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We have now covered the essential artistic elements. Each one has its own characteristics and limitations. Used together they add variety and complexity, becoming the building blocks in creating works of art. We’ll rely on them to describe different kinds of artworks in the learning activities for this module. This will give you the practice and experience you’ll need to use description as an objective way to discuss the art you experience.

The Formalist Method describes what a person sees in a piece of art in a totally objective way and helps one to look at art in a new way. It does not require reference to any subject matter when discussing a work of art. Instead, one is required to be objective in descriptions and there is no subjective reaction to the artwork involved. It’s important to understand the Formalist Method of looking at artwork because it allows one to understand Style, the aesthetic values or physical techniques used in making art, and Form, the way a work of art looks. The Formalist Method is used to look at a piece of art that one may know nothing about to form an appreciation of it before one understands the symbols and meaning behind the work.

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A Formalist Look at Artistic Elements
  1. With reference to the elements of art (line, shape, volume, space, value, color and texture), write a Formalist description of one of the works of art from the Art resources links or a source of your own choice. Referring to a chosen image, write a short descriptive sentence for each of the elements.
    Examples: “The work uses a majority of organic shapes” and “It uses the complimentary colors yellow and violet for contrast”. You could use a 1-5 scale to rate the importance of a particular element for the work of art you chose. If you do not see an element represented in your chosen work of art, say "none present". Remember to be objective in your description and do not refer to the subject matter, your perceived meaning of the work, the artist or anything that is not visible in the image itself.

Objective Description and Subjective Analysis

  1. Using the links provided, or any of your choice, objectively describe the two compositions and your subjective reaction to each of them.
    • Image 1: John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark
    • Image 2: Judy Pfaff’s Untitled.
      • What kind of visual balance is used in each?
      • How does the balance affect the composition?
      • Explain how effective each work is in terms of unity and variety.
    Example: “There is variety in the colors used, but they are mostly analogous to each other, and that creates a unity in the overall effect”. Be specific and include any links or images that help support your answers. Your final work on this activity should be at least two pages, double-spaced.
    Note: Although the Formalist Method can be used to look at artistic principles too, you are not required to do so for this activity.