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When getting a task to write a visual analysis essay for the first time, the very term is enough to get an inexperienced writer confused. So, what is a visual analysis essay? Putting it briefly, it is exactly what one may think just reading the term: it is an essay where you analyze a visual piece. Such essays are usually assigned in English, History, or Art History classes. You discuss the visual piece, as well as the tools and technique(s) that the author used to create it. You also have to try and reveal the message that the author put into this work at the time of creation, how well it worked then, and how well it holds up today.

Visual analysis essays can be quite diverse in terms of their purpose and focus of interest. For example, you can talk about Botticelli’s art and explain how it works as a prism that allows us to look into the historical events which served as its context. Alternatively, you can take a look at some of the more modern pieces, like Jeff Soto’s “Last Voyage” and try to see in which interior this painting will work best to please the eye.


The only thing that makes any visual piece (basically, anything you see) worth discussing and analyzing in an essay is the meaning that you, as an observer, see or are supposed to see in it. Sometimes, this meaning is rather subtle, and one must make an effort to have it revealed – as in most works of art. In other instances, this meaning is straightforward because the author intends to get a particular message through to the audience without requiring too much effort from the latter – for example, an advertisement. So, how exactly does one analyze a visual object.

There are several key elements to consider here:

  1. The goal that the author puts in his or her work
  2. The audience at whom the work is primarily aimed
  3. The composition elements of the visual object in question
  4. The historical, social, and other background details of the subject’s creation and original presentation to the audience


Just as any other essay, a visual analysis essay will begin with an introduction. The introduction here has the same purpose as in any other type of essay – to present your subject to your reader and to get them interested. There are several most common ways to achieve this:

  • To describe the visual piece in question in such an expressive language that your reader has a vivid picture of it
  • To give a brief historical overview of the creation of the visual piece in question
  • To talk about the motivation that drove the author into creating such a piece
  • To mention some exciting trivia about the piece
  • To make a claim that this particular work was (or still is) misunderstood and promise to explain to your reader the true meaning behind the visual piece in question

Mind that these methods are not mutually exclusive. Your visual analysis essay will be your original piece of work, you are the author, and you are welcome to combine two or more of these methods in the introduction to your essay.

The introduction also has to include the thesis statement which presents the main idea of your essay. Here, your thesis statement will be the claim you make regarding the meaning of the visual piece under analysis.

The introduction is always followed by the main body paragraphs. Each of the main body paragraphs is devoted to a particular point of discussion. In this case, the points of discussion may be the key elements of visual analysis that we have discussed earlier in this article. Usually, the sufficient number of main body paragraphs in an essay is three, but you may want to specify it with your instructor to be perfectly sure.

Concluding your visual analysis essay, you can always stay on the safe side and use framing technique – just restate your introduction. If you have written many essays throughout your years as a student, you know that this is the safest and most obvious way to conclude pretty much any essay you write. In this case, you will also probably think that this approach is boring. With visual analysis essays, there are several ways to make your conclusion more creative and exciting both to read and to write. Here is what you can do:

  • Compare your first reaction to the visual piece in question to the one that its original audience had
  • Try to imagine what the author would have to say about how the piece is perceived today
  • Put the piece in the context of the variety of other similar artworks and define its place in this context
  • Focus on the elements that reveal this piece as one belonging to this particular author


One may think that a proper education in art is necessary for putting together a visual analysis essay worth reading and that one cannot possibly analyze a visual piece properly without such an education. This is not entirely true. The truth is that, unless you are blind, you are surrounded by visual pieces all the time throughout your life – so, you should have a thing or two to say about how they look and why. Moreover – once again – you are the writer here, and this is your writing. So, if you were assigned to write a visual analysis essay, it means that your instructor is particularly interested in what you have to say about a visual object, how you perceive it through the lens of your experience, skills, traits, etc.

So, it is wrong to feel unfit or unprepared to write a visual analysis essay just because you are not entirely familiar with all the “artsy” terminology. Even if you are, there are surely some tricks that you have noticed creators of visual pieces (artists, advertisers, designers, etc.) use to achieve a particular effect on the audience. For instance, how they make the objects that they want you to notice first bigger and lighter, and how they minimize and fade out the rest of the picture. You are also sure to have some ideas about what colors can symbolize what objects or emotions – for example, how red color is associated with blood and symbolizes danger, how blue associates with the sea and symbolizes peace and tranquility, how green associates with nature, etc.

If you want to create a winning description of a visual piece, you need to make it as vivid as possible. To achieve this, you need to mention some details that one does not pay too much attention to at a glance, but yet they are so meaningful that you can claim that they create the meaning of the piece. To notice these details, you need to take a scrupulous look at the visual piece that you are analyzing and look for them specifically.

Curiously, many experts who specialize in analyzing visual pieces agree that it is best to put away the research about the history of the visual piece, its context, the author’s intentions, etc. It is your visual analysis essay, so your perception of the visual piece should be the focus of your writing. In other words, you should trust your eyes about what you have to write in your essay, rather than anything that other people may have to say on the subject. Of course, it may be beneficial to look for prompts and ideas in other people’s opinions and studies, but not before you take a scrupulous look at your subject yourself and come up with some conclusions of your own.


The meaningful details that make up the overall meaning of the visual piece that we have talked about earlier in this article may be somewhat challenging to spot with an untrained eye. One needs to know where to look for them. So, here are some prompts and brief descriptions of the design elements of any visual piece that one needs to consider when analyzing it:

  • Composition. Just as one may guess, it is how the author has put the visual piece together. It has to do with the placement of the things in relation to one another. In other words, when looking at the composition of a visual piece, you pay attention to the central figure in the picture, to its relation to other figures, as well as to what might have been on the picture but was (deliberately) left out by the author. This helps you understand what the author wanted you to see on the picture, thus installing a particular meaning, as well as mood and tone, in it. One may say that the focal point of the picture is the focal point of the author’s message.
  • ]Colors. The visual piece under your analysis may be monochromatic (using only one color). If it is not, then you will have to keep the color wheel in mind (if you are not familiar with what it is, it is crucial for your visual analysis essay that you look it up). If the colors used (or dominating) on the picture are placed opposite on the color wheel, then you know that this is complementary coloring. Generally, you have to pay close attention and notice all the colors that you can see in the given visual piece, including black and white. You should also ponder about how the used colors contribute to the mood and tone of the visual piece. If you think long enough, you may also notice whether or not the colors and the associations they give you are obvious and predictable. An example of how a particular color can be used in a picture is the highlighting or outlining a particular object in a particular mood.
  • Texture. You may have encountered this term quite frequently, but never wondered about its definition. Basically, it means the degree of smoothness (or roughness) of something, as well as the way this degree changes throughout (in our case) the visual piece. Also, with visual objects, a texture can be real (3-d) or projected (2-d). The function of the texture in a visual piece is to connect it to reality by appealing to the viewer’s other senses expect sight – primarily, the tactile sense. When analyzing your visual image in terms of texture, you pay attention to whether or not the texture changes on various sections of the picture, in which sections it varies, and what tactile expectations it inspires.
  • Shapes. Here, you look at the shapes that the author chose to use in this piece – circles, squares, triangles, etc. Namely, you should see how exactly the use of particular shapes points the viewer’s attention in particular direction(s). Importantly, the shapes do not necessarily have to be drawn with distinct lines – they may as well be suggested by the variations of shades and colors.
  • Forms. One should not confuse shapes with forms. We have already discussed shapes, and the difference between them and forms lie in the fact that forms are more complex. For example, they can make a two-dimensional image look like a three-dimensional object. Often, they are also used to underline a particular section of the picture.
  • Value. When we talk about visual objects under analysis, the term “value” is quite specific and refers to the variation of light and dark that the author chose to use in different parts of the image. The variation of value may create contrast, which can be meaningful itself, as well as its lack. The author may use values for highlighting a particular part of the picture or even put some deeper symbolism into them.
  • Sizes. Here, you inspect everything in the visual piece that can be measured in inches or centimeters. You mention the size of the picture itself and the objects in it and try to answer why the author chose to have them this way. Sometimes, it may seem to you that the answers to such questions are self-explanatory, but nevertheless, these questions deserve attention and answers.
  • Symbols. Here, you look at particular objects on the picture that may hint at a different or broader meaning than the one you see at first glance (which is, arguably, the definition of a symbol). For instance, a cross often refers to Christ figure or Christianity, a triangle may refer to Trinity, etc. It may be insightful to discuss how the same symbols may have different meaning for viewers from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Combination of various elements. Throughout your scrutinizing process, you need to remember that what you are looking at is a whole piece, even if you are grasping only its particular element(s) at a time. None of these elements are independent and self-sufficient here, they all only exist in relation with one another. So, you should look at how the author chooses to combine various elements and which of them s/he could have used but chose to omit.


We have discussed that not being familiar with “artsy” terminology should not stand in your way of writing your visual analysis essay. However, you should not understand it as though you should not use any specific terminology at all. Quite the contrary, the use of terminology is beneficial for convincing your reader of your authority to speak about particular matters. It is essential, though, that you only use a specific word when you are 100% positive that you know its meaning correctly and that it fits well in the particular context, as opposed to mindless throwing the “smart” vocabulary at your reader.

In case you were not familiar with any of such terminology related to visual analysis when you started reading our article, you are already a great deal more educated than you were because we have already given brief and comprehensive explanations of some terms, as you have noticed. Here are a few more that should help you with your visual analysis essay:

  • Balance. Usually, various elements that we have discussed earlier are distributed evenly on a picture for the sake of creating an overall impression. It also not uncommon, however, that the author chooses to distribute these elements unevenly or off-balance, which can also be viewed as a means to achieve a particular impression. The three common kinds of balance are radical (with all objects on the picture organized around a particular point), symmetrical (when things are placed evenly on both left and right sides), and asymmetrical (when one of the sides has more objects, gaining more “weight”).
  • Emphasis. An emphasis is usually placed on a particular section or object on the picture to draw the viewer’s attention to it. To achieve this, the author uses one or more of the elements that we have discussed above: colors, shapes, sizes, texture, etc.
  • Movement. This has to do with the way that the author manipulates your attention, leading it in a particular direction as you are looking at this visual piece. Once again, this effect is achieved through the application of the elements, such as shapes, colors, and/or other.
  • Repetition. The author of a visual piece can draw your attention to a particular object by placing it in several places on the picture. If you find it on the visual piece that you are analyzing, it is necessary for you to research and find out why the author deemed this object so important and what it means in the given context.
  • Variety. This is basically the combination of particular elements and the effect on the viewer that it achieves. The variety may lead to the viewer perceiving the picture as static or dynamic, and if it is dynamic, there can be a particular rhythm to it.


Throughout your work on a visual analysis essay, you will inevitably notice that there are so many details that draw your attention. You will focus on the details that you deem most exciting in the main body paragraphs of your essay. It is, however, very easy to get carried away and forget about the overall meaning or message of the visual piece, which you still need to determine and analyze to write the thesis statement of your essay. There are several ways to approach this objective:

  • Focus on what the message was at the time when the visual piece was created
  • Focus on what message you and your contemporaries get from this visual object today
  • Analyze how the perception of this visual piece has changed through the time between its creation and today
  • Look at how various audiences may react to this visual piece
  • Compare the author’s intended message to the one that the viewers (including yourself) get out of this visual piece and see how effective it is

Once again, there is no rule saying that you should pick only one approach. You can combine two of them or as many as you like for your thesis statement. All you need to remember is that the thesis statement cannot be too lengthy – usually, it will not exceed two sentences. So, your thesis statement needs to be laconic and concise.


Rather than moving on directly to writing such a massive (or relatively massive) piece of work that your visual analysis essay is, it is way more comfortable to divide the body of work into smaller auxiliary questions. By answering these questions, you can put together your essay with much less effort.

  • What does the image claim? Is the claim true or false? What led to this claim and what are its outcomes? How high are the stakes regarding this claim? Does it include any call to action?
  • How is the visual piece composed? What is the function of color, texture, symbols, etc.?
  • Does this visual piece belong to any particular genre? Which genre rules it adheres to and which it breaks? How does it influence the viewer’s impression of the piece?
  • Is there any text on the picture? How does it facilitate our understanding of the picture?
  • Does the visual piece appeal to the viewer? Is the appeal logical, emotional, or ethical? Is it real or deceiving?
  • Does it create a cultural value or exploits the existing one(s)?
  • Is there a distinct story that this visual piece tells or does the author leave determining this story to the viewer?

How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper

VirginiaLynne has been a University English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

Visual Analysis Essays

– Are usually written for Art History, History or English courses.

– Describe the image and discuss how the way it is put together (the composition).

– Analyze the meaning of the image for the artist.

– Consider the historical meaning of the image.

– Evaluate the effectiveness of the image for today.

Analyzing Meaning

All images project ideas or claims. Advertisements generally make these claims openly and even tell you the claim in the text. Works of art may be more subtle but they usually are also trying to get the viewer to believe something. How can you analyze visual images? You look at:

  1. The purpose of the artist.
  2. The audience.
  3. The way the image was composed.
  4. The historical context when it was produced and when it is viewed.

Introduction: Tell the basic facts about the art (see citing your image). Get the reader interested in the image by using one of the following methods:

  • Describe the image vividly so the reader can see it.
  • Tell about how the image was created.
  • Explain the purpose of the artist.
  • Give interesting facts about the art or artist.
  • Talk about a controversy or misunderstanding about the art.

Thesis: Your thesis will tell the meaning of this image (see Analyzing the Meaning of the Image)

Body: Support your thesis with three or more main ideas which support your meaning. Use questions in the pre-writing sections for ideas.

Conclusion: Try to conclude rather than just repeating your thesis. Either give a final interesting fact or try one of the following:

  • Compare the reception of the painting by the audience who first saw it with your own ideas, or with the way people today might interpret the picture.
  • Speculate on what the artist would think about the way his picture has been viewed over time.
  • Compare this image to other similar images.
  • Suggest how this piece of art fits into the works of an artist, or the ad campaign of a company.

What sort of image will you be analyzing for your Visual Analysis Paper?

Student Paper Visual Analysis Sample: This is not a student from my class but I think the example is pretty well done and might be helpful. It is about Jeff Soto’s wood panel painting “Last Voyage”

Visual Analysis of Botticelli: Another student paper which does a nice job with using the format of explaining how the historical period and life of the artist is related to the meaning of the painting as well as discussing the visual aspects.

How to Describe Images

Don’t have an art background? Don’t worry. You probably know a lot more than you realize. Modern people are surrounded by images every day.

Everyone Can Analyze Images: Even if you don’t know the terms of how people analyze art, you will be familiar with many of the tricks that artists use to create a reaction in the reader, such as making the most important images larger and light, and the less important ones in the background or fading darker. You can also easily recognize symbolic colors, such as: red means emergency or blood or danger; green means safe and close to nature; and blue means cool and relaxed.

Start by Looking Closely: Most Visual Analysis Papers will require a clear and vivid description of the image along with an analysis of the visual composition of the picture in order to explain how the artist put the image together to create meaning. Just describe the image you see and use the chart below to help you use the right terms.

Trust Your Own Eyes: You may want to do your own study of the image before you actually research the history of the image, so that you can write out your own thoughts without being influenced by other people.

Use Chart and Questions for Help: Start your visual analysis description by getting a good copy of the image and looking at it carefully. Look at the chart below and answer the key questions in order to help you see the different visual elements.

Elements of Design

Visual Elements of Design

Principles of Design

Analyzing Meaning

Analyzing Meaning of Visual Images

Although Visual Analysis Essays often focus a lot on the details of describing the image, you will also need a thesis which tells what the images mean. There are several ways to do this and your assignment may tell you which direction to go. Here are some typical ways to analyze images for meaning:

  • Analyzing the meaning of the image for the artist and his or her time.
  • Analyzing the meaning of the image for you and your time.
  • Analyzing the changes in the meaning of an image over the course of time.
  • Analyze the audience reaction to the image.
  • Analyze your own reaction and evaluate the effectiveness of the image.

Pre-writing Questions

Use the pre-writing questions below to help you analyze your images and start writing notes that will help you develop your paper ideas.

1. Claims: What claims does the image make? What type of claim is it?

  • Fact Claim: Is it real?
  • Definition Claim: What does it mean?
  • Cause Claim: What is the Cause? What are the effects? How are these related?
  • Value Claim: How important is this? How should we evaluate it?
  • Policy Claim: What is the solution? What should we do about it?

2. Visual Composition: How is the image arranged or composed? Which of the following aspects of composition help makes the claim? Examine:

  • Layout: where images are placed and what catches your attention. How visual lines draw your attention to or away from the focal point.
  • Balance: size of images and how they compare with one another. Is the focal point centered or offset?
  • Color: how color (or lack of color) draws your attention or creates a mood
  • Key figures: what is the main focus? How does this contribute to meaning?
  • Symbols: are there cultural symbols in the image? What do these mean?
  • Stereotypes : how does image support stereotypes or challenge them?
  • Exclusions: is there anything left out of the image that you expect to be there?

3. Genre: What is the genre of this image? (examples: fine art, movie, advertisement, poster, pamphlet, news photograph, graphic art etc.). How does it follow the rules of that genre or break away from them? How does that affect the meaning of the image for the audience?

4. Text: How does any text or caption work to provide meaning to the visual?

5. Appeals: How does it appeal to the audience to believe the claims? Are appeals to logic? Emotion? Character? Authority? Are any of these appeals false or deceiving?

6. Selling: Does the claim move into a sales pitch? Does it use a cultural value or common cultural symbol in a way that exploits that image?

7. Story: What story does this image convey? How does this story help the claim or appeal to the audience?

Examine Context and History

To get ready to analyze the meaning of the image for the artist and the people viewing the art, it helps to first find out the rhetorical situation. That means you need to know what the artist was trying to do at that particular point in time, and how the audience reacted. Sometimes the reaction of the audience that first saw the piece is very different from the reaction you might have. If it is, that can make an interesting paper thesis.

Analyzing Historical Photos

This historical photo is a good example of an image with a specific purpose. The photo was taken by Fridtjof Nansen along with other photos of the Russian famine. The purpose of the photo was to raise money for Russian relief. The photo was published as part of a set of postcards which were sold to raise money and then sent to raise awareness of the problem in others.

Since the text is in French, the Photograph was probably published to raise money from France and other French-speaking peoples. The text elucidates the image by saying the boys are feeding one another in the fatal final stages of hunger. It describes their skeletal limbs and swollen bellies as having come from eating grass, tree bark, straw, worms and dirt in order to survive.

While the photo undoubtedly affected the original audience, the pathos of the image also speaks to an audience today who may be completely unaware of this famine. For viewers today, the image may bring to mind the many famines in other areas around the world, as well as images of Holocaust survivors.

Pre-Writing for Visual Analysis Essay of Historical Context

Answer the following questions to get ready to write an analysis of the image and the audience response. While each of the questions can have a single sentence answer, you can use that single sentence as the topic sentence of a paragraph and give examples and explanation to fill out that paragraph.

  1. Who is the artist?
  2. What is the purpose of this piece? Why did the artist create it?
  3. Who did the artist create the image for?
  4. What was going on at that time in art or in the culture that the artist was either reacting against or reflecting?
  5. How did the audience in that historical moment view this work?
  6. Where was it published? How would the image appeal to that audience?
  7. What was the reaction to this piece of art when it first appeared? Since then?
  8. Did the audience understand what the artist was trying to say with the image?How did the artist feel about the reaction of the audience?

Citing Images Correctly

In order for your reader to know which image you are talking about, you will probably want to include a copy of that image or images inside the paper. You will also need to make sure that in the first paragraph you include all of the information your reader needs to know, such as:

  • Title of the Image (underline or italics)
  • Artist’s name
  • Date of work
  • Where it was published or the name of museum or collection it is now in.
  • Medium: magazine advertisement, video, oil painting, marble sculpture, chalk drawing, pencil sketch, photograph (what type of image it is and what type of art medium was used)

A visual analysis essay is quite different from a normal essay. Essays in general are descriptive, reflective, argumentative, etc. But a visual analysis essay is different from these as in the visual analysis essay there is no given topic or research statement. Students are supposed to think on the topic and content of the essay by interpreting and analyzing the visual stimulus which might be in the form of a photograph, a portrait, a painting, a sculpture or any kind of artistic object that has some amount of graphical element in it. However, quite often students find it difficult to write such essays as they are not aware of the steps and methods involved in writing a visual analysis essay and as such, the common query they make is: “how to write a visual analysis essay?” This article is aimed at such students who find writing a visual analysis essay a challenging and daunting task.

Steps in Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

Before starting to write a visual analysis essay, you should carefully study the artwork for a good amount of time. This is the first and foremost step before writing a visual analysis essay. The study should be at first a causal one – looking at the overall tone, settings and moods of the character(s) or object(s) in the painting or picture/image. By doing so, some thoughts will naturally come to the mind, like the overall theme or message that the artist is trying to portray through his or her artwork, the background, the underlying themes, motifs or symbols, etc. When all the initial thoughts and ideas have been carefully noted down, you should now try to give more focus to the artwork as this time the aim of the scan will be to look into little and finer aspects of the artwork like texture, composition, hue, emotions, background, colours, borders, etc. By taking a second detailed look at the finer elements of the sample artwork, you will find it easier to join the missing gaps and other clues for making the overall essay. Some of the questions that you should ask yourself while looking at the artwork could be:

  • What is the object that the artwork is referring to? Is it animate or inanimate or a mixture of both?
  • What is the material used in making the artwork? Is it stone, wood, canvas, paper, etc.?
  • What is the form or structure of the artwork? Is it a sculpture, painting, image, portrait, etc.?
  • What was the approximate era or period when it was made?
  • What is the approximate era or time it refers to?
  • Is it representational in nature? If it is, then what exactly is being represented by the image, painting, drawing or sculpture?
  • What might be the reasons for the artist, painter to portray the artwork in that particular fashion?
  • What emotion does the artwork convey to the mind: colour, texture, tone, shape, space of the sculpture/painting?
  • What are the initial feelings that come to the mind after looking at the artwork?
  • What are the secondary thoughts that come to the mind on a second look at the artwork?
  • Do the initial and secondary feelings and thoughts correlate with each other or are they different from each other?
  • What is the overall theme, motif or symbol that the artwork is trying to convey to the reader?
  • Does the title of the artwork have any seemingly resemblance with the artwork or is it quite vague and abstract from the artwork?

Structuring a Visual Analysis Essay

After the artwork has been studied thoroughly and all the ideas have been exhausted, the next step is to write all these thoughts that have been accumulated in the mind in the previous steps. This is a basic outline that you should follow while trying to attempt to write a visual analysis essay.

While structuring the essay, it is important that an appropriate thesis is chosen. The thesis is the first and foremost thing that should be kept in the mind while writing the essay, as it relates to the main idea(s) of the visual analysis essay. Another important thing that should be kept in mind while writing the essay is that the paragraphs should both be assertive as well as creative in nature. You should think and reflect on the artwork in a creative way in the initial few paragraphs of the essay. But the later paragraphs should solidify into a concrete statement, by becoming assertive and authoritative in nature. In the end a concluding paragraph should be made so that a proper conclusion is reached and a restatement of the thesis/essay title is clearly achieved.

By following the above-mentioned steps, you will find writing a visual analysis essay an easier task to do.

Most Frequently Asked Questions About Visual Analysis Paper Writing

How to start a visual analysis paper

The first step in writing a visual analysis paper is to review the piece of visual art carefully for a long period of time, ensuring you make note of all notable aspects such as the tone, characters, objects and setting. Record all your thoughts as this will be your guide to creating your visual analysis essay, as they will be the main points discussed. Next, you will want to write your essay starting with an introduction that explains your thesis statement for the art piece. This will be followed by the body of the essay, which explains your main points. The visual analysis paper can be concluded by summarizing the main points and giving your final opinion on the piece.

How to write a visual analysis thesis statement

The thesis statement explains what the visual means to you. This involves explaining aspects such as:

  • What the visual meant to the artist compared to what it means to you.
  • What the visual meant in the time it was done compared to what it may mean now in the present day.
  • Any changes to the meaning of the visual that may have occurred over time.
  • Possible reaction of audiences and also your reactions and feelings towards the piece.

How to write a visual argument analysis essay

When writing a visual argument analysis essay, follow these steps:

  • Examine the visual carefully and thoroughly.
  • Document details such as the artist, when it was created, any characters or objects in the visual, background setting, colors used, type of materials used, etc.
  • Use the information you documented to form your visual analysis piece. These can be used throughout the introduction and body of the essay.
  • Be sure to include your interpretation of the piece and give reasons for your opinion. Before you conclude, ensure that you have properly evaluated the piece and given sufficient arguments on what was seen and interpreted.
  • End the visual analysis paper with a summary of the main points and your final thoughts on the evaluation of the piece.

How to write a visual analysis of an artwork

When writing a visual analysis of an artwork, you will need to describe elements such as the lines, shapes, colors and forms in the piece. Next, you will want to evaluate how they are put together, ensuring a comment on the symmetry, balance, proportion, scale and rhythm of the piece.

How to write a visual analysis of a painting

In order to analyze a painting, you must record the artist’s name, title of the piece, date the painting was created, medium used, size and the stylistic period. Following this you will need to describe the subject, theme, content, background and ideas ascertained from the piece. Other points that you will need to review and comment on are the focal points, geometric shapes, symmetry and depths of the piece.

How to write a visual analysis of a sculpture

When analyzing a sculpture, you will need to review and document the following:

  • Sculpture details – artist’s name, title of the piece, where it was made, when it was made, dimensions of the piece, ensuring that you state the height of it first and the material used to make it.
  • Subject matter – determine whether the piece is abstract or representational, explaining reasons of your opinion, and give details on the characterization of the piece.
  • Other observations to include content, lighting, color, lines/contouring, space and depth.

How to write a visual analysis of a photograph

Analyzing a photograph is similar to analyzing many types of visual images. You will need to look at and comment on the age, dimensions, lighting, color, lines and texture of the picture. In addition, you should make note of any emotions the photograph evokes and any opinions you have on what is in the picture.

How to write a visual analysis of a political cartoon

Cartoonists are expressive persons who use visuals to send their messages. When evaluating a political cartoon, you need to assess the following points:

  • Symbols may be used to represent a main point, issue or idea and it is your responsibility to decipher what the artist means.
  • Exaggeration is done when they emphasize a physical feature of a character or thing to make a point.
  • Labelling is done to ensure that their point is clearly made.
  • An analogy is used to compare a complex issue with a more familiar one to help explain it to the audience or help them see it from a different viewpoint.
  • Irony is often used to explain their view on a subject matter.

When you have assessed these points, you will need to determine what the issue is and the opinion of the cartoonist. You can then determine whether or not it was a persuasive cartoon and express your thoughts and opinions on it.

How to write a visual analysis paper on an advertisement

Analyzing an advertisement requires you to do the following:

  • Introduce the ad by stating the product or service being advertised.
  • Give background information on the ad, and maybe a competing ad, making sure to state the medium (TV, radio or press).
  • State the target audience it is aimed at, the reaction of the persons to the ad and end with your own thoughts on it.

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How To Write A Visual Analysis Essay

Visual analysis essay writing

The main goal of writing a visual analysis essay is to break down the different elements that is projected by the visual component of any topic or subject. Your visual analysis essay should convey an understanding or an opinion to what such elements are communicating to its audience and an idea of its purpose. It is one of the most interesting forms of a written essay because it judges visual elements rather than words and ideas. It demands a certain degree of imagination from the writer and can be quite an enjoyable thing to do.

Visual texts include things you see every day, such as:

Unlike other essays, a visual analysis will focus upon a subject’s visual elements and how it’s rhetorical situation is configured. These include audience, purpose and context (or circumstances).

The rhetorical situation

Whether visual or verbal, you might investigate a text’s rhetorical situation by asking journalistic questions (the who, what, when, where, how, and why) about its audience, purpose, and context.

Let’s consider UAB’s website, as an example:

  1. Who is the website’s audience? In other words, who might come to the website?
  2. What is its purpose? In other words, why might someone come to the website?
  3. What is its context or environment? In other words, where, when, and how might someone visit the website?

Steps to Writing your Visual Analysis Paper

There is not one ultimate form to writing an essay, but there are some guidelines that you can follow. These 3 general steps serve as foundation to writing a good visual analysis paper as you develop your ideas on your writing:

1. Describing the Subject

Many people overlook this step, but simply describing a visual text is an important part of the process. Trying to analyze a text without being able to first describe it would be like trying to analyze an article without being able to first summarize it.

The act of describing the visual component of the topic is one of the most important steps in making a visual analysis essay. It gives a definition of your subject and gives the reader a clearer picture/idea of what you are trying to portray.

When you describe a visual text, you might look at:

  • Objects and shapes
  • Colors and shading
  • Foreground and background
  • People and places
  • Arrangement of elements on page

2. Responding to the Subject

Responding means you are drawing a reaction from a deeper part of you. In making a response, here are some useful questions that can incite your feeling.

When you look at a visual text, think about:

  • What’s your initial gut reaction?
  • How does the subject make you feel?
  • What does the text make you think?
  • Does the text make you want to do something?
  • Does the text remind you of anything I’ve seen, heard, or read about before?

3. Analyzing the Subject

Beyond the description and response is the integration within your analysis. This will show how the topic’s different elements convey meaning and accomplish purpose. This is where you are going to apply your knowledge of the rhetoric situation. Analyze the audience, purpose and context of the subject.

How does the audience see it? What is its impact? What was the purpose of the artist and how did he portray it in his work? What is the context of the production of the visual material?

4. Creating your thesis

Making your thesis statement for a visual essay should depend upon your specific assignment, purpose, and subject you are analyzing. Make sure that it contains your main idea that surrounds your general understanding of the visual subject. This is where your whole essay will revolve on.

Making the introduction for your essay

The best tip on how to write a visual analysis essay is to create a good introduction which would present your subject to the reader and provide a concise overview of your essay. In your introduction, you are making the reader understand how you accomplished visual analyzing.

5. Organizing your analysis

You have many options for organizing your visual analysis (and, again, what you choose will depend on your specific situation). Below are some general options for organizing the body of your paper. Please keep in mind that these are only a few options for a structure of visual analysis.

Spatial: The structure of your paper follows the way your eyes follow a visual text, generally from left to right or from most to least prominent parts.

Elements: Each section or body paragraph focuses on an element of the text, such as color, images, etc.

Rhetorical appeals: The paper’s sections are divided into the three appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Rhetorical situation: The paper’s sections are divided into the elements of the rhetorical situation: audience, purpose, and context.

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