PAINTING I –VIRTUAL MUSEUM VISIT RESPONSE PAPER
Compare and contrast two paintings at one of the world’s great art museums I would suggest
going to an art museum in a major city — London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Chicago, Los Angeles –
a city maybe you hope to visit one day. Make sure to go to a .org site, museums will usually have
a collection highlights section, and also allow you to search artists, subjects etc… Spend time
exploring. Look for paintings that you like and that you think have some relationship to what
we’ve done in class. Then choose two paintings to compare and contrast. Frame your
comparison around three main issues: the subject matter, the formal elements, and the content.
Subject Matter – This is the most straight-forward of the three. It simply refers to the image that
is literally described in the painting. Some examples of subject matter would be — a house in the
woods, a scene from the Bible, or George Washington crossing the Delaware. If a painting is
non-objective and makes no reference to the world outside itself (Jackson Pollocks’s drip
paintings) the painting does not have subject-matter. If a painting is abstract however, there still
is a subject, it’s just that the subject matter has been distorted so it may be hard to recognize
(think of a cubist painting of a still-life).
Formal Elements – These relate to issues of form or the physical means through which the art is
conveyed. For example the different art forms include the performing arts, literary arts and visual
arts. Within the visual arts the different forms include sculpture, painting, photography,
printmaking, etc….In painting you have oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, etc…Oil painting can
be non-objective, abstract or representational. Representational painting can be stylistically
photographic or impressionistic. All paintings, non-objective, abstract or representational, are
made up of formal components – line, shape, value, color and texture. Each of these can vary.
Line can be lyrical or nervous, shape can be geometric or organic, color can be neon or earth
toned. The way that these components are put together in a composition, asymmetrical or
symmetrical, is a formal issue. The overall size of a painting is also a formal issue.
Content – Content concerns what the painting is about or its meaning. It is often hard to define
specifically in a work; it can be subjective and is never completely expressible. It is connected to
the subject matter but not the same thing. For example there could be two paintings of the same
subject, say a man alone in a room reading a book, but the paintings could be about two very
different things. One could be about serenity and peace whereas the other could be about
isolation and despair. The reason they would be different would be because of the way the artist
painted it, or the formal elements he or she used. Subject, form and content are inseparably
In your paper I want you to describe the subject, the formal elements and the content in each
painting. Then make the comparisons between each of the two paintings. How are they alike?
How are they different? What creates these similarities and differences? What are the reasons for
selecting the two specific works of art. It could simply be because of your own personal
aesthetic. If so, can you define your aesthetic through the connections between these two
paintings? Maybe you are interested in two paintings of the same subject which have a great deal
of formal contrast and as a result have very different effects? Whatever it is, please explain your
reason in the paper.
Reading the museum material may be helpful or necessary (especially with Contemporary Art).
If you use any of that information please cite your source in parentheses. This paper is mostly
about looking. Describe what you see in clear, understandable, well-organized language.
The paper should be a minimum two typed pages in length or the equivalent if it is hand written.
If it is hand written it must be legible.
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