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Lecture 2

ARTH 105 Lecture 2: EkphrasisFormalDescriptionandFormalAnalysis

4 Pages
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Department
Art History
Course Code
ARTH 105
Professor
Carlton Hughes

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EKPHRASIS
Requires visual evidence of the work’s original appearance and subsequent alterations
This requires looking very closely at postures, gestures, and setting of figures in a painting or
sculpture, and using logic to deduce precisely what they seem to be doing, and what they might be
feeling and thinking. Ekphrasis then brings the scene to life, producing a vivid description of those
things in a literary form which may even be narrative or poetic. Ekphrases of architecture may attribute
personality and action to the various features of a building, describing a roof as “hovering protectively
over the slender columns of a porch, or a window as “revealing a rocky vista that plunges into the sea.”
It may describe a row of columns as “marching across a façade,” or more statically as “soldiers standing
at attention.” Ekphrases of buildings may also describe the way light flows through or across
architectural features, or the way sound echoes through hallways and rooms. Complexes of buildings
may spread out serenely in a valley or cling defensively to the brow of a hill, etc.
FORMAL DESCRIPTION
Requires visual evidence of the work’s original appearance and subsequent alterations
What Formal Description Is
Formal description treats the purely visual elements of a work of art or architecture, such as
balance, motion, line, color, lighting and value, shape, texture, proportion, and spatial relation to the
viewer. Like ingredients in a cooking recipe, these are all combined in any given work of art. The word
used for the combining and arranging of parts is Composition. The primary concern of formal
description is to explain how the artist arranges and uses these various elements. Formal description is
an important technique for organizing visual information. In other words, it is a strategy used to
translate what you see into written words. This strategy can be applied to any work of art, from any
period in history, whether a photograph, sculpture, painting or cultural artifact. Translating appearances
from visual language to textual language is one of the most vital skills in art history. Ordinary life does
not involve scrutinizing objects this intently, but when studying art it is important to look—and look
carefully.
How to Do a Formal Description
Look at the work of art in person or in a good quality picture or video. If describing a sculpture
or building or any other 3-dimensional artwork, it is good to see it from many different viewpoints, or to
look at pictures of it or videos of it which show as many viewpoints and lighting conditions as possible.
Then answer the following set of questions:
a) Balance: Do the left and right sides of the artwork balance each other, or does one side seem more
full, more vivid, heavier, more complex, or darker or lighter than the other? Do the left and right sides
seem to match or mirror each other? In other words, are they symmetrical with each other? If not, then
can you identify any parts that especially disrupt the symmetry?
b) Motion: Does the artwork have a horizontal (left/right) imbalance which gives it a feel of instability?
Slanting lines and spiraling lines can both create a sense of motion. Do they in the artwork? Is action
portrayed? Does anything seem to be surging or flowing? Does the tempo (the pace) of movement
seem to be fast or slow, or does it vary between parts of the artwork? Does the artwork involve the
repetition of shapes? If so, that automatically creates a rhythm which may be even or syncopated.
c) Lines and Contours (Edges): Are the edges of things clear and sharp and distinct, or are they fuzzy and
blurred? Does this vary within the artwork? Do lines seem to converge, thereby leading the eye toward
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Description
EKPHRASIS Requires visual evidence of the work’s original appearance and subsequent alterations This requires looking very closely at postures, gestures, and setting of figures in a painting or sculpture, and using logic to deduce precisely what they seem to be doing, and what they might be feeling and thinking. Ekphrasis then brings the scene to life, producing a vivid description of those things in a literary form which may even be narrative or poetic. Ekphrases of architecture may attribute personality and action to the various features of a building, describing a roof as “hovering protectively over the slender columns of a porch, or a window as “revealing a rocky vista that plunges into the sea.” It may describe a row of columns as “marching across a façade,” or more statically as “soldiers standing at attention.” Ekphrases of buildings may also describe the way light flows through or across architectural features, or the way sound echoes through hallways and rooms. Complexes of buildings may spread out serenely in a valley or cling defensively to the brow of a hill, etc. FORMAL DESCRIPTION Requires visual evidence of the work’s original appearance and subsequent alterations What Formal Description Is Formal description treats the purely visual elements of a work of art or architecture, such as balance, motion, line, color, lighting and value, shape, texture, proportion, and spatial relation to the viewer. Like ingredients in a cooking recipe, these are all combined in any given work of art. The word used for the combining and arranging of parts is Composition. The primary concern of formal description is to explain how the artist arranges and uses these various elements. Formal description is an important technique for organizing visual information. In other words, it is a strategy used to translate what you see into written words. This strategy can be applied to any work of art, from any period in history, whether a photograph, sculpture, painting or cultural artifact. Translating appearances from visual language to textual language is one of the most vital skills in art history. Ordinary life does not involve scrutinizing objects this intently, but when studying art it is important to look—and look carefully. How to Do a Formal Description Look at the work of art in person or in a good quality picture or video. If describing a sculpture or building or any other 3-dimensional artwork, it is good to see it from many different viewpoints, or to look at pictures of it or videos of it which show as many viewpoints and lighting conditions as possible. Then answer the following set of questions: a) Balance: Do the left and right sides of the artwork balance each other, or does one side seem more full, more vivid, heavier, more complex, or darker or lighter than the other? Do the left and right sides seem to match or mirror each other? In other words, are they symmetrical with each other? If not, then can you identify any parts that especially disrupt the symmetry? b) Motion: Does the artwork have a horizontal (left/right) imbalance which gives it a feel of instability? Slanting lines and spiraling lines can both create a sense of motion. Do they in the artwork? Is action portrayed? Does anything seem to be surging or flowing? Does the tempo (the pace) of movement seem to be fast or slow, or does it vary between parts of the artwork? Does the artwork involve the repetition of shapes? If so, that automatically creates a rhythm which may be even or syncopated. c) Lines and Contours (Edges): Are the edges of things clear and sharp and distinct, or are they fuzzy and blurred? Does this vary within the artwork? Do lines seem to converge, thereby leading the eye towarda focal point? d) Color: Where is there especially saturated (rich) or especially faint (pale or grayish) color? Is there color that creates a focal point by contrasting with others around it? e) Lighting and Light/Dark Value: Where are there especially light or dark areas? Are there particular areas of sharp light/dark contrast, or are there any areas of particularly smooth and gradual transition (change) between light and dark? If considering a drawing, painting, graphic print, photography, or video, does the lighting or light/dark value seem abnormal in any way? f) Shape: Are the shapes of things soft and rounded, or are they pointed or jagged? Does this vary within the artwork? Is there any distortion of what you would consider normal shape? g) Texture: Does there seem to be variety of textures in the artwork? Are there areas of abrupt contrast or transition between textures? h) Proportions: Do any parts seem especially large or small in comparison to others. Is there any distortion of what you would consider normal proportions? i) Spatial Relation to Us as Viewers: Does any aspect of the artwork create a sense of spatial connection to you? What is scale or size relative to you? Does the artwork seem to point to you or to embrace you or welcome by opening toward you in any way, or does it do the opposite? If the artwork itself is a drawing, painting, graphic print, photograph, or video, does it seem to portray three-dimensional space like that which we physically inhabit? If so, then does that space seem to connect with yours or not? The Main Elements of Form The elements of form are building blocks that can be combined to create a larger structure. Below is a set of extremely short definitions. Line can be used to create more complex shapes or to lead your eye from one area in the composition to another. 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. Contour is the edge of an area or of a surface. Contours may be closed (complete and clear) or open (incomplete and/or unclear). 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. Proportion is the comparative size of the parts which constitute an image. Value is the degree of light and dark in a
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