Critical Analysis of a Work of Art

Museum Essay Assignment: Critical Analysis of a Work of Art

Art criticism is responding to, interpreting meaning, and making critical judgments about specific works of art. For this essay assignment you will visit a online museum and choose one work of Non-Representational Art and write a critical analysis of the work utilizing the guide and rubric provided below.

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Essay Length: No Less than 3 pages. Must be turned into the Museum Essay dropbox found under the Assessment tab in D2L.

When you visit the museum to discover the work of art you want to write about, I have provided you with a “Art Analysis Check Sheet” to help guide you in your evaluation of the work. It can be found under the content / essay in D2L.

MLA Citation Manager

Essay Directions:

  1. MLA formatted header, which includes your name, class, date and title of essay.
  2. Necessary paragraphs:
  • Description: pure description of the object without value judgments, analysis, or interpretation. (subject matter, medium, form).
  1. Includes artist’s name
  2. Includes name of exhibition
  3. Includes medium (and style if pertinent)
  4. It answers the question, “What do you see?”
  5. The various elements that constitute a description include:

Form of art whether architecture, sculpture, painting or one of the minor arts.

Medium of work whether clay, stone, steel, paint, etc., and technique (tools used)

Size and scale of work (relationship to person and/or frame and/or context)

Elements or general shapes (architectural structural system) within the composition, including building of post‑lintel construction or painting with several figures lined up in a row; identification of objects

Description of axis whether vertical, diagonal, horizontal, etc.

Description of line, including contour as soft, planar, jagged, etc.

Description of how line describes shape and space (volume); distinguish between lines of objects and lines of composition, e.g., thick, thin, variable, irregular, intermittent, indistinct, etc.

Relationships between shapes, e.g., large and small, overlapping, etc.

Description of color and color scheme = palette

Texture of surface or other comments about execution of work

Context of object: original location and date.

  • Formal Analysis: determining what the features suggest and deciding why the artist used such features to convey specific ideas.
  1. Includes all principles of organization.
  2. Includes how the artist uses the previous two concepts to reveal the subject matter.
  3. Includes a discussion of the how the artist’s choices of the visual language of art is accomplished.

It answers the question, “How did the artist do it?”

The various elements that constitute analysis include:

Determination of subject matter through naming iconographic elements, e.g., historical event, allegory, mythology, etc.

Selection of most distinctive features or characteristics whether line, shape, color, texture, etc.

Analysis of the principles of design or composition, e.g., stable, repetitious, rhythmic, unified, symmetrical, harmonious, geometric, varied, chaotic, horizontal or vertically oriented, etc.

Discussion of how elements or structural system contribute to appearance of image or function

Analysis of use of light and role of color, e.g., contrasty, shadowy, illogical, warm, cool, symbolic, etc.

Treatment of space and landscape, both real and illusionary (including use of perspective), e.g., compact, deep, shallow, naturalistic, random

Portrayal of movement and how it is achieved

Effect of particular medium(s) used

Your perceptions of balance, proportion and scale (relationships of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part) and your emotional

Reaction to object or monument.

  • Interpretation: What is the subject matter or content? Is there meaning or an idea that the artist strives toward in his/her choices of elements, and principles or media? Establishing the broader context for this type of art.

It answers the question, “Why did the artist create it and what does it mean

The various elements that constitute interpretation include:

Main idea, overall meaning of the work.

Interpretive Statement: Can I express what I think the artwork is about in one sentence?

Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my interpretation?

  • Judgment: Draw a conclusion as to how effectively the artist uses the language of art to create a visual image that is persuasive, creates a sense of unity of form with the subject and/or content with medium chosen. Judging a piece of work means giving it rank in relation to other works and of course considering a very important aspect of the visual arts; its originality.

Is it a good artwork?

Criteria: What criteria do I think are most appropriate for judging the artwork?

Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork relates to each criterion?

Judgment: Based on the criteria and evidence, what is my judgment about the quality of the artwork?

  1. Writing Skills:
  • Student will employ writing skills that exhibit proper use of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage in a manner that is clear, concise and cogent.
  • Student should consider having his/her paper proofread by someone considered to have good writing skills.
  • Student will employ appropriate use of grammar, spelling, and punctuation is required.

When you visit the museum to discover the work of art you want to write about, I have provided you with a “Art Analysis Check Sheet” to help guide you in your evaluation of the work. It can be found under the content / essay in D2L.


Rubric for grading museum


90’s 80’s 70’s 60’s
Work in museum and text that show knowledge of the elements and principles of design. Clearly identified example of non-representational art. And clearly identified elements and principles of design found in the work. Identified missing, or unclear example of non-representational art. Unclearly identifying the elements and principles of design in the work Unclear or lack of identifying a work of non-representational art. Unclear understanding of the elements and principles of design. Example found online and was not on display in the museum.
Additional research is evident. Additional research is evident, examples, references, an/or citations given regarding images of non-representational art. Additional research is weak, few references to non-representational art.. Additional research is not evident, non-representational art is is mentioned, but not discussed. Citations missing. Additional research is not evident, non-representational art is not addressed in essay.
Use of citations to defend position References, citations, or footnotes are used to refer to facts gathered from both textbooks and museum labels. References, citations, or footnotes are used to refer to facts gathered from only one source. Textbook is the only source used for research, citations missing. No evidence that textbooks or other sources were used for research, no citations in essay.
Essay will be evaluated using this rubric.


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