Comparison Assignment San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
-A comparison essay asks you to find some similarity (it might be subject, medium, style, theme or colors, etc.) between two artworks that also have significant differences (again it might be any of the characteristics listed above). It is an exercise in careful looking and thinking about works of art.
Choose one pair of artworks from the suggestions below.
1. Ruth Osawa, Untitled; Hanging Six Lobed Continuous Form Within a Form with One
Suspended and Two Tiered Spheres, 1958 (4th floor)
Eva Hesse, Untitled or Not Yet, 1966 (4th floor)
(challenging traditional ideas of craft and pushing the boundaries
of what constitutes sculpture)
2. Alexander Calder, Big Crinkly, 1969 (3rd floor – outside)
Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen, Geometric Apple Core, 1991 (5th floor)
(different responses to defining large public sculpture)
3. Anselm Kiefer, Margarethe, 1981 (6th floor)
Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda, 2008-10 (7th floor)
(Exploring issues about past or current history and politics plus incorporating or using
found objects from everyday life)
4. Diane Arbus, King and Queen of a Senior Citizens Dance, New York City, 1970 (3nd
floor, special exhibition))
Frida Kahlo, Frieda and Diego Rivera, 1931 (2nd floor)
(portraiture, couples, gender relationships)
5. Sargent Johnson, Forever Free, 1933 (2nd floor)
Diego Rivera, The Flower Carrier, 1935 (2nd floor)
(responses to race, identity, social justice)
6. Kiki Smith, Lilith, 1994 (3rd floor?)
George Segal, Woman Shaving her Leg, 1963 (5th floor)
(male vs. female artist depicting gender and sexuality)
7. Henri Magritte, Personal Values, 1952 (2nd floor)
Robert Bechtle, Watsonville Olympia, 1977 (3rd floor?)
(photorealism vs. surrealism)
8. Mark Rothko, No. 14 1960, 1960 (4th floor)
Joan Mitchell, Bracket, 1989 (4th floor)
(different approaches to abstraction since 1950)
1. Cover page give your paper a title and include your name and date.
2. Length: 5- 6 pages of text, typed in 12 font, double spaced, written in your own words
3. A photograph of each of the artworks (can be on cover page or within the paper itself)
ORGANIZATION A list at the top of first page identifying each artwork by:
1. artists name
2. title of artworks
I. INTRODUCTION/THESIS (1 paragraph)
Introduce the two artworks and briefly state what you plan to discuss. Your thesis statement should explain what you plan to compare and contrast and what stands out to you about comparing these two artworks. Mention the point(s) of similarity you plan to
discuss, and then the significant differences that reveal something interesting about these two particular works (why do you think they were chosen to compare and contrast i.e.
what is interesting about looking at them together?).
II. VISUAL ANALYSIS: Careful observation, description, interpretation (3-4 pages) Keep in mind that there is a difference between pure description and terpretation. Interpretation connects causes to effects for example: the pupils of the eyes are turned upward is a
description. But the pupils of the eyes are turned upward, suggestion a heavenly gaze or that the figure is divinely inspired is an interpretation of the visual evidence. Or: whereas the composition in X is very organized and symmetrical, the composition in Y is active scattered and
appears unorganized is a description. A good interpretation would be the composition in X is very organized and symmetrical, suggesting a sense of calm and rest or order, whereas the composition is Y is so active, scattered and unorganized that is looks chaotic and suggests
movement and drama, which is appropriate to its subject matter.
Describe the subject matter of each work and whether it is representational (an observation of the real world) or abstract(ed)? Does it tell a story? If so, what is it? If it is abstracted or abstract, what main shapes, lines, and forms are depicted?
COMPOSITION: How the elements of design are arranged to affect your impression
1. Balance: Is the arrangement formal (symmetrical, centered, orderly, stable) or informal
(asymmetrical, active, off-balanced)? Does that seem appropriate to the subject matter?
2. Directional focus: Where does your eye first look and why? How is that important to
your response to the work?
3. Repetition: Is there a rhythm of shapes or patterns that either unifies or varies the design?
4. Scale (painting): Are objects in the painting shown in proportion and correct scale to one
another? If not, why do you think the artist did it that way? Does the overall size of the
artwork have any effect on your reaction to the piece?
5. Shape (sculpture): Is the sculpture representational or stylized/abstracted? Is it simple or complex? Is it a two dimensional relief or a three dimensional freestanding sculpture?
Are any geometric shapes emphasized (cone, sphere, square, rectangle, pyramid)? Does the overall shape or pose suggest rest or implied movement? Does it suggest any mood or emotion (power, authority, tranquility, etc)?
1. What is the tactile quality of the work, and how is it affected by the material it is
made from? Does the surface appear rough or smooth, shiny or dull and does that affect
your response to the work?
1. Is the surface rough or smooth, shiny or dull? Is this a result of the medium
2. Are the brushstrokes noticeable and sketchy or smooth and precise and hard to detect?
Does this affect its mood or your response?
1. Are the hues (colors) used limited or a great variety? Is value contrast or saturation
important to the effect of the artwork and if so, how?
2. If a sculpture, where is the color added? Does it affect your overall response to it?
3. Is the color imitative of appearances in nature or more symbolic or expressive of emotion
(or completely abstract with no reference to observed reality)?
4. Is color used to focus your attention on any specific area of the painting/sculpture? What
effect does that have?
5. Is color a major factor in creating the mood of the artwork, and if so, how?
6. If it is only in black and white (such as a photograph), how does that affect your response
or connection to the subject?
SPACE: The illusion of depth
Painting, sculptural relief, photograph:
1. Is it more three-dimensional (the illusion of a natural recession into space) or more twodimensional
(shallow and limited) or no illusion of space at all? If a sense of depth, how is this effect achieved (overlapping, foreshortening, shading/modeling, linear perspective, atmospheric perspective)?
Three dimensional sculpture:
1. How does the figure interact with the space around it? Is it active or self- contained?
Does its size (scale) or how it is displayed affect your response?
III. CULTURAL HISTORY (1 – 2 pages)
How do the artworks you chose to discuss express or reflect the historical, economic and/or social
attitudes of the time and place in which they were made? Did either one of them try to challenge
or enlarge the traditional definition of what constitutes a work of art? If so, how?
PERSONAL HISTORY (Biography)
Is there anything you have learned about the artists personal life and career that has helped you
understand the artwork better?
CONCLUSION (1 paragraph)
Why did you select the artworks you did (what qualities appealed to you or made it stand out
from other artworks listed in this assignment or in the museum)?
In the above paragraphs, you have been developing an argument in which you persuade your
reader to understand the similarities and differences between two artworks. Now in the
conclusion, summarize those points and explain how looking at the two works together has taught
you something more about the works than only looking at one of them might have. What was the
most interesting thing you learned from comparing and contrasting them?
You need to have a separate page at the end of your paper that credits any outside references you used (museum label, print reference, internet website, class notes, etc.). It should be formatted
according to the MLA system. Please consult the Hacker text (A Writers Reference.