3 Essential Steps to Write a Visual Analysis Essay

Visual Analysis Essay

A visual analysis essay is a type of academic writing aimed at gaining a better understanding of artwork. It involves a close attention on visual qualities of a work and how all elements create a significant experience or effect. A visual analysis usually contains elements of a descriptive essay, as the artwork should be described and how parts relate to one another should be explained. A visual essay may be based on pictures, architecture, photos, posters, drawings, etc. As a student, you should know the visual history and develop analytical and critical skills in order to become a designer or an artist. A visual essay will require from you a good vocabulary, and it’s a great chance to have a greater understanding of art. Your essay will consist of an introduction, body, and conclusion.

Steps to Write a Visual Analysis Essay

1. Choose a controversial and argumentative topic. You will easily accompany it with a visual and provide a strong response to it.
2. Write the introduction. Take a close look on the artwork of choice. Describe what you have seen: shapes, objects, colors, people, places, and everything that the visual contains.
3. Respond to the visual. What feelings and thoughts do you have when you look at this subject?
4. Discuss about each element of the artwork and how these elements influence the overall significance of the composition. Each paragraph should focus on a particular element and present examples to justify the argument.
5. Interpret the artwork. How do you think what the author tried to tell with this image? Discuss the emotions and reveal why the author used the particular symbols, techniques, and materials.
6. Evaluate the artwork. Indicate what is the value of this picture in your own opinion. Describe how this artwork correlates with modern movements and society.
7. Write a conclusion. An ordinary restatement of the thesis won’t work here. It will be better to state some interesting information at the end. Compare this artwork with other works of the author or suggest how modern audiences interpret the picture.

While writing your essay about painting, architecture, or other visuals, consider the following list of questions that will help you describe all necessary information in your essay.

Sample questions for a visual argument essay:

Emotional level:

  • What is the impression from the artwork?
  • What mood has the author tried to express?
  • What kind of sensations can the viewer experience?
  • What is the nature of the artwork?
  • How does the scale, format, use of certain colors, certain architectural forms, and horizontal, vertical, or diagonal arrangement of parts help to form an emotional impression of the work?

Objective level:

  • What (or who) is depicted in the picture?
  • What does the viewer see in front of the facade? In the interiors?
  • Who do you see in the sculpture?
  • Highlight the main thing that you saw.
  • Try to explain why this is the main thing for you.
  • What means has the artist (architect, composer) used to highlight the main subject?
  • How are objects arranged in the artwork (subject composition)?
  • How are the main lines (linear composition) drawn in the work?
  • How does the architectural structure compare volume and space (architectural composition)?

Story level:

  • Try to retell the plot of the picture.
  • Try to imagine what events can occur in this architectural structure.
  • What can the sculpture do (or say) if it comes to life?

Symbolic level:

  • Does the artwork contain items that symbolize something?
  • Are basic elements of the artwork symbolic (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, circle, oval, color, cube, dome, arch, vault, wall, tower, spire, gesture, pose, clothing, rhythm, timbre etc.)?
  • What is the name of the artwork? How does it relate to its plot and symbolism?
  • What do you think the author wanted to convey?

Every analysis for certain parts of an artwork will have particular details that you should consider. Here are simple plans for describing and analyzing paintings, sculptures, and architectural work.

Plan for analyzing a painting

1. Author, name of the work, time and place of creation, history of the idea and its embodiment. Choice of model.
2. Style, direction.
3. Type of painting (portrait, landscape, still life, historical painting, panorama, diorama, iconography, marina, mythological genre, everyday genre). Characteristics of the genre for the particular artist.
4. Painting media: oil paints, watercolors, gouache, pastels, tempera, fresco, etc. The nature of use of this material for the artist.
5. Painting’s plot. Symbolic content (if any).
6. Painting characteristics of the work:
color and tone
composition (the space transformed by the artist)
the line
7. Details.
8. Personal impression received while viewing the work.

Plan for the sculpture analysis

1. Author, the name of the work, the time and place of creation, the history of the idea and its embodiment.
2. Style, direction.
3. Type of sculpture: statue, miniature figure, bust, relief and its variety (bas-relief, high relief), sculptural portrait, tomb effigy, etc.
4. Selecting a model (a real person, an animal, an artist’s fantasy, an allegorical image).
5. Modeling techniques (body language), cut-off modeling.
6. Interaction with the environment: the color of sculpture.
7. Coloring and the color background of the environment, lighting effects (backlighting); sculpture as an element of architecture, a stand-alone statue, etc.
8. Selection of material and its condition (marble, granite, wood, bronze, clay, etc.).
9. National features.
10. Personal perception of the monument.

Plan for architectural work analysis

1. The author, the name of the building, time and place of creation, history of design and construction.
2. Style, direction. Architecture of large or small forms.
3. Place in architectural ensemble (inclusiveness, isolation, correlation with the landscape, the role of organic details, etc.). Tectonics: wall systems, masonry.
4. Construction, frame construction, arch, modern.
5. Spatial design.
6. Used material and its participation in creation of special architectural appearance. The nature of these units in construction (pillars are carried, springs are springy, cornices are resting, arches are ascending, domes are crowns, etc.).
7. The peculiarity of the architectural language in particular work.
Expressed through:
symmetry, asymmetry
the rhythm of parts, details
volume (spreading, vertically narrowed, cubic, etc.)
proportions (harmony of parts)
contrast (opposition of forms)
silhouette (outer contours)
scale (relationship with a person)
the color and texture of the surface
8. National features of the structure.
9. The presence of synthesis of arts (the connection of architecture with sculpture and painting).
10. Personal impressions.

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