You may be asked to look at an object and talk about style.
Some instructors will want you to discuss how an object fits into a particular stylistic category—for example, Impressionism, Renaissance, or early Macedonian.
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.
Why would your instructor ask you to do this assignment?
Art History Essay Topics
First, translating something from a visual language to a textual language is one of the most vital tasks of the art historian.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.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.Your primary concern in this assignment is to attempt to explain how the artist arranges and uses these various elements.Usually you have to go and look at the object for a long time and then write down what you see.Find out which way your instructor wants you to write your formal analysis in your particular assignment.Most art historians include formal analysis at some point in their essays, so there are a lot of examples to look at in the textbook and other readings, but you will probably have to be more in-depth than they are.Start by reading the assignment carefully to see what is being asked (see our handout on understanding assignments for further tips).Some professors in introductory classes will start with at least one of the following assignments at the beginning of the semester in order to get you thinking like an art historian.