Below are additional guidelines and expectations for various components of the class. This will be updated and addressed in class where we will discuss new assignments. 


Due: Thursday, February 23 as a word document in your WUSTL Box folder

For this assignment, you must visit the St. Louis Art Museum. Admission to SLAM is free. Choose ONE object in the Roman gallery and write a visual analysis of it. In addition, read Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art on Visual Analysis (pp. 113-127, link on the course site) for a discussion of a Visual Analysis and a sample essay.

You may want to return to this object for your final paper (though you are not required to do so), so pick something you genuinely like and find interesting to look at. The purpose of a visual analysis is to recognize, understand, and articulate the visual choices the artist or architect made in creating a building or work of art. You should consider categories of formal analysis (such as, but not limited to, composition, focal point, color, line, texture, shape, form, material, size) as well as symbolic elements (iconography). Attempt to make your analysis richly detailed. Ask yourself: if somebody had never seen my object, would they really be able to get a sense of what it looks like from reading my description? A visual analysis is persuasive; therefore, it should have a thesis and cite specific aspects of the work to support thesis, and explain how the formal elements of the work support your thesis. After looking closely at your chosen object, you should form a thesis about the intended expressive impact of the object (e.g., what kind of response you think the object was designed to elicit, or what kind of message you think it might have communicated), and support it with visual observations and details. There is no need to do outside research. I do not expect you to know any detail about the historical context of the object. Rather, I want you to look carefully at the object and develop your own, original thesis about its possible intended effect or impact. There are no wrong answers here as long as you support your thesis with visual observations about your chosen work of art.


·      Read Barnet pp. 113-127 posted on the pages site. (Click this link also to a SAMPLE of a description/analysis written by a former student)

·      Observe the object and write down your observations considering composition, focal point, color, line, texture, shape, form, material, size) as well as symbolic elements (iconography). Making a sketch can sometimes help you to understand the visual logic of a work.

·      Formulate a main claim (your thesis).  You may want to consider how the elements contribute to an overall meaning of the work, how the elements relate to each other, what effect is produced by the arrangement of elements? Ground your argument in direct and specific references to the work of art itself.

·      Support your thesis with visual details such as line, color, shape, texture, and material, addressing the elements relevant to your thesis.


•       Introduction – Your introduction should set the stage for your essay by briefly describing the image that you are analyzing and by stating your THESIS.

•       The body of the essay should contain paragraphs providing support for your thesis.

•       TIP: Avoid grand claims. “The artist wanted . . . “is different from the “The warm palette evokes . . . “The first phrasing necessitates proof of the artist’s intent, as opposed to the effect of the image.

•       The conclusion paragraph restates what you said in your paper and perhaps a comment that focuses your overall reaction.


 A thesis statement is an assertion or argument that takes a stand rather than a statement of fact.  Thesis statement has a main point and is specific rather than broad or general.


  1. The essay should be written in 12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced with 1" margins.
  2. The paper should be approximately 3 pages in length.
  3. The paper should include one or more images of the object.
  4. In matters of style words should be appropriate, well chosen, and you should avoid jargon and colloquial language.
  5. Grammar, punctuation and mechanics should be correct. Be sure to PROOFREAD.


Elements - The elements of formal analysis are building blocks that can be combined to create a larger structure.

·      Line is the most basic building block of formal analysis. Line can be used to create more complex shapes or to lead your eye from one area in the composition to another.

·      Value is the degree of light and dark in a design. It is the contrast between black and white and all the tones in between. Value can be used with color as well as black and white. Contrast is the extreme changes between values.

·      Shapes are created when lines are combined to form a square, triangle, or circle. Shapes can be organic (irregular shapes found in nature) or geometric (shapes with strong lines and angles such as circles, triangles, and squares).

·      Forms are three-dimensional shapes with length, width, and depth. Balls, cylinders, boxes and pyramids are forms.

·      Space is the area between and around objects. Increasing or decreasing the amount of space around an object affects the way we view that object.

·      Composition is the relationship between the elements in an image.

·      Color differentiates and defines lines, shapes, forms, and space. Even black and white images have a huge number of different shades of gray. There are three main characteristics of color: hue (green, blue, etc.), value (how light or dark), and intensity (how bright or dull).

·      Texture is the surface quality that can be seen and felt. Textures can be rough or smooth, soft or hard. Textures are often implied. For instance, a drawing of a rock might appear to have a rough and hard surface, but in reality is as smooth as the paper on which it is drawn.

·      Materials refers to the raw materials and/or processes that an artist selects.

The Principles - Notice how the following principles integrate the elements of formal analysis and build on one another.

·      Balance is created in a work of art when textures, colors, forms, or shapes are combined harmoniously.

·      Contrast is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer's attention and to guide the viewer's eye through the artwork.

·      Movement is the way a viewer's eye is directed to move through a composition, often to areas of emphasis. Movement can be directed by lines, contrasting shapes, or colors within the artwork.

·      Emphasis is created in a work of art when the artist contrasts colors, textures, or shapes to direct your viewing towards a particular part of the image.

·      Pattern is the repetition of a shape, form, or texture across a work of art.

·      Proportion is created when the sizes of elements in a work of art are combined harmoniously.

·      Unity is created when the principles of analysis are present in a composition and in harmony. Some images have a complete sense of unity, while some artists deliberately avoid formal unity to create feelings of tension and anxiety. 


Throughout the course, you will be required to read a series of scholarly articles and book excerpts. I have chosen these articles and book excerpts for several reasons. First, they offer diverse views and arguments about objects and/or themes that we will also discuss in class. Second, they are examples of good scholarly writing; they present complex ideas and arguments in clear, comprehensible prose. Third, they should be both challenging and accessible to you. I encourage you to take your time to read through them carefully; do not wait until the very last minute to write your reading responses.

Your reading response should answer the following questions:

-       What is the author’s main argument? Do not offer a step-by-step review of the article, but rather a summary of the main argument(s). What were the most crucial points in the reading? Try to answer this question in no more than a few sentences.

-       Which of the author’s main arguments did you find most convincing? Why? Please be very specific about why you found a certain argument convincing. Think about the author as a lawyer in a court room, trying to convince you, the jury, of his/her point. What steps did s/he take that really worked?

-       Which parts of the reading did you find the least convincing/most problematic? Why? Again, be very specific about what made certain parts of the article seem weaker than the rest. Writing that you found a paragraph boring is not a sufficient criticism! Make your critique substantive; it should address specific ways that the author used evidence and argumentation (or failed to use evidence and argumentation) to convince you.

-       When a primary source is assigned, explain how this primary source enriches (or challenges, or complicates) your understanding of the scholarly reading. What can the primary source tell you about the common theme the other readings address?

-       What is one question about an object or theme we discussed in class that this reading raised for you? This could be a question that you would like to ask the author, your professor, a curator, or even your classmates. This question provides a way for you to think about a possible avenue of further discussion that the reading has raised.

A reading response that earns an “A” will answer all the above questions. It will also use specific examples from the reading to support your analysis. Finally, it will be concise, to the point, and synthesize the reading in your own worlds. Please do not use direct quotations from the reading; I want to hear your voice. Each reading response should not exceed one page; the goal is for you to be as clear and concise as possible. Part of the goal of these reading responses is to encourage you to express your ideas succinctly, in concise prose. The responses must be typed in double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman font with one-inch margins. Your name and the title and author of the reading should be included in a header in the margin (this will also give you extra space on your one page). Please refer to the notes on good writing and plagiarism in the syllabus. Grammar, syntax, spelling, organization, and clarity of thought count for these assignments.



As you will note in the syllabus, a significant portion of your final grade in this class is participation. Part of participation is attending all the class meetings. In addition to attendance, participation also means contributing to class discussions. Given the small size of this class, your participation in discussions is critical. Examples of behaviors that count as active participation in class discussions include (though are not necessarily limited to):[1]

-       Responding to questions posed by the instructor.

-       Asking substantive questions of the instructor.

-       Asking questions or making comments that encourage another person (teacher or fellow student) to elaborate on something they have already said. Such comments may certainly express disagreement with the initial person’s thoughts as long as they do so in a respectful way.

-       Asking questions or making comments that draw connections between the readings and the objects being discussed in section.

-       Bringing attention to or describing a resource (e.g., a reading, web link, etc.) that is not covered in the syllabus but adds new information or perspectives to the material we are studying.

-       Making a comment about how and why you found another person’s ideas interesting or useful.

-       Contributing something that builds on or develops from another person’s comment. You should be explicit about how you are building on the other person’s thoughts.

-       Emailing the instructor before class to bring up topics or questions that you would like addressed during class.

Students who engage in more than one of these behaviors throughout the semester will be considered to have participated most successfully. Thus, for students who are shy about speaking in class, emailing questions and comments can be a good form of participation; however, it cannot be the only form of active participation. In a small class such as this, we must all learn to express our ideas in verbal as well as written form. We will work throughout the semester to create an atmosphere in which all students feel comfortable and respected when voicing their thoughts and opinions.

[1] This list is partially adapted from S. D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom, 2nd ed. (San Francisco, 2006), 148-149.