Upon entering this class I had no formal knowledge on art and how to define its hidden meanings. However, throughout Unit 1 we went over the topics of Formal analysis and critical pedagogy. This allowed me to understand how to look and define a painting/artwork not only on what I see but on how to look and interpret the artists techniques. After we analyzed the paintings of the 2 women. I bagan to see past the large picture and started to examine the different elements of the works. Whether it be their similarities or differences.
Formal Analysis can be defined simple as exploring the visual effects the work has on the viewer and what the artist wanted to accomplish visually. This method focuses primarily on questioning the visual and physical aspect of the artwork. Focusing on lines,shapes,color schemes,texture, form,etc. It’s questioning the work and looking for the answer in the work itself. In examine both paintings of women we learned on how the artists used different types of shading and colors to emphasize or deemphasize certain points in the paintings.
In one of our readings the Pedagogy of the Oppressed we were introduced into the idea of the banking model of education . To Friere the banking model is a representation of the detached education system. He believed that the banking model of education simply states that a teacher has all the knowledge and therefore the teacher must “deposit” the knowledge they have into the students, who then memorize the information instead of fully understanding the information given. This sort of detached learning entails that education will not allow students to express their own interest or creativity.
Since learning these 2 topics my understanding for art has further expanded. I am now aware on how to appreciate art and how to interpret what the artist may have been trying to tell the viewer.
In this unit I was introduced to the art of analysis or, formal analysis. Formal analysis, as I understand it now, is the surface level interpretation of a piece of art. It requires no background knowledge and instead focuses on elements such as line, shape and form, space and mass, color, scale, sculpture and texture. These elements are analyzed in relation to each other and in relation to the whole image to make up a story that connects pieces of the image together. I learned that when I encounter a piece of art I like to first ask myself “what is it that I see and how does it interconnect?” This was an amazing way to open the semester because I feel now even when I’m reading a passage for class I look for small elements and connect them together, performing a different variation of formal analysis constantly. Formal analysis is however not only a description of the work but rather the active engagement in understanding the context of the work. I believe that this opening has allowed me to actively look for elements in any form of art that can help me analyze the overall image. For example my favorite piece of artwork that we analyzed thus far has been the Venus of Urbino (Titan, 1538). We were able to take an image with no prior knowledge of the era, the concept or the story and deduced details from simple elements. We started by analyzing the center of the image as the lighting brought our attention to the center. From the dark edges of the pictures to the highlighting on the woman’s arms and legs we were able to tell that her being center of the picture was representative of her power. The color of the image was warm toned and only used cool tones to represent the woman making it clear that her presence was the core of the image. The people seen in the back of the picture are showed in dimmer lighting and were looking for clothes which allowed us to think they were her helpers and were helping her get dressed. The nudity in the picture, while any other time would have showcased vulnerability, in this case vocalized her status. The way she laid on the bed relaxed and unbothered was also a result of her power and class. The accentuation of her body with lighter toned colors in comparison to the women in the back who were fully clothed depicted a hierarchical dynamic. The grapes she holds in her hands, a symbol of wealth, reinforce her power. Her posture on the bed emanates elegance as she lays peacefully and at ease. We can also see this in the way she’s drawn to have her elbow propped up on the pillow while she lays with one of knees bent and on her side. Through formal analysis I was able to take an image I had never encountered before and was able to make connections between elements such as color, lighting and symbolic pieces to create a base line understanding of the content of the image. When we analyze a piece of art we assess these key elements to see how they contribute to the overall experience of the artwork. In class we used all this background knowledge to analyze European art, from the Venus of Urbino to Yasumasa Morimura’s portrait. We used formal analysis to put together a story for each piece of art taking into consideration the elements of each. For example in the portrait of Olympia and Futago we instantly detect a power dynamic between the woman laying on a lavish bed while the African American stands on the side of the bed in service. The light and dark contrasts of the image bring forth the image of the woman laying on the bed while dimming out the background. The colors used help direct attention to the woman laying on the bed while the African American woman in the background seems buried in dim light. Ultimately we learned how to analyze a piece of art first by subjective elements and then based on our own experiences and understood different takes on the entirety of art and its presence in our world today. The art of formal analysis can unveil intentions of the artist without any prior knowledge of the image and its context. This allows students to identify with the art as they can individualize the experience of understanding art from their own perspective.
The piece of reading that I most enjoyed this unit was the Pedagogy of the Oppressed and its introduction of the banking model of education. To Friere the banking model is representative of the detached education system put in place by the oppressors. He believes that the banking model of education simply entails that a teacher has all the knowledge while students have none therefore teachers have to “deposit” the knowledge they have into the students, who then memorize the information and repeat it. This sort of detached learning and teaching method is what Friere calls “oppressive.” While one may not exactly agree that it is oppressive however we cannot deny the suppressive nature of our education system that forces students to develop a dependency on instructors. This education system thereby suppresses an individual’s full capability of learning and applying knowledge. Friere’s compassion for students to display their upmost capacity was encouraging for individuals who have become a part of the cycle of memorizing and regurgitating knowledge. He believes that such a system takes the power away from students who can very well learn and analyze independently if given the chance. This idea of independence in education is refreshing considering the American education system is all laid out and is dependent on the instructor to teach the students what they need to know for class and not for the real world. I, however, identified more with Art on My Mind by Bell Hooks, which was a political take on art and finding identity within art. She was a gifted artist however her parents traditional views on art and her own experience with artists had convinced her that art, while it mattered, was dangerous. Her parents traditionalism is influenced more by tv image and movies than art, possibly due to their sense of identity being tied to such mediums. Bell Hook’s revealed that her parents didn’t identify with art because art lacked representation of all. While physically it may be true that each kind of person is not being represented in art equally I feel that you can identify with art through experiences and that can even come from an image of someone who doesn’t look like you, it depends on the story the image tells. As a Muslim American I may not see woman wearing the hijab in pieces of art but I encounter and can relate to various elements of modesty portrayed in art. Our perspective and take on art is shaped by our experiences and not our physicality therefore anyone can relate and anyone can look at an image and analyze it formally or even personally.
Throughout unit 1 we discussed the ideas of formal analysis and critical pedagogy. These concepts were good stepping stones in understanding the meaning of an artwork. This allowed us to comprehend the artist’s meaning and purpose for their work and what they were trying to say. I remember during the first two weeks I could only see what was literally in front of me. For example, when we analyzed the painting of the women, I only noticed what was there. I didn’t see the details and precision put into certain parts of the artwork.
One concept we learned was formal analysis. It is an explanation of structure in ways which visual elements function with a piece of work. The purest form of formal analysis is defined to what the viewer sees because that’s how the eye looks at art. Visually speaking there are numerous of ideas and images we see off a piece of art. We use different components such as line, shape and form, space, color, and texture to evaluate what the art means. These components break down the significance of what the artist is truly trying to depict. Also, there are different characteristics and concepts in the components that can describe what is happening. The color, line, scale, space and mass all effect how interpret a piece. According to Anne D’Alleva, “Formal analysis means looking at the work of art to try to understand what the artist wants to convey visually.”D’Alleva is telling us to consider the reason for the creation of the piece and not to focus on what we only see through vision. Using the other concepts can give us a grasp of the true meaning of an piece of work.
Another concept we talked about was critical pedagogy which can be found in Paulo Freire’s well known “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” This text talks about the “banking model of education” where it treats students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Freire argues that the traditional education system lacks critical thinking and a loss of creativity. How Freire describes this education is educators and teachers deposit information and knowledge into students, or in other words filling up your piggy bank with coins. This method taught students how to memorize information rather than understand what they are being taught. Instead of teaching students the what if, why, and how’s, they simply state facts and expect students to retain that information.
Throughout Unit 1, we focused on types of learning, which is something that comes in handy for an art history class since we are required to both examine different pieces of art and think about them critically. First we learned about critical pedagogy with Paulo Freire’s Banking Model of learning. Freire’s theory discussed the issues with teachers merely “depositing” information into their students, which is impacting students ability to learn and truly think critically. I think learning about this “model” was imperative, especially because as a student I have experienced this numerous times and it has impacted both my understanding of a subject, as well as my interest in it. Examining Freire’s criticisms of the education system as one of the first things we did in this class was necessary because it put into perspective how inefficient learning can be if students are not thinking for themselves. Thinking for yourself is crucial in art history since we are required to analyze different forms of art to get a better understanding of them.
The need to analyze pieces of art becomes much easier once the concept of formal analysis comes into practice. Formal analysis is used to comprehend art work by using what the artist provides us with. We can thoroughly look at the artists use of color or lines and use it to interpret the intentions behind those techniques. Putting this to to the test in class when we looked at paintings was very helpful. For example, when we looked at Titan’s Venus of Urbino, I found myself paying attention to and actually thinking about minuscule things that I normally would not have, such as the different hues and types of lines. Formal analysis allowed us to take simple things and think about them at our own pace rather than being told what we should think, which is something that can be difficult in other subjects.
A lot was learned from Unit 1; but the one that stood out the most was the Banking Model. It simply can be described as “depositing” knowledge into the student so they could understand the subject matter. Throughout a persons life, as a kid they underwent such a process in order to grasp subjects and topics. The process is centered around an authoritative figure giving out information for the students to study and prepare when they are going to be tested on what they remember. It hinders the individual who seeks alternative methods of solving problems, but helps the students who follow the rules strictly and remembers very well.
Another thing that I learned in this Unit that always fascinated was how people could examine a painting and can analyze multiple aspects that contribute to it just by using Formal Analysis. Spacing within a painting can give depth and a sense of where the figures. Also the coloring of certain figures taking a specific action. Usually insidious figures are painted with much darker colors, and innocent figures painted with bright colors. These are just a few examples of many other methods of analyzing paintings, to better grasp the general idea and the message it conveys.
Unit one was interesting because the basics were not as boring as I thought it would be. Formal Analysis took me by surprise because I learned a bit of art history in high school and it took me to a whole new perspective on how to critique a piece of art. It was intriguing to break down a painting to small pieces of information. Although I followed through an art class for four years of highschool, the teacher did not cover the roots of art pieces and where some of the original concepts began. Critical Pedagogy is a striking topic because I did not really think about why it mattered to me until I saw how relevant to real life situations. We are all engineered to follow a hierarchy of position through grade school and it got me thinking more about how I took in information from various peers and other influencers.
The class itself holds my attention because I felt that having learned how to make art, it wouldn’t hurt to learn where art came from thoroughly. Although some bits of the lessons were less interesting than other bits, I felt like I could become more jargon for my own good and inspire others to not overlook a decent class that looked boring on paper.
What I took away from this unit was what formal analysis was and its significance to art, what art is, Ancient art and what it tells us about the word and how education is making oppressed people less likely to face their oppressors.
From what I’ve learned, in my opinion, Formal analysis is analyzing the elements that make up a piece of art and explaining their significance to the art. For example, when we analyzed paintings like the Manet Olympia, we get a grasp of what the artist was trying to show us. The brightest objects/things would be the most important and the focus of the painting, while the darkening and everything around the bright object/thing would be darker to help guide our eyes unto the the the important piece. Just like how bright the woman was in Manet Olympia. Whiter colors always tend to be more visible out of a darker background.
Formal analysis goes into what we learned about ancient “art”. For example; during the Egyptian and Mesopotamian times, the king was usually made to look bigger than everyone. People who were usually smaller and some who are cowering help get our eyes on the King/Ruler. One of the most important analysis on ancient art would be the attention to detail to something important. Usually the most important person or object would be the one who have been detailed enough to almost look 3D out of the 2D artwork. What the detailing and size tell about the ancient world was that their was a hierarchy. Going down an Art piece like the Egyptian make up holder showed that the King was always on top of all humans, but most importantly the Gods were always on top of the kings watching down. What we consider as Art now was likely considered just a piece of work back then, but reading and trying to understand Ancient art, we can understand their world a little better.
It was my second time reading Paolo Friere’s, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” because I did read it in High school, but I was able to go more in depth to what he was talking about. The most interesting lesson from him was the banking model. This is where he compares students to being banks and just take in information to just spit out information on a test. The students don’t find it interesting and it eventually loses it’s efficiency. Meaning students will stop caring to actually learn and just try to remember information for a test or work. The sad part is that this model is the basic model for public schools in America and most of the world.
Unit 1 was about the pedagogy and power, banking model, and formal analysis. The Banking Model is described as teachers simply passing on an idea to the students. The teachers talk and lecture while the students are quiet and receive the information. I have experienced this type of model many times in high school. Some teachers I had would not care to listen to anything the students had to say. They would think everything that they said was correct. I think this model has more negative aspects rather than positive. You might be able to learn something but it’s not the most effective and long-term method of teaching. I think its very important for teachers to engage and encourage their students to speak up in class. This helps a lot of students learn better. The pedagogical approach to any subject must be important when you want someone to learn. For example, if you’re teaching drawing you shouldn’t just put a fruits basket in front of the students and expect them to know how to draw. You would have to teach them the basics first.
Another thing we learned is formal analysis. Formal analysis is not only describing the art but also showing and understanding what the artist is trying to convey, visually. Everybody has different ways of looking at things so our own interpretation of art will have a play in what we think it means. When focusing on formal analysis, there are some characteristics we use: color, line, space and mass, scale. We also look at the composition of the art. Composition means how the artist combines all these factors in their work of art. We also use the historical context of an artwork. It relates to the things that happen during the time the art was made. It serves to give us a better understanding of the art and show why the artist decided to make this artwork.
It’s very interesting that you can learn so much about an artwork from its historical background. I never knew how to analyze an artwork before but after learning some basics on formal analysis it has become easier. When looking at the Titian Venus of Urbino, I noticed that a lot of warmer colors were used as opposed to cool or neutral colors. Colors like pink and red were used a lot. Another technique that was cool was looking at the way the artist catches your eye from the direction of lines. They guide your eyes intentionally from left to right. I personally thought that was interesting and cool how an artist can make you do that. Also, learning of the historical background of the painting really put it into a perspective of why the art was made.
In unit one, I learned about formal analysis and about critical pedagogy. I found this topics to be interesting, but I wished we could have discussed critical pedagogy more thoroughly. I learned that the banking model was the idea that teachers know everything and spill their knowledge to the students, whose job is simply to soak it in and remember what was said. This education model takes power from the students and gives it all to the teachers. Paulo Friere, author of Pedagogy and Power, critiques this model by saying that equating it to a form of dehumanization. He even stands for critical pedagogy by saying that “this […] is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed [the students]: to liberate themselves and their oppressors [the teachers] as well” (Friere 44). I found this to be a very interesting and motivating idea that will forever have an impact on me.
When we learned about formal analysis, I had expected it to be about analyzing quotes or books. I did not expect it to be more about how to ‘read’ artwork, nor did I expect that formal analysis is more about looking at a work of art than it is about writing about it. Formal analysis is the act of examining the details of a work of art to interpret its message. One thing I often remember about formal analysis is what you analyze (or, in other words, the elements of formal analysis). The elements include, but are not limited to: line, color, illusion of space, contrast, scale, and medium. The most important part of formal analysis is the goal: “to try to understand what the artist wants to convey visually” (Reinhardt 26). In other words, it is important to figure out what they are trying to show you and why they are doing this.
Therefore, this is what I learn in unit one of Art History. I learned how to analyze of work of art to determine its message and I learned about oppression in the education system (and how to combat it). This opened my eyes to a new mindset and a new skill I did not have before, so I am interested to see how this will impact both throughout the class and later on in life.
I came into Art History thinking that it was going to be one of those straightforward and factual classes; when it’s actually one of the most ambiguous classes that I have because it’s so heavy on interpretation and not at all what I expected, in a good way. My initial idea was the this class would be really heavy on reading and brushing up on facts about artists and paintings, how they came about, and what they mean or symbolize. And although some of it is, I didn’t think it would be focused on the visual aspect of the art and the history combined.
Two things that we have learned about that are actually manifested in the classroom are critical pedagogy and formal analysis:
Critical pedagogy (also identified as the Banking Method) is a structure in classrooms in which knowledge is “deposited” (Freire 72) into the students and they sit there passively while the teacher serves as the dominant or authoritative figure in the classroom. I appreciate my class because I feel like this isn’t necessarily the case.The class is very inclusive and student-dependent whether that means letting students lead discussions or letting students decide on a due date. We also all actively participate collectively. Yes, we’re all sitting while Professor Shaw teaches standing but sometimes she even sits with us or makes it feel less pressured of a typical school environment.
Another thing we learned about was Formal Analysis, which is a visual examination of a piece of art. From lines, color, scale, dimension- it’s all used to make something of a visual piece. Formal Analysis is used to get at a bigger meaning of the art, what it may tell us, and how it may affect the viewers that see it. We put this method to use in class everyday during lectures, we use formal analysis collectively along with the professor and establish a significance of the piece of art Professor Shaw introduces to us. Using Formal Analysis helps the class be more open to interpretation as it’s never just black and white. There’s never just one simple answer, and that in turn, requires us to think a lot, actively.
After being in Art History for a couple of weeks now, my initial ideas of the class are now reshaped, as I see- and as ironically as it sounds- that this class, focused on the deeper meaning of things requiring open interpretations, is also very open to interpretation itself.
It’s one thing to learn about something just to recite it later on, but to apply it in class makes it more real.