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What Is a Visual Analysis Essay, And Where to Start?

June 10, 2020
What Is a Visual Analysis Essay, And Where to Start?

First, let’s determine what a visual analysis essayimplies. In this type of paper, students, especially if their field of study in Arts, analyze artwork: paintings, photographs, advertisements, etc. This is a great chance to learn more about art, as well as demonstrate their writing skills.

Try interpreting a piece of art as a sequence of decisions made by the artist. A visual analysis essay is supposed to reveal the effectiveness of each decision in regard to an artwork’s main purpose. Try specifying the purpose that a particular work of art pursues in your view. If you want to support your argument, examine specific details, and provide deep analysis, attempt to exceed plain descriptions.

Apply critical thinking skills and reveal the knowledge of artistic styles. While completing such tasks, students do much more than just admire art – they critically assess its ability to pass important messages between generations and its role as a medium for broad ideas. When students analyze art objects created by others, they learn how various tools promote specific ideas and start employing this knowledge in their own practice.

Common Themes

First, you should determine the purpose of your analysis, which will enable you to know exactly what kind of information to include in different parts of your essay. 

Follow the assignment requirements provided by your college professor. If you haven’t got any particular recommendations, mind that there are several options when it comes to writing a visual analysis essay. Going a lot further than descriptions, you will understand how to:

  • Analyze the importance and effectiveness of any object from your perspective;
  • Assess the artwork’s meaning from the observer’s perspective;
  • Evaluate the object’s significance from the artist’s perspective in relation to other works of the same creator;
  • Conclude your analysis by exploring how the artwork’s significance changed over time.

There is no particular pattern that everyone should follow. Professors usually expect students to analyze artwork from different angles. This approach will enable them to discover various design elements and styles.

Themes and Content

Outline, as well as a preliminary version of the essay, requires students to examine the object thoroughly and decide on a specific perspective. The content of your visual analysis essay will vary in accordance with your choice. For example, if you choose a historical perspective, you are supposed to add general facts concerning the artist and his work, especially the period of its creation. At the same time, if you review the meaning of the object from your personal perspective, explain the visual argument you outlined and provide evidence to support it. 

What about Structure?

The visual analysis contains an introduction, body paragraph, and conclusion, just like the other types of essays. Its general guidelines are also common. In the introduction, you present the chosen theme, a visual object which will be analyzed, and your thesis statements. In body paragraph, you introduce supporting evidence and provide specifics of your rhetorical analysis. 

The concluding paragraph should contain the restatement of your main arguments and a brief listing of logical conclusions that arise out of your analysis. These guidelines are universal, so here are some more specific tips.

Prepare the Outline First

Before you proceed to drafts, don’t forget to create the outline, which will definitely enhance the quality of your final essay. Outlines help to improve the structure of your paper, as well as systematize the information collected during your research. Consider this example:


  1. Introduce the topic
  2. Present background information regarding the object, artist and time period when it was created
  3. Provide a thesis statement

It’s better to make your introduction short and precise. Consider including some kind of a hook to draw readers’ attention, but avoid generality and irrelevant details.

First Body Paragraph

  1. Come up with a topic sentence which will clarify the content of the paragraph, try to reflect your thesis with it
  2. Provide evidence
  3. Present explanation
  4. Finish the paragraph with a concluding sentence

Follow these steps for other body paragraphs. Try to start with stronger evidence and present weaker evidence last. This will help you to systematize the information.


  1. Summarize the details
  2. Present thesis restatement
  3. Provide conclusions which arise out of your analysis

Visual Elements

Those students who repeatedly deal with visual analysis essays often analyze the same visual components in every paper. For example, they might focus solely on color or form without delving deeper and discussing other important features. Don’t limit your analysis to a couple of components. The table presented below will help you avoid going around in circles, as it presents the essential visual elements of design. 

Visual Element         What is it? Explanation
Color Color balance and contrasts help to achieve harmony. Depending on the chosen color pattern artists appeal to audience’s sense and create particular mood. Sometimes colors have symbolic meaning. In other cases they create certain atmosphere, provide aesthetic pleasure and visual comfort. Very often they create mood that highlights the major theme.
Focal point An element that draws viewer’s attention and indicates major message passed through the object. Focal point should be evaluated while you discuss themes linked with the object. Various design tools are used for creating focal points.
Line Lines help to attract viewer’s attention to certain ideas, which manifest themselves in the focal point. Though line is a basic element in design, it often gives rise to viewer’s significant response. Examine various types of lines, their shapes (length, thickness and so on) and discuss which kind of lines dominates within the art work (parallel or perpendicular, disordered or boundary, vertical or horizontal etc.).
Form This element implies three-dimensional space: width, height, depth. While evaluating form, assess light and dark which help to transform a two-dimensional object into three-dimensional one. When shades and lights are used skillfully, images look more real and make us perceive them in particular way. Assess lighting conditions, light sources and tonal values.
Shape This one is about artist’s usage of different shapes (squares, circles and other figures). Shapes often stand out and appear to be well-recognizable. While analyzing shapes, discuss the appropriateness of the artist’s visual style (if the shapes are geometric or distorted, complex or simple and so on).
Texture Texture describes main characteristics of surfaces. Find what kinds of surfaces prevail and analyze the patterns. Artists use specific textures to draw attention and add details to their art work.
Size Discuss the dimensions of an art object, as well as its particular elements. Analyze their proportions. Various sizes add meaning and place important accents on specific objects.
Value Value also means lightness or tone. Creators use shading to emphasize form. Contrasts can be added not only with the help of colors, but also with light and shadow. Use value analysis to explain these effects.
Symbols Elements that stand for something else – represent ideas or processes, have cultural or religious meaning. Symbols work in conjunction with other listed elements and promote particular meanings.
Composition Visual components positioned in specific order make composition. Composition carries meaning. Analyze compositional techniques, such as rule of thirds, symmetrical balance, golden ratio etc.).

Besides these elements, discuss different viewpoints, media, and materials. Use professional language according to the academic level and your educational program. Arts students should consider using more specialized and sophisticated terminology than students who receive this type of assignment for English or Literature programs. 

Writing Process

According to your intentions for the paper, consider the following steps (or just some of them):

  • Look at the chosen artwork and make notes based on your own observations. The most beneficial option is to visit a museum where the chosen object is exhibited. This approach will enable you to study the original artwork thoroughly and assess all its visual elements properly.
  • Determine your claim and clarify your thesis on the base of your personal observations. Preliminary research might be necessary for developing a consistent rhetorical argument.
  • Provide artwork characteristics in order to support your claim. Try to outline specific details that can be used for this purpose and organize them in a proper way.
  • Notice how you respond emotionally. Mental and emotional responses are very important in visual analysis – they arise in reaction to visual arguments. Acknowledge your personal responses and research on how other observers react to the object.
  • Study background information and collect essential information that will enable you to make a strong argument. Analysis from a historical perspective implies a deep knowledge of the artist’s background, as well as his individual style and artwork’s social context.
  • Make an outline – organize assembled data and form your essay’s carcass. 
  • Create your first draft with the help of an outline. Try to focus on content rather than your way of writing.
  • Revise your essay. Makes changes if necessary and fill in the missing information. Consider modifying sentences and adding sophisticated vocabulary where appropriate.
  • Format your final work properly. Take your professor’s recommendations into account and make sure that you are familiar with the formatting guidelines. If you don’t follow them, you may face plagiarism accusations.


This checklist will help you in the process of gathering information for your visual analysis essay.

  1. What is the object of your analysis? Determine its form and genre.
  2. In what historical period was this artwork created, and why?
  3. What themes and patterns can you find within this artwork?
  4. Which colors are dominant? Do you notice color contrasts or harmony?
  5. Are there any objects with symbolic value?
  6. How do visual elements form a composition? How does it appeal to the audience?
  7. Can its meaning transform over time?

We hope this article answers your questions regarding the process of writing a visual analysis essay. If you still experience difficulties with this kind of assignment, feel free to hire professional writers who guarantee high-quality work and make your life easier.