Formal Analysis Paper Writing Guide

author By Mary Boies

A formal analysis essay, aka a visual analysis essay, is an essay that is written to analyze a painting or a work of art. A properly written formal analysis paper will give the reader both objective and subjective information about an art piece.

This post will teach you the A to Z of how to write a formal analysis essay.

What is a formal analysis essay?

A formal analysis essay is an academic writing that comprehensively describes a work of art (usually a painting, image, or sculpture). An excellent formal analysis essay is one that not only describes a work of art but also analyzes it.

If you are enrolled in an art program in college or university, you will most likely have to complete a good number of formal or visual analysis essays before you graduate. They are common in art programs to help art students to understand and judge art better.

The 4 Main Steps for a Formal Analysis Essay

Every proper formal analysis essay must include four key elements – description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation. In other words, when writing a formal analysis essay, you must describe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate the work of art.

1. Description

The first thing you need to do when writing a formal analysis essay is to describe the elements of the work of art you see at first glance.

So what can you quickly notice about the work of art you want to analyze? What is it that has been depicted? What medium has the artist used? What painting element? Your answers to all these questions will help you to fully describe the work of art to the reader.

In your description of the work of art, there are several things you must strongly consider and describe.

2. Analysis

The second thing you need to do when writing a formal analysis essay is to analyze the artistic elements of the work of art. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is where your inner artist must come out, and you must discuss the true art aspects of the work of art.

Once you have described the physical or first-glance elements of the artwork, you have to go straight into the analysis aspect. The analysis aspect is all about discussing how the artist employs design aspects in the artwork.

In your analysis of the work of art, there are several things you must strongly consider and analyze.

3. Interpretation

The third thing you need to do when writing a formal analysis essay is to reveal the hidden meanings or aspects of the work of art you are analyzing.

The interpretation part of your formal analysis essay should capture two things – the use of symbolism in the artwork and what it means to the viewer. It is all about revealing the hidden meaning of what may mean one thing at first glance and something deeper upon further inspection.

Interpretations of artworks usually reveal themselves somewhat slowly. This is because one has to look at an art object repeatedly to identify symbolism and get the deeper meaning.

When providing an interpretation for symbolism, you must provide supporting evidence.

4. Evaluation

The last thing you need to do when writing a formal analysis essay is to evaluate the work of art you have described, analyzed, and interpreted.

In the evaluation part of your visual analysis essay, you need to discuss your overall opinion of the artwork. Specifically, you need to discuss what you discovered about it and about yourself when examining it.

A proper evaluation of an art object will detail your opinion and feelings about it. It will also discuss whether you find it pleasing or engaging.

When evaluating an art piece, it is crucial to remember that it is best to evaluate art pieces per the period they were created. This allows for better contextualization and proper evaluation.

Format of Formal Analysis Paper

A typical formal analysis paper will have three key sections – an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Find out what each section entails in the visual analysis paper outline below.

1. Introduction

The first part of a formal analysis paper is the introduction. The introduction must provide the reader with all the essential information about the artwork to be analyzed. It must also be interesting enough to hook the reader.

The best way to provide the reader with all the essential information about the artwork to be analyzed is to describe it vividly. The vivid description should be followed by information about how the artwork was created and information about the creator.

An introduction with all the above information is sufficient to hook the reader's attention. Nevertheless, if there is something controversial about the artwork, this information must also be provided in the introduction. The purpose of giving this type of information is to ensure the reader is fully aware of all the crucial aspects of the art piece to be analyzed.

2. Thesis statement

A well-written visual analysis paper will have a thesis statement at the end of the introduction. The thesis statement must be clear, concise, and to the point. Moreover, it must quickly tell the reader the paper's main argument.

Think of the thesis statement of your formal analysis paper as your paper's central argument; the argument/claim you will be supporting during your analysis.

3. Body

The body of a formal analysis essay is where the actual analysis happens. It must have four key elements for it to be considered complete. The elements are – description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation.

Each element is typically covered in a separate paragraph for good organization and flow. And it supports the thesis statement in the introduction section.

By the time the reader is done reading the body section of the essay, they should have all the art analysis they expected after reading the introduction.

4. Conclusion

The conclusion is the last part of every formal essay analysis. It is where the writer must nicely wrap up the art analysis. This is usually done by first restating the thesis and the main supporting statements. The restatement is frequently followed by information comparing the artwork with similar pieces or information about whether the artwork fits in with the creator's other artworks.                                                                                                                                       

Steps for Writing a Formal Analysis Essay

As an art history student, it is essential to learn how to write a visual analysis paper. This is because you will most likely be asked to write such a paper several times before graduating. Moreover, learning how to write such a paper will also help you become a good art critic, curator, or appraiser.

Follow the steps below to write a brilliant visual analysis essay.

1. Gather general information about the artwork and the creator

The first thing to do to write a formal analysis essay is to gather general information about the artwork and the creator. The most crucial bits of information to collect include:

2. Write the introduction

A good introduction paragraph to a formal analysis essay provides sufficient background information about the subject piece and grabs the reader's attention. Use the information you have gathered in the step above to write a good introduction.

Make your introduction brilliant by ensuring you provide information about the art piece in a logical and flowing manner. After writing your introduction, read it to ensure it can grab the reader's attention. If it can, you are good to go. If it can't, you should rewrite it until it can do so.

The last statement of your introduction paragraph should be your thesis statement (your central argument for the paper). It should quickly tell the reader your overall argument or opinion about the subject artwork. You can only develop a good thesis statement after researching a painting and finding out more about it and the period it was created. Researching an art piece will also help you describe and analyze it more objectively.

If, after writing your paper, you feel your thesis statement doesn't closely reflect its overall argument, you should rewrite the statement to make sure it does. It is totally okay to do so.

3. Describe the painting

After writing your introduction paragraph, you should write the body section of your paper. The body section of a typical formal analysis paper must have at least two distinct parts – the first part describing the painting and the second analyzing it. It can also have an interpretation part to discuss any symbolism or hidden meaning discovered in the art.

The best way to describe the subject painting is to provide all the visible information about it. The visible aspects of the artwork that you must capture in your description include:

Make sure your painting description is well-organized and has a good flow. If need be, rewrite it to enhance its flow.

Your description can be one paragraph long or two paragraphs long.

4. Analyze the painting

The second part of your paper's body section should be a detailed analysis of the subject painting. Your analysis should focus on the painting's art elements and design principles.

Your professor will most likely focus on the analysis part of your paper, so make sure you do a brilliant analysis. To ensure your professor is impressed with your painting analysis, you should analyze/discuss the art elements and the design principles separately.

The art elements of a painting are the painting techniques used. They are also known as the basics of composition. The art elements that shouldn't miss in your analysis include:

Remember, simply describing the art elements above is not enough. You must analyze them because this step is all about analysis; it is all about going deeper.

The design principles of a painting are the aspects of the painting that provide a thematic or broader perspective. Therefore, your inner artist should come out when analyzing the design principles of the painting.

The following things should feature in your analysis of the design principles of the painting:

Carefully and methodically detailing your analysis of the painting's art elements and design principles will help you to get a good grade in your visual analysis essay.

5. Write the conclusion

After describing and analyzing the painting, you should write the conclusion. A good visual or formal analysis essay conclusion provides an overall evaluation of the subject painting. The best way to write an overall evaluation of the subject painting is to think of the evaluation as your general assessment.

So what do you think of the painting based on your description and analysis? Is it standard, brilliant, or exceptional? Does it meet your expectations? Why yes or why not? Talk about these things in your conclusion to make it perfect.

6. Proofread and edit your essay

After writing your essay, you should proofread and edit it. Doing this will help you to transform it from ordinary to extraordinary.

The correct way to proofread your essay is to proofread it twice – first using a grammar checker like Grammarly and then using your own eyes.

Proofreading your paper using a grammar checker like Grammarly will help you quickly identify and edit basic grammar and typing errors. Proofreading your document one more time using your own eyes will help you to catch any mistakes the checker might have missed. It will also help you to identify and rewrite parts of your paper that are difficult to understand.

Your paper should be ready to submit after you proofread it as described above.

10 tips to help you write a brilliant formal analysis essay

Writing a visual analysis essay is not easy. This is because there are many things to include and consider to ensure the paper is complete. In this section, you will discover what you need to consider to ensure the final draft of your formal analysis essay is perfect.

  1. Consider your feelings. When analyzing a painting, it is crucial to be objective in your analysis. But at the same time, it is also vital to consider your feelings. All your feelings toward the painting are legitimate. Therefore, do not be afraid to say what you think about an artwork, especially in your analysis and conclusion. Your professor should be able to clearly see your judgment on the subject piece and not just your objective analysis.
  2. Focus on analysis. When most art students write a formal analysis essay, they spend a lot of time on the description rather than the analysis. This is wrong. It is okay for the first part of your analysis essay to include a description of the painting. However, at least 50 to 60 percent of your essay should be your analysis of the subject painting. Your professor expects this. So if you want to get a good grade, you should focus on analysis.
  3. Start with the obvious and go deeper. While it is true that a good formal analysis paper must focus on the analysis, a thorough description of the artwork is also a must. The first part of your paper's body section must be a detailed description of the subject painting. It is only after describing the artwork that you should proceed to analyze it. If you write your paper this way, your reader will know what exactly you are talking about in your analysis.
  4. Use the correct terms. You must use the correct terms to get a top grade when writing your visual analysis essay. This is because professors hate when students use non-official or inaccurate words to describe art elements. If you do not know the correct way to refer to an art element or design principle, you should search for it online in art term glossaries such as MOMA.
  5. Less is more. There are usually many art elements and design principles to consider when analyzing an art piece. However, discussing or describing all of them in your paper is not a must. Your analysis should focus on discussing the most significant art elements and design principles. You can, and you should, ignore all insignificant art elements and design principles.
  6. Proofread your work thoroughly. Many students ignore proofreading their papers before submission and end up submitting low-quality essays. You should not do the same. Instead, you should carefully proofread your work twice or thrice to remove all errors and mistakes. This will help you polish your essay to a level that is extremely easy to understand.
  7. See live artwork regularly. To write great visual analysis essays, you must visit art galleries, museums, and exhibitions frequently. Visiting such art establishments regularly will allow you to see, hear, and familiarize yourself with art critique. Of course, by familiarizing yourself with art critique, the exercise will become like second nature to you. Therefore, it will make it much easier for you to write great visual analysis essays.
  8. Consider audience and historical context. When analyzing art, you must strongly consider the audience and the historical context. Failure to do so will make your analysis shallow. Think of who the artist was trying to appeal to. Was he trying to appeal to the church? Art people? Or the masses? The target audience obviously influenced the way artists developed their paintings. Think also of the historical context. Judging a Renaissance period painter with Rococo era standards is not appropriate. You can only judge an art piece by the standards of the art period it was created.

Example of a formal or Visual or Formal Analysis Essay

The essay below is a short example of a formal analysis essay. It includes the three key sections of a formal analysis essay – introduction, body, and conclusion. Its body section consists of a brief description paragraph and a brief analysis paragraph.

Analysis of Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth

Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth is a chaotic oil on canvas painting by Englishman Joseph William Turner (1775- 1851, England). It is one of Turner's most famous paintings, and it is on display at Tate, one of the most important art organizations in the world. By looking at this painting, it is clear that Turner was a master at drawing abstract, chaotic paintings.

At first glance, this painting reveals a steamboat at the center of what looks like a storm. However, the painting is chaotic, so this is something one cannot tell for sure. Nevertheless, based on the title of the painting, one can see it is shaped like a steam-boat belching heavy smoke. The vessel is surrounded by swirling snow and pitching waves. The sky is somewhat depicted in blue despite the raging storm.

A closer inspection of the painting reveals a well-drawn chaotic artwork featuring long and heavy strokes. The long strokes create dramatic movement and enhance the artist's idea of a steamboat in a raging storm. It also reveals asymmetrical shapes, as is the case with most chaotic oil on canvas paintings.

In terms of design principles, the scale of the boat stands out. It looks somewhat tiny in the middle of a big storm. The tiny size of the vessel, plus the small indication of space above it created by a sliver of blue sky, indicates a scene of danger. The scene is reminiscent of humanity's struggle against powerful forces of nature.

This artwork by Turner is a beautiful work of art. Turner is considered one of the foremost painters of his time, and this work indeed shows that he was a master oil on canvas painter. The work depicts a boat in a big storm. It is a powerful reminder of humanity's struggle for survival in a cold and unforgiving world.

Final words

Professors and instructors know that formal analysis essay assignments help students to understand and judge art better. Because of this, they give such assignments from time to time. Therefore, if you are an art program student, you should learn how to do such assignments perfectly. Doing so will help you get an excellent grade whenever you are given such an assignment.

This post revealed everything crucial that you need to know to write a formal essay. The information includes the four steps for a formal analysis essay, the structure of a formal essay, and the steps to follow to write one. You can use the information to write a brilliant visual analysis essay on any work of art.

If the information is insufficient for you to write an excellent visual analysis essay or you are too busy to write one, you should work with us. If you do so, you will get 100% confidentiality, 100% quality, and 100% on-time delivery. Try Essay Maniacs today for quality assignment help!    

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