmetrical. Radial balance is when the elements appear to radiate from a central point. How are opposites—light/shadow, straight/curved lines, complementary colors—used?

Rhythm: Rhythm is created by repetition. What repeated elements do you see? Does the repetition create a subtle pattern, a decorative ornamentation? Or does it create an intensity, a tension? Identify the type of rhythm used: is it simple repetitive rhythm, progressive rhythm, or alternating rhythm? Does the rhythm unify the work, or does it, on the contrary, seem a group of disparate parts?

Unity and variety: Is the artwork unified and cohesive, or disordered and chaotic? How does the artist use the elements to achieve this? Consider the work in terms of both its composition and the concepts it explores, which can also unify an artwork. Is there diversity in the use of elements that creates variety? Consider value, texture, color, shape, and other elements of art. How does the artwork combine aspects of unity and variety?

Pattern: Can you identify any repetition of an element (such as shape, value, or color) in the artwork that creates a pattern? A design repeated as a unit is called a motif. Can you see any motifs in the work?

Media and Technique

Is the object two- or three-dimensional? What limitations, if any, might the chosen medium create for the artist?

Drawing: Consider the materials utilized: pencil, silverpoint, chalk, charcoal, crayon, pastel, ink, and wash. Was the artist able to make controlled strokes with this medium? Would the tool create a thick or thin line? One that was defined or blurred? Was the drawing intended to be a work of art in itself, or is it a study for another work, a peek into the artist’s creative process?

Painting: How did the type of paint affect the strokes the artist could make? Was it fresco, oil, tempera, watercolor, encaustic, acrylic, or some other type of paint? Was it a fast-drying paint that allowed little time to make changes? What kind of textures and lines was the artist able to create with this medium? Does it create a shiny or flat look? How durable was the medium? How was the paint applied to the surface: with a brush, a palette knife, dripped, or sprayed?

Printmaking: What is the process the artist undertook to create this work? Did the artist need to engrave or etch? Did the medium require a steady hand? Strength, or patience?

Visual communication design: What format did the designer select (poster, book, advertisement, etc.)? Is the work color or black and white? How does the artwork combine text and images?

Sculpture: Is the sculpture high or low relief, or can we see the object in the round? What challenges did the material present to the artist? Was the work created through a subtractive process (beginning with a large mass of the medium and taking away from it to create form), or an additive one (in which sculptors add material to make the final artwork)? What tools did the artist use to create the form? If the form is human, is the artwork life-size?

Architecture: Does the building represent the work of a community or the power of a leader? How was it constructed? What was the structure’s intended use? How does it fit with its surroundings? Is it a domineering or welcoming structure?

Traditional craft media: Is the work made of ceramic, glass, metal, fiber, wood, or some other material? Why do you think the artist chose this material?

Photography: Was the photograph taken digitally, or using film? Is it in color or in black and white? What is the subject matter?

Film or video: Is the film in color or in black in white? Is it silent or is there sound? How is it displayed in the gallery?

Alternative media: Does the work emphasize ideas rather than the physical product? Is there a physical product? The work could be conceptual, or temporary—a performance by an artist, for example. Are you as the viewer involved in the work? Perhaps you are walking through an installation or environment created by the artist.

Modes of Analysis

Consider whether any of the following ways of analysing an artwork can be applied to the subject of your assignment:

Formal and stylistic analysis: Does the work clearly depict objects or people as we would recognize them in the world around us (is it representational)? Alternatively, is its subject matter completely unrecognizable (is it non-objective)? To what degree has the artist simplified, emphasized, or distorted aspects of forms in the work (or abstracted it)? Does this artwork have a unique style? Or can you identify characteristics that it shares with other artworks by the same artist, from the same period or place, or belonging to the same artistic group or movement?

Iconographic analysis: Are there things in the work that you can interpret as signs or symbols? For example, is there anything that suggests a religious meaning, or indicates the social status of somebody depicted in the work? Labels often provide good information about iconography.

Biographical and psychological analysis: Would information about the life of the artist help you to interpret the work? Do you think the artist’s state of mind (happy, depressed, anxious) has affected the artwork? Again, labels are often a good source of biographical detail. In some museums volunteer docents are available to answer questions about an artist’s life and works.

Feminist and gender studies analysis: Is the role of women in the artwork important? Is the artist commenting on the experience of women in society? Is the artist a woman? How does the gender of the artist affect his or her work? How does your own gender affect your experience of viewing the artwork?

Contextual analysis: Would you understand the work better if you knew something about the history of the era in which it was created, or about religious, political, economic, and social issues that influenced its creation?


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