ARHS 3382: Art and Experience in Inka PerúFirst Paper AssignmentThis assignment asks you to write a formal analysis of an artwork from the Pre-Columbian Andes.  Go to the Dallas Museum of Art; select one piece from their extensive holdings in Pre-Columbian art.  If you want to make the drive to Ft. Worth, the Kimbell Museum has a small (but superb and superbly mounted) collection of Andean objects.  Be sure that you chose an Andean work, rather than a Mesoamerican object.  Any Andean work is fine: in the DMA you will find objects produced by many of the ancient Andean cultures.  Make a sketch, note your observations, then write a three-page (double-spaced) formal analysis. 2020 COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS: You may use an image of an object from the internet.  Try the websites of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (, or the Kimbell Museum (, or the LA County Museum (, or the Cleveland Museum (, or the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco (  All of their sites have accessible digital archives of their holdings in pre-Columbian art.  Browse through their online collections of Andean art and choose an object.  Sketch it as you would an object in person.  Also, include a digital file of your object, and identify it in your paper as the museum itself does—with proper title and acquisition number.  It’s not the same as a visit in person, but it’s what we can do right now.  The art will be waiting for you when this is all over!What is formal analysis?  Formal analysis is a process that combines close observation with keen, polished writing.  A formal analysis is not merely description, but argumentation.  It addresses the visual and compositional particulars of a work, and the author makes pointed conclusions about the object’s form.  Go about your formal analysis as you would analyze a piece of poetry: make your observations pointed, even technical, and be careful not to use terms that are vague.Some issues you may want to keep in mind as you address your chosen object: size, materials, technique of manufacture, function.  Avoid broad generalizations.  Instead, think technically, making specific observations of the work’s form and composition; from this sharp seeing, draw more general conclusions about the object.  How does the work communicate?  What kind of visual/tactile/spatial experience does the object impart to the viewer?  It may help you to think pointedly: what aspect of the piece appeals to you?  Or, in another manner of speaking, what makes the object visually “successful”?Remember that your paper is not about the broad cultural significance of the object.  In writing this paper, don’t worry about cultural context, or any cultural information the museum label may give you: this information is important, but it is not part of this short writing exercise.  Your interest is in the object’s visual properties: how do the object’s visual forms work together as a composition?Papers must be typed.  They must have a title.  You must include your sketch with the paper–again, don’t worry about the drawing, since it will not affect your grade.Due:  Mon., May 18, in class. On Writing a Formal Analysis: Some TipsChoosing an Object:  When in the gallery, just let yourself browse.  Select an object that appeals to you, for whatever reason.  You might want to consider what “works,” or “clicks” with you.  Then in your analysis, consider what it is that you liked: examine your assumptions, zero in on what you like about the piece, and analyze what interests you about the way the object looks.Stick to the Subject:  Remember, this short paper is about visual form, not broad cultural significance.  Your essay is an exercise in looking at the object, rather than an encyclopedic summary of the object’s meaning.  Always keep in mind how the object communicates with its visual form.  Don’t worry about who the Cupisnique were, for instance, or what form of kingship they practiced.  This information is important, but it is not the point of this exercise.  Instead, discuss what you see.  Also, don’t reproduce any text from the object’s label in your essay.Form and Representation:  Be mindful of the ways our own artistic tradition has conditioned us to see what is represented, not the actual forms that are doing the representing.  When standing in front of a painting, we tend to “see” what is depicted, not the object that tricks our eye with its paint and color: we have been taught to perceive the lilies in a Monet, for instance, rather than a piece of fabric covered with sticky pigment.  Most artistic traditions are much less interested in representation than western art is.  When looking at your object, don’t forget that it is a thing (wood, ceramic, hair, jadeite, cloth, or what have you) that may or may not represent something else (a person, or animal), or that may represent something else in ways that never let you forget the “thingness” of the object before you.  In your analysis, you might want to concentrate on the ways your object goes about depicting its representational subject matter.  Many objects aren’t engaged in visual representation at all: in these cases, think about patterns, symmetry of form (e.g. color, line, positive forms protruding outward, negative forms and hollows, edges and outlines), sense of weight and gravity, interaction with human body, etc.  Even when you are working with an object that represents or depicts something or someone, you will want to keep these issues in the front of your mind. Be Specific:  Don’t lapse into hazy generalizations.  Watch out for statements on the order of “the object is very powerful,” or “this piece portrays the beauty of Maya art,” or “the time it took to make this beautiful work shows how important it was to the Maya.”  While you may be right, you still need to be more concrete in your observations.  Always use specific terms that point to particular aspects of the work.  How is your object “powerful,” or in what ways is it “beautiful” in a manner that western art isn’t?Build your Observations into Arguments:  You will quickly find that any visual object is worth a thousand words and more.  When you observe some aspect of the piece, ask yourself what effect that visual characteristic has on your perception of the work.  Knit separate observations together.  Say an object (an Olmec celt) is a hard stone that is a translucent blue-green in color: you might argue “The celt both welcomes and rejects the world around it.  Though impenetrable to the touch, the object’s smooth surface allows light to pass through the stone.” Analyze, rather than Describe:  Don’t list the traits of your work.  If you are analyzing a seated figure, for instance, it is not enough to say, “the figure is seated with its legs crossed; the figure’s head is resting in its right hand, and the right elbow is on the right knee.”  Instead, take your observations and put them together in a way that says something about the piece.  So, you might say, “the figure’s crossed legs ground the figure in a stable posture; the vertical form of the arm works to steady the figure’s tilted head.  The arm acts like a building column, bearing the head’s weight down to the stable platform below.”Write with Style:  Use the verb form “to be” as little as possible, and avoid the passive voice.  “To be” forms take all the life out of your writing, and the passive voice doesn’t allow you to make strong points.  So, don’t write, “the object is green,” or “the colors are vibrant.”  Instead, use active verbs that put your thoughts into motion.  If you are careful not to use “to be” (“is,” “was,” “are,” etc.), your writing will take on greater verve and definition.  Strong verbs enliven any writing you may do, in whatever profession you take up: art history books, office memos, proposals for engineering projects, on and on.  I guarantee: avoiding the use of “to be” will improve your grade by at least half a letter.Give Yourself Enough Time:  The secret to good writing is re-writing.  Don’t put your writing off until the last minute.  First drafts and last-minute knock-offs are obvious to the reader.  Always give yourself time to revise the paper. Spell-Check.  Include a title.Enjoy the Art!  You will probably find that your unconscious instincts about a work offer you a very valuable guide, and that you are more discerning seer than you thought.

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