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Painting Visual Analysis


Painting Visual Analysis

➢ Due via online submission to Canvas 11:59 pm—or before
➢ Submit through Assignments section; must be in .docx or .pdf file format

Required Reading: Sylvan Barnet, “Getting Ideas for Essays” and “Drawing and Painting,” pp.77-97, in A Short Guide to Writing About Art, 2015.

Task: Select a painting from the list below; identify its formal elements; analyze their significance in a 3 page, double spaced essay.

Objectives: 1) employ insightful visual analysis in painting
2) demonstrate proficiency using key terms and concepts
3) cultivate understanding of local (U.S) museum resources. All possible works a are located in collections in the United States.

Directions: First, read Barnet’s section on looking at paintings and writing formal analysis about them (see above). Second, choose one painting from the list I have chosen to study in depth. Third, using Barnet’s guidelines and series of questions, record your impressions of the work. See the attached worksheet for more info.

Finally, in a well-crafted and polished essay, analyze your painting. Describe the work in detail, providing a succinct formal analysis of its chief elements AND how they express the painting’s content (subject-matter, formal elements, meaning/emotional effects).

Important Note: No outside research should be done for this essay. It is okay to ready the GTA entry on the work. However, all ideas, analysis, discussion, conclusions, etc. should be your own. Your essay submission will be linked to Turn It In, a common anti-plagiarism application used at VT for Canvas courses. Your grade may be negatively impacted if it is determined that you borrowed ideas that are not your own.

Choose one of the following paintings (all found in the GTA textbook in the section identified in the caption):

  1. 3.9.21 Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930. Oil on beaverboard, 30 ¾ x 35 ¾ inches. Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
  2. 2.2.14 Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair, 1852-55. Oil on canvas. 8’ x 16’ 7 ½.” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  3. 2.2.23 Julie Mehretu, Excerpt (Suprematist Evasion), 2003. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 32 x 54,” Marian Goodman Gallery and White Cube.
  4. 3.7.15 J.M.W. Turner, Slave Ship, 1840. Oil on canvas, 35 ¾ x 48 ¼.“ Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts.
  5. 3.7.16 Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836. Oil on canvas, 4’ 3 ½“ x 6’ 4.” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
  6. 3.8.11 Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath, 1893. Oil on canvas, 39 ½ x 26”. Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
  7. 4.5.4 William M. Harnett, The Old Violin, 1886. Oil on canvas, 38 x 23 5/8.” National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
  8. 4.10.2 Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes, 1623-25. Oil on canvas, 6’ 3/8” x 4’ 7 ¾”. Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan.
  9. 1.1.13 Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1889. Oil on canvas, 28 ¾” x 36 1/4″. Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.
  10. 1.1.26 Georgia O’Keefe, Music—Pink and Blue II, 1919. Oil on canvas, 35 x 19 1/8.” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


An effective way to organize your essay might be as follows:

First paragraph – introduction and thesis statement. Be sure to identify the genre (still-life, portrait, landscape, domestic scene, non-objective painting, etc.).

Second paragraph – detailed description of the work and subject-matter. Is there a narrative? Are there dominant features, shapes, forms, lines, or other passages?

Middle paragraphs – discussion of relevant formal elements and their significance (see Barnett and worksheet). Be sure to tie these back to your thesis:
• medium
• scale
• composition
• lighting
• perspective/viewpoint
• style/technique
• focal point
• texture
• color

Final paragraph – summary of argument and conclusion about work’s meaning based on evidence


• present a clear thesis and argument (see Barnet, pp.19-20 for more info)
• be logically organized
• address the majority of elements covered by Barnet (the more the better, though all may not apply)
• employ relevant key terms and concepts discussed in class
• include completed worksheet (see next page). You should submit this via canvas. You can copy and paste it into the end of your essay, or upload it as a separate document.
• be properly formatted: 12-point Times font, 1” margins, double-spaced

PAPER 2 WORKSHEET Due with finished essay

After close observation, fill out each section dealing with visual analysis. Keep in mind that all of these items may or may not be relevant to the work that you choose. See Barnet for more info about each term.

  1. Sketch of your artwork (include several perspectives if you wish):
  2. Medium – What is the work made of? How might this relate to the meaning?
  3. Scale – Is the work’s size significant do you think? Is it intimate or monumental?
  4. Composition – How is space organized? Is there a clear focal point? Is it symmetrical?
  5. Style and technique – Can you discern the hand of the artist in the work? Which painterly techniques are being used? Does it fit with any movement we have studied?
  6. Color – Which colors has the artist chosen to use? Why? Do they create a specific mood?
  7. Lighting – Where is the light source in the work? Are there strong lighting contrasts?
  8. Focal point – Does the artist force certain areas of focus? Does this influence your response?


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