Form and Subject Matter Art Essay

14Sep 2021 by
1st Essay Assignment Form and Subject Matter (Check files for additional documents for visual analysis)
The Formal Style and Subject Matter essay will discuss the formal elements, design principles, and the overall impact of visual style upon the subject matter of a work of art. Your essay will identify the artist, his or her location, materials used and will discuss the symbols and/or themes included in the work. Importantly, you will provide an in-depth description of the subject matter and the works visual impact on the meaning of the work.  Discuss the ways in which the visual organization supports the themes of this artists style or art movement they participated within.  Often, contemporary art seems abstract and appears to have no subject matter.  In this case, what are the primary objectives or themes that the art movement supported?  In what ways does the form express these objectives. For example, how does the form of Nancy Holts Sun Tunnels express the art movement known as Minimalism?
In order to fully describe an art works form, you must use the language of the visual arts.  In this assignment, select one work of art from the list provided below and include a visual analysis.  Discuss the formal elements (line, color, light, composition, form) and the principles of design (rhythm, balance, unity, proportion, dominance, unity) within the work of art. You need only use those terms that seem most important for the work you selected.  (Later in the course you will add contextual analysis). The attached document titled 1st Essay Visual Analysis Terms and Concepts presents the visual arts language you will need to know and use in this essay. We have already begun to discuss subject matter as it relates to artistic goals within art movements such as Happenings, Performance Art, Pop, Minimalism, Land Art and (soon) Conceptual and Black Arts movements.
 
Below are best strategies to use as you begin your writing assignment:
 
Visual Analysis of Form: Observing and Asking Questions
The first step in writing about an artwork is understanding it.  This is done by careful observation and response. Analysis enters when we begin to figure out how an artwork causes the response we have. Very much like a cause/effect relationship, multiple elements within the work all contribute to a works meaning. Although meaning can often be thought of as primarily a product of subject matter, there are many other elements that in relationship with each other shape a works overall content.
 
1.     To get started, first observe the artwork and write down all your observations. Consider the composition, colors, textures, size, space, and other visual and material attributes of the artwork. In some works, you will need to consider location, particular use of materials, and new compositional strategies in the work.
2.     Next, consider how the form – formal elements and design principles – impact the meaning of the artwork. Go beyond your first impressions. This should take some timeallow your eye to absorb the image. Making a sketch of the work can help you understand its visual logic. Reflect on the overall organization of the work of art. 
3.     Develop your thesis where you assert ways in which the meaning of the work is supported by the use of the formal elements. (for example, light might highlight actions and subjects, etc.)   Target your description. Find the single visual force (element) that is the strongest.  Then address a few other elements that seem important.  Address only those elements relevant to your main claim. Relate these to the subject matter and the artistic movement in which the work participates.
4.     Organize your observations in a logical order. Explain why you have chosen to discuss these specific elements. In other words, explain the significance of your choices for your main claim about subject matter.  Discuss the relationship among visual elements and how the subject the subject matter or the theme of the movement.
 
Writing the Essay                
Writing a visual analysis is partly a technical activity, but it is also a reflective and subjective one where your personal responses are central. Your analysis should therefore integrate the descriptive language of formal observation with phrases which are more  speculative. The language of your visual analysis should be simple and precise. When describing the object or artwork, use the present tense to reveal the work from the viewer’s (your) perspective. The object or artwork itself is the subject of the description. For example you could state:
 
                         The sculpture shows many dark shadows created by deep gouges in the material.
 
                         Dark red tones contrast with the brilliant yellow flowers, highlighting the centrality of the vase in this painting.
 
Think about how you would describe the artwork or design to someone who has not seen it. Which features are most intriguing? How do they contribute to the overall effect? How does it make you feel? Also describe the technique or manner in which the work has been made.   This involves explaining and detailing the means by which the designer or artist has achieved a particular effect. Use evidence or examples from the work to demonstrate what you mean. Be evocative.  For example you could state:
 
                         Thick paint has been applied with rough brushstrokes creating an interesting, dynamic texture.
 
                        The extremely rough surface of the carved wood figure seems tortured and scarred.
                         
These descriptions of the object and technique form the basis of your interpretation of the meaning or intention of the work. Often, you are only guessing at the artists meaning and this uncertainty can be conveyed through verbs like evokes,  creates,  appears and  suggests which reflect thinking or guesswork.  Other conditional forms, such as may,  could and  seems can also be used.  For example:
 
                        This choice of subject seems intended to
 
                        The artist appears to be implying
 
A good visual analysis can stimulate both personal and artistic insight.
 
                        Overall, this work conveys a strong sense of joy, especially through the use of vibrant, exciting colors which left me feeling elated.
                         
The ultimate goal of visual analysis is to figure something out, not just report ones observations. In general, critical writing aims to advance a readers understanding of a work by offering a proposition about what a work says to us and how it achieves that meaning.  This proposition (thesis) must be coherent and supported by evidence based in observations. A good thesis is not an assertion of fact nor is it a broad generalization, it expresses an idea about the effect of the work and what causes that effect.
Each essay will be double-spaced, typed, 4-5 pages in length, with the use of a standard size font (10-12), and will have 1-inch margins.  As always, use correct grammar, check for spelling, typos, etc. This is an analysis essay; no need for research or citations. 
 
Select one of these images for your visual analysis:
 
 

Andy Warhol, 32 Campbells Soup Cans, 1961-62. Acrylic/canvas, 32 works
 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California 1972-76, September 1976.
 
 
Charles White, Wanted Poster series, Oil Wash/Board 1969

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