Analyze a panting?Write a thesis, and then analyze the structure, color, character dress and expression of the painting, and the possible relationship between them.A visual analysis (sometimes called a formal analysis) describes and evaluates the visual
aspects of a work of art. These forms give the work its expression and meaning, but their
analysis is separate from its subject matter. This analysis begins from the supposition that a
work of art is a constructed object that has been formed communicate meaning around
identity categories. To aid in writing a visual analysis, you should think as if you were
describing the work of art to someone who has never seen it before. Yet this analysis is,
more than a description of the work. It must include a thesis statement that reflects your
conclusions about its meaning. The thesis is the key element of the paper.
In the first paragraph of the first paper (the introduction), you will include:
the name of the artist (if known), title (which is underlined or italicized every time
you use the title in
your paper), date, and medium (if known), and the current location of the work
a brief description of the work that leads logically to…
• a thesis statement—the last few sentences of the first paragraph. Your thesis should state
what you think the artist intended to convey about identity, using the visual evidence you’ve
Basic thesis templates, to be expanded into a few sentences: “In this work, [visual evidence]
argues [what] about [identity categories].” Or… “The identity categories of [name them] are
explored by the artist of this work using [visual evidence] to convey [what]. Your thesis
should be more than one sentence in length: do not jam all points together, for it will
convolute rather than complexify the statement.
From that point, the analysis will include observations that support the thesis. It will have a
sense of order, moving purposefully through identity categories, in an analytical mode, with
regard to visual evidence. Finally, your conclusion (the final paragraph) should end your
paper with a restatement of the thesis and briefly reiterate the evidence.
It is important to remember that your interest here is strictly visually interpretive: no
research will be used in this phase of the project. You will rely on your ability to visually
“read” a work of art and make interpretations about it based on your analysis. You may very
well find in the research phase, which comes next, that this original thesis is not tenable.
That’s perfectly fine and part of the point!
Things to consider when writing a visual analysis (in no particular order); remember that you
should carry your thoughts on the below forward, to consider their relationship to identity –
how they might help to express or contest it, for example.
Do not use the word “piece” to describe the artwork. Use “work,” “artwork,” or a
term that correctly identifies the medium, such as painting, sculpture, print, etc.
Record your first impression(s) of the work. What stands out? Is there a focal point
(an area to which the artist wants your eye to be drawn)? If so, what formal
elements led you to this conclusion? Your impressions can help you reach your
Subject: What do you think it is, without having done research?
Composition: How are the parts of the work arranged? Is there a stable or unstable
composition? Is it
dynamic? Full of movement? Or is it static?
Pose: If the work has figures, are the proportions believable? Is the figure active,
calm, graceful, stiff,
tense, or relaxed? Does the figure convey a mood? If there are several figures, how
relate to each other (do they interact? Or not?)?
Proportions: Does the whole or even individual parts of the figure(s) or natural
objects in the work look
natural? Why did you come to this conclusion?
Line: Are the outlines (whether perceived or actual) smooth, fuzzy, clear? Are the
main lines vertical,
horizontal, diagonal, or curved, or a combination of any of these? Are the lines
jagged and full of
energy? Sketchy? Geometric? Curvilinear? Bold? Subtle?
Space: If the artist conveys space, how would you describe it? What is the relation of
figure(s) to the
space? Are the figures entirely within the space (if the artwork is a painting), or are
parts of the bodies cut off by the edge of the artwork? Is the setting illusionistic, as if
one could enter the space of the painting, or is more two-dimensional, a space that
one could not possibly enter?
Texture: If a sculpture, is the surface smooth and polished or rough? Are there
several textures conveyed? Where and How? If a painting, is there any texture to
the paint surface? Are the brushstrokes invisible? Brushy? Sketchy? Loose and
flowing? Or tight and controlled? Think about how these questions apply to other
media, if your work is neither a painting nor a sculpture.
Light and Shadow: Are shadows visible? Where? Are there dark shadows, light
shadows, or both? How do the shadows affect the work?
Size: How big is the artwork? Are the figures or objects in the work life-sized, larger
or smaller than life? How does the size affect the messaging of the work?
Color: What type of colors are used in the work? Bright? Dull? Primary?
Complimentary? Does the artist use colors to draw your attention to specific areas
of the work? How? If a sculpture, examine the color(s) of the medium and how it
affects visual communication.
Mood: Do you sense an overall mood in the artwork? Perhaps several different
moods? How does this help you to interpret the work?
Thinking about what you observe not as a random list of points but rather as
evidence will help you to develop a thesis that makes an argument about identity, as
per the above templates. Once you have thoroughly analyzed your work, see if your
first impression has changed. If so, how? It may be necessary to revise any
preliminary thesis statement you developed.
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