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Evidence of Influence: Comparative Visual Analysis Assignment
A close analysis of European art of the 20th century reveals overwhelming evidence of
influence from non-European cultures, including art of the Americas, Asia, Africa, and
Oceania. Some European artists openly acknowledged the inspiration they drew from
non-Western art; others denied this influence outright. When an art historian makes a case
for an artist drawing inspiration from a particular culture or style, they must present evidence
in the form of visual analysis: in other words, they analyze stylistic similarities between these
different works. An effective analysis can demonstrate this influence regardless of whether
the artist acknowledged/s it or not.
For this assignment, first choose one of the pairs of images provided below: you may select
either Pair A (Cézanne and Hokusai) or Pair B (Giacometti and the Dogon sculpture).
Produce a comparative formal analysis that gives a vivid sense of what both works are like,
in your own words. The goal of this analysis is to demonstrate whether, in your view, the later
work by a European artist was influenced by the style of the earlier, non-Western work of art
with which it is paired. In order to do this, you will need to produce a general sense of what
each work looks like before you hone in on particular aspects of either work. Consider
carefully the order of information in your paper: if you begin your analysis by discussing the
color of the face, for instance, your reader is going to be confused because you haven’t yet
established that there is a figure in the work, or what it shows as a whole, or even what the
work is made of. You do not need to isolate the two works to separate paragraphs; however,
it should be clear what each of the respective works looks like before you compare particular
stylistic details. Since you will be discussing two different works, it is important that you are
consistently clear about which work you are referring to at a given time (see Formal
Throughout your paper, you must present evidence by analyzing specific visual similarities or
differences between the two works in order to build support for your argument: based on this
evidence, do you believe the European artist in question was influenced by the artistic style
of the non-Western work with which he is paired? Your paper should conclude with a final,
persuasive push for your point of view; you should not simply repeat things you have already
This is not a research paper. While I can’t stop you from turning to Google for evidence of
influence between the artists you selected, repeating other people’s arguments in place of
your own will not help you earn a passing grade on this assignment. You are not being asked
to provide biographical accounts of the artists’ lives, or a history of any specific artistic style
or movement. Focus on comparative, formal analysis of the art objects themselves.
Your analysis of the works should be well constructed, with clear transitions between one
point and the next. Your prose should be lively, avoiding repetition and the passive voice, and
you should compose your essay as though you were writing for an interested,
college-educated audience that is unfamiliar with the works in question.
Your paper should be no less than two full pages long, and should not exceed four full
pages, double-spaced, with a 12-point font and 1” margins. Do not include illustrations;
your formal analysis must suffice to give the reader a sense of the works.
You must introduce the works of art the first time you mention them with the full name of the
artist, if known, and by the full title of the work, presented in italics, followed by the date of
creation in parentheses. This information should be presented in a way that makes
grammatical sense within a full sentence; it should not read like an image caption. To give an
example of how this information might be included in a way that makes grammatical sense
and is correctly formatted: “In this paper I will argue that Henri Matisse’s Spanish Still Life
(1910-11) demonstrates the influence of Islamic art, taking the Illuminated tugra of Suleyman
I (c. 1555-60) as an example.” Note that the formal title of Matisse’s painting is italicized,
while the more descriptive title of the tugra is not. Pay attention to how the titles of the works
you choose are formatted below and let that be your guide. Guidance on formatting
references to works of art within a paper can be found in a video posted in Blackboard, in
your Barnet, and in the Chicago Manual of Style and MLA style guides.
Your paper must be free of spelling and grammatical errors; papers that have not been
proofread will be graded accordingly. References to works of art must be formatted correctly,
and terminology to describe formal properties of artworks used appropriately. The
introduction to Marilyn Stokstad’s Art History, an introductory art history survey textbook, is
posted in the Course Readings section of Blackboard if you would like a refresher.
While “I” statements can be appropriate in a formal analysis, use them sparingly and try to
avoid narrating your working process or centering yourself overly much. For instance,
instead of beginning with “The works I chose are…”, you can simply get to the matter at hand
by beginning with something like “Work X and Work Y appear [or do not appear] to have
many similarities on first glance”. Of course you don’t need to begin your paper in exactly this
way, but this is an example of an instance in which an “I” statement really isn’t necessary and
can be omitted.
To get started, use the skills you developed in completing visual inventories in class: write
down everything you see, and take note of the effects each work produces. This will serve as
a rough sketch for your essay. Keep in mind that a visual inventory is just that—a rough
sketch. Do not turn it in as part of your finished paper. You also shouldn’t treat a visual
inventory as a form to fill out: if you start with noting visual details out of the context of their
subject matter, your reader is going to be confused by the order in which this information
Because you will not be drawing on texts, there is no need to include a Works Cited section
for this paper; this does not mean that you have permission to copy-paste a description of
the work from another source and submit it as your own work.
Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victorie, 1902–04. Oil on canvas
Hokusai Katsushika, South Wind, Clear Sky, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,
Alberto Giacometti, Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object), 1934 (cast c. 1954-55).
Dogon artist, Figure: Seated Couple, 18th-early 19th century. Wood, metal
*Note: the little “c.” that sometimes appears before the date of a work of art stands for “circa”;
it means the date is approximate, or our best guess based on available evidence.
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