In writing a formal analysis or visual analysis paper, the most important thing to remember is that even though you might be thinking “description,” this paper does require a thesis. Even in a purely visual paper, a thesis gives your paper a point to prove, and thus provides an analytical approach to the object. (See the other areas of this site that deal with the importance of the thesis.)
When you first approach the object, take plenty of time to note down all the visual details of its form that you can. As you look carefully, you will begin to sense an overall organization to the work of art. When you have crystallized that sense into a single sentence, you have produced your thesis. In a formal analysis paper, that thesis will be proven by the visual details of the object which support the thesis.
As you are looking, consider:
Medium (what the object is made of): Be attentive to particular kinds of brushstroke, or ways in which the artist handled the substance that forms the object.
Technique (how the object was made): Notice whether the object was drawn, painted, engraved, carved, cast, etc., and how the artist carried out those processes.
Size: Is it large or small?
Composition (the arrangement of elements in the work): Is there a focal point? Is the composition crowded, open, varied, repetitious? How does your viewpoint affect the work?
Space: Which methods are used to create space—or is there a denial of space? How does the object relate to the space around it?
When writing, try to express what you see with as much precision as possible. Remember the following formal terminology:
Color: Elements of color
* Intensity OR Saturation
* Local color, Optical color, Arbitrary color
Line: Uses of line
Space: Methods for creating space in a 2-D object
* Figure vs. Ground
* Reduction in scale (but remember exceptions to this convention)
* Atmospheric Perspective: “Blueing out”, reduction of detail, reduction of value contrast
* Vertical Perspective
* Axonometric Projection
* Linear Perspective
Plastic Arts: Elements to consider in sculpture
* Relationship to site