Art History Projects

Learning to see
Understanding art's formal properties

Learning to see, Art History Projects


NA-VA.9-12.5: Reflect on & assess the characteristics & merits of an artist’s work

1. Choose an artwork to examine

This project is about learning to see. Explore the Discover Artwork page, and choose an image to study. Even better, go to a museum or gallery near you, and find an artwork to study in-person. Look at the artwork for at least ten minutes, which will feel like a very long time. Aim to spend about a minute considering how the artwork manifests each of the Elements of Art:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Space
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Motion
  • Time

And the Elements of Design:

  • Unity and variety
  • Balance
  • Emphasis
  • Rhythm
  • Scale
  • Proportion

2. Choose one of the projects below


Draw or paint an image that uses the elements of art and design in the same way as the artwork you studied, but with different subject matter. Don't copy the artwork, but consider how you can mirror its use line, color, emphasis, balance, etc. Once complete, list 5 ways you adopted formal elements from the artwork you studied for the artwork you created.


Choose five of the elements of art and design, and write a paragraph describing how each is manifested in the artwork you studied. Discuss the effect these elements have on the viewer—do they create a feeling of excitement, of calm? Why? Finally, choose one element of art of design that doesn't seem to be present in the artwork and discuss why the artist may have chosen to downplay it.

Reed Enger, "Learning to see, Understanding art's formal properties," in Obelisk Art History, Published February 01, 2020; last modified November 08, 2022,

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