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Visual Analysis Essay Guide

October 13, 2020
Tomas Martin

Art is everywhere. It’s in the advertisement you’ll see on the monitor of your laptop, a postcard you’ll receive from your friend, pictures at a local museum, and even graffiti on a neighboring building. Every piece of art has its unique message, story, form, and influence on the audience. Those studying Art, Art History, and Communication understand it perfectly. They often have to complete the assignments that require in-depth knowledge of a researched subject, analytical thinking, and excellent descriptive skills to explain the characteristics of the piece.

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visual analysis essay

Many students find it hard to write a visual analysis essay because they don’t understand how to explain the meaning of a graphic object. Moreover, they face difficulties when trying to interpret the value of the piece. If you’re one of these students, you should read our article – it contains all the necessary information about analyzing visual objects.

What Is Visual Analysis?

You’ve definitely heard about the secret symbolism of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper.” The chances are that your teacher will ask you to explore these artworks someday, and it will be the visual analysis. Observing these masterpieces, researching symbolism, explaining the hidden meaning of colors, and evaluating the influence on generations are only a small part of the task.

These are only two examples of visual analysis, but typically it includes various tasks. Students often have to examine photos, movies, and other objects that consist of graphic elements. If you’re studying Communications and Advertising, a professor may even ask you to analyze a famous poster or promotional video.

Reading between the lines is an essential skill that helps conduct visual analysis excellently. Every beautiful or arguably ugly picture has a special meaning that brings us the message. Thus, investigating the artist’s hidden purpose is one of the key aspects of visual analysis. Additionally, you’ll have to explore the audience of the piece, main methods of creation, and how the perception of this artwork was changing over the years. When working on analysis, you’ll focus on content, form, and context to present an exhaustive evaluation of the graphic object. However, it’s necessary to keep the professor’s requirements in your mind, as they’ll expect you to analyze artwork from different perspectives.

How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay?

Before you start writing a visual analysis essay, it’s necessary to prepare yourself for hours of research. In some cases, you’ll even have to dedicate a few days to the investigation. You should study the objects represented in the artwork, as well as colors, mood, and painting manner if we’re speaking about a picture. While you’re researching the piece, different thoughts connected with the graphic elements and meaning may cross your mind. So, you’ll have to write down all the ideas concerning the overall theme, message, and symbolism the artist aims to demonstrate through their artwork.

After you’ve written down all the thoughts representing your perception of the artwork, you’ll have to take the next step. When working on a visual analysis paper, you can’t limit your research only to exploring the significance of the piece and your feelings connected with the graphic object. You should go further and explore the background, composition, texture, colors, etc. Researching the artwork a few times will help you find the missing details in your analysis.

Analyzing a visual object has much in common with completing a jigsaw puzzle. Artwork observation is an essential part of the process, and now you have to check all your notes. It’s easier to work on your essay if you already have some ideas on a paper rather than to start researching the piece once again. In simple words, you have a draft that will help you connect the dots and present a good thesis statement. Here are some other steps you’ll have to take when working on a visual analysis essay:

  • List the artwork characteristics to strengthen your thesis statement. You can start with the strongest qualities and finish with less valuable ones, or vice versa.
  • Research the emotions evoked by the piece. The mental response is essential for analyzing an artwork as it should correspond to the artist’s purpose. However, your reaction can differ from the response of other people, so it’s necessary to research the audience’s reaction as well.
  • Outline your visual analysis essay. It will be the skeleton of your paper, and it will help you determine the right structure and ideas that should appear in your work.
  • Craft a draft. It’s not the same as writing an outline because it’s an extended variant of your essay. But when creating a draft, you should focus on the content, and not on a writing style.
  • Check your draft and write a visual analysis essay. You’ll have to revise and edit your draft to prepare an excellent paper. Sometimes it’s necessary to work on the essay structure, use online checkers to get rid of different grammar errors, and even remove some of the ideas. But you don’t have to doubt about deleting sentences or unnecessary phrases because it’s a part of the editing process. If you don’t know whether some thoughts are essential for your essay, you can freely remove them.

The Process of Analyzing Visual Art

After you’ve learned how to write a visual analysis, you should clarify some questions connected with the process of analyzing artworks. As we’ve mentioned earlier, it requires a comprehensive investigation of different aspects, so you’ll have to concentrate on the piece and dedicate some time to investigate. Since a college professor can ask you to write about any artwork, including a picture, photograph, or commercial promo video, we’ve decided to discuss painting. Here’s what you have to look for to analyze the piece:

1. Main details connected with the painter

Who painted the piece? What kind of person were they? It’s necessary to read the painter’s biography to understand their artwork because their features and stories influence their work. Besides, the period when the picture was painted also matters because political situation, wars, and economic instability also became motivating aspects for many artists.

2. The artist’s purpose

Many paintings reflect the artist’s mood or present a hidden message and symbols that should influence human minds. But you should consider that most famous painters like Michelangelo and Dali earned money by selling their artworks. So, you should learn the background of the piece to understand the artist’s purpose and figure out whether it has some special message.

3. The audience

Every artist knows their audience, and you should research this aspect. For example, some artists don’t limit their audience to a specific niche and communicate with everyone through their paintings. Dali was an extraordinary person, and he preferred adding strange objects to his pictures. His surrealism aims to provoke and confuse, and it’s definitely not for everyone. That’s why if you explore the artist’s audience, it will be easier to understand the meaning of the painting.

4. Art movement

The art movement goes hand in hand with the artist’s purpose. The painting manner and main characteristics of the movement help the painter present his thoughts in their paintings. If you know basic rules like symbolism representation, object location in a painting, and the hidden meaning of color, you’ll easily interpret the artwork’s message.

Visual Analysis Essay Outline

The most efficient way to increase the quality of visual analysis essays is to craft an outline. It’s not only a brief representation of your paper but also the first result of your research. An outline will contain all the pieces of information you’ve collected during the investigation. So, you’ll check the gathered details once again and decide whether all of them are valuable for your essay. It’s unnecessary to describe everything you’re going to write about in your paper – you should include only the key thoughts. Follow this simple structure to write an outline:

  • Introduction. In this part, you should explain the background of your topic. You can write a few words about an artist, the piece under research, and an intriguing fact you’d like to present in the introductory sentences.
  • Body section. You’ll present the main arguments and thoughts of your paper in this part. But you should remember that it’s necessary to separate your ideas by describing them in different paragraphs. A number of sections in a body text will depend on the level of analysis complexity and the professor’s requirements. To demonstrate the beginning of the next paragraph in the outline, you’ll write topic sentences that describe your thoughts. You should also list the main arguments that will prove the power of your idea.
  • Conclusion. If you decide to mention the thesis statement key point in this section again, you should support it by listing your paper’s core arguments. It should sum up the entire purpose of your visual analysis, so it’s necessary to try hard to impress a reader and make them trust your statements.

Visual Analysis Essay Examples

Examining a famous artwork is a complicated task, so you might need to look for some inspiration during research. It’s totally Ok to check how other students cope with this assignment because even the greatest artists and writers need to evoke their creativity from time to time. So, take a look at each  visual analysis essay example to ease the writing process:

Writing Tips for a Visual Analysis Essay

Analyzing one of Michelangelo’s or Monet’s artworks may be challenging and exhausting if you don’t even know where to start. But you shouldn’t worry about this assignment because we’ve collected some important details that will help you improve your writing and craft a brilliant visual analysis essay. Follow our guidelines, and you’ll definitely achieve the best results:

1. Select a good topic

Once a professor gives you the freedom to choose a topic, you should investigate which artists or artwork you like most of all. If you pick visual analysis essay topics you’re interested in, you’ll turn into a passionate researcher and enjoy the process. Besides, selecting the subject you really like is a guarantee that you’ll do anything to increase the quality of your paper. Many students demonstrate low academic performance just because they have to work on boring topics that don’t evoke interest.

 2. Write a catchy introduction

Everyone knows that introduction is crucial for the entire essay. It aims to complete a few missions at a time – to grab the reader’s attention, describe the paper’s background, and demonstrate the core statement.  When writing a visual analysis essay introduction, mention the audience’s perception of the artwork and your emotional response. It’s Ok if these two points differ from each other because it’s a nice subject for discussion. You can also add a surprising fact connected with this piece or the artist and promise that you’ll provide more details in the body section.

3. Pick powerful arguments for the body section

Naturally, you’ll collect different details during research, and some of them will be weaker and some of them will be stronger than others. Focusing on the most powerful ones is the best way to persuade a reader that your opinion is supported by hard evidence. But it’s necessary to pick relevant arguments connected with your ideas, and not to overload your paper with too much information.

4. Impress the audience with the conclusion

Your final words often matter even more than any other essay section. The conclusion should contain a powerful statement that reflects your confidence in the strength of your ideas. Clarify the importance of the artwork, how it influenced generations, and mention the emotions it brought you. You should also list the supporting details to accentuate the value of your opinion.

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