Your instructor may ask you to analyze a work (or works) of art using different methods. They may ask for:
- A formal analysis, which asks you to formulate an interpretation based on the formal elements & principles.
- A contextual analysis, which asks you to formulate an interpretation of the artwork based on several factors: the era in which it was created, the artist’s intent, the politics of the time, the demographics, society, etc.
- An analysis based on a particular set of theories, such as an analysis that uses Feminist or Queer theory to help inform the artwork & your interpretation.
While the points above can act as a guide in writing your analysis, always be sure to follow your instructor’s criteria.
- Use descriptive language. Remember that your instructor wants you to describe your artwork in great detail. Don’t assume that your reader has seen the artwork. Describe everything you see. The bright, sunshine-yellow color of the squiggly, irregular lines (for example) in your artwork tell a very specific story. Be sure that your writing is specific to the artwork you are writing about.
- Attach anything that your instructor is requiring such as a title page, a photo of your image, proof that you visited the museum or site with public art in person, a sketch of your artwork, etc.
- Cite your sources and include a works cited page. If you paraphrased information or quoted from a source (even if is from your textbook and/or the museum or site-with-public-art label or website), you need to cite your sources parenthetically within your paper and include them in a works cited page at the end of your paper. Be sure you know what citation style your instructor wants you to use for references. If there is no information or your instructor does not care, a good format and style to use for art papers is MLA. For more information on citing, a good source is the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) at http://owl.purdue.edu. The link at the top to “Purdue OWL” will take you to the MLA and other formatting and style guides.
Credit for reminders on attachments and citation: Art Matters' Museum Guide by Pam Gordon, 2021