Visual Analysis Essay: How To Write Flawlessly In 6 Basic Steps?

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Are you wondering what a visual analysis essay is? A visual analysis essay is not like other types of academic essay writing. Usually, the most popular and common types of essays are argumentative, descriptive, and narrative. However, a visual analysis essay, on the other hand, is quite distinct from them.

It is an introductory-level essay that is occasionally tutored in high school and early university courses. Furthermore, it is used by communications and art history students to learn and comprehend art and a few other visual messages. 

In this article, we will explain the term and provide a detailed guide on analyzing a piece of art with an example.

Who’s Involved In The Formal Analysis Of Art?

Visual analysis essays are usually assigned to students studying Art History, Communication, or English. In other words, they will likely analyze art as part of their curriculum. Students usually study print media, films, theatre, news, and photography in connection with their communication class.

So, when studying art history, students involve themselves in the study of world art and learn how it evolved. They usually conduct visual analysis on each of the paintings and examine and hold discussions on the same in class.

Usually, every author creates an image in their reader’s mind through their words or stories. Thus, the image created can be clear or intentionally ambiguous similar to a painting.

Here’s where the formal analysis takes place, and students try to decode whether the description is factual and to the point or emotional and abstract. Basically, this analysis challenges you to explore your emotions rather than focusing on facts and realities.

How To Conduct Visual Analysis?

You’ll first have to understand a few key points to conduct a visual analysis. This analysis basically helps you to investigate a painting or an art form in a properly organized way.

Usually, knowledge of the basic principles of art can be seen as a basic requirement to perform visual analysis. This is because it can be learned easily and applied to any medium, whether it is photography or painting. Hence, for clarity, we’ll focus on painting in this article. It is the most typically used medium in the analysis of formal art settings.

Here are the elements that you must understand to analyze the art.

Painter – Who is the painter, and when was the art conceived?

Basically, you can find classical painters and modernists.

  • Classical painters most probably depict historical, literary, and biblical art. Furthermore, they paint scenes such as the burning of Rome or the death of Socrates.
  • On the other hand, modernists tend to deprave classical themes and provide a fresh perspective on art.

Note: Modernism came into existence as a reaction to classical painting. Hence, one cannot analyze modernist art through the classical art lens. Doing so will lead to incomplete or inaccurate results. 

Purpose – What Is The Painter’s Purpose?

There are usually pretty good reasons to employ artists or painters. For instance, the noble families or The Vatican hired classical painters such as Michelangelo to do the needful and were paid handsome salaries.

Thus, the painter’s objective is to do the job given to them in return for money in most cases. However, some painters did create art for personal reasons too.

Audience – Who Is The Intended Audience?

Once the painter and their purpose are deduced, analyze the audience for that painting.

Andy Warhol, for example, tried to appeal to the masses of that era. Others, such as Marcel Duchamp, created art to help it evolve, which was basically directed toward art people. 

Background – What Is The Historical Background?

Before you write, conduct extensive research on your artist/painting. You cannot apply analysis points applicable to Renaissance painters to Surrealist painters. Any surrealist painting can be analyzed only if we understand its essence.

A good visual analysis essay requires you to be familiar with these key points so that you have all the information and context you need.

Nevertheless, the visual analysis of historical works of art can go much deeper than that. Therefore, students must explore various other interpretations along with the history of the art. Furthermore, they must observe the interaction of colors and themes and how critics perceive them. 

Detailed Process of Interpreting Visual Art

Formal art analysis is a basic skill taught at the beginning of introductory art history classes. Students who study art or communications develop this skill over time. It is a no-brainer that every artwork is unique, and one cannot apply the same analysis techniques to every art. Thus, it is crucial to determine the significance of each artwork and what makes it up when performing visual analysis.

Step 1: General Information

To begin, work on gathering the below information about the artwork and the artist.

  • Subject — who or what represents this work?
  • Artist – Who is the artist behind this work? Please address them by their surname.
  • Date – The date and provenance indicate when and where this work of art was created. Is it typical of its historical or geographical setting?
  • Locations in the Past and Present — Where was the art originally displayed? Where is it displayed now?
  • Medium and Techniques — For what medium was this piece created, and why is it essential to that medium? Please make a note of the materials used in the execution of the art, along with their size.

Step 2: Describe The Painting

This section is similar to the abstract, where you explain what the painting represents and summarize all visible aspects of the piece. Furthermore, it paints an image in the reader’s mind. The following are the most important characteristics to observe in a subject (painting):

  • Characters: who they are and what they stand for.
  • Theme: Identify the story or theme.
  • Lighting: The painting’s lighting nuances and overall mood.
  • Colors and shapes: Determine the shapes and colors in an abstract painting.
  • Determine the setting.

Step 3: Extensive Analysis

Your paper will focus largely on analyzing the work visually. Here, you step outside the basics and analyze the design principles and elements of the work.

Please keep in mind that art elements are primarily involved with the artist’s complex painting techniques and the basics of composition.

  • Lines — painters use a wide variety of lines, such as straight and vertical/horizontal, curved, thick, and implied lines at times.
  • Shapes — usually, shapes can be distinct or hidden in plain sight; simply observe the painting’s geometrical patterns.
  • Colors — determine the color usage by verifying how many primary and secondary colors are used. Find out the colors used and analyze the painting’s tone (warm or cool).
  • Use of Light — Determine if the light source is flat. Monitor whether the colors are even or contrasting, and explain why it is so.
  • Patterns – Are there any recurring patterns in the painting? This could be figures or hidden textural patterns.
  • Use of Space — what is the perspective that is used in the painting; how does the artist demonstrate depth? (if they do).
  • Time and Motion Passage

A design principle examines how elements of the painting are combined to create both a visually pleasing and thematically appealing painting.

  • Variety and Unity – investigate whether the art creates chaos or brings in a sense of unity. Also, determine if the artist uses rich and varied techniques in the art.
  • Proportions – notice how the objects in the art interact in the painting and describe the same. The description usually lends a sense of scale, mass, and volume to the art.
  • Symmetry or asymmetry – discover shapes, patterns, colors, etc., as they represent the 

points of balance in the painting.

  • Emphasis – identify the focus points, thematically and artistically. Is the artist emphasizing or stressing a specific color or architectural aspect? Is the usage of a specific color or aspect constant throughout the art?
  • Rhythmic Inference – Observe and inspect if the artist indicates any specific rhythm through art techniques.

It is well-known that every artwork is unique and combines different elements. Therefore, select the art elements you want to discuss carefully.

Note: Visual analysis is not limited to painting and can be applied to other mediums, such as photography.

Steps To Craft A Visual Analysis Paper

To write an exceptional visual analysis paper, you’ll have to follow some basic steps that’ll help with the overall structure of your essay. You can use the below steps to come up with your own visual analysis paper:

1. Furnish basic information:

To begin the writing process, you’ll first have to gather information on the following elements –

  • Who created the work?
  • For whom was this work created?
  • What medium was selected?
  • What was the significance of that medium?
  • Where was the first time this art was displayed?
  • What or who does the artwork represent?
  • What elements were employed?
  • When and where did the work take place?

2. Describe the Work of Art:

The next step is to figure out what the image represents. This part is identical to an abstract in that you must summarise all of the visible elements. The following are the key characteristics to look for.

  • If you’re looking at a classical painting, figure out what story it’s based on.
  • Talk about the primary setting.
  • Highlight the characters and their causes.
  • Describe the overall vibe that the artist intends to communicate through the painting.

3. Investigate Thoroughly:

Every work of art is unique; think about which art elements and design principles you will use in your writing.

This is the most extended section because you must thoroughly examine the artwork elements and design concepts.

4. Create an Outline:

The five-paragraph format is recommended for your visual analysis essay, as it is a safe bet for crafting an essay.

You’ll have to build your thesis statement based on the artwork’s essential elements.

Next, select the most important aspects of any illustration and revise them according to your thesis. Structure it using the basic visual analysis essay structure:

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Visual Analysis Outline


This is the foremost section that you’ll be working on. Here you’ll include the description of the painting, after which you’ll include the artist’s name, the year when the painting was created, and the motivation behind the art piece (if any). Once all these are covered, try to find out if any artistic movement was involved in the creation of the painting.

Describe the painting’s contents succinctly. 

Provide some clear context about the painting by including some facts. Explore the period in which the painting was created and the artist who created it to gather intriguing facts.

When introducing your work, be sure to grab your audience’s interest with an attention-grabber.


What are your points of analysis on this work of art that you will discuss in your essay?

Body paragraphs:

The body section examines the artwork and analyzes its components.


After thoroughly analyzing the painting and the artist’s techniques, express your thoughts and opinions on the art. 

Convey the meaning of the art concisely and, explain the elements and principles of design used in the painting, back up your observations and deductions with solid facts.

Furthermore, you must follow up on this visual analysis format to deliver a decent essay.


Usually, essays follow standard citation guidelines. Use in-text citations when quoting a book, journal, website, or movie. In addition, make sure to include the correct sources on your ‘sources cited’ page. Right at the beginning (introduction), describe the art you will be analyzing. Next, refer to the same art by its name in the rest of the essay body.

Proofread your work:

After finishing your paper, revise and proofread it to ensure it’s error-free. Analyze the essay’s sentence structure, spelling, and grammar to ensure there are no mistakes in the writing. Please remember to revise your work after a small break with a fresh mind. 

Furthermore, you can take the help of your friends or relatives to proofread your work as sometimes all you require is a fresh pair of eyes to offer new perspectives on your paper.

Visual Analysis Example

Leonardo da Vinci’s painting: Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance artist (1452-1519). His art contributions to Italian art catapulted him into fame. Among other things, Leonardo was an active inventor, a vibrant musician, a writer, a scientist, and a talented sculptor. His various career fields demonstrated his desire to learn everything about nature. As Alessandro Vezzosi describes in his book “Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance,” Leonardo was a versatile artist and explorer. Throughout the book, the author depicts some of Leonardo’s landmark work and research he performed in Italy during the Renaissance period in the field of medicine, natural science, metal casting, architecture, and weaponry, among others, from the 1470s until his death.

Rodin’s Thinker: Auguste Rodin’s brilliant sculpture, The Thinker, depicts a young, athletic man deep in thought. The Thinker continues to pique people’s interest as they try to figure out what riddle the stone man has been attempting to solve for centuries. However, it is not the visual perfection attained by the true genius’s hand that makes people love and cherish The Thinker. The secret to its success is people’s love of simple art.


Visual analysis essays will be required early in your communications and art history studies. Moreover, if you are an art or communications student, learning how to interpret art is crucial.

Acquire a solid historical background on the painter and their life before diving into analysis. Studying a painting requires one to decipher the hidden intricacies or nuances of the artist crucially.

It is no secret that digital media dominates our world today. Thus, having a solid understanding of visual analysis will improve your appreciation of the arts and your ability to analyze media messages in your everyday life.

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