What is Formal Analysis of Art?
Formal analysis is an important part of understanding art, it is like a skeleton that helps seek answers to questions in the work of art through visual means. The formal analysis focuses on basic characteristics of artworks, such as color, line, space and mass, texture, and scale.
Color has three main characteristics in formal analysis: hue (red, blue, green, etc.), value (how dark or light it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is). Lines often define the edges of a form. They can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin. Lines give information through their character and direction. Space is three-dimensional. It can be negative or positive, depends on the area if it’s around the primary objects or space is occupies by them. The texture is what we can feel through the sense of touch. A lot of objects have a physical texture, but artists can also convey texture visually in two dimensions (hard, soft, rough, smooth, hairy, leathery, sharp, etc). In three-dimensional works, artists use actual texture to add a tactile quality to the work. Scale basically shows how large or small the work of art is and used to emphasize or deemphasize certain elements in the image.
- The Mona Lisa is a portrait. She is sitting upright and sideways in a chair with her hands crossed, her face and chest turned slightly towards us (viewers).
- The background landscape looks a bit blurry, imbalanced in terms of the horizon: on the ride side, it is rocky, compared to the flatlands stretching away on the left. It gives a feeling like the atmosphere of the picture is surreal.
- I can see why this portrait is very famous, it has a mystery. There is no such action, but Mona’s eyes and her mysterious smile indicate internal or psychological action. If I stand either left or right side in front of the picture-her eyes look at me, and her smile can show that she is happy, at the same time I can notice her sadness.
- The colors show how cold and warm a portrait is. The dark colors of Mona’s dress and hair contrasted with the lighter background landscape. Her face and hands give contrast to her dark clothing and hair. We can notice lines on Mona Lisa’s skin and background but they are different on her dress, the lines are repeated on the sleeves of her dress. Looking at her portrait, I was impressed by how smoothly the portrait was painted, the colors blend together without definite edges.
- It seems like Mona Lisa is sitting proudly, clothed in a luxurious fabric, even the background gives a sense as she could own it. The most interesting part of the portrait is that every person can interpret Mona Lisa in his/her own way. Who knows, maybe it is actually a portrait of da Vinci himself in feminine form.
It is great to learn more about formal analysis because it helps interpret and understand how a work of art expresses or shapes the ideas of an artist. Reading more about art inspires me to learn, explore, and travel to a different time or place.