Art Question

Visual Expressions in Society

Length: 4 pp. double-spaced, 12 pt. font, regular margins, no images

Choose one of the following paintings from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum:

Guercino, Samson Captured by the Philistines (1619)

Begin by identifying the basic elements of the composition: what is depicted? What is the

relationship between the figures and architectural elements or environment? Between one figure and another? What is the focus of the composition and how has the painter created this focus? How is meaning communicated through the arrangement presented to the viewer?

Finally, compose your formal analysis. Your essay should relate the subject of the painting and its literary source (if appropriate) to the way the artist has chosen to represent the subject. No additional research is necessary. Your essay should offer an attentive response to the formal elements of the painting and how these contribute to its meaning. Remember to articulate a thesis early in your essay and support it with your observations, which should be substantiated with visual evidence. Your thesis should propose an interpretation or offer a characterization of the work.

Formal Analysis Guidelines

The purpose of a formal analysis paper is to describe what effect an artwork has on you as a viewer and to explain how the artwork’s unique formal properties render that effect. It is important to recognize that this involves more than describing the subject matter of the artwork.

In order to successfully convey this effect, you should:

Look closely and push yourself beyond initial impressions.

Give precise, detailed descriptions of formal properties.

Address a wide variety of formal categories such as those taken up in class.

Draw thoughtful conclusions about the expressive content from your formal descriptions. Don’t describe an element without discussing its particular importance to the artwork.

Support these conclusions with what you observe and describe in the object itself, rather than with empty speculation or outside sources.

It is not necessary to consult any source other than the object itself. Use outside sources only to gain a basic understanding of the piece’s subject and materials beyond what you can discern from looking at the piece on its own.

Limit analysis of subject matter to how it is structured by form.

You may compare and contrast the piece to other works from class in order to substantiate your analysis. If you choose to do so, treat your discussion of the secondary work with the same descriptive and analytical rigor outlined above.


State your argument towards the beginning of the paper. You may choose to begin your paper with a description of the artwork.

Introduce the artwork with a brief general description, after which all description should be in service of your argument.

Order your points logically.


Take an objective tone, avoiding first-person narrative.

Avoid unnecessary repetition.

Proofread for spelling, grammar, and style.

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