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Module 05 Course Project – Formal Analysis


Outline included. You will expand the outline you wrote in Module 3 into a complete paper. Papers must be typed in 12-point type and be double-spaced. There is no set length for the paper, though the average length is four or five pages. Citations are not necessary. Other important aspects are thoroughness, clarity, and a demonstrated sensitivity to the work of art.

Your paper should have the following elements:


  • Include specific information about the work within the first few paragraphs of your essay analysis: title, artist, date, location, dimensions, medium of the work, and the name of the exhibition/museum in which the work is displayed.
  • Introduce the reader to the work of art by writing a detailed description of it. Your writing should be so detailed that the reader can picture the artwork.
  • End the introductory paragraph with your thesis statement.


  • Discuss the Elements of Art and Principles of Design that you think are important in understanding and analyzing this work. This part of the paper should be very detailed and will take several paragraphs. Go through each Element and Principle and describe in as much detail as possible how it is utilized in the work of art. Also worth noting is any apparent lack of a particular Element or Principle. For example, if a piece is in black and white, you should also address the impact of the lack of the Element of color.
  • Discuss the medium the artist used and how the artist exploited the particular qualities of this medium. Always refer to the artist by her or his last name, not the first name, and put the title of the work in italics.
  • Explain your personal response to the work based on its form as you analyzed it in the previous sections.


Wrap up the essay by summarizing your thesis. Do not simply repeat your thesis statement; instead, reiterate the thesis while finalizing your thoughts on the entire topic.

Keep in mind:

  • Writing a formal analysis does involve your interpretation of and personal response to the work, but your reactions must be supported by referring to specific elements and qualities which you see in the work.
  • Accept the work as it is. Do not “second guess” the artist and make such statements as, “I think the painting would have been better if the artist had . . .”
  • Titles of exhibitions are in quotation marks; titles of works of art are underlined or are in italics.

Common mistakes you will want to avoid:

  • Failure to proofread your paper to check for spelling, punctuation, subject/verb agreement, incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, etc. Don’t rely on your computer’s spellchecker; the computer may not know if you mean “there” or “their.”
  • Confusing “it’s” and “its.” “It’s” means “it is.” “Its” is the possessive of “it,” for example, “The car is red, and its wheels are green.”
  • Referring to the artist by her/his first name. Would you write English literature paper on Romeo and Juliette and refer to the author as
  • Do not use personal pronouns in academic writing. Personal pronouns include I, we, you, our, and my. Every sentence can be reworded to avoid personal pronouns.
    • For example, instead of saying “I feel Waterlillies, by Claude Monet is a beautiful painting,” you should just say “Monet’s painting, Waterlillies, is beautiful because…”
    • Instead of saying, “When you first look at Ballerina by Edgar Degas, you will notice many details,” you should say, “Degas’ painting, Ballerina, contains many interesting details, such as…”

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