Chapter 2: How to Really See a Piece of Art
Writing Your First Formal Analysis

You will use vocabulary to describe images from the book. Structure your descriptions into an illustrative paragraph. Your goals are:
• To investigate visual art looking for specific design elements and methodologies.
• To learn to use the visual art lexicon.
• To begin learning how to write a formal analysis.

I want you to approach this as an opportunity to show me that you understand the bulk of the vocabulary from Chapter 2, The Language of Art & Architecture. You are describing what you see, not concepts or symbolism. In other words, it’s not about what you think the work is about, it’s what the work is made of.

Here’s an example using the same vocabulary box as the first one on the next page using Image 4.14Juan O’Gorman’s Panel of the Independence – Father Hidalgo, 1960-1961. Mural. Museo Nacional de Historia, Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City.

Juan O’Gorman’s mural depicts a variety of people and architecture in Mexico using a chaotic, multipoint perspective that fills the planar space. The figures are correctly proportioned but their scale is “off” because the figures seem to be stacked upon one another in multiple layers rather than becoming smaller as they recede back in space. This hieratical scaling makes the priest at the bottom right of the image seem connected to the group of suited gentlemen on the left. Their importance and power are illustrated by their larger size in comparison to the Indians dressed less nicely and scattered in an eccentric rhythm throughout the picture plane. The layering also gives the piece a sense of time passing – it illustrates multiple events in one composition. The palette uses the entire color wheel but focuses mostly on secondary and tertiary colors, specifically oranges, blues, and grays (the blue-gray tone at the top creates atmospheric perspective, pushing the mountains at the top way back in the space). This is a smooth painting in contrast with the subject’s visual texture, and does not make use of hatching or cross-hatching and instead, blocks of color. The lighting is bright and ambient rather than
high in contrast; everything is evenly lit, even those objects in the back. 

Avoid descriptions like this:

“This painting uses multipoint perspective, planar space, hieratical scaling and visual texture.”

While not untrue, the entire point of this essay is to describe WHY and HOW you can see multipoint perspective, or planar space, etc. Prove to me that you know how to use these words in order to describe a piece of art. Your best bet is to pretend that you are describing the work to someone who cannot see it, and has never seen it.

(cut-and-paste past this point)


Formal Analysis

Analyze the following two art pieces. Use the vocabulary words provided beneath each work to provide a formal analysis.
The paper needs to be typed, double spaced, 10-12 font size. Please include your name, date, class and the title “How to really see a piece of art”
Please bold face the vocabulary words you use in your work. 
I will grade these paragraphs based upon your accurate use of the vocabulary with lucidity of statement. 
Vocabulary words used more than once per paragraph will only count once.
Grading will be accomplished as follows. Accurate and fluid use of vocabulary(see rubric at very bottom). Additionally, you must use 40 Vocabulary words in order to have the possibility of a perfect score. 
25 words – Minus 25 points
28 words – 20 pts.
31 words- 15 pts. 
34 words – 10 pts.
37 words – 5 pts. 
40 words = perfect score possibility

Image 1.2 (pg 12) Theodore Gericault. The Raft of the Medusa, 1819. Oil on canvas, 16’1” x 24’1”. Louvre, Paris
here is a link to the art piece:

Vocabulary Words
implied line
[line] direction
gesture line
contour line
reflected light
chroma or saturation
neutral color
analogous colors
warm color
cool color
visual texture
abstracted texture
regular shape/geometric
planar space
symmetrical balance
asymmetrical balance
linear perspective

3.1 Nam June Paik. Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, 1995. 49-channel, closed-circuit video installation, neon, steel, and electronic components, 15’ x 40’ x 4’. Gift of the artist. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC. 

Please also refer to the link for a better idea of how the work actually is:

Vocabulary Words
regular shape
irregular shape
organic or biomorphic
planar space
warm color
cool color
natural pattern
color intensity
local color
alternating rhythm
ambient light
symmetrical balance
asymmetrical balance


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