How to write a visual analysis paper

How to write a visual analysis paper

Students taking art history and communications courses come across a wide range of specialist art terms that they have to use in their responses maki which necessitates they equip themselves with skills on how to write a visual analysis paper. These students have to practice writing visual analysis papers as part of their assignments in academic writing.  Because a visual analysis paper helps the students to better comprehend visual messages and art, we will use this post to explain the papers use here along with a guide for how you can look at art and write a visually analysis essay yourself.  The visual analysis papers are commonly assigned as an introductory essay in early university and high school classes with questions designed to students through the process of analyzing artworks of any kind that include but are not limited to paintings, drawings, sculpture, graphic design, architecture, and textiles.

At the end of our article is an example from our graduate writing service of how such an essay might look!


What Is Visual Analysis?

Visual analysis refers to the process of examining works of visual art such as paintings, photographs, films or any other medium for their meaning intended by artists as well as execution techniques used. Certain works are also evaluated for historical significance and the impact they had on art culture politics or social consciousness at that particular moment in history. This article will teach you how to conduct formal art analysis and then write a paper on the same.


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Visual analysis essays are a popular form of assignment among Art History or Communications majors.  Analysis of artworks can be applied to paintings, visual arts, journalism, photojournalism and photography as well as writing films or other forms of media that serve as entertainment or information sources. The artwork analysis involves more than simply superficial examination of form and theme; it includes execution as well as compositional elements.


Classical paintings make excellent topics for visual analysis essays due to their historical significance and depth. One such masterpiece is Raphael Transfiguration – appearing like an idyllic Bible scene at first glance but upon closer inspection revealing practical painting techniques used with relationships among figures as well as symbolic references in its design and colors used by Raphael. Visual analysis involves taking an in-depth look into any artwork whether written word, photograph or visual art piece.


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Formal Visual Analysis of Art: Who conducts it and How Does One Write a Paper about It?


Communication, English and Art history students tend to encounter visual analysis essays more frequently. Students enrolled in communications study a range of media such as theatre performances, print articles, news broadcasts, film and photos as part of their coursework; visual analysis essays become an everyday part of studying these subjects.


Art History students investigate art to gain an understanding of its development. Students perform visual analyses on each painting before discussing them with their class.


Students of English literature employ visual analysis. Every writer creates an imagined picture for readers that may be as clear or intentionally vague as that created by a painting, be it factual and to the point or emotionally abstract like Ulysses; these mental images push readers beyond facts to examine emotions instead of reality. After you are through reading this paper whose target is to teach you how to write a visual analysis paper, you will also have acquired more competencies and skills on how to better appreciate any piece of artwork.


How to Perform Visual Analysis: What Should Be Looked for Before You a write a Paper


Writing a visual analysis paper will be an arduous challenge, whether you are studying journalism or art. While specific details will depend on which medium is chosen (photography vs paint for instance), basic principles still apply and should remain applicable across media types.


As painting is one of the primary forms of formal analysis in art, we chose it for this study.

When analyzing a picture, writers must take note of certain key points.


  1. What was the name and period of an artist and when did they belong in art history? Traditionally, classical painters depict scenes from literature, the Bible or historical events while modernists tend to subvert such themes with innovative approaches to art making.

Modernism emerged as a response to classical painting, so analyzing modernist artwork according to classical standards would not be accurate.

  1. Are You Wondering the painters’ Purpose of Painting? was

Classical painters such as Michelangelo were typically hired by noble families or the Vatican; for instance, Michelangelo wasn’t paying himself out-of-pocket when painting the Sistine Chapel!

  1. Who is your audience

Who was Andy Warhol’s Audience? Andy Warhol was one of many artists to target a mass market; other, like Marcel Duchamp, created art specifically designed to advance art as a form

  1. What is the historical context of the research?

Familiarizing yourself with these essential points will give you all the information and context, you need with regard to how to write a good visual analysis essay.

But visual analysis can go deeper than that — especially when dealing with historic pieces of visual art. Students explore different angles of interpretation, the interplay of colours and themes, how the piece was made and various reactions, and critiques of it. Let’s dig deeper


How Can I Do Research on the Topic: How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper

Prior to writing your piece, conduct extensive research on the artist or painting in question. Analyzing Renaissance artists differs significantly from analyzing Surrealist works; thus, understanding Surrealism as an artistic movement is key for understanding any surrealist paintings.


Visual analysis goes deeper, particularly when applied to historical visual art. Students examine various interpretations, colors, themes, the production method for the piece in question as well as reactions and critiques that ensue from it all. Let’s go deeper.

Method for Analyzing Visual Art Carefully


Formal art history courses introduce formal analysis at its infancy level, but its practice becomes increasingly sophisticated as students study art and communications courses. Every art piece is different and not all analysis types apply when performing visual analysis. When conducting such a task, remember why this particular work of art holds significance to you personally when performing analysis.


Step 1: Basic Information Regarding the Piece of Art

Identify any necessary details regarding the artwork or its creator.


Subject – Who or What does This Work Represent? | Artist | Please use last names when referring to authors (i.e. artists).

Date and Provenance — When and Where Was the Art Created (Including its historical period).

Location and Display History( past and current locations)–Where was it originally displayed and where is it currently on view?

Mediums and Creation Techniques – To which medium was it created for and why does that medium matter to it? Additionally, note any materials used and its size as this step.

 Step 2: Description of Painting


Explain what the painting represents or depicts. This section should act like an abstract, summarizing all visible aspects and creating an accurate mental picture for readers. Here are some key characteristics to keep an eye out for when assessing a painting.


  • Characters and figures: who they are, and what their roles are in the painting.
  • For classic paintings, identify any themes or stories being depicted;
  • for abstract ones, pay special attention to color choices and shapes as well as
  • lighting/mood settings if applicable. It
  • Establish the setting.

Step 3: Comprehensive analysis: How to Analyze a Visual Piece of Art and Write an Analysis Paper

Your paper should focus on an in-depth investigation of the visual aspects of the work. Your investigation should go beyond basic analyses to investigate its design principles and aesthetic elements. You have to address the visual elements of design and the principles of design as outlined in the subsections that follow.

Visual Elements of Design


Art elements largely involve intricate painting techniques and basic composition techniques of artists.


  • Lines — Painters employ various types of lines in their paintings, from horizontal and straight to thick, curvy or implied ones.
  • Shapes –– When looking at paintings closely you might also spot shapes both visible and hidden – watch for geometrical patterns!
  • Use Light — Determine the source or nature of lighting in a photograph or painting, including whether it is direct or diffused. Also take note if any painter used contrasting or complementary hues; discuss their significance in relation to the picture depicted.
  • Colors – To identify how a painter has used color, identify which hues are primary and secondary and determine their hue temperature (warm or cool) before
  • noting any repeat patterns or figures within your painting that could indicate hidden figures or structures.
  • Use of Space – What kind of perspective was employed when depicting depth within this painting? How has its artist represented it if at all?
  • Passage of time and motion- Here, you examine the artwork using the lenses of whether the piece is characteristic of a specific time period, movement or an artistic style. You examine the impact of ideologies, fashion or trends and how one can tell this.


Design Principles

Design principles focus on looking at paintings from an overall viewpoint. You must consider how art elements and utilize them to create an immersive and encompassing experience, both from an artistic and thematic viewpoint.


  • Unity and Variety – Explore the depth and breadth of artist techniques, whether or not they create a sense of coherence among them, to determine whether they do create such an effect.
  • Asymmetry/Symmetry – Find points of balance within paintings by finding patterns, shapes or colors which create balance within them.
  • Focus – To identify the main points of emphasis from both a thematic and artistic point of view. Does the artist emphasize a certain color or architectural feature?
  • Proportions – Explain how figures and objects work together to give scale, mass and volume perception within the overall painting.
  • Use of Rhythm- Identify how the artist uses technique and figures to suggest certain rhythms.

Careful consideration must be given when selecting which elements and principles of art and design you will include in your essay. Each work of art differs, while visual analysis doesn’t just apply to paintings but can also apply to mediums like photography.


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The Structure: Visual Analysis Paper

Visual analysis essays should adhere to a five-paragraph essay format. When considering paintings as subjects for analysis, consider their most intriguing features before linking them to your thesis statement using this basic essay structure.



The introduction to a visual analysis essay provides a brief summary of key points, along with basic knowledge about the artwork in context.


  • Briefly describe the work in question by including information such as its artist, year of creation, artistic movement involved and purpose of the piece created.
  • What subject(s) will the painting cover?
  • For added context add interesting facts about an artist, painting or historical period.
  • Don’t forget an attention grabber in your introduction, to encourage readers to continue reading your work.


The thesis should include all main points you plan to address within your essay.



This section discusses all aspects of the artwork in depth. Your essay’s body should draw on information provided in “A Detailed Analysis of Visual Art.”



Once you have analysed a painting and artist’s technique in depth, express your opinions and thoughts about their work. You should support your observations with evidence from your essay analysis points; then discuss its meaning by looking at design elements used by the artist; finally support these observations with information found within it.



These essays must follow standard citation rules. Use citations when quoting from books or websites, with a page of sources cited to list your sources. There’s no need to worry about citing works of art within your text – simply describe which piece it is in your introduction before referencing its name in body of your paper.


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Visit our 5 PARAGRAPH-ESSAY Blog for an in-depth exploration of this classic essay format.


Visual Analysis Example

YouTube offers many videos analyzing iconic paintings such as Socrates’ Death as art analysis examples, serving as a useful art essay sample written by scholars – read up below on Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronniere to use as the basis for your visual essay!


Analysis of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Painting by La Belle Ferronniere -A Visual Analysis.


Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance artist born April 1452 and died May 15, 1519. Leonardo’s fame and popularity rest on his paintings created as well as contributions made to Italian art during this period. Leonardo was an outstanding sculptor, inventor, musician, scientist, writer and music lover who pursued multiple disciplines throughout his life. Leonardo’s various career paths show his wide-ranging interest in nature. Alessandro Vezzosi writes in his book titled Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance that Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the most versatile and successful artists/anatomists from Italian Renaissance. This is due to his innovative artwork/painting (Vezzosi p1454). This book presents some of Leonardo’s groundbreaking research in fields like medicine, metal casting and natural science. Additionally, this work was carried out during Italy’s Renaissance period between 1470 and his death.

This is a good example of how to write a visual analysis paper covering visual elements and principles of design in a typical introduction, body of paragraphs and conclusion.


Students pursuing art history and communications degrees often encounter visual analysis essays early in their programs. Learning the formal methods for analyzing art is essential regardless of where your career choice lies.


Before diving in to analyze, it’s important to get an in-depth historical background about the painter. When analyzing a piece of artwork, note it is not simply for entertainment.  One must pay close attention to any hidden details which the artist might have concealed.


You can find digital media everywhere. This makes visual analysis essential not only to appreciating art but also understanding media messages encountered daily.


Avoid forgetting to view the Beowulf Characters article and summary of Lord of the Flies for further reading.

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