Final Paper Guidelines

Fall 2019

 ART 101 History of Art                                       

Tips on Writing a Successful Paper

NOTE:  The paper must be a minimum of three (3) double spaced pages in length.  For ART101 the work(s) discussed must be from the Western world – created before or during the Gothic period (roughly before 1300 CE.) If you are considering working on an architectural project it must have been influenced by a building from the past (prior to 1300CE). 

Writing a Museum Research Paper 

Regardless of whether you choose to visit a museum or gallery and write about what you see or write an architectural research paper based on visiting a monument, these tips will be very helpful. Since many beginning students are uncertain about what to write about a work of art, provided here is a brief outline of some points you should consider.

Works of art have been analyzed according to many different schemes. The following presents one such scheme and it is not intended to be followed literally, but merely to help you make a systematic analysis of the work of art you choose. Many of the categories will overlap, and some are obviously more important for certain works than for others. Each work of art is a unique experience, and must be treated as such, the following outline will help you

Give the title of the works, the names of the artists who created them, if known, the country and time period when it was created, and the museum where it now exists. Make a note of the date of your visit to the museum.

Is the work a painting, a graphic, a sculpture or a piece of architecture? What materials were used: tempera, acrylic, oil, stone, wood, metal, ceramic, etc.? What technique was used: engraving, lithography, etching, low or bas relief, high relief, casting, carving, etc.?

Why did you select a given work or works? What interested you?

Context and Subject Matter:
What was the cultural context of the work? What meaning did it have for the people that created it?

What is represented? Is it a portrait, a genre scene, a mythological or biblical scene? Are there symbols in the work? What does it mean? If you know the source of the story, for example the illustration of an ancient myth or a biblical story, give the appropriate citation. How is the subject portrayed? What is its emotional context?

 Formal Elements:
Artists use the formal elements of line, color, value, texture, shape, and rhythm to describe form, space, plane, and mass. Space can be three dimensional, as in sculpture or architecture, or two dimensional as in a painting. Artists may use devices like linear perspective to give the illusion of three dimensional space on a two dimensional surface, or they may use the properties of color and line to create spatial movement on the surface plane. Plane refers to flat two-dimensional space and generally refers to the surface of a painting or graphic. Mass, which is also known as “volume” refers to three dimensional space.

Answering the questions will help you to analyze how the artist used the formal elements of art to create the work of art you are considering. If you are writing about a piece of sculpture, just use the questions that apply. Try to use as many as you can.

Do the lines go primarily in horizontal and vertical directions, echoing the frame of the work, or are they primarily diagonal?  Are the lines flowing or jagged? Can you follow the edges of the forms? Are the edges of the forms sharply delineated or are the brush strokes obvious, tending to obscure sharp edges and lines?

Are the forms arranged in orderly patterns or do they seem chaotic? Do they seem to be static, or do they create a sense of movement? Do the forms create an illusion of three dimensional space or do they seem to lie flat on the surface? Is there a strong sense of three dimensional mass or is the emphasis on surface texture? Is the texture smooth or rough?

How does the artist use light? Does the light come from a consistent source? Does it seem to mold objects into three dimensions or does it flatten them? Are there strong contrasts of light and dark or only subtle modulations? What sort of emotional effect is produced by the light and dark?

What colors does the artist use? To what degree are the colors saturated (intense hues) or grayed? Are the colors complementary or analogous? Is the color used realistically, symbolically or expressively?

Use the conclusion to sum up your reaction to the work. Here are some questions you may wish to answer. In what way do the formal elements support or contradict the ideas implicit in the subject matter? How was the work displayed and what effect did that have on your appreciation of it?

The title page should contain your name, the title of your essay, the class for which you are writing the paper, and the date. You may wish to prepare a cover sheet with an image of the work that you are discussing, perhaps from a post card you purchased at the museum or from an image you downloaded from the web. If you use footnotes, be sure to use the correct format.


The NOVA Reading & Writing Center’s mission is to facilitate student success through improved studying, reading and writing skills. Tutors will assist you in all subjects and disciplines with every aspect of the reading and writing processes. Regardless of your ability level, They can help you improve your reading and writing  Here is the link for the Reading & Writing (Links to an external site.) .Once on this page various links can be accessed for suggestions to improve your essays addressing: your thesis, support, use of evidence, use of source material, arrangement, as well as grammar and mechanics.

Don’t wait until a few days before the paper is due to write it. Start your writing early and let your draft sit for a few days before doing the final editing. Read for logical structure, make sure that your paragraphs each develop a single idea. Above all, be sure that you have checked your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Word processing has made these tasks much easier, but there are still errors that computers cannot catch. Be sure that you have numbered the pages and that your paper is neat and clean. You might ask a friend to check your paper for errors before you turn it in. Above all, do not turn in the first draft! (You will find that learning to write and rewrite in order to create clear and logical papers is one of the most important things you can learn in college, no matter what you do after you graduate.)

Some Additional Notes on Museum/Research Papers:
While a museum paper is based primarily upon your direct relation to works of art, you must include some aspects of a research paper in your final product. This involves looking up information about a work of art or a series of works. The process involved in writing a research paper is intended to introduce you to the various tools and sources that you will need to be able to find information to develop ideas of your own while at the same time giving credit to the sources of your information.

A major task will be locating appropriate source material. Books, articles, and web sources can all be consulted. You will be able to find a good number of books cited in the bibliographic section of our text, Gardner’s Art through the Ages. These have been reviewed for their scholarship and so can be important in getting you started. You will find that both the bibliographies of these books as well as their footnotes will lead you to other sources. Be sure to check the books and periodicals in our library, and don’t be afraid to consult the librarian, if you have a difficult topic. Librarians enjoy helping.

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