Art History Essay Topics

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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.

If you have ever analyzed a poem or developed an understanding of a historical period, you are prepared to think and write like an art historian.

Second, your instructors realize that you are not accustomed to scrutinizing objects in this way and know that you need practice doing so.

Instructors who assign formal analyses want you to look—and look carefully.

Ideally, if you were to give your written formal analysis to a friend who had never seen the object, s/he would be able to describe or draw the object for you, or at least pick it out of a lineup.

In writing a formal analysis, focus on creating a logical order so that your reader doesn’t get lost.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.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.Don’t ever assume that because your instructor has seen the work, he or she knows what you are talking about.Here are a couple of options: Some instructors want your formal analysis to consist of pure description with little or no interpretation.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.


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