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FAH101 Introduction to Art History 2015
Writing Assignment #1: Visual Analysis

Visual, or formal, analysis is fundamental to the practice of art history. This paper is a “close looking exercise” that asks you to engage in the visual analysis of a single work of art. The exercise involves analyzing this work in order to argue how a response is elicited by its visual and material qualities. Your paper will therefore provide descriptions of specific features of the artwork, and it should convey the appearance of the work. It must also, however, do more than this. It should especially focus on how the work, by means of its various qualities and features, engages the viewer. The paper must therefore be directed toward arguing that a particular effect or experience is engendered by the artwork.

When writing a visual analysis, it is best to not think about what the artist intended, or what he or she did when creating the artwork. Instead, consider how the work is designed. Think in terms of what it does visually and how it interacts with its viewers.

You will chose one work from the list below. All of them are found at the Art Gallery of Ontario in downtown Toronto. **NOTE**: You must visit the Gallery to see the work in person. As proof of the latter, you are required to submit your ticket stub with your assignment: write your name and student number on the stub, and staple it securely to the hard copy of your paper. Failure to do this will result in a 15% deduction from your paper. We will not accept reproductions of the stub (photocopies, scans, photos), nor can we accept the excuse you have lost it, so be sure to keep it safe. We will post some tips about visiting the AGO on Blackboard.

The works (choose one):

The Baptism of Christ and Adoration of the Magi, from a Tree of Jesse Window, stained glass, 1290-1300 (first floor, Thompson Galleries)
François Lespignola, Hercules Delivering Prometheus, bronze, conceived 1666-67, cast 1690-1705 (first floor, Frank P. Wood Gallery)
Albert Gleizes, The Harbour (Marseilles), oil on canvas, 1912 (first floor, turn right after the ticket takers)
Clarence Gagnon, Wayside Cross, Winter, oil on canvas, 1916 (second floor, Influence of French Painting room; NOTE: the booklet in the pocket on wall of the gallery identifies the artworks)
U.S. Military, Operation Priscilla, taken at the moment of the shockwave, 1957. / Camera Crew at Exact Moment of Shockwave Arrival, Nevada Test Site, 1957, gelatin silver print (first floor, in the Camera Atomica show)

How to start
– Pack some paper and a pencil.

– Go to the AGO. (Remember, hang on to your ticket. Keep it in a safe place. You will need to submit it with your paper.)

– Find the various works on the list and take a good look at each one.

– Pick the one you find the most interesting. It is a good strategy to start with this gut feeling!

– Stand in front of the work and look closely. Think about what you are observing.

– TIP: Try drawing the work. There is a good chance this will help you see things you might not have noticed otherwise. (You do not need to submit this drawing: it is merely a tool for you.)

– Jot down your observations.

When looking at your chosen artwork and when writing your analysis, you can think about the following. Not all these questions will be relevant to the artwork, but some will. You might also come up with good observations that lie outside of this list:

– What is its subject matter? Is there a general theme or idea underlying the subject matter? (There might be some brief information on a card nearby the work. See also the note below.)

– Can you discern a purpose or use for the work? (You will want to keep discussion of this aspect brief, but it can contribute to your overall argument. See also the note below.)

– Of what is the work made? (i.e. What is its medium or media?)

– What is the work’s size?

– How are the elements of the work composed in relation to one other, in relation to the frame and the work as a whole, and in relation to the viewer?

– How are formal aspects, such as colour, texture, line, space, and tone (light and dark) used? (See your textbook Introduction for some helpful definitions of these terms.)

– How are other formal aspects such as contrast, unity, balance, movement, harmony, symmetry, discord, repetition, scale, and proportion created and used?

– How do these considerations advance your understanding of what is depicted in the work? How do they contribute to generating an effect or experience for the viewer?

Some Words of Caution Regarding the Subject Matter and Purpose of the Work:
You should investigate and understand the subject matter and, if relevant, the purpose or use of the artwork. Keep in mind, however, that you do not need to do too much of this. Remember that your paper should not devote too many words to the discussion of subject matter: it should be focused on the visual, or formal, qualities of the work. Beyond the basics, try to include only those aspects of subject matter or purpose that contribute to your visual analysis. Also be careful to avoid specific interpretations, especially regarding anything you think might be “symbolic” (colours, for instance). Unless you have solid evidence for such ideas, they are not useful. The exercise is not to elaborate at length on what the artwork means, but to argue how it works visually and materially in order to engender an effect or experience.
Note, too, that your paper does not need to discuss the artist or time period. Focus instead on developing your argument in light of the considerations explained above.

Your paper should have a brief introductory paragraph, a body, and a concluding paragraph. The introduction should include a statement of your thesis (the primary point that you will be arguing throughout the paper). The body should be divided into paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain a coherent argument that contributes to the thesis. The whole paper should also flow logically and clearly.

Paper length and format:
Your paper should be no more than 850 words long (around 2 ½ – 3 pages). Deductions will be applied for papers that are substantially over the word limit. (A few extra words are not a problem.) Your paper must be double-spaced, in 12-point font (Times New Roman or Garamond), with 1” (2.54 cm) margins, and all pages numbered. All papers MUST have a cover page with the name of the assignment, name of the class, name of the instructor, title of the paper, student’s name, student number, TA’s name, tutorial number, date due, and date submitted. The electronic submission to turnitin.com must be identical and in the same format.

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