Creative Arts Toolkit

The visual essay, what is it.

A visual essay is a sequence of photographs or other images which are either:

  • original, taken and/or created by yourself, or
  • found, and significantly processed (e.g. using Photoshop, Illustrator)

Taken together, the images provide a critical commentary of some kind on a defined topic, working as a kind of argument, explanation, discussion. The topic will have been either given to you (e.g. as an essay question) or developed by you in consultation with your tutor.

Usually the ‘reading’ of the images in a visual essay is directed by such elements as:

  • the sequence of images and how they relate to each other, the juxtaposition of one to the next and how it stands in a series
  • the layout of the page in which the image(s) is placed, and the layout of following and preceding pages
  • captions, including brief analyses, quotations, key words, provocative questions or statements;
  • text integrated within the image or as part of the image (e.g. playing with typographic elements, the visual aspects of text);
  • • a short text at the beginning (prologue, scene setting) and/or end (epilogue, codicil, reflection).

Sounds easy…?

The visual essay is not a soft option. To produce a good visual essay is as demanding as writing a good academic text, and in some ways may be considerably harder to do. Never opt to do a visual essay because you think it will be easier than a ‘normal’ or ‘proper’ essay: this will inevitably lead to poor work. Apart from anything else, the traditional essay – love it or loathe it – is ‘the devil you know’. A visual essay is always something of a risk – but also an exciting possibility, rich with potential. Think carefully about how you will approach it and what you want it to say, do, achieve.

What form should it take?

The visual essay will usually take the form of a bound sequence but might be a series of unbound cards (perhaps ‘shuffled’, with a fixed start- and end-point) if that works better with the ideas being expressed. It may possibly take the form of a PowerPoint slideshow that runs automatically, combining image and text in a meaningful, essay-style sequence.

Remember, visual design and communication are key to the success (or otherwise) of a visual essay: they work as the equivalents of correct layout, accurate spelling, clear sentence construction, and so on, in a traditional academic essay.

How many images should I include? And how many words?

A visual essay needs to be equivalent in study effort, time, and so on, to a piece of traditional academic writing at the same level. This means that there is no ‘cutting corners’ on research/enquiry, organisation, thinking, drafting, ‘writing up’ and managing references and citation.

  • Typically, to be equivalent to a 1500 word written essay, a visual essay should comprise 10-12 images, with around 500-700 words of text.
  • To be equivalent to a 2000 word written essay, it should include 12-15 images, with around 600-800 words of text.
  • To be equivalent to a 4000 word written essay, think in terms of 15-20 images, with 1200-1500 words of text.

Does a visual essay need to be referenced? Does it need a bibliography?

The visual essay must include – or be accompanied by – an annotated bibliography which uses the Harvard or Author-Date system; ‘annotation’ means ‘added notes of comment, evaluation or explanation’.

A visual essay – depending on overall design and how you are using the textual elements – might not formally cite sources, so the annotated bibliography is an absolutely vital part of the academic apparatus. (If you feel that in-text citations are not appropriate to your visual essay, you must get this agreed by your tutor in advance.)

The annotated bibliography has, for each directly relevant source, an entry in the Harvard/Author-Date format, followed by two short commentaries:

  • How and why this text was useful to you in carrying out the assignment, what it contributed to your understanding and knowledge,
  • How you used it, where in the work it belongs or is used (indicate this in some way)

Some examples and further guidance

Colomba, E. (2016) ‘Reclaiming History: A Visual Essay’. Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art . 38. 196-201.  (accessed 5 December 2019)

Gómez Cruz, E. (2019) ‘Black Screens: A Visual Essay on Mobile Screens in the City’.  Visual Communication . 19:1. 1-14.  (accessed 5 December 2019) – A lovely example, and recent, but rather wordy for a visual essay!

Roxburgh, M. (2010) ‘Design and the aesthetics of research’. Visual Communication . 9:4. 425-39.  (accessed 5 December 2019)

Traverso, A. & Azúa, E. (2013) ‘Paine Memorial: a visual essay’. Social Identities . 19:3-04. 403-9.  (accessed 5 December 2019)

Van Leeuwen, T. (2007) ‘Sound and Vision’. Visual Communication . 6:2. 136-45.  (accessed 5 December 2019)

Yagou, A. (2011) ‘Walls of Lisbon: A Visual Essay’. Visual Communication. 10:3. 187-92.  (accessed 5 December 2019)

Suggested further reading

Not about Visual Essays as such, but about visual (and physical) thinking:

Brody, N. & Wozencroft, J. (1993) The graphic language of Neville Brody. London: Thames & Hudson.

David Carson Design (the influential graphic designer’s official website)   (accessed 5 December 2019)

Carson, D. & Blackwell, L. (1995) The end of print: the graphic design of David Carson. London: Laurence King.

McLuhan, M. & Carson, D. (2003) The Book of Probes. Santa Rosa, CA: Gingko Press.

Tufte, E. (1990) Envisioning Information. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press.

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Visual Analysis Essay

Barbara P

Visual Analysis Essay Writing Guide - Format & Samples

13 min read

Published on: Feb 1, 2020

Last updated on: Dec 19, 2022

Visual Analysis Essay

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A visual analysis essay is quite different from other types of academic essays. Common types of essays are descriptive, narrative, argumentative, but a visual analysis is different from these.

Visual analysis essays are usually written for History, Art, and English classes. The main thing about this type of essay is the use of visual analysis concepts in a written form.

It may sound difficult to write a visual analysis essay, but it can be done in simple steps by following the right approaches. Personal responses are one of the important factors in writing a great visual analysis essay.

In this blog, we will discuss how to write a visual analysis essay. Follow the guide and get a hand on some interesting topics for getting started. You can also find an example of a visual analysis essay for better understanding.

Visual Analysis Essay Definition

A visual analysis essay basically requires you to provide a detailed description of a specific visual display. In doing so, you need to analyze the visual display and describe the elements in detail. You will also need to explain how different concepts fit together and make the whole visual stand out.

Moreover, these concepts include basic visual elements and principles of design. Therefore, students need to understand these concepts for writing an effective visual analysis essay. For analyzing an image or any other visual that has some amount of graphical element in it, you look at:

  • The audience
  • How an image is formed
  • The historical context

These are the pre-writing for a visual analysis essay.

The style and language used in a visual analysis essay should be clear and precise. Please note that the language used in the essay should be descriptive. In simpler words, a visual analysis essay should describe a piece of art, image, or any other visual work. This essay should reveal a specific feature or examine the artwork as a whole from your point of view.

One of the most specific things in writing a visual analysis essay is that it is brief and precise. But if your essay requirements note vice versa, you will have to follow the instructions. As with any type of essay, a visual analysis essay structure also consists of an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

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Visual Elements of a Visual Analysis Essay

One of the concepts that you should consider for writing a visual analysis essay is visual elements. These elements give a visual representation of its visual characteristics. It is not possible for a student to analyze the image or visual display without mentioning how these elements fit the subject’s characteristics. Below you can find the common visual elements of a visual analysis essay.

Principles of Design in a Visual Analysis Essay

In addition to visual elements, you must also consider the principles of design for writing a great visual analysis essay. These principles help you to identify and explain the characteristics of the image or the visual display.

How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay?

Here are the steps that you need to follow for writing a visual analysis essay.

Let’s discuss them in detail.

1. Gather General Information

To begin the writing process, you need to gather information on the following aspects.

  • Who and what does the artwork represent?
  • Who is the author of the piece?
  • Who did the artist create the work for?
  • When and where was the work created?
  • Where was this work displayed for the first time?
  • What medium was used, and why was that medium important? Identify which materials were used?

2. Describe the Painting

The next thing that you need to do is identify what the image depicts. This section is like an abstract in which you need to summarize all the visible aspects. The following are the most important features that you need to look for.

  • Identify the characters and what they represent?
  • If you are analyzing a classical painting, identify the story on which the story is based.
  • Describe the overall mood of the painting.
  • Write about the main setting.

3. A Detailed Analysis

This is the most time-consuming section of the essay. Here you need to look at the art elements and the principles of design of the work. (discussed in the above section)

Each artwork is unique, so think about the art elements and design principles you will use in your essay.

4. Visual Analysis Essay Outline

It is best to use the five-paragraph format for your visual analysis essay. If you are analyzing a painting, take the most significant elements of it and discuss those in relation to your thesis.

The elements and aspects are discussed in the following sections.

This is the first paragraph of a visual analysis essay in which you need to provide some basic information on the topic. After introducing the topic, briefly provide information on the following points.

  • Provide a brief description of the painting and the artist.
  • Describe the key elements in the painting.
  • Add an interesting fact about the artist or the painting.
  • Don’t forget to add an attention grabber at the start.

The introduction should end with a thesis statement. The visual analysis essay thesis states the analysis points on the artwork that you aim to discuss in your essay.

In the body section, you need to explore the artwork in detail. Defend your thesis with three or more ideas. Write and analyze the piece as a whole, the technique being used, shape, color, and everything else to support your thesis.

You should only address those elements of the artwork that defends your thesis. Present all the details logically and discuss the relationship between the objects. In response to a visual argument created by the artist, you should also consider your thoughts about the artwork under analysis.

Once you have completed the body section, move to the conclusion paragraph. This is the last paragraph of the essay that should be strong and well-written. Here you need to strengthen your thesis one more time.

5. Citation

Standard citation rules apply to visual analysis papers. Include a source cited page and list down all your sources.

6. Edit & Revise Your Essay

Once you are done writing your essay, edit and proofread your essay to make sure it is free of any language mistakes.

How to Analyze a Photograph

Painting and photograph analysis are very similar. There are three ways in which photo visual analysis is conducted: description, reflection, and formal analysis.

Although the historical study may be used, it is not necessary.

  • Description -  It implies examining the picture carefully and considering all of the details. The description should be neutral, focusing on simple facts without expressing a personal viewpoint.
  • Reflection -  For the next stage, consider the emotions that the picture stirs in you. Every viewer will have a distinct viewpoint and feelings about the piece. Knowing some historical background might be useful when formulating an educated response.
  • Formal analysis -  Consider the visual components and concepts. How are they shown in the photo?
  • Historical analysis -  For a contextual analysis, keep an eye on the photo's surroundings. Make sure you comprehend the surrounding environment in which the photograph was taken. What era was this image shot during?

How to Analyze a Sculpture

A sculpture, unlike a painting or photograph, requires a different approach to visual analysis. It still depends on visible components and principles, however it does so in a slightly different way.

When you're writing about sculptures, keep the following in mind:

  • Medium, size, and technique -  What kind of material is it? Is it carved in a negative or positive method?
  • Color and lightning -  Describe the hue of the sculpture, whether it is painted. Was the sculptor concerned with the illumination when creating the work?
  • Human body and scale -  Consider how a human body is portrayed in the piece. Also, assess the sculpture's size compared to that of the viewer.
  • Function -  What was the sculpture's main aim? You could speak about whether it represented a religious conviction or honored someone, for example.
  • Composition -  Examine the placement of the piece and determine whether there is a focal point.

Tips to Write a Visual Analysis Essay on a Sculpture

The following are the components of a sculpture analysis:

  • Description -  Examine the sculpture to see what it represents. For example, the figure may be an athlete, a Greek God, a poet, or anything else. Consider their posture, physique, and clothing.
  • Formal analysis -  The emphasis here is on visuals. Discuss the color, form, method, and medium of your painting.
  • Contextual analysis -  If you wish to include a contextual analysis, you may discuss the sculpture's functionality and how it expresses ideas and sentiments from that era. Mention its historical and cultural significance as well.

Technical data, such as the type of stone or concrete used in the piece, may also be important when it comes to sculptural analysis.

  • The size of the sculpture
  • Medium or Material
  • The correct state

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Advertisement Visual Analysis Essay

In advertisements, visuals are used to pique interest or persuade the public that what is being advertised is needed. The goal of a visual argument is to generate attention and intrigue. Images are utilized in advertisements to transmit information and interact with the audience.

When conducting a visual analysis of an ad, keep the following in mind:

  • text elements,
  • illustrations,
  • composition.

This all has an impact on how people perceive information and how they react to it.

When you analyze the visuals of an ad, you're performing a rhetorical analysis. The study of images and extracting information from them is known as visual rhetoric. It aids in the comprehension of typography, imagery, and the structure of elements on the page.

How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper on an Advertisement

Visual components in advertising are important. It aids in the persuasion of the audience.

Always keep the rhetorical situation in mind while analyzing visual arguments. The following are some key elements to consider:

  • Audience -  Who is the advertisement meant to attract?
  • Purpose -  What message does the photo try to get across to the audience?
  • Design -  What kind of visualizations are included? Are the visuals clear and easy to follow? Are there any patterns or repetitions in the design?
  • Strategies -  Is there any humor, celebrities, or cultural allusions in the graphic's message?
  • Medium -  Is the photograph surrounded by text? Is there any text within the picture? How does it interact with the picture to produce an intended effect if there is any?
  • Context -  What are the characters in an ad? Where are they positioned?
  • Subtext -  Consider the meaning of the picture's words. What are they trying to say?

Visual Rhetorical Analysis Essay Examples

Here are some visual analysis essay sample papers that you can read to understand this type of essay better.

Art history Visual Analysis Essay - Example

Political Cartoon Visual Analysis Essay - Example

Rhetorical and Visual Analysis Essay - Sample

Visual Analysis Essay Topics

Here are some top visual analysis essay topics that you can choose from and begin the writing process.

  • Make a review of your favorite Hollywood production and discuss the visual arts involved.
  • Write about the use of color and action in TV commercials.
  • Discuss how the brand name is displayed in digital media campaigns.
  • Discuss different types of emotional appeals used in web ads
  • What is the special about Cleo Award-winning ads?
  • How advertising affects our life?
  • What type of advertising is most effective?
  • What is the importance of art and culture in our life?
  • How has art changed over the last 50 years?
  • The use of colors in marketing and advertising.

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Barbara P (Literature, Marketing)

Dr. Barbara is a highly experienced writer and author who holds a Ph.D. degree in public health from an Ivy League school. She has worked in the medical field for many years, conducting extensive research on various health topics. Her writing has been featured in several top-tier publications.

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How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay: Examples & Template

A visual analysis essay is an academic paper type that history and art students often deal with. It consists of a detailed description of an image or object. It can also include an interpretation or an argument that is supported by visual evidence.

Our specialists will write a custom essay on any topic for 13.00 10.40/page

The picture shows the definition of a visual analysis.

In this article, our custom writing experts will:

  • explain what a visual analysis is;
  • share useful tips on how to write a good visual analysis essay;
  • provide an essay sample.
  • 🎨 Visual Analysis Definition
  • 🏺 Artwork Analysis Tips
  • ✅ Visual Analysis Writing Guide
  • 📑 Example & Citation Tips

🎨 What Is a Visual Analysis?

The primary objective of visual analysis is to understand an artwork better by examining the visual elements. There are two types of visual analysis: formal and contextual.

  • A formal analysis focuses on artwork elements such as texture, color, size, and line. It aims to organize visual information and translate it into words. A formal analysis doesn’t interpret the piece.
  • Unlike formal analysis, contextual analysis’ primary goal is to connect artwork to its purpose or meaning within a culture. A contextual analysis includes formal analysis. Additionally, it discusses an artwork’s social purpose and significance.

Usually, students deal with formal visual analysis. Before starting to work on your essay, make sure to ask your professor whether to include contextual analysis or not.

The Purpose of Analyzing Images

Why is visual analysis important? What does it help to learn? There are several things that visual analysis helps with:

  • It allows students to enhance their appreciation of art.
  • It enables students to develop the ability to synthesize information.
  • It encourages students to seek out answers instead of simply receiving them.
  • It prompts higher-order critical thinking and helps to create a well-reasoned analysis.
  • By conducting visual analysis, students learn how to support and explain their ideas by studying visual information.

What Is Formal Analysis: Art History

When we look at an artwork, we want to know why it was created, who made it, and what its function was. That’s why art historians and researchers pay special attention to the role of artworks within historical contexts.

Visual analysis is a helpful tool in exploring art. It focuses on the following aspects:

  • Interpretation of subject matter ( iconography). An iconographic analysis is an explanation of the work’s meaning. Art historians try to understand what is shown and why it is depicted in a certain way.
  • The analysis of function. Many works of art were designed to serve a purpose that goes beyond aesthetics. Understanding that purpose by studying their historical use helps learn more about artworks. It also establishes a connection between function and appearance.

Formal Analysis: Art Glossary

Now, let’s look at some visual elements and principles and learn how to define them.

Visual Elements :

Visual Principles :

🏺 How to Analyze Artworks: Different Types

Writing a formal analysis is a skill that requires practice. Being careful and attentive during the pre-writing stage is essential if you want to create a good and well-structured visual analysis. 

Receive a plagiarism-free paper tailored to your instructions.

Visual analysis essay mainly consists of two components:

  • Description of the selected image or object,
  • Interpretation built on the visual evidence.

During the pre-writing stage:

  • Collect general information about an artwork. Describe it briefly. Pay special attention to visual elements and principles:
  • Develop an interpretation. Think critically. What does the information in your notes imply? How can it be interpreted?
  • Support your ideas. To do it, refer to the visual elements directly. Avoid generalizing art and double-check your prompts. 

How to Analyze a Painting Using the Elements of Art

To write an excellent formal visual analysis, you need to consider as many visual principles and elements as you can apply. In the formal analysis part:

  • Target your description;
  • Address only those elements relevant to your essay;
  • Pay attention to visual elements and principles;
  • Introduce the subject of the painting and describe it;
  • Explain why you have decided to discuss specific elements;
  • Discuss the relationship between visual elements of the artwork;
  • Use the vocabulary terms.

If you are asked to do a contextual analysis , you may want to:

  • Focus on the historical importance of an artwork;
  • Explore the style or movement associated with an artwork;
  • Learn about the historical context and the public’s reaction to the artwork;
  • Learn about the author and how they’ve created the piece of art.

Painting Analysis Essay Example & Tips

Here is a template you can use for your essay.

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Now, let’s take a look at an essay example.

How to Analyze a Photograph

Analyzing photos has a lot in common with paintings. There are three methods on which photo visual analysis relies: description, reflection, and formal analysis. Historical analysis can be included as well, though it is optional.

  • Description . It implies looking closely at the photo and considering all the details. The description needs to be objective and consists of basic statements that don’t express an opinion.
  • Reflection. For the next step, focus on the emotions that the photograph evokes. Here, every viewer will have a different opinion and feelings about the artwork. Knowing some historical context may be helpful to construct a thoughtful response.
  • Formal analysis . Think of the visual elements and principles. How are they represented in the photograph?
  • Historical analysis. For a contextual analysis, you need to pay attention to the external elements of the photograph. Make sure that you understand the environmental context in which the photo was taken. Under what historical circumstances was the picture made?

Photo Analysis Essay Tips

Now that we’ve talked about analyzing a photograph let’s look at some helpful tips that will help you write an essay.

How to Analyze a Sculpture

Visual analysis of a sculpture is slightly different from the one of a painting or a photograph. However, it still uses similar concepts, relies on visual elements and principles. When you write about sculpture, consider:

Visual Analysis Essay on a Sculpture: Writing Tips

A sculpture analysis consists of the following parts:

  • Description . Include specific details, such as what the sculpture may represent. For instance, the human figure may be an athlete, an ancient God, a poet, etc. Consider their pose, body build, and attire.
  • Formal analysis . Here, visual elements and principles become the focus. Discuss the color, shape, technique, and medium.
  • Contextual analysis . If you decide to include a contextual analysis, you can talk about the sculpture’s function and how it conveys   ideas and sentiments of that period. Mention its historical and cultural importance.

When it comes to sculpture analysis, you may also want to collect technical data such as:

  • The size of the sculpture
  • Medium (the material)
  • The current condition (is it damaged, preserved as a fragment, or as a whole piece)
  • Display (Was a sculpture a part of an architectural setting, or was it an independent piece of work?)

For instance, if you were to do a visual analysis of Laocoön and His Sons , you could first look up such details:

  • Location: Discovered in a Roman vineyard in 1506
  • Current location: Vatican
  • Date: Hellenistic Period (323 BCE – 31 CE)
  • Size: Height 208 cm; Width 163 cm; Depth 112 cm
  • Material: Marble
  • Current condition: Missing several parts.

Visual Analysis Essay: Advertisement Analysis

Visuals are used in advertisements to attract attention or convince the public that they need what is being advertised. The purpose of a visual argument is to create interest. Advertisements use images to convey information and communicate with the audience.

When writing a visual analysis of an advertisement, pay attention to the following:

  • text elements,
  • illustrations,
  • composition.

All of this influences how the viewer perceives the information and reacts to it.

When you write about an advertisement, you conduct a rhetorical analysis of its visual elements. Visual rhetoric is mainly directed at analyzing images and extracting information from them. It helps to understand the use of typography, imagery, and the arrangement of elements on the page.

Think of the famous visual rhetoric examples such as the We can do it! poster or a Chanel №5 commercial. Both examples demonstrate how persuasive imagery has been used throughout history.

How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper on an Advertisement

The presentation of visual elements in advertising is essential. It helps to convince the audience. When you analyze visual arguments, always keep the rhetorical situation in mind. Here are some crucial elements to focus on:

✅ How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper: Step by Step

Now, we’ll focus on the paper itself and how to structure it. But first, check out the list of topics and choose what suits you best.

Visual Analysis Essay Topics

There are a lot of artworks and advertisements that can be analyzed and viewed from different perspectives. Here are some essay topics on visual analysis that you may find helpful:

  • Analyze Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1907-1908.)
  • The theme of humanity and The Son of Man (1964) by René Magritte.
  • The use of visual elements in Almond Blossom by Vincent van Gogh (1888-1890.)
  • Identity and Seated Harlequin (1901) by Picasso .
  • Explore the themes of Paul Klee ’s The Tree of Houses , 1918.
  • Objectives, activities, and instructions of Pietro Perugino’s fresco The Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter .
  • Reflection on social issues of the time in Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo and Untitled by Ramses Younan .
  • Analyze the importance of Mural (1943) by Jackson Pollock .
  • The political message in John Gast’s painting American Progress (1872).
  • Describe the visual techniques used in Toy Pieta by Scott Avett .
  • The interpretation of the painting Indian Fire God by Frederic Remington.
  • Explore the historical significance and aesthetic meaning of Ognissanti Madonna by Giotto di Bondone .
  • Analyze different interpretations of The Three Dancers by Pablo Picasso .


  • The idea behind Lindsay Key (1985) by Robert Mapplethorpe.
  • Explore the mythical appeal of Robert Capa’s photograph The Falling Soldier (Spain,1936) from Death in Making photobook.
  • Describe Two Boys with Fish (2018) from Faith series by Mario Macilau.
  • Kevin Carter’s Starving Child and Vulture (1993) as the representation of photojournalism.
  • The story behind Philippe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus , 1948.
  • Describe The Starving Boy in Uganda photograph by Mike Wells
  • Analyse the view of a historic disaster in San Francisco photograph by George R. Lawrence.
  • The statement behind Eddie Adams’s photo Shooting a Viet Cong Prisoner .
  • How is Steve McCurry’s perception of the world reflected in his photo Afghanistan Girl .
  • Analyze the reflection of Ansel Adams’s environmental philosophy in his photo Moon and Half Dome (1960).
  • Describe Girl on the Garda Lake (2016) by Giuseppe Milo.
  • Combination of internal geometry and true-to-life moments in Behind the Gare Saint Lazare by Henri Cartier-Bresson .
  • Modern art and Couple on Seat by Lynn Chadwick (1984.)
  • Analyze the biblical context of Pieta (1498-1499) by Michelangelo.
  • The use of shapes in Louise Bourgeois ’ Spider (1996.)
  • Analysis of the symbolism behind The Thinker (1880) by Rodin.
  • The historical meaning of Fountain (1917) by Duchamp .
  • Analyze the Miniature Statue of Liberty by Willard Wigan
  • The combination of Egyptian culture and classical Greek ideology in statue of Osiris-Antinous .
  • Reflection of the civilization values in emperor Qin’s Terracotta Army .
  • The aesthetic and philosophical significance of Michelangelo’s David .
  • Explore the controversial meaning of Damien Hirst’s sculpture For the Love of God (2007).
  • Analyze the elements of art and design used in The Thinker by August Rodin .
  • Symbolic elements in the Ancient Greek statues of Zeus .
  • Depiction of the fundamental aspects of Buddhism in The Parinirvana of Siddhartha/Shakyamuni.


  • How Volkswagen : Think Small (1960) ad changed advertising.
  • Analyze the use of figures in California Milk Processor Board: Got Milk? (1993) ad campaign .
  • Analyze the use of colors in Coca-Cola — The Pause that Refreshes (1931.)
  • Explore the historical context of We Can Do It! (1942) campaign.
  • The importance of a slogan in 1947: A Diamond Is Forever by De Beers.
  • Examine the specifics of visual advert: dogs and their humans.
  • Describe the use of visual techniques in Kentucky Fried Chicken company’s advertisement.
  • Analyze the multiple messages behind the print ad of JBL .
  • Discuss the methods used in Toyota Highlander advertisement .
  • Elucidation of people’s dependency on social networks in the advertising campaign Followers by Miller Lite.
  • The use of the visual arguments in Schlitz Brewing Company advertisement .
  • The role of colors and fonts in Viva la Juicy perfume advertisement .

Visual Analysis Essay Outline

You can use this art analysis template to structure your essay:

The picture shows the main steps in writing a visual analysis essay: introduction, main body, conclusion.

How to Start an Art Essay

Every analysis starts with an introduction. In the first paragraph, make sure that:

  • the reader knows that this essay is a visual analysis;
  • you have provided all the necessary background information about an artwork.

It’s also important to know how to introduce an artwork. If you’re dealing with a panting or a photograph, it’s better to integrate them into the first page of your analysis. This way, the reader can see the piece and use it as a reference while reading your paper.

Art Thesis Statement Examples & Tips

Formulating a thesis is an essential step in every essay. Depending on the purpose of your paper, you can either focus your visual analysis thesis statement on formal elements or connect it with the contextual meaning. 

To create a strong thesis, you should relate it to an artwork’s meaning, significance, or effect. Your interpretation should put out an argument that someone could potentially disagree with. 

  • For instance, you can consider how formal elements or principles impact the meaning of an artwork. Here are some options you can consider:
  • If your focus is the contextual analysis, you can find the connection between the artwork and the artist’s personal life or a historical event.

How to Write Visual Analysis Body Paragraphs

Body paragraphs of formal analysis consist of two parts—the description and the analysis itself. Let’s take Klimt’s The Kiss as an example:

The contextual analysis includes interpretation and evaluation.

Visual Analysis Essay Conclusion

When you work on the conclusion, try to conclude your paper without restating the thesis. At the end of your essay, you can present an interesting fact. You can also try to:

  • Compare an artwork to similar ones;
  • Contrast your own ideas on the piece with the reaction people had when it was first revealed.
  • Talk about an artwork’s significance to the culture and art in general.

📑 Visual Analysis Essay Example & Citation Tips

In this section of the article, we will share some tips on how to reference an artwork in a paper. We will also provide an essay example.

How to Reference a Painting in an Essay

When you work on visual analysis, it is important to know how to write the title of an artwork properly. Citing a painting, a photograph, or any other visual source, will require a little more information than citing a book or an article. Here is what you will need:

  • Size dimensions
  • Current location
  • Name of the piece
  • Artist’s name
  • Date when artwork was created

If you want to cite a painting or an artwork you saw online, you will also need:

  • The name of the website
  • Website URL
  • Page’s publication date
  • Date of your access

How to Properly Credit an Artwork in APA

How to properly credit an artwork in mla, how to properly credit an artwork in chicago format.

Finally, here’s a sample visual analysis of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker in APA format. Feel free to download it below.

Many people believe that works of art are bound to be immortal. Indeed, some remarkable masterpieces have outlived their artists by many years, gaining more and more popularity with time. Among them is The Thinker, a brilliant sculpture made by Auguste Rodin, depicting a young, athletic man, immersed deep into his thoughts.

You can also look at the following essay samples to get even more ideas.

  • The Protestors Cartoon by Clay Bennett: Visual Analysis
  • Visual Analysis – Editorial Cartoon
  • Visual Analysis: “Dust Storm” Photo by Steve McCurry
  • Visual, Aural, Read & Write, Kinesthetic Analysis
  • Schlitz Brewing Company Advertisement: Visual Arguments Analysis

Thanks for reading through our article! We hope you found it helpful. Don’t hesitate to share it with your friends.

Further reading:

  • How to Write a Lab Report: Format, Tips, & Example
  • Literature Review Outline: Examples, Approaches, & Templates
  • How to Write a Research Paper Step by Step [2023 Upd.]
  • How to Write a Term Paper: The Ultimate Guide and Tips

❓ Visual Analysis FAQs

To write a visual argument essay, you need to use rhetorical analysis. Visual rhetoric is directed at analyzing images and extracting the information they contain. It helps to analyze the visuals and the arrangement of elements on the page.

A well-though contextual analysis will include:

1. formal analysis, 2. some information about the artist, 3. details on when and where the piece was created, 4. the social purpose of the work, 5. its cultural meaning.

It is better to include pictures  in the introduction  part of your paper. Make sure to cite them correctly according to the format you’re using. Don’t forget to add the website name, the URL, and the access date.

To analyze means not only to describe but also to evaluate and synthesize visual information. To do that, you need to learn about visual elements and principles and see how and why they are used within artworks.

🔍 References

  • Art History: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Visual Analysis: Duke University
  • Writing a Formal Analysis in Art History: Hamilton College
  • Contextual Analysis: Pine-Richland School District
  • How to Analyze an Artwork: Student Art Guide
  • Introduction to Art Historical Analysis: Khan Academy
  • Guidelines for Analysis of Art: University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • Elements of Art:
  • Formal or Critical Analysis: LibreTexts
  • Analyzing a Photograph: University of Oregon
  • Picture Composition Analysis and Photo Essay: University of Northern Iowa
  • Visual Analysis Guidelines: Skidmore College
  • How to Analyze Sculpture: NLA Design and Visual Arts: WordPress
  • Visual Rhetoric: Purdue University
  • Formal Visual Analysis: The Elements & Principles of Composition
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What is a Visual Essay?

Usually, a sequence of images (photos or otherwise) which you have found or have created yourself. 

It typically consists of a a critical commentary of a defined topic. It is similar to a traditional essay in that you are presenting an argument, discussion, or explanation of a defined topic that you have chosen. Additional topic information can be found in the assignment handout. 

How to visual essays work? 

Just like with traditional papers, visual essays are "read," meaning that they are planned and ordered. The University of Hertfordshire's guide on the Visual Essay suggests that their effectiveness can be impacted by the following elements:

  • the sequence of images and how they relate to each other
  • the juxtaposition of one to the next and how it stands in a series
  • the layout of the page in which the image(s) is placed, and the layout of following and preceding pages
  • captions, including brief analyses, quotations, key words, provocative questions or statements;
  • text integrated within the image or as part of the image (e.g. playing with typographic elements, the visual aspects of text);
  • a short text at the beginning (prologue, scene setting) and/or end (epilogue, codicil, reflection).

Form of the Visual Essay

There are various ways to structure the visual essay. For this assignment, and depending on your technical skills, you can create:

(i) a video

(ii) a voice-over PowerPoint narration (you must be the narrator) 

The visual essay should be 3-5 minutes and should be uploaded using YouTube or Vimeo. Please see assignment handout for additional information. 

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  • Published: 31 October 2017

The visual essay and the place of artistic research in the humanities

  • Remco Roes 1 &
  • Kris Pint 1  

Palgrave Communications volume  3 , Article number:  8 ( 2017 ) Cite this article

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  • Archaeology
  • Cultural and media studies

What could be the place of artistic research in current contemporary scholarship in the humanities? The following essay addresses this question while using as a case study a collaborative artistic project undertaken by two artists, Remco Roes (Belgium) and Alis Garlick (Australia). We argue that the recent integration of arts into academia requires a hybrid discourse, which has to be distinguished both from the artwork itself and from more conventional forms of academic research. This hybrid discourse explores the whole continuum of possible ways to address our existential relationship with the environment: ranging from aesthetic, multi-sensorial, associative, affective, spatial and visual modes of ‘knowledge’ to more discursive, analytical, contextualised ones. Here, we set out to defend the visual essay as a useful tool to explore the non-conceptual, yet meaningful bodily aspects of human culture, both in the still developing field of artistic research and in more established fields of research. It is a genre that enables us to articulate this knowledge, as a transformative process of meaning-making, supplementing other modes of inquiry in the humanities.


In Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description (2011), Tim Ingold defines anthropology as ‘a sustained and disciplined inquiry into the conditions and potentials of human life’ (Ingold, 2011 , p. 9). For Ingold, artistic practice plays a crucial part in this inquiry. He considers art not merely as a potential object of historical, sociological or ethnographic research, but also as a valuable form of anthropological inquiry itself, providing supplementary methods to understand what it is ‘to be human’.

In a similar vein, Mark Johnson’s The meaning of the body: aesthetics of human understanding (2007) offers a revaluation of art ‘as an essential mode of human engagement with and understanding of the world’ (Johnson, 2007 , p. 10). Johnson argues that art is a useful epistemological instrument because of its ability to intensify the ordinary experience of our environment. Images Footnote 1 are the expression of our on-going, complex relation with an inner and outer environment. In the process of making images of our environment, different bodily experiences, like affects, emotions, feelings and movements are mobilised in the creation of meaning. As Johnson argues, this happens in every process of meaning-making, which is always based on ‘deep-seated bodily sources of human meaning that go beyond the merely conceptual and propositional’ (Ibid., p. 11). The specificity of art simply resides in the fact that it actively engages with those non-conceptual, non-propositional forms of ‘making sense’ of our environment. Art is thus able to take into account (and to explore) many other different meaningful aspects of our human relationship with the environment and thus provide us with a supplementary form of knowledge. Hence Ingold’s remark in the introduction of Making: anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture (2013): ‘Could certain practices of art, for example, suggest new ways of doing anthropology? If there are similarities between the ways in which artists and anthropologists study the world, then could we not regard the artwork as a result of something like an anthropological study, rather than as an object of such study? […] could works of art not be regarded as forms of anthropology, albeit ‘written’ in non-verbal media?’ (Ingold, 2013 , p. 8, italics in original).

And yet we would hesitate to unreservedly answer yes to these rhetorical questions. For instance, it is true that one can consider the works of Francis Bacon as an anthropological study of violence and fear, or the works of John Cage as a study in indeterminacy and chance. But while they can indeed be seen as explorations of the ‘conditions and potentials of human life’, the artworks themselves do not make this knowledge explicit. What is lacking here is the logos of anthropology, logos in the sense of discourse, a line of reasoning. Therefore, while we agree with Ingold and Johnson, the problem remains how to explicate and communicate the knowledge that is contained within works of art, how to make it discursive ? How to articulate artistic practice as an alternative, yet valid form of scholarly research?

Here, we believe that a clear distinction between art and artistic research is necessary. The artistic imaginary is a reaction to the environment in which the artist finds himself: this reaction does not have to be conscious and deliberate. The artist has every right to shrug his shoulders when he is asked for the ‘meaning’ of his work, to provide a ‘discourse’. He can simply reply: ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I do not want to know’, as a refusal to engage with the step of articulating what his work might be exploring. Likewise, the beholder or the reader of a work of art does not need to learn from it to appreciate it. No doubt, he may have gained some understanding about ‘human existence’ after reading a novel or visiting an exhibition, but without the need to spell out this knowledge or to further explore it.

In contrast, artistic research as a specific, inquisitive mode of dealing with the environment requires an explicit articulation of what is at stake, the formulation of a specific problem that determines the focus of the research. ‘Problem’ is used here in the neutral, etymological sense of the word: something ‘thrown forward’, a ‘hindrance, obstacle’ (cf. probleima , Liddell-Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon). A body-in-an-environment finds something thrown before him or her, an issue that grabs the attention. A problem is something that urges us to explore a field of experiences, the ‘potentials of human life’ that are opened up by a work of art. It is often only retroactively, during a second, reflective phase of the artistic research, that a formulation of a problem becomes possible, by a selection of elements that strikes one as meaningful (again, in the sense Johnson defines meaningful, thus including bodily perceptions, movements, affects, feelings as meaningful elements of human understanding of reality). This process opens up, to borrow a term used by Aby Warburg, a ‘Denkraum’ (cf. Gombrich, 1986 , p. 224): it creates a critical distance from the environment, including the environment of the artwork itself: this ‘space for thought’ allows one to consciously explore a specific problem. Consciously here does not equal cerebral: the problem is explored not only in its intellectual, but also in its sensual and emotional, affective aspects. It is projected along different lines in this virtual Denkraum , lines that cross and influence each other: an existential line turns into a line of form and composition; a conceptual line merges into a narrative line, a technical line echoes an autobiographical line. There is no strict hierarchy in the different ‘emanations’ of a problem. These are just different lines contained within the work that interact with each other, and the problem can ‘move’ from one line to another, develop and transform itself along these lines, comparable perhaps to the way a melody develops itself when it is transposed to a different musical scale, a different musical instrument, or even to a different musical genre. But, however, abstract or technical one formulates a problem, following Johnson we argue that a problem is always a translation of a basic existential problem, emerging from a specific environment. We fully agree with Johnson when he argues that ‘philosophy becomes relevant to human life only by reconnecting with, and grounding itself in, bodily dimensions of human meaning and value. Philosophy needs a visceral connection to lived experience’ (Johnson, 2007 , p. 263). The same goes for artistic research. It too finds its relevance in the ‘visceral connection’ with a specific body, a specific situation.

Words are one way of disclosing this lived experience, but within the context of an artistic practice one can hardly ignore the potential for images to provide us with an equally valuable account. In fact, they may even prove most suited to establish the kind of space that comes close to this multi-threaded, embodied Denkraum . In order to illustrate this, we would like to present a case study, a short visual ‘essay’ (however, since the scope of four spreads offers only limited space, it is better to consider it as the image-equivalent of a short research note).

Case study: step by step reading of a visual essay

The images (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) form a short visual essay based on a collaborative artistic project 'Exercises of the man (v)' that Remco Roes and Alis Garlick realised for the Situation Symposium at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne in 2014. One of the conceptual premises of the project was the communication of two physical ‘sites’ through digital media. Roes—located in Belgium—would communicate with Garlick—in Australia—about an installation that was to be realised at the physical location of the exhibition in Melbourne. Their attempts to communicate (about) the site were conducted via e-mail messages, Skype-chats and video conversations. The focus of these conversations increasingly distanced itself from the empty exhibition space of the Design Hub and instead came to include coincidental spaces (and objects) that happened to be close at hand during the 3-month working period leading up to the exhibition. The focus of the project thus shifted from attempting to communicate a particular space towards attempting to communicate the more general experience of being in(side) a space. The project led to the production of a series of small in-situ installations, a large series of video’s and images, a book with a selection of these images as well as texts from the conversations, and the final exhibition in which artefacts that were found during the collaborative process were exhibited. A step by step reading of the visual argument contained within images of this project illustrates how a visual essay can function as a tool for disclosing/articulating/communicating the kind of embodied thinking that occurs within an artistic practice or practice-based research.

Figure 1 shows (albeit in reduced form) a field of photographs and video stills that summarises the project without emphasising any particular aspect. Each of the Figs. 2 – 5 isolate different parts of this same field in an attempt to construct/disclose a form of visual argument (that was already contained within the work). In the final part of this essay we will provide an illustration of how such visual sequences can be possibly ‘read’.

figure 1

First image of the visual essay. Remco Roes and Alis Garlick, as copyright holders, permit the publication of this image under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

figure 2

Second image of the visual essay. Remco Roes and Alis Garlick, as copyright holders, permit the publication of this image under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

figure 3

Third image of the visual essay. Remco Roes and Alis Garlick, as copyright holders, permit the publication of this image under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

figure 4

Fourth image of the visual essay. Remco Roes and Alis Garlick, as copyright holders, permit the publication of this image under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

figure 5

Fifth image of the visual essay. Remco Roes and Alis Garlick, as copyright holders, permit the publication of this image under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Figure 1 is a remnant of the first step that was taken in the creation of the series of images: significant, meaningful elements in the work of art are brought together. At first, we quite simply start by looking at what is represented in the pictures, and how they are presented to us. This act of looking almost inevitably turns these images into a sequence, an argument. Conditioned by the dominant linearity of writing, including images (for instance in a comic book) one ‘reads’ the images from left to right, one goes from the first spread to the last. Just like one could say that a musical theme or a plot ‘develops’, the series of images seem to ‘develop’ the problem, gradually revealing its complexity. The dominance of this viewing code is not to be ignored, but is of course supplemented by the more ‘holistic’ nature of visual perception (cf. the notion of ‘Gestalt’ in the psychology of perception). So unlike a ‘classic’ argumentation, the discursive sequence is traversed by resonance, by non-linearity, by correspondences between elements both in a single image and between the images in their specific positioning within the essay. These correspondences reveal the synaesthetic nature of every process of meaning-making: ‘The meaning of something is its relations, actual and potential, to other qualities, things, events, and experiences. In pragmatist lingo, the meaning of something is a matter of how it connects to what has gone before and what it entails for present or future experiences and actions’ (Johnson, 2007 , p. 265). The images operate in a similar way, by bringing together different actions, affects, feelings and perceptions into a complex constellation of meaningful elements that parallel each other and create a field of resonance. These connections occur between different elements that ‘disturb’ the logical linearity of the discourse, for instance by the repetition of a specific element (the blue/yellow opposition, or the repetition of a specific diagonal angle).

Confronted with these images, we are now able to delineate more precisely the problem they express. In a generic sense we could formulate it as follows: how to communicate with someone who does not share my existential space, but is nonetheless visually and acoustically present? What are the implications of the kind of technology that makes such communication possible, for the first time in human history? How does it influence our perception and experience of space, of materiality, of presence?

Artistic research into this problem explores the different ways of meaning-making that this new existential space offers, revealing the different conditions and possibilities of this new spatiality. But it has to be stressed that this exploration of the problem happens on different lines, ranging from the kinaesthetic perception to the emotional and affective response to these spaces and images. It would, thus, be wrong to reduce these experiences to a conceptual framework. In their actions, Roes and Garlick do not ‘make a statement’: they quite simply experiment with what their bodies can do in such a hybrid space, ‘wandering’ in this field of meaningful experiences, this Denkraum , that is ‘opened up’: which meaningful clusters of sensations, affects, feelings, spatial and kinaesthetic qualities emerge in such a specific existential space?

In what follows, we want to focus on some of these meaningful clusters. As such, these comments are not part of the visual essay itself. One could compare them to ‘reading remarks’, a short elaboration on what strikes one as relevant. These comments also do not try to ‘crack the code’ of the visual material, as if they were merely a visual and/or spatial rebus to be solved once and for all (‘ x stands for y’ ). They rather attempt to engage in a dialogue with the images, a dialogue that of course does not claim to be definitive or exhaustive.

The constellation itself generates a sense of ‘lacking’: we see that there are two characters intensely collaborating and interacting with each other, while never sharing the same space. They are performing, or watching the other perform: drawing a line (imaginary or physically), pulling, wrapping, unpacking, watching, framing, balancing. The small arrangements, constructions or compositions that are made as a result of these activities are all very fragile, shaky and their purpose remains unclear. Interaction with the other occurs only virtually, based on the manipulation of small objects and fragments, located in different places. One of the few materials that eventually gets physically exported to the other side, is a kind of large plastic cover. Again, one should not ‘read’ the picture of Roes with this plastic wrapped around his head as an expression, a ‘symbol’ of individual isolation, of being wrapped up in something. It is simply the experience of a head that disappears (as a head appears and disappears on a computer screen when it gets disconnected), and the experience of a head that is covered up: does it feel like choking, or does it provide a sense of shelter, protection?

A different ‘line’ operates simultaneously in the same image: that of a man standing on a double grid: the grid of the wet street tiles and an alternative, oblique grid of colourful yellow elements, a grid which is clearly temporal, as only the grid of the tiles will remain. These images are contrasted with the (obviously staged) moment when the plastic arrives at ‘the other side’: the claustrophobia is now replaced with the openness of the horizon, the presence of an open seascape: it gives a synaesthetic sense of a fresh breeze that seems lacking in the other images.

In this case, the contrast between the different spaces is very clear, but in other images we also see an effort to unite these different spaces. The problem can now be reformulated, as it moves to another line: how to demarcate a shared space that is both actual and virtual (with a ribbon, the positioning of a computer screen?), how to communicate with each other, not only with words or body language, but also with small artefacts, ‘meaningless’ junk? What is the ‘common ground’ on which to walk, to exchange things—connecting, lining up with the other? And here, the layout of the images (into a spread) adds an extra dimension to the original work of art. The relation between the different bodies does now not only take place in different spaces, but also in different fields of representation: there is the space of the spread, the photographed space and in the photographs, the other space opened up by the computer screen, and the interaction between these levels. We see this in the Fig. 3 where Garlick’s legs are projected on the floor, framed by two plastic beakers: her black legging echoing with the shadows of a chair or a tripod. This visual ‘rhyme’ within the image reveals how a virtual presence interferes with what is present.

The problem, which can be expressed in this fundamental opposition between presence/absence, also resonates with other recurring oppositions that rhythmically structure these images. The images are filled with blue/yellow elements: blue lines of tape, a blue plexi form, yellow traces of paint, yellow objects that are used in the video’s, but the two tones are also conjured up by the white balance difference between daylight and artificial light. The blue/yellow opposition, in turn, connects with other meaningful oppositions, like—obviously—male/female, or the same oppositional set of clothes: black trousers/white shirt, grey scale images versus full colour, or the shadow and the bright sunlight, which finds itself in another opposition with the cold electric light of a computer screen (this of course also refers to the different time zones, another crucial aspect of digital communication: we do not only not share the same place, we also do not share the same time).

Yet the images also invite us to explore certain formal and compositional elements that keep recurring. The second image, for example, emphasises the importance placed in the project upon the connecting of lines, literally of lining up. Within this image the direction and angle of these lines is ‘explained’ by the presence of the two bodies, the makers with their roles of tape in hand. But upon re-reading the other spreads through this lens of ‘connecting lines’ we see that this compositional element starts to attain its own visual logic. Where the lines in image 2 are literally used as devices to connect two (visual) realities, they free themselves from this restricted context in the other images and show us the influence of circumstance and context in allowing for the successful establishing of such a connection.

In Fig. 3 , for instance, we see a collection of lines that have been isolated from the direct context of live communication. The way two parts of a line are manually aligned (in the split-screens in image 2) mirrors the way the images find their position on the page. However, we also see how the visual grammar of these lines of tape is expanded upon: barrier tape that demarcates a working area meets the curve of a small copper fragment on the floor of an installation, a crack in the wall follows the slanted angle of an assembled object, existing marks on the floor—as well as lines in the architecture—come into play. The photographs widen the scale and angle at which the line operates: the line becomes a conceptual form that is no longer merely material tape but also an immaterial graphical element that explores its own argument.

Figure 4 provides us with a pivotal point in this respect: the cables of the mouse, computer and charger introduce a certain fluidity and uncontrolled motion. Similarly, the erratic markings on the paper show that an author is only ever partially in control. The cracked line in the floor is the first line that is created by a negative space, by an absence. This resonates with the black-stained edges of the laser-cut objects, laid out on the desktop. This fourth image thus seems to transform the manifestation of the line yet again; from a simple connecting device into an instrument that is able to cut out shapes, a path that delineates a cut, as opposed to establishing a connection. The circle held up in image 4 is a perfect circular cut. This resonates with the laser-cut objects we see just above it on the desk, but also with the virtual cuts made in the Photoshop image on the right. We can clearly see how a circular cut remains present on the characteristic grey-white chessboard that is virtual emptiness. It is evident that these elements have more than just an aesthetic function in a visual argumentation. They are an integral part of the meaning-making process. They ‘transpose’ on a different level, i.e., the formal and compositional level, the central problem of absence and presence: it is the graphic form of the ‘cut’, as well as the act of cutting itself, that turns one into the other.

Concluding remarks

As we have already argued, within the frame of this comment piece, the scope of the visual essay we present here is inevitably limited. It should be considered as a small exercise in a specific genre of thinking and communicating with images that requires further development. Nonetheless, we hope to have demonstrated the potentialities of the visual essay as a form of meaning-making that allows the articulation of a form of embodied knowledge that supplements other modes of inquiry in the humanities. In this particular case, it allows for the integration of other meaningful, embodied and existential aspects of digital communication, unlikely to be ‘detected’ as such by an (auto)ethnographic, psychological or sociological framework.

The visual essay is an invitation to other researchers in the arts to create their own kind of visual essays in order to address their own work of art or that of others: they can consider their artistic research as a valuable contribution to the exploration of human existence that lies at the core of the humanities. But perhaps it can also inspire scholars in more ‘classical’ domains to introduce artistic research methods to their toolbox, as a way of taking into account the non-conceptual, yet meaningful bodily aspects of human life and human artefacts, this ‘visceral connection to lived experience’, as Johnson puts it.

Obviously, a visual essay runs the risk of being ‘shot by both sides’: artists may scorn the loss of artistic autonomy and ‘exploitation’ of the work of art in the service of scholarship, while academic scholars may be wary of the lack of conceptual and methodological clarity inherent in these artistic forms of embodied, synaesthetic meaning. The visual essay is indeed a bastard genre, the unlawful love (or perhaps more honestly: love/hate) child of academia and the arts. But precisely this hybrid, impure nature of the visual essay allows it to explore unknown ‘conditions and potentials of human life’, precisely because it combines imagination and knowledge. And while this combination may sound like an oxymoron within a scientific, positivistic paradigm, it may in fact indicate the revival, in a new context, of a very ancient alliance. Or as Giorgio Agamben formulates it in Infancy and history: on the destruction of experience (2007 [1978]): ‘Nothing can convey the extent of the change that has taken place in the meaning of experience so much as the resulting reversal of the status of the imagination. For Antiquity, the imagination, which is now expunged from knowledge as ‘unreal’, was the supreme medium of knowledge. As the intermediary between the senses and the intellect, enabling, in phantasy, the union between the sensible form and the potential intellect, it occupies in ancient and medieval culture exactly the same role that our culture assigns to experience. Far from being something unreal, the mundus imaginabilis has its full reality between the mundus sensibilis and the mundus intellegibilis , and is, indeed, the condition of their communication—that is to say, of knowledge’ (Agamben, 2007 , p. 27, italics in original).

And it is precisely this exploration of the mundus imaginabilis that should inspire us to understand artistic research as a valuable form of scholarship in the humanities.

We consider images as a broad category consisting of artefacts of the imagination, the creation of expressive ‘forms’. Images are thus not limited to visual images. For instance, the imagery used in a poem or novel, metaphors in philosophical treatises (‘image-thoughts’), actual sculptures or the imaginary space created by a performance or installation can also be considered as images, just like soundscapes, scenography, architecture.

Agamben G (2007) Infancy and history: on the destruction of experience [trans. L. Heron]. Verso, London/New York, NY

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Roes, R., Pint, K. The visual essay and the place of artistic research in the humanities. Palgrave Commun 3 , 8 (2017).

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Composition in Red Yellow Blue and Black by Piet Mondriaan

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Formal Visual Analysis: The Elements & Principles of Composition Help students build techniques to interpret what they see into written words using art.

Lesson content.

Formal analysis is an important technique for organizing visual information. In other words, it is a strategy used to translate what you see into written words. This strategy can be applied to any work of art, from any period in history, whether a photograph, sculpture, painting or cultural artifact.

The Elements

The elements of formal analysis are building blocks that can be combined to create a larger structure.

Line  is the most basic building block of formal analysis. Line can be used to create more complex shapes or to lead your eye from one area in the composition to another.

Value  is the degree of light and dark in a design. It is the contrast between black and white and all the tones in between. Value can be used with color as well as black and white. Contrast is the extreme changes between values.

Shapes  are created when lines are combined to form a square, triangle, or circle. Shapes can be organic (irregular shapes found in nature) or geometric (shapes with strong lines and angles such as circles, triangles, and squares).

Forms  are three-dimensional shapes with length, width, and depth. Balls, cylinders, boxes and pyramids are forms.

Space  is the area between and around objects. Increasing or decreasing the amount of space around an object affects the way we view that object.

Color  differentiates and defines lines, shapes, forms, and space. Even black and white images have a huge number of different shades of gray.

Texture  is the surface quality that can be seen and felt. Textures can be rough or smooth, soft or hard. Textures are often implied. For instance, a drawing of a rock might appear to have a rough and hard surface, but in reality is as smooth as the paper on which it is drawn.

The Principles

Notice how the following principles integrate the elements of formal analysis and build on one another.  Note: Each principle below refers to the photograph of paddlers below to illustrate key concepts. Right-click and select "Open Image in New Tab" to view a larger version of the photo. 

Article-Formal Visual Analysis-IMG_1921.png

Balance  is created in a work of art when textures, colors, forms, or shapes are combined harmoniously. In this image, notice how the photographer achieves a sense of balance by dividing the image into two sections: one half occupied by trees, and the other half by the water.

Contrast  is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer's attention and to guide the viewer's eye through the artwork. In this image, the texture of the trees contrasts with the texture of the water.

Movement  is the way a viewer's eye is directed to move through a composition, often to areas of emphasis. Movement can be directed by lines, contrasting shapes, or colors within the artwork. In this work of art, our eye moves up through the pattern in the rippling surface of the water to the two paddlers. From there, our eye moves to the contrasting textures and colors of the foliage in the top half of the image.

Emphasis  is created in a work of art when the artist contrasts colors, textures, or shapes to direct your viewing towards a particular part of the image. In this image, the colors of the paddlers' kayaks contrasts with the muted tones of the background. Our attention is immediately drawn to the paddlers, even though they are relatively small in scale.

Pattern  is the repetition of a shape, form, or texture across a work of art. The light reflecting off of the waves in the water creates a pattern in the bottom half of the image.

Proportion  is created when the sizes of elements in a work of art are combined harmoniously. In this image, all of the proportions appear exactly as one would expect; the human figures are much smaller in scale than the natural world that surrounds them.

Unity  is created when the principles of analysis are present in a composition and in harmony. Some images have a complete sense of unity, while some artists deliberately avoid formal unity to create feelings of tension and anxiety. In this image, the large areas of contrasting textures, patterns and colors create a sense of balance and unity within the composition.

Once students have an understanding of formal analysis, they will be well prepared to put this theory into practice by making their own images based on the elements and principles of design. Whether in photography, sculpture, or painting, the theory of formal analysis will help students to compose their works of art as professional artists would.

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In this K-2 lesson, students will explore elements of art and different artists' techniques to create various styles of paintings. Students will interpret art and describe styles by using key vocabulary terms when discussing paintings.

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visual essay meaning

Not to be confused with a visual image, which is an image or series of images, a visual description is any written description concerned with how something appears. However, visual images and visual descriptions both share a common intent when writing or composing a visual essay. In your career, you will no doubt analyze both visual descriptions and visual images, so…

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Not to be confused with a visual image, which is an image or series of images, a visual description is any written description concerned with how something appears. However, visual images and visual descriptions both share a common intent when writing or composing a visual essay. In your career, you will no doubt analyze both visual descriptions and visual images, so it's important to grasp the meaning of visual descriptions in writing.

Definition of Visual Description

A visual description, which describes how something appears, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions. It's just one way to thus engage the reader along with the other modes of sensory description.

In writing, the visual description is often the most common method used. For those who see, sight is consistent and pervasive. Something might not smell much, or sound like anything without touching it, but everything has a unique appearance. Essayists, creative storytellers, and advertisers use visual description to create worlds for their audiences.

Meaning of Visual Description In Writing

Visual descriptions can be complex, in that they contain layers of meaning .

A layered description has different meanings depending on whether you are looking at the surface description, or the subtext of the description.

The surface description is the immediate visual description you read. The subtext of the description is the meaning of the visual you read.

“I haven’t seen anyone like you before,” said the fisherman.

In reply, the last of her race smiled .

In this example, the surface description is “smiled.” She smiled. In our mind’s eye, we can imagine this. Simple enough. However, there is also important subtext here, contained in layers beneath the surface. Look at the context clues .

Context clues occupy the space around the target description. They show the place, time, and reason for the description.

In our example, the context clues help us to imagine a specific kind of smile. Because she is the last of her race, this fisherman’s harmless remark has special significance to her. Her smile is probably a wry one; maybe she’s heard this before, or maybe it is one underlaid with sadness at the loss of her people. Likely both. Either way, the context clues paint a certain kind of smile, different from a big happy smile, for instance.

Thus, a visual description can relay different meanings depending on what layer of the description you examine. Keep this in mind when identifying a visual description.

Types of Visual Description with Examples

There are a few tricks to identifying a visual description. If something communicates through writing “what something looks like”, then it is a visual description. However, there are objective, subjective, and figurative visual descriptions. These descriptions are each accompanied by example.

Objective Visual Description

Objective visual descriptions convey exactly what something looks like.

The shipping container had rusted an amethyst color, due to some odd elemental reaction no doubt.

This description communicates the color of the rust, which is not the usual reddish-brown. Here you can see the usefulness of visual description in describing something foreign or unexpected to the reader. If a visual is likely to surprise your audience, you will want to describe it.

His wrinkled skin glistened with sweat.

This sentence contains two visual descriptions. “Wrinkled” is a visual description of his skin, while “glistened” is also a visual description: of the sweat upon that skin. Yes, visual descriptions can be verbs! If you can picture it, it is a visual description.

You will find ambiguous descriptions throughout works of fiction and nonfiction. Take “wrinkled skin” for example. Because wrinkled skin has a distinctive feel, it could also be a tactile description in addition to a visual description. A tactile description describes how something feels to the touch. In this example, “wrinkled skin” is probably a visual description because no one is touching the skin. Context clues such as “glisten” also indicate visual distance from the subject. Generally, if it's unclear whether a description is visual or something else, the description is probably a visual one, because visual descriptions are the most ubiquitous kind of sensory description in writing.

Subjective Visual Description

Subjective visual descriptions convey an opinion of what something looks like.

The embarrassing dance made me hide my eyes.

What is embarrassing is subjective. Meaning, it is someone’s opinion what “embarrassing” looks like. A writer will employ subjective descriptions like this for a few reasons. The first reason to use subjective visual description is to build a perspective. In a first-person narrative, for example, the narrator will use subjective descriptions that in turn give the reader an idea of their perspective and personality.

The second reason to use subjective visual description is to have the reader make up the visual for themselves . A writer might describe a dance as “embarrassing” so the reader can imagine what an embarrassing dance might look like to them. This way, if the reader can imagine any embarrassing dance, they will imagine the dance in that way.

Visual description Dancing Vaia

Instead of describing every move of the dance, which a reader may or may not interpret as “embarrassing”, the writer simply describes the dance as such. A writer will do this when the interpretation of a character or action is more important than the character or action itself. A writer may merely describe something as “pretty”, so the reader will imagine something pretty to them.

Always be wary of these subjective descriptions, however, whether reading them or writing them. Although they can be employed harmlessly to engage the reader with the narrative, they can also be co-opted to create a false narrative intended to be factual. Be particularly skeptical of superlatives (e.g. the “most”, the “best”, or the “strongest”).

If a subjective visual description uses a superlative (e.g. “blue water bottles look the best”) then it is problematic. An author might purposely write a problematic character to explore an aspect of history or humanity. This would be an example of an author "building a perspective".

Figurative Visual Description

Figurative visual descriptions convey what something looks like by comparing it to another visual description, often using simile or metaphor.

A simile compares two things using "like" or "as".

Here are some examples.

When it fought, the red fox looked like a blur of brushstrokes.

One can imagine brushstrokes blurring across a canvas. This figurative visual description, a simile, likens a fox’s fight to this image.

Her eyes were an ocean.

In this metaphor, her eyes are directly likened to an ocean using the verb "to be". This figurative visual description gives a visual impression of blueness, vastness, and depth.

Since last I saw her, she had grown like a weed.

A reader can draw upon their knowledge of how fast and how tall a weed grows, and use that image to imagine how fast and how tall this character has grown. This is a simile.

Difference between Visual and Spatial Descriptions

You might be asked to describe how a visual description is different than a spatial description . The key is in relationships.

A spatial description always puts two or more things in spatial relation to one another.

The tree stood on the other side of the field.

A visual description describes the look of one thing, whether that be a character, an object, a setting, or something else. Let’s add some visual descriptions to our spatial description.

The smooth red tree stood on the other side of the golden field.

How to Identify and Analyze Visual Images

Now that we have explained the visual description, let's cover the visual image more in depth, because you won't merely be writing and analyzing visual descriptions on tests and in your essays. You will be asked to analyze visual images.

Visual Description, How to Identify and Analyze Visual Images, Anti-War Political Cartoon, Vaia

Here's a good process for reading into something like this.

  • Gather context surrounding the visual image. Are there any dates, signatures, or sources? What about titles? Look for things that are not the subject of the visual image, but rather supply context about its creation and publication. This image is titled "Having Their Fling."
  • Look for landmark features in the visual image, including anything written . In this image, the landmark visual is the four figures romping in the lower portion of the picture. Now look for writing. In cartoons, dialogue and labels are extremely helpful. Here, there is writing to identify who each figure is, and what he represents, as well as his "slogan" in writing on a slip of paper above his head.
  • Synthesize your initial observations into a basic conclusion. At a glance, this is a political cartoon lampooning the figures at the head of American society. The upper portion of the picture shows the scuffle of war, while these public figures have money falling out of their pockets while they dance about, each under his particular motto for the necessity of war.
  • Search the image for details that support or deny your initial observation . Hopefully, you will have correctly gotten the gist of the image from your initial observations. Now you want to find details to present as evidence for your conclusion. In this image, we see a small demon, perhaps satan himself in the skirmish above the main figures. This could represent the evils of war, apparently ignored by those that stand to profit from the war efforts.
  • Write your analysis or answer the questions. With all this noted, you should be able to write a short analysis of what the image is, why it was created or captured, and how it accomplishes its goals. If you are answering short or multiple choice questions about the image, you will also be prepared for that.

The Purpose of Writing a Visual Essay

A visual essay can be one of two things. It can either be a visual image essay, or a visual description essay .

A visual image essay uses actual images, with or without words, to tell a story, communicate an idea, or otherwise describe something.

A visual description essay uses visual descriptions to tell a story, communicate an idea, or otherwise describe something.

In the introduction of this article, we alluded to the fact that visuals and visual descriptions are often confused, because the result of both is an image captured in the mind’s eye. This is why, regardless of the kind of visual essay you are composing, the purpose and the approach to composing it are similar. Both kinds of essays want you to see something, and use that sensory information to learn something about the topic.

Steps in Writing a Visual Essay

This can be broken down into composing a visual image essay, and writing a visual description essay.

Composing a Visual Image Essay

Here is a step-by-step outline. Remember, in some visual image essays you can complement your images with visual descriptions, like the ones described here.

Identify the subject for your essay (e.g. the conditions of WWI trenches).

Identify what you want your reader to learn from this essay (e.g. that conditions in the trenches were dangerous).

Consider what kind of visual image would help support your point (e.g. photos of diseased soldiers and dirty water).

Gather your evidence . In other words, find the photos you need.

Organize your photos to build upon one another. Start with images that tell the broadest story. For our trenches essay, begin with “zoomed out” photos of the trenches to set the scene. Use photos and captions to describe how trenches were positioned on the battlefield from a strategic standpoint. Consider how the terrain impacted the placement of trenches.

Continue to build your essay. As you progress, use more detailed photos. Connect the idea of strategic trench placement to how those placements impacted how the trenches were built and irrigated. Your evidence should conclude with the most “zoomed in” pictures, which show the devastating results of trenches on the human body.

Conclude the entire essay with the lasting results of trench warfare from a historical perspective. You might show the viewer how these conditions impacted future battlefield tactics. Your goal in the conclusion should be to visually describe the lasting impact of your topic.

Writing a Visual Description Essay

Here is a step-by-step outline.

Identify the subject of your essay (e.g. an old roadside diner somewhere deep in Nebraska).

Identify what you want your readers to learn from this essay (e.g. the history of this rural area).

Consider what kind of visual descriptions would help support your point (e.g. descriptions of all the artefacts adorning the diner’s walls, such as photos, awards, newspaper articles, and physical artefacts like parts of old cars and signs). Organize these descriptions to conclude with the most emotionally or historically significant visual description.

Start your essay by setting the scene. Describe the setting, the time of day, and the exterior of the diner.

Continue by exploring the diner the way a person would explore it. Where does the eye travel in this old place? This is the time for your visual descriptions to shine. Your descriptions should conclude with the most powerful image. For instance, if this diner is known for a fantastic Native American rug on the wall, end with that. End with something that symbolizes the diner and the experience as a whole.

Conclude the entire essay by “leaving” the diner. Describe what was learned by this descriptive trip, and how that information will continue to be relevant in the future.

Visual Description - Key Takeaways

  • A visual description is any written description concerned with how something appears. It is different from a visual, which is an image or series of images.
  • A visual description can be complex, containing layers. To understand the subtext of a visual description; i.e., its deeper significance to the narrative, study context clues.
  • A visual description can be objective, subjective, and figurative.
  • A spatial description is different because it puts things in a physical relationship with one another.
  • Any kind of visual essay uses visual imagery to tell a story, communicate an idea, or otherwise describe something.

Frequently Asked Questions about Visual Description

--> what is the meaning of a visual in an essay.

A visual can contain many meanings: surface meanings, and subtext under the surface. A visual description, which describes how something appears, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions.

--> What is the purpose of a visual essay?

Any kind of visual essay uses visual imagery to to tell a story, communicate an idea, or otherwise describe something.

--> How do you compose a visual essay?

To compose a visual essay, identify the subject, identify what you want your readers to learn from your visuals, and then organize your visuals. Start with "zoomed out" visuals and narrow them down to specific visuals. Conclude with a powerful or symbolic visual.

--> What is an example of visual language?

An example of visual language is any description that paints a visual image in the mind's eye. For instance, "His wrinkled skin glistened with sweat" is a visual description.

--> How do you write a visual description?

To write a visual description, consider the subject matter and what you want readers to get out of it at both the surface level and at a deeper level. Focus on what the reader doesn't know or what they need need to know in terms of the argument or narrative.

Final Visual Description Quiz

Visual description quiz - teste dein wissen.

What is the difference between a visual image and a visual description?

Show answer

A visual image is like a photograph or a still from a film, whereas a visual description uses words.

Show question

A ______, which describes how something appears, is used to engage the reader's memories and emotions.

Visual description

A visual description may contain _____, making it complex.

What is a surface visual description?

The surface description is the immediate visual description you read. 

What does "subtext" mean when talking about a visual description?

It is the meaning of the visual you read, its implications. It is under the surface layer.

Where can you find the subtext of visual description?

You will find it in the context clues.

Where can you find context clues?

Anywhere in the space around the target description. 

What do context clues do in the space around a visual description?

They contextualize the place, time, and reason for the description.

Objective visual descriptions convey what something may or may not look like.

False. They convey exactly what something looks like.

She had a large bag.

Is "large" a visual description?

Subjective visual descriptions convey _____ of what something looks like.

She danced divinely .

Is this an example of figurative visual description?

No, this is an example of subjective visual description because it is a simple opinion on the way she dances.

Figurative visual descriptions convey what something looks like by comparing it to _____.

Another visual description.

Does a spatial description put two or more things in spatial relation to one another?

Does a visual image essay use actual pictures?

Yes. It may also contain visual descriptions. A visual description essay contains only visual descriptions.

Visual descriptions are the most ubiquitous kind of sensory description in writing. Which answer BEST explains why that is. 

Because sight is consistent. Everyone with sight sees the same, objective things.

Why should you always be wary of subjective descriptions?

They can be co-opted to create a false narrative.

Is the following a simile visual description, or metaphor visual description?

The rock wall withstood the beating of the wind and rain like a well-built fortress.

Is the following a figurative visual description, objective visual description, or spatial description?

The huge brick house stood two stories taller than the houses on either side of it.

Spatial description.

The first reason to use subjective visual description is to build a(n) ________.


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How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay: Format, Outline, and Example

4 August 2023

last updated

Writing a visual analysis essay is an exciting and challenging academic exercise for art students. As a priority, before writing such an essay, learners need to familiarize themselves with design elements and principles. In this case, standard design elements are color, shape, size, and line, while common principles of design are proportion, balance, texture, and contrast. Basically, understanding these concepts would help a writer to provide an in-depth description of an image. In turn, such descriptions must make it possible for the audience to develop a mental picture of an image or visual display. Hence, students need to learn how to write a visual analysis essay correctly to shape knowledge of art.

Definition of a Visual Analysis Essay

One of the essay types that students write is a visual analysis essay. Basically, this academic writing exercise requires learners to provide a detailed description of a specific image or visual display. In doing so, students analyze an image or visual display by describing this visual in detail and explaining how different concepts fit together to make a picture in a way as it appears. Moreover, these concepts include visual elements and principles of design. Therefore, when writing a visual analysis essay, students must understand these basic concepts and relate them to an image or visual display in question before providing a detailed description. In turn, the most common subjects that writers address are drawings, paintings, sculptures, and architecture objects. Besides, the time when scholars need to write a visual analysis essay is when instructions require them to describe a given or any image, taking into account visual concepts named before.

How to write a visual analysis essay

11 Visual Elements in Writing an Analysis Essay

Based on the preceding section, one of the concepts that students must consider when writing a visual analysis essay is visual elements. In essence, these elements give an image of its visual characteristics. For example, common visual elements are composition, elements of design, focal point, color, line, texture, shape, form, value, size, and symbolic elements. In turn, it is practically impossible for a student to analyze an image or visual display without describing how some of these elements exemplify the subject’s visual characteristics.

1. Composition

When analyzing a visual display, students must address how a subject is put together. Basically, this is what is termed as composition. When talking about composition by describing a visual display, a writer must cover the placement of things in an image. Also, this aspect means describing how things relate one to another within a canvas. When analyzing an image, a student must focus on answering several questions related to composition. In turn, these include what entails a primary figure, how artists place other figures relative to a primary figure, and what they left out.

2. Elements of Design

When creating an image, artists use different approaches to bring their works to life. Basically, these approaches are what entails elements of design. Therefore, when writing a visual analysis essay, students must familiarize themselves with these elements by answering specific questions. In turn, these aspects include understanding design elements – color, shape, size, form, and line – that exemplify an image or visual display the most.

3. Focal Point

By definition, a focal point is a part of an image or visual display that an artist draws the audience’s attention. In this case, when writing a visual analysis essay, students must address this visual element by understanding this focal point and design elements, such as line, form, color, and shape, that an artist has used to exemplify this part of an image. 

When creating an image, artists use an element of color to exemplify a visual aspect of their works. In this case, the term “monochromatic” means that artists have used one color to create an image, while the term “complementary” means that they have used colors opposite each other on a color wheel. Also, when writing a visual analysis essay, students must describe how an element of color affects a visual image, focusing on colors that artists use and how they affect the tone, mood, and meaning of an image.

An element of line entails actual lines presented in an image. Typically, these lines result from the artist’s effort to place different objects in an image or visual display in question. Hence, when writing a visual analysis essay, students must describe how lines help grab the viewer’s attention toward or away from specific parts of an image. 

An element of texture refers to how smooth or rough an object is or a pattern thereof. In particular, when writing a visual analysis essay, students must understand that a texture can either be real on a three-dimensional art or represented on two-dimensional art. Besides, when analyzing an image, students must focus on a place where an artist exemplifies an element of texture and how it influences the audience to expect a particular touch sensation.

An element of shape refers to how an artist uses various shapes, including circles, ovals, rectangles, and squares, to bring their artworks to life. Basically, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should describe specific shapes that artists use to exemplify their works and where those shapes direct the viewers’ eye. In other words, they should describe how artists use specific shapes to exemplify a focal point. 

An element of form refers to an aspect of light and shading and how artists use them to bring their creations to life. Through this element of form, artists can make a two-dimensional object appear like a three-dimensional object. In turn, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should focus on where artists have applied light or shading to exemplify their work’s specific aspects.

A value element refers to a degree to which an artist has exemplified light and dark aspects in specific parts of their works. Basically, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should describe how artists have applied these aspects in their works and whether there is an indication of these concepts’ symbolic use.

An element of size refers to the overall size of an image or visual display with a relative size of figures provided in an image. In this case, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should explain why they believe an artist chose the image’s particular size and why different objects in a picture have different sizes. Notably, when an artist applies different sizes concerning lines and shapes, it means that an image is of relative significance.

11. Symbolic Elements

An element of symbolic elements refers to using objects with symbolic or historical meaning in an image or visual display. In particular, an example of these objects is the cross, which exemplifies the Christian faith. Also, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should explain whether the image has any symbolic objects and if there is, whether an artist intends to use such directly or by inverting it.

9 Visual Principles of Design in Writing an Analysis Essay

Besides visual elements described in the preceding section, artists also apply design principles when creating images or visual displays. In turn, such principles help to exemplify the visual characteristics of an image or visual display. For example, some of the common design principles include balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, proportion, variety, contrast, hierarchy, and rhythm.

A principle of balance refers to a distribution of different visual elements in an image or visual display to enhance stability or instability. Basically, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should describe images by addressing a symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. In this case, the former indicates that both sides of an image are even, and the latter means that a picture is weighted on one side. Moreover, radical balance means that an artist has organized objects in an image around a central point. Therefore, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should address these aspects of balance to give the audience a perfect understanding of an image.

2. Emphasis

An emphasis principle refers to an object that catches the viewers’ attention when they look at an image. In this case, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should describe how an artist in question has used elements of size, color, texture, shape, and others to exemplify one part of an image and make it a focal point. Moreover, when looking at an image, a viewer can identify an extent to which an artist has applied an emphasis principle by studying a focal point.

2. Movement

A principle of movement refers to an extent to which an image fosters a movement of the viewers’ eyes in a path as they view an image or visual display. In particular, a movement aspect explains why a viewer may focus on specific parts more than others. Besides, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should describe how an image influences a direction in which the viewer’s eyes move. In turn, they should also explain visual elements, such as line, color, shape, or size, which influence this eye movement.

A principle of pattern entails the use of objects in an image repeatedly. Basically, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should identify specific objects or symbols that artists use repeatedly in their works. Typically, repetition indicates that an object bears a significant meaning, and a student must explain this meaning to the audience.

4. Proportion

A principle of proportion refers to how sizes relate one to another in an image or visual display. Moreover, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should explain this principle by addressing whether the relationship among objects in an image is realistic or distorted. In either case, they should explain the meaning that an artist intended to communicate when creating an image.

A principle of variety refers to an extent to which an artist uses different visual elements to influence the audience’s perception of an image as dynamic. Basically, this principle of variety enhances an active rhythm in an image or visual display. In turn, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should explain to the audience how different elements of design, such as color, size, shape, and size, are combined to create a mood or meaning.

6. Contrast

A principle of contrast refers to a juxtaposition of opposing elements. In particular, an example of contrast in an image is the use of colors opposite each other on a color wheel, like red versus green or blue versus orange. Then, another example of contrast is a tone or value in an image, such as light versus dark, and direction, such as horizontal versus vertical. Hence, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should explain to the audience abut a significant contrast in an image, which tends to be exemplified in a focal point. In turn, an image that has too much contrast undermines the quality of unity and is likely to disgust viewers.

7. Hierarchy

A principle of hierarchy refers to a degree to which people viewing an image can process it. As such, this aspect indicates the significance of color, size, line, shape, and other elements of design in an image or visual display. Moreover, visual elements that appear prominently in an image are the most significant. In this case, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should analyze the use of titles and headings in an image. For example, the term “title” denotes a significant aspect of an artwork. Hence, artists should make it a prominent element in their creations. In turn, when describing an image in an analysis essay, a student should explain this aspect with the meaning that it bears.

A principle of rhythm refers to an extent to which an artist has used spaces between repetitive elements. For example, this aspect is similar to how a musician uses spaces between notes when composing a piece of music to create rhythm. Typically, artists create five types of rhythms in an image: random, regular, alternating, flowing, and progressive. In this case, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should describe how an artist has used these rhythm types. Moreover, what they should understand is that these rhythms differ in patterns. For instance, while random rhythms lack a discernable pattern, regular rhythms have a pattern, where an artist adopts the same spacing between elements with no variation. Consequently, alternating rhythms have a pattern where an artist adopts a set of repetitive elements but with no variation between them. About flowing rhythms, an artist uses bends and curves, like sand dunes or ocean waves.

A principle of layout refers to how an artist has used objects in an image. In other words, it entails the placement or distribution of objects, such as symbols, in an image. In this case, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should explain specific objects that an artist has used in an image under analysis and how they are placed in the work. Also, the layout is related to other principles of design, such as pattern and proportion.

How to Analyze the Meaning of an Image for Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

Based on the preceding sections, when writing a visual analysis essay, students should consider how an artist has applied different visual elements and design principles. In turn, these elements and principles exemplify an image, bringing to life specific parts, particularly a focal point. Therefore, when analyzing the meaning of an image or visual display for their essays, students should pay attention to elements and principles of design and explain to the audience their effect on a visual.

1. Visual Composition

Visual composition entails how an artist has arranged or composed an image. Basically, when analyzing such an image in a visual analysis essay, students should explain the composition’s aspects that enhance a claim. In this case, they can describe a layout, and it means specific objects in an image that an artist has used to grab the viewers’ attention. For example, they can explain how visual lines draw the viewers’ attention to a focal point. Also, writers student can describe balance. In turn, this aspect means describing the size of images and how they compare one to another. Besides, scholars should talk about a focal point by describing its placement – centered or offset.

When describing an image in a visual analysis essay, students should explain the image’s claims to the audience. Typically, there are five claim types: fact, definition, cause, value, and policy. Firstly, when talking about a fact claim, writers should explain whether an image is real, and, when talking about a definition claim, they should explain its meaning. Then, when talking about a cause claim, learners should explain the causes, effects, and relationships between these effects. In turn, when talking about a value claim, students should explain the importance of an image, and it should be evaluated. Finally, when talking about a policy claim, writers should explain a solution and how it can be achieved.

When analyzing an image in a visual analysis essay, students should interpret its meaning by explaining its genre – whether it is a movie, fine art, poster, graphic art, photograph, or pamphlet. Consequently, they should explain to the audience whether it aligns with that genre’s rules or an artist has disregarded them. More importantly, writers should explain to the audience how a genre affects the image’s meaning.

When analyzing an image in a visual analysis essay, students should address an appealing aspect. Basically, this feature means how an image appeals to the audience and influences them to believe intended claims. Here, students should explain to the audience whether an image or specific parts of it appeal to logic, emotion, authority, or character. More importantly, they should explain whether any of the appeals are deceptive.

5. Context and History

When writing a visual analysis essay, students can analyze an image by addressing its historical context. Basically, the good approach is to explain the image’s rhetorical situation to the audience. In this case, writers must familiarize themselves with the artist’s intended message and how the audience reacts when looking at this image. Moreover, the writer’s response to an image can differ from that of the initial audience. In turn, learners should use such difference as the main idea (a thesis statement ) of discussion in their visual analysis essay.

Writing a Visual Analysis Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

Like any paper, writing a visual analysis essay requires students to observe specific strategies of persuasive writing . Basically, these strategies include preparation, stage set-up, actual writing, and wrap up. Moreover, these strategies enable students to create works that satisfy academic writing conventions, such as having a thesis statement, citations, appropriate formatting, and free from errors and mistakes.

Step 1: Preparation for Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

Preparation refers to an aspect of planning how to go about executing a task. In academic writing, preparation is the main first step to persuasive writing, and it entails reading a story or reviewing an object or subject, finding a visual, defining a topic, preparing ideas, and considering the needs of the audience. Therefore, one can argue that preparation is the stage where students develop a frame of mind necessary to conduct an in-depth analysis of an image or visual display.

A. Reading A story or Reviewing an Object or Subject.

In many instances, an image that students analyze in a Visual Analysis essay is found in texts, such as books, journal articles, reports, or novels, or galleries. Therefore, reading a text is the first activity that a writer should undertake when analyzing an image. Also, students may go to museums to observe specific artworks. In turn, if it is a text, learners should read an article at least twice to grasp essential details that are pertinent to their visual analysis essay.

B. Finding a Visual

As students read a text, they should focus on identifying an image or visual display that they should analyze in a visual analysis essay. While it is standard practice for instructors to guide students on where to find an image, sometimes, they may have to choose an image for themselves. In the latter context, identifying an image that writers find understandable to them in terms of its visual elements is the best approach in writing a visual analysis essay.

C. Defining a Topic

Although the objective of a visual analysis essay is to describe an image or visual display’s visual characteristics, students should come up with a topic that best describes this endeavor. By considering the essence of elements and principles of design that apply to an in-depth analysis of an image, students have a broad scope when it comes to defining a topic for their visual analysis essays. As such, the secret to finding the right essay topics is to decide on what aspect of analysis – elements or principles – they intend to focus on.

D. Preparing Ideas

It is common practice for students to come up with ideas when writing any type of academic text. Basically, this phase of preparation helps learners to develop a mindset about a task at hand. In essence, ideas that students generate should align with a topic they have already defined. In this case, writers cannot think about aspects of writing that would not further their agenda. For example, learners cannot develop ideas about the significance of design elements when their topic is about values that principles of design provide in a visual display.

E. Considering Readers

When writing a visual analysis essay, students should not only think about an image from the perspective of elements and principles of design. Basically, writers should think about how their visual analysis essay would help the audience understand this image better. In this case, learners should understand the audience and what might be of interest to them. For example, students of history might want to know how a particular image influenced the perception of those who saw it first. To address this need, a writer may have to address the image’s rhetorical situation more than its visual characteristics.

Step 2: Stage Set-Up for Organizing a Visual Analysis Essay

After preparation, the second step in writing a visual analysis essay is setting up the stage for the actual writing. Here, students spend time finding credible sources , making notes, creating an essay outline , and writing an annotated bibliography. Moreover, it is a stage where writers get down and start doing some work to bring their goal to fruition.

A. Finding Credible Sources

Unlike other academic texts, visual analysis essays that require students to analyze an issue, phenomenon, or object require some degree of research. In particular, when writing a visual analysis essay, learners may have to find reliable sources that help them to conduct an in-depth analysis of an image at hand. For example, writers may have to find out what critics have said about an image with the meaning of applicable concepts, such as balance, movement, shape, size, and proportion. As such, finding academic sources that can provide some insight into these essential details is a crucial step when writing a visual analysis essay.

B. Making Notes

As students read through study sources that they identify for writing a visual analysis essay, they should make notes relevant to a task. In this case, learners should read through their sources while making notes about important concepts that they find relevant to their analysis, such as proportion, context, and balance. Also, these notes are essential in supporting points that writers generate, influencing new ideas.

D. Writing an Outline and Annotated Bibliography

Like any other essay, a visual analysis essay should have an outline that follows an essay structure . In this case, the standard outline for essays entails three main sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. When writing a visual analysis essay, students should follow this outline. Then, an annotated bibliography is a text that summarizes each of the sources that students have identified and used to find critical information. Generally, learners do not need to write this summary in writing a visual analysis essay. However, to simplify their work for finding information, students may write an annotated bibliography when writing a visual analysis essay.

Step 3: Actual Writing of a Visual Analysis Essay

The third step in writing a visual analysis essay involves the actual process of writing a paper. Here, students should begin with the first draft. In this case, the advantage of this draft is that it is not a final document that students submit or publish, meaning that they have an allowance of making mistakes and correcting them. In short, the first draft enables writers to organize their thoughts and arguments in a paper and develop a working thesis.

Step 4: Wrap Up

The last step in writing a visual analysis essay is where students get to wrap up their work. In this case, students identify weak points in their papers and address them to come up with high-quality essays. Moreover, such a paper must have no spelling or grammatical errors, such as missing or wrong punctuation. In turn, it must not have notable inconsistencies, such as flawed arguments and illogical conclusions. Besides, students must use this step to revise and edit their visual analysis essays and ensure their papers satisfies all academic writing rules.

A. Revisions and Editing

Since it is natural for students to make errors and mistakes when writing academic texts, the final step of writing a visual analysis essay allows authors to identify them and make corrections. Firstly, revision entails identifying and eliminating all inconsistencies that undermine a natural flow of arguments and ideas. In turn, editing helps to correct spelling and grammatical mistakes, such as missing punctuation marks.

B. Topic and Concluding Sentences

When writing a visual analysis essay, students should ensure the first draft has paragraphs in the main text (body). Basically, these paragraphs should start with a topic sentence and end with a concluding sentence. In this case, the former introduces a single idea that writers intend to focus on in one paragraph, and the latter’s function is to link this idea in a topic sentence to the paper’s thesis.

C. Transitions and Formatting

One of the aspects that determine an essay’s quality is the natural flow of arguments and ideas. For example, some elements that foster this flow are transitions, which entail words and phrases like – “consequently,” “thus,” “hence,” “ more importantly,” and “meanwhile.” Then, another aspect that students should consider in the last phase of writing a visual analysis is the paper’s formatting. In this case, writers must ensure that they have formatted their papers according to appropriate formats – APA 7, MLA 8, Harvard, and Chicago/Turabian. Also, some of the formatting rules that must satisfy are citation and use of headings and subheadings.

D. Peer Review and Final Draft

After completing the first draft and making the necessary changes, students should subject their visual analysis essays to a peer review. Basically, this aspect involves giving their works to a friend, tutor, or mentor to identify any errors and mistakes. Then, if such errors and mistakes are noted, writers should revise their papers. However, if a visual analysis essay is found perfect, learners should proceed to write the final draft, which they must read and reread to make sure no mistakes have been made in the course of typing.

Outline Template for Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

I. Introduction with a Thesis Statement II. Body Paragraphs III. Conclusion

1. Defining Features of a Visual Analysis Essay Outline

As indicated previously and as exemplified in the visual above, an outline of a visual analysis essay entails three main sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. Basically, this structure’s defining features are the thesis statement that must appear in the introduction, main points in body paragraphs, and a restatement of the thesis and a summary of the main points in the conclusion.

2. How to Know if a Paper is a Visual Analysis Essay

As indicated in the introduction, a visual analysis essay analyzes an image or visual display by giving an in-depth description of how an artist has applied elements and principles of design. In this case, if students want to know that their texts are visual analysis essays, they need to evaluate how they address the use of these elements and principles in their papers concerning a given image.

3. How a Visual Analysis Essay Differs From Other Essays

The central point of difference between a visual analysis essay and other types of essays is the content. For example, while the content of an argumentative essay is the writer’s arguments in favor of a particular stand, the content in a visual analysis essay is the writer’s description and analysis of an image or visual display. Moreover, in an informative essay , the content is information that authors find insightful and necessary in educating the audience about a topic or an issue.

Easy Strategy For Writing Each Section of a Visual Analysis Essay

When writing a visual analysis essay, students should adopt a strategy that makes their work high-quality, meaning it satisfies academic writing rules. These strategies are as follows:

I. Introduction

  • Introduce an image, art, object, or subject under analysis.
  • Provide a brief background of this image and author.
  • Develop a thesis.
  • Create several paragraphs as appropriate.
  • Begin each paragraph by making a claim. It is a topic sentence.
  • End each paragraph with a concluding sentence.
  • Use transitions sufficiently and appropriately.
  • Observe a sandwich rule: introduce a claim in a topic sentence, provide supporting facts (evidence), and explain a specific connection between the claim and the thesis.

III. Conclusion

  • Restate the thesis.
  • Summarize the main points.
  • Ensure that no new information is presented.
  • Provide the writer’s objective opinion about a topic, such as new insight or criticism.

An Example of a Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin by Otto Dix

Otto Dix’s (German, 1891–1969) Liegenede auf Leopardenfell (Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin) , 1927. Oil on panel (70 x 99 cm), 55.031.

I. Introduction Sample of a Visual Analysis Essay

Analyzing an image or visual display is an exciting and challenging academic undertaking for many students. Unlike other academic texts that focus on what other scholars have said, written, and documented through research studies, a visual analysis focuses on an image. As such, the student’s work is to provide an in-depth description of how the artist has appropriated elements and principles of design in their work. Looking at Otto Dix’s “Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin” image above, it is evident the artist has appropriated contrast, color, size, and texture, among other elements and principles of design, to make a picture come to life.

II. Example of a Body in a Visual Analysis Essay

A. reclining position of a woman.

Dix’s image above reflects a woman in a dress and stockings in a reclining position. Besides two different types of textile around her, there is a leopard fur beneath her body’s upper side. Behind a woman is a snarling animal resembling a dog, and on the far right of the painting is wood flooring. Looking at the woman’s face, one can notice that this the focal point. Basically, it is where the artist has concentrated sharp detail, thus making her face confront the audience instantly. Concerning principles of contrast and emphasis, a red lipstick contrasts sharply with the woman’s light skin, while using her hand as a frame beneath her face emphasizes a focal point.

When it comes to design elements, the artist has used the green, red, white, and brown colors to exemplify the image. In this case, a closer look indicates that Dix has contrasted red and green, a warm and cold color, respectively, particularly on the woman’s skin and face. Moreover, he has contrasted dark and light, whereby her face and body exemplify a light theme, while other objects in a picture exemplify have a dark theme.

Regarding a line element, Dix has used smooth curves around the woman’s lower body, particularly around her hip and thighs. In particular, doing so has helped bring out the aspect of “femininity.” Interestingly, the use of angular lines around the face, jaw, fingers, and shoulders emphasizes the “masculine” aspect. Besides strong lines that make the cheeks and jaw prominent, the artist has also used a line element to exaggerate the woman’s eyes, which takes the shape of cat eyes or curved almonds.

About an element of texture, it is evident that the artist has gone into great lengths to create an illusion of texture. Notably, an image has no literal texture because it is a two-dimensional painting. Moreover, Dix’s effort in creating texture is evident by many objects that he includes in his painting. In turn, these objects include the leopard fur; the woman’s dress, stockings, and hair; the materials that look like velvet; and the fur of the dog-like animal. Besides, all these objects create a temptation to touch. In this case, the texture of the woman’s evening wear and the curtain in the background with a velvet-look suggest a sense of costume and luxury. Collectively, they enhance a visual and material richness of an image.

III. Conclusion Sample of a Visual Analysis Essay

There is doubt that analyzing an image or a visual display is an exciting and challenging academic endeavor for students of art. In particular, Dix’s “Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin” image shows a master with which the artist has appropriated contrast, color, size, and texture, among other elements and principles of design to make his work come to life. About a painting, the artist has used these concepts to exemplify the woman’s face, which is the painting’s focal point.

Summing Up on How to Write a Good Visual Analysis Essay

Writing a visual analysis essay is an essential academic exercise for students. Since such an essay aims to analyze an image or visual display, learners must familiarize themselves with elements of design, such as color, size, and texture, and principles of design, such as emphasis and contrast. In essence, students use these concepts to provide an in-depth description of an image. Hence, when writing a visual analysis essay, scholars must learn the following tips:

  • provide a vivid description of an image, so that the audience can have a mental picture of it;
  • give a rhetorical situation of an image – its historical context;
  • explain the artist’s intended message;
  • cover details about any controversy or misunderstanding regarding a visual object or subject.

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visual essay meaning

Visual Analysis: How to Analyze a Painting and Write an Essay

visual essay meaning

A visual analysis essay is an entry-level essay sometimes taught in high school and early university courses. Both communications and art history students use visual analysis to understand art and other visual messages. In our article, we will define the term and give an in-depth guide on how to look at a piece of art and write a visual analysis essay. Stay tuned until the end for a handy visual analysis essay example from our graduate paper writing service .

What Is Visual Analysis?

Visual analysis is the process of looking at a piece of visual art (painting, photography, film, etc.) and dissecting it for the artist’s intended meaning and means of execution. In some cases, works are also analyzed for historical significance and their impact on culture, art, politics, and the social consciousness of the time. This article will teach you how to perform a formal analysis of art.

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A visual analysis essay is a type of essay written mostly by students majoring in Art History and Communications. The process of visual analysis can be applied to painting, visual art, journalism, photo-journalism, photography, film, and writing. Works in these mediums are often meant to be consumed for entertainment or informative purposes. Visual analysis goes beyond that, focusing on form, themes, execution, and the compositional elements that make up the work.

Classical paintings are a common topic for a visual analysis essay because of their depth and historical significance. Take the famous Raphael painting Transfiguration. At first glance, it is an attractive image showing a famous scene from the Bible. But a more in-depth look reveals practical painting techniques, relationships between figures, heavy symbolism, and a remarkable choice of colors by the talented Raphael. This deeper look at a painting, a photograph, visual or written art is the process of visual analysis.

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Formal Analysis of Art: Who Does It?

Most people who face visual analysis essays are Communication, English, and Art History students. Communications students explore mediums such as theater, print media, news, films, photos — basically anything. Comm is basically a giant, all-encompassing major where visual analysis is synonymous with Tuesday.

Art History students study the world of art to understand how it developed. They do visual analysis with every painting they look it at and discuss it in class.

English Literature students perform visual analysis too. Every writer paints an image in the head of their reader. This image, like a painting, can be clear, or purposefully unclear. It can be factual, to the point, or emotional and abstract like Ulysses, challenging you to search your emotions rather than facts and realities.

How to Conduct Visual Analysis: What to Look For

Whether you study journalism or art, writing a visual analysis essay will be a frequent challenge on your academic journey. The primary principles can be learned and applied to any medium, regardless of whether it’s photography or painting.

For the sake of clarity, we’ve chosen to talk about painting, the most common medium for the formal analysis of art.

Visual Analysis

In analyzing a painting, there are a few essential points that the writer must know.

  • Who is the painter, and what era of art did they belong to? Classical painters depict scenes from the Bible, literature, or historical events (like the burning of Rome or the death of Socrates). Modernists, on the other hand, tend to subvert classical themes and offer a different approach to art. Modernism was born as a reaction to classical painting, therefore analyzing modernist art by the standards of classical art would not work.
  • What was the painter’s purpose? Classical painters like Michelangelo were usually hired by the Vatican or by noble families. Michelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel just for fun; he was paid to do it.
  • Who is the audience? Artists like Andy Warhol tried to appeal to the masses. Others like Marcel Duchamp made art for art people, aiming to evolve the art form.
  • What is the historical context? Research your artist/painting thoroughly before you write. The points of analysis that can be applied to a Renaissance painter cannot be applied to a Surrealist painter. Surrealism is an artistic movement, and understanding its essence is the key to analyzing any surrealist painting.

Familiarizing yourself with these essential points will give you all the information and context, you need 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 colors and themes, how the piece was made and various reactions, and critiques of it. Let’s dig deeper.

A Detailed Process of Analyzing Visual Art

Performing a formal analysis of art is a fundamental skill taught at entry-level art history classes. Students who study art or communications further develop this skill through the years. Not all types of analysis apply to every work of art; every art piece is unique. When performing visual analysis, it’s essential to keep in mind why this particular work of art is important in its own way.

Visual Analysis

Step 1: General Info

To begin, identify the following necessary information on the work of art and the artist.

  • Subject — who or what does this work represent?
  • Artist — who is the author of this piece? Refer to them by their last name.
  • Date and Provenance — when and where this work of art was made. Is it typical to its historical period or geographical location?
  • Past and Current Locations — where was this work was displayed initially, and where is it now?
  • Medium and Creation Techniques — what medium was this piece made for and why is it important to that medium? Note which materials were used in its execution and its size.

Step 2: Describe the Painting

Next, describe what the painting depicts or represents. This section will be like an abstract, summarizing all the visible aspects of the piece, painting the image in the reader’s mind. Here are the dominant features to look for in a painting:

  • Characters or Figures: who they are and what they represent.
  • If this is a classical painting, identify the story or theme depicted.
  • If this is an abstract painting, pay attention to shapes and colors.
  • Lighting and overall mood of the painting.
  • Identify the setting.

Step 3: Detailed Analysis

The largest chunk of your paper will focus on a detailed visual analysis of the work. This is where you go past the basics and look at the art elements and the principles of design of the work.

Art elements deal mostly with the artist’s intricate painting techniques and basics of composition.

  • Lines — painters use a variety of lines ranging from straight and horizontal to thick, curved, even implied lines.
  • Shapes — shapes can be distinct or hidden in plain sight; note all the geometrical patterns of the painting.
  • Use of Light — identify the source of light, or whether the lighting is flat; see whether the painter chooses contrasting or even colors and explain the significance of their choice in relation to the painting.
  • Colors — identify how the painter uses color; which colors are primary, which are secondary; what is the tone of the painting (warm or cool?)
  • Patterns — are there repeating patterns in the painting? These could be figures as well as hidden textural patterns.
  • Use of Space — what kind of perspective is used in the painting; how does the artist show depth (if they do).
  • Passage of Time and Motion

Design principles look at the painting from a broader perspective; how the art elements are used to create a rounded experience from an artistic and a thematic perspective.

  • Variety and Unity - explore how rich and varied the artists’ techniques are and whether they create a sense of unity or chaos.
  • Symmetry or Asymmetry - identify points of balance in the painting, whether it’s patterns, shapes, or use of colors.
  • Emphasis - identify the points of focus, both from a thematic and artistic perspective. Does the painter emphasize a particular color or element of architecture?
  • Proportions - explain how objects and figures work together to provide a sense of scale, mass, and volume to the overall painting.
  • Use of Rhythm - identify how the artist implies a particular rhythm through their techniques and figures.

Seeing as each work of art is unique, be thoughtful in which art elements and design principles you wish to discuss in your essay. Visual analysis does not limit itself to painting and can also be applied to mediums like photography.

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The Structure: How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper

It’s safe to use the five-paragraph essay structure for your visual analysis essay. If you are looking at a painting, take the most important aspects of it that stand out to you and discuss them in relation to your thesis. Structure it with the simple essay structure:

Introduction: An introduction to a visual analysis essay serves to give basic information on the work of art and briefly summarize the points of discussion.

  • Give a brief description of the painting: name of artist, year, artistic movement (if necessary), and the artist’s purpose in creating this work.
  • Briefly describe what is in the painting.
  • Add interesting facts about the artist, painting, or historical period to give your reader some context.
  • As in all introductions, don’t forget to include an attention-grabber to get your audience interested in reading your work.

Thesis: In your thesis, state the points of analysis on this work of art which you will discuss in your essay.

Body: Explore the work of art and all of its aspects in detail. Refer to the section above titled “A Detailed Process of Analyzing Visual Art,” which will comprise most of your essay’s body.

Conclusion: After you’ve thoroughly analyzed the painting and the artist’s techniques, give your thoughts and opinions on the work. Your observations should be based on the points of analysis in your essay. Discuss how the art elements and design principles of the artist give the painting meaning and support your observations with facts from your essay.

Citation: Standard citation rules apply to these essays. Use in-text citations when quoting a book, website, journal, or a movie, and include a sources cited page listing your sources. And there’s no need to worry about how to cite a piece of art throughout the text. Explain thoroughly what work of art you’re analyzing in your introduction, and refer to it by name in the body of your essay like this — Transfiguration by Raphael.

visual essay meaning

Learn From a Visual Analysis Example

Many YouTube videos are analyzing famous paintings like the Death of Socrates, which can be a great art analysis example to go by. But the best way to understand the format and presentation is by looking at a painting analysis essay example done by a scholarly writer. One of our writers has penned an outstanding piece on Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, which you may find below. Use it as a reference point for your visual analysis essay, and you can’t go wrong!

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian artist born in April 1452 and died in May 1519who lived in the Renaissance era. His fame and popularity were based on his painting sand contribution to the Italian artwork. Leonardo was also an active inventor, a vibrant musician, writer, and scientist as well as a talented sculptor amongst other fields. His various career fields proved that he wanted to know everything about nature. In the book “Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind of the Renaissance” by Alessandro Vezzosi, it is argued that Leonardo was one of the most successful and versatile artists and anatomists of the Italian renaissance based on his unique artwork and paintings (Vezzosi, p1454). Some of his groundbreaking research in medicine, metal-casting, natural science, architecture, and weaponry amongst other fields have been explored in the book. He was doing all these in the renaissance period in Italy from the 1470s till his death.

Visual analysis essays will appear early in your communications and art history degrees. Learning how to formally analyze art is an essential skill, whether you intend to pursue a career in art or communications.

Before diving into analysis, get a solid historical background on the painter and their life. Analyzing a painting isn’t mere entertainment; one must pay attention to intricate details which the painter might have hidden from plain sight.

We live in an environment saturated by digital media. By gaining the skill of visual analysis, you will not only heighten your appreciation of the arts but be able to thoroughly analyze the media messages you face in your daily life.

Also, don't forget to read summary of Lord of the Flies , and the article about Beowulf characters .

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How to Write Visual Essay

Once you got the visual essay writing task , there’s no need to worry. It can really turn to be a very easy task. The point is that you can make it easy on your own with our basic visual essay writing tips . No matter if it is a class essay or a college admission essay; you just need to use appropriate visual tools in order to illustrate the facts and arouse interest for your essay among the readers.

Remember, the most important thing you have to keep to in your essay is trying to make your readers interested. You don’t want them to fall asleep, do you? Use visual additions in order to capture their attention, which will be a huge step to improve your overall grade . When you finish reading this article, you will be aware of a great number of ways to implement visual tools in your essay .

One of the best methods to catch your reader’s attention is use different graphs and bars while providing the statistical data. Remember, these are crucial tools for visual essay making. You can always use them when the words are not enough.

When you find it hard to illustrate this or that aspect of your visual essay , remember, you can always use the pictures, which will tell your story better than any word can do. Among the visual methods you can utilize there are paintings, a great variety of photos, films, etc.

As you have probably already noticed, including visual objects in your visual essay can be a real helping hand in expressing your own point of view. Graphs, bars, photos, pictures and the rest of the visual objects can help the students gain higher grade and keep attention of the readers till the very end of the presentation.

Use your creativity! Provide your readers with some stunning facts and they will highly appreciate it! Devote extra time for your visual essay project in order to do it in the best manner possible. Remember, your reputation and your grades depend on it!

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Visual Analysis Essay: Everything You Have To Know

visual analysis essay

Whether you have handled a visual analysis essay before or not, this post is relevant for you. It will give you fresh and top-grade visual analysis ideas to get you on the leaderboard.

Journey with me then as we make writing visual analysis essays faster and easier!

What is a Visual Analysis Essay?

Your lecturer expects you to carefully analyze the various elements of an image and how they bring out the intended message.

Now, there are standard design elements that are key to this type of essay. These are:

Shape, Color, Line, and Size.

Using these principles of design, you will provide a detailed description of the image in question. I can’t wait to tell you how the Monalisa portrait would fit into such an essay. Imagine how Leonardo da Vinci incorporated all these aspects to come up with such a masterpiece drawing!

We are only but starting. Let us move on to some soft meat.

Visual Analysis Essay Example

Ralph Ellison’s “Battle Royale” chapter in Invisible Man provides a rich ground for analysis. Importantly, Ellison is writing about the topic of how rights for African-Americans developed over the course of history. He writes about the experience of being black in an America that often makes that more difficult than it should be. Ellison had a deep understanding not only of the existing civil rights environment, but also the history that gave it context. With that in mind, he was able to connect the past to the present in a way that was supremely compelling. This particular work is all about his process of learning who he was and what his purpose was in a world that may have wanted to strip him of any dignity. With this in mind, “Battle Royale” shows that the ghosts of slavery still haunted African-Americans, who may have been nominally “accepted,” but had not yet achieve social equality in an altogether racist society.

The meaning of the text begins with the scene in which Ellison is haunted by the ghost of his grandfather. His grandfather had come up during slavery, and thus, the deathbed scene in which Ellison’s character grapples with his grandfather’s legacy is meant to serve as a symbol for the bigger struggle for black rights. Ultimately Ralph Ellison understands that although slavery may have been gone, it was still around, impacting everything that happened to black people in their interactions with society, with power structures, and also with white people, as well. Interestingly, Ellison comes to understand that the vestiges of slavery are the very things that allow him to become an invisible man. He is not seen as fully human with a wide range of compelling interests. Rather, he is seen as a person who is just there to entertain white people. By using the ghost of his grandfather to show this, the author is communicating how African-Americans at that time had no choice but to live and grapple with the realities of history. Slavery was all around them, and it had not really been defeated at that point. Instead, it was just laying idle and creating additional barriers that the people had to clear.

The author writes to demonstrate that social equality was far away for African-Americans. The imagery of the boxing match he had to engage in is one way in which he shows this. He does not know it when he agrees, but when he shows up to the celebration with a bunch of old white men, he is not just there to receive a scholarship. He is also there to be a part of a show that keeps these people entertained. Because it is a boxing match, he is still being treated not as a full person, but as a body to be used at will by powerful white people according to their own whims. This links closely to slavery, as well. The use of black bodies for white gain was a long-running theme in America, and linking a boxing match to white enjoyment is another of the critical ways in which the author goes about demonstrating this important truth. Likewise, that he got a scholarship to a “negro” school showed that even though some progress had been made, black people were still being held back.

In a number of ways, Ellison in this chapter conveys meaning. He uses the scene of a dying grandfather to convey how temporally close slavery was and how it never truly left the African-Americans who were under its hold. By using the boxing match, he showed the continued exploitation of black bodies that seemingly never stopped.

How To Write a Visual Analysis Essay Like a Pro

We have to note that such an essay is in the following subject areas:

  • Art History,
  • Photography
  • English courses

I am sure some are already groaning, ‘but I don’t major in any those subjects, does it mean I am disadvantaged?’ Not at all, dear reader. With what we are about to discuss, you will find a visual analysis essay the easiest. Even if you are taking a course in Engineering, you can do it!

So how do you write a visual analysis like a guru? Follow the outline below and have your question answered:

  • The introduction

Arouse your reader with basic but interesting facts about the piece of art or the artist. Now, how do you start a visual analysis essay? With:

  • A vivid description of the image
  • The inspiration behind the art
  • What the artist purposed to communicate with the image
  • A peculiar and fantastic fact about the art or artist

Remember to give a thesis statement that will tell the meaning of visual art.

It is where you explore the various elements of the painting or picture in detail. The body should originate from your thesis statement. Here is how to write a visual analysis essay body paragraph:

  • Have a claim (topic sentence)
  • Provide evidence
  • Provide a specific connection between your argument and the thesis statement

Ensure that you exhaust every element fully and its relation to the image in the body section.

After analyzing the visual image, provide your opinions and thoughts on the work. Perhaps you can use the ideas below to sweeten your visual analysis essay conclusion:

  • Criticism from people on the piece of art
  • Are there other similar images? If so, how do they compare?
  • What is the difference between the first reception to the image and that of today?

Either way, do not introduce any new ideas in this part. Only restate and emphasize what you have discussed in the body.

And that is how to write a visual analysis essay, easy-peasy! You can ask for a visual analysis essay example from our expert writers to familiarize themselves with the structure. For your information, we have the best minds there are in visual analysis!

What To Look At in A Visual Analysis Essay

Whenever college students want to analyze a visual image, they get stuck at the pointers. Herein are some of the professionally handpicked aspects that you will have to zoom in your binoculars to:

What is the purpose of the artist? Who was his audience in mind when drawing the image or portrait? How has he composed the various elements of the image? Historically, where does the image lie in context? When was the image viewed?

These and many more should inspire you to write a compelling and award-winning visual analysis essay.

Tip-Top Visual Analysis Essay Topics

On top of our visual analysis essay examples, we also have a plethora of top-notch topics:

  • The controversy surrounding the Monalisa painting
  • Visual analysis of ‘The Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh
  • ‘The Birth of Venus’ – Did Sandro Botticelli go too far?
  • Why Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam’ is the most replicated image in history
  • Who was the audience of “The Night Watch”?
  • A critical analysis of “American Gothic”.
  • What was Pablo’s intention in ‘Guernica’?
  • Impact of ‘The Last Supper’ on religious imagery

We can give more examples of visual analysis essay topics at your request.

Writing a visual analysis essay doesn’t have to make you lose some pounds. You can seek our custom essay writing help and get it done sooner than you know.

Give it a try.

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Visual Analysis Essay

Caleb S.

Complete Visual Analysis Essay Writing Guide by Experts

20 min read

Published on: Sep 5, 2022

Last updated on: Jul 21, 2023

visual analysis essay

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Have you ever found yourself captivated by an image, wondering what lies beneath its surface? 

Do you yearn to decipher the hidden messages, symbolism, and cultural nuances embedded within visual media? 

If so, you are not alone. 

Through this step-by-step guide, we illustrate the process of visual analysis essay writing. We will also provide you examples, and tips that will help you writing your own essay!

So, let’s get started. 

What is a Visual Analysis Essay? 

A visual analysis essay is a type of analytical writing that asks the reader to examine a work of art. This style of writing analyzes different aspects of art through the use of images. 

A common misconception about this type of essay is that it is just a text with pictures and captions. However, its unique form requires you to present your point with visual images. So, a reader can fully understand what you're trying to explain. 

These essays are creative and engaging, which allows you to analyze the visual elements of literature. It gives you an in-depth look at various aspects of art pieces such as paintings and sculptures. 

It is important to use descriptive words if you want your essay to be interesting and engaging.

How to Conduct Visual Analysis? 

By closely examining the elements, techniques, and context of an artwork, we can uncover its hidden messages and appreciate its artistic qualities. 

Here are some steps to help you conduct a visual analysis effectively:

  • Observe and Describe

Start by carefully observing the artwork. Take your time to look at every detail, from the overall composition to the smallest elements. 

Pay attention to the colors, lines, shapes, textures, and any other visual elements that stand out. 

  • Analyze the Elements

Next, analyze the visual elements of the artwork and how they interact with each other. Consider the use of color and its emotional impact. 

Examine the lines and shapes and how they contribute to the overall composition. 

  • Interpret the Meaning

Consider the subject matter and any symbolism or metaphors used. Look for clues in the context of the artwork, such as historical, cultural, or social references. 

Think about the artist's intention and what they might be trying to convey through their work.

  • Research and Contextualize

Conduct research to learn more about the artist, the art movement or period it belongs to, and the historical or cultural context in which it was created.

  • Formulate Your Analysis

Finally, synthesize your observations, analysis, and research into a coherent analysis of the artwork. Develop a thesis statement that encapsulates your interpretation of the artwork and support it with evidence and examples from your analysis.

Elements of a Visual Analysis Essay

The most important concepts to know when writing a visual analysis essay are the essay's visual elements. These elements offer a good visual display of its visual characteristics. 

A student cannot analyze an image or visual display without mentioning how these elements relate to the subject's characteristics.

A list of common visual elements used in writing visual analysis essays is given below.

Design Principles of a Visual Analysis Essay

For a great visual analysis essay, you must recognize design principles in addition to visual elements. 

These principles assist you in highlighting and describing the visual characteristics.

How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay?

Here are six steps you must take to write a visual analysis essay.

  • Provide Basic Information 

To start the creative writing process, you must first collect information on the following elements. 

  • Who wrote the piece?
  • A piece created for whom? 
  • What medium was chosen?
  • Why was that medium significant? 
  • Where was this art originally shown for the first time? 
  • Who or what does the artwork reflect?
  • What elements were used?
  • When and where was the work created?
  • Describe the Painting

The following step is to determine what the image portrays. This part is similar to an abstract in which you must summarize all the observable elements. The following are the essential characteristics to search for.

  • Identify the story on which the artwork is based if you are examining a classical painting.
  • Discuss the primary setting.
  • Highlight the characters and what they stand for?
  • Describe the painting's overall vibe that the artist intends to communicate.
  • Examine Thoroughly 

Every piece of art is unique; consider what art elements and design principles you will apply in your writing.

This section takes the most time. Because here, you have to examine the artwork elements as well as its design concepts thoroughly.

  • Make an Outline 

For your visual analysis essay, the five-paragraph style is recommended. Find out significant elements of the artwork and create your thesis statement around it.

Visual analysis papers must follow standard citation guidelines. Include a source citation page with a list of all your references used.

  • Edit & Revise Your Essay

After you've finished writing your essay, revise and proofread it to ensure it's free of grammatical mistakes.

For a detailed guide, you can also check out this video:

Visual Analysis Essay Outline

Below outlines the fundamental structure for a visual analysis essay.

  • Visual Analysis Essay Introduction 

This is the opening paragraph of a visual analysis essay, and this is where you should make your reader interested. It should provide some basic information about the subject. After the introductory part, offer brief information on the following points.

  • Give an overview of the painting and the artist. 
  • Explain the painting's main elements. 
  • Include intriguing information about the artist’s intent on the picture.
  • Remember to add the first sentence that grabs attention.
  • Add thesis statement 

The thesis statement should be included at the ending of the essay introduction . The thesis statement for a visual analysis essay provides the points you intend to cover in your essay.

  • Visual Analysis Essay Body Paragraphs

You must analyze the artwork in-depth in the body part of your essay. Provide three or more suggestions to support your thesis. Write and examine the entire piece, including the method used, form, colors, and everything else that backs up your thesis. 

Only discuss the parts of the artwork that support your argument. Present all of the facts rationally and describe the elements and their relationship with each other. You should evaluate your ideas about the artwork under examination in response to a visual argument created by the artist.

  • Visual Analysis Essay Conclusion

This is the essay's final paragraph, so it should be powerful and well-written. Here, you must reinforce your thesis statement once again and make it effective.

Top Visual Analysis Essay Examples

Below are samples of different types of visual analysis essays for you to improve your understanding of this type of essay.

Visual Analysis Essay of a Painting

Conducting a visual analysis essay of a painting involves four key steps:

  • Carefully observe the artwork, noting its composition, brushwork, color palette, and symbolic elements. 
  • Analyze the artist's techniques and choices, such as brushstrokes, use of light and shadow, and perspective. 
  • Interpret the artwork, considering its emotional impact, themes, and potential messages. 
  • Evaluate the painting's overall effectiveness, considering its artistic value, innovation, and ability to engage the viewer.

Visual Analysis Essay of a Photograph

For conducting a visual analysis essay of a photograph, follow these three key steps. 

  • First, closely examine the composition, lighting, and subject matter of the image. 
  • Second, interpret the emotions, themes, and narratives conveyed by the photograph. 
  • Finally, evaluate the overall effectiveness of the photograph in engaging the viewer and conveying its intended message.

Visual Analysis Essay of a Sculpture

Conducting a visual analysis essay of a sculpture involves three essential steps. 

  • First, carefully observe the sculpture's form, materials, and spatial arrangement. 
  • Second, interpret the sculpture's symbolism, themes, and artistic intent. 
  • Finally, evaluate the sculpture's aesthetic value, technical craftsmanship, and its ability to evoke emotional responses.

Visual Analysis of an Advertisement

Conducting a visual analysis of an advertisement involves several key steps. 

  • First, carefully observe the advertisement, noting its visual elements such as imagery, colors, typography, and layout. 
  • Second, analyze how these elements work together to convey the message and appeal to the target audience. 
  • Third, interpret the intended meaning and the emotions evoked by the advertisement. 
  • Finally, evaluate the effectiveness of the advertisement in terms of engagement, communication, and marketing objectives.

Here are some more samples of visual analysis essays:

Rhetorical and Visual Analysis Essay Sample

Art History Visual Analysis Essay Sample

Political Cartoon Visual Analysis Sample

Visual Analysis Essay Advertisement

Visual Analysis Essay Format

Visual Analysis Essay Template

Mona Lisa Visual Analysis Essay Example

Visual Analysis Essay Thesis Example

Visual Analysis Essay Topics

Following are some excellent visual analysis essay ideas from which you can start your own writing.

  • What impact does advertising have on our lives? 
  • Discuss the forms of emotional appeals shown in web advertisements. 
  • Review your favorite movie and analyze the visual arts in it. 
  • What is the importance of historical context? 
  • Discuss the action involved in television ads.
  • Colors are used in marketing and advertising.
  • What makes Oscar awards unique from other awards?
  • How has art evolved in the past 50 years? 
  • Explain how digital media campaigns display brand names?
  • What role do art and culture have in our lives? 

Tips For Writing the Visual Analysis Essay

Here are some tips on how to write a great essay, so take a look at them and make your writing process easy.

  • Your visual analysis essay should be written in a clear and organized way. The audience will not stick around if the ideas are not presented in an organized way.
  • If the essay is written in an appropriate format, the data will be easy for the audience to understand. 
  • You need to rely on your thesis statement when writing your essay. You also need to do research before making any arguments.
  • The emotions we feel when looking at artwork often counter the artist's argument. The writer should be aware of how the audience perceives the artwork.
  • When you write the visual analysis essay, proofread it carefully to make sure there are no mistakes. Any errors in grammar or context will count against you in the final grade.

Working on your visual analysis essay and need help? Luckily you can rely on a writing service like and get your essay within the set deadline.

No matter if it is a simple college essay or a complete research paper , our reliable writing service is here to help you.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is visual analysis.

Visual analysis is a method of understanding the visual elements of an artwork. Elements such as color, line, texture, and scale are frequently used in historical art writing.

What is a visual rhetorical analysis?

The visually rhetorical analysis mainly interacts via images or the engagement of image and text. The author of such visual documents thinks in the same way as writers do. They select the elements of the images and organize them and their thoughts based on rhetorical considerations.

What is the purpose of visual literacy?

Visual literacy aims to allow a person to effectively interpret, evaluate, find, use, and create images and visual media.

How do you write a visual analysis conclusion?

The conclusion should be the strongest part of your paper because it's where you can leave a lasting impression. Don't just restate what you said in the thesis statement but strengthen and form those thoughts by adding an interesting fact that will make it more convincing and credible to readers.

What is a visual text example?

Visual texts are those in which pictures and shapes communicate rather than words. Photographs, illustrations, pictures in books, DVDs, web pages, billboards, advertisements, cartoons, artworks, book covers are examples of visual texts.

Caleb S. (Literature, Marketing)

Caleb S. has extensive experience in writing and holds a Masters from Oxford University. He takes great satisfaction in helping students exceed their academic goals. Caleb always puts the needs of his clients first and is dedicated to providing quality service.

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How To Write Visual Analysis Essay: Guide for Beginners

06 May 2022

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What is visual analysis essay, elements of a visual analysis essay, visual principles of design in writing an analysis essay, how to write a visual analysis paper: step by step, visual analysis essay topics, visual analysis essay outline, how to start an art essay, art thesis statement examples & tips, how to write visual analysis body paragraphs, visual analysis essay conclusion.

Today we are going to explain how to write a visual analysis essay in detail and get the grade you seek. This is one of those papers that looks very simple and ordinary, but it is far from that. For the lack of a better word, this is one of those writings where you will have to invest a lot of time and where you will have to use your imagination.

All visual analysis essays are complex simply because there is no way we can generalize all the elements of them. Furthermore, all of these will be complicated due to the fact you need to express in your own words what you see and what you think about what you see.

As you can deduce, this means that you need to have proper writing skills and pay close attention to writing a visual analysis essay properly. For most students, this can be complicated. Completing an image analysis essay can be even impossible in some cases. This happens when you don't know the basics, and you don't understand what you need to do.

Now we will guide you through the visual analysis essay assignment process and explain all the steps you need to do, and even present your topics that will make this writing easier. Without further ado, let's begin.

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Writing essays

Before we start with how to write a good visual analysis and other details, you need to know what this type of assignment is. What is a visual analysis essay? What is the main purpose here? In a nutshell, you will have to analyze an image or a picture. It is not as simple as you may think. You will have to reveal the purpose of the artists, the audience of that image, how the image was composed, and also its historical context. As you can see, all of this makes things complicated.

This is the main reason why some students need write my essay for me option and why they have been using it for years. It makes things easier and allows them to focus more on the assignments they like and want to work on. We can add that these assignments are the most commonly avoided due to the complicated steps and not direct guidelines.

We can add that you may have to explain an object and not an image. The foal is the same, and you will still need to conduct a proper analysis and include all the details you need. In a nutshell, there are two main types here. The first one is formal. You will have to explain the lines, colors, and all you can see with your eye. This is a more common option, and we can say it is a bit easier. An image analysis essay of this kind is more straightforward. The second type is contextual analysis. Here you will need to explain the purpose of the art, the artist's goal, and the touch with the audience. visual analysis essay pictures can be interesting for some students.

You may believe that there are not a lot of elements here and that you will complete this writing assignment as soon as possible. In reality, this is a mistake. There are 11 elements of art history, visual analysis essay, or any other type. Art elements and the principles of design of the work are mandatory, and they have a huge role in writing. You will use these to produce the best copy and impress your professor. In addition, you will make the whole process easier once you know more about these.

  • Composition - Here, you will need to explain how the elements are related. Who is the main character? Who is left out? How are these placed on the image? This is a very important element and something that is considered mandatory.
  • Elements of design - Artists must use lines, colors, and so much more. Here you will need to explain these and how they are used. It basically means that you will need to focus on how the art was created. You also need to understand these more.
  • Focal point - The focal point is how or what the artist used to attract the attention of the audience. Usually, it means understanding the main purpose of the art.
  • Color - Explain how colors are used and how they affect the mood and the tone of the art.
  • Lines - How are lines used to attract the attention of the viewer?
  • Texture - Is the art smooth or rough? Is it two dimensional or three-dimensional piece of art?
  • Shape - Explain here which shapes the artist used and how.
  • Form - It is focused on lights and shadows used in that piece of art, and it can be complicated to explain.
  • Value - How and why the artist has used light and dark aspects and in what link.
  • Size - Here, you will need to explain the generic size of the art.
  • Symbolic element - If art has some symbolic element, you will need to find it and explain it in detail.

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Once you know all about the visual elements, we can move to visual principles. There are 10 of these, and they are important, as you can assume. Here we will discuss them and explain all of them in detail. Keep in mind that the visual analysis essay definition and mandatory visual analysis essay format suggest you need to know about these and you need to incorporate these into your next paper. Now you can truly see why so many students want to pay to write essay options and get the paper done within minutes or hours. In some cases, it is the main and the most effective perk you need to know about and use.

  • Balance - Here, you must explain the symmetrical, radial, and asymmetrical balance of the art.
  • Emphasis - This is the main object that will draw your attention when you look at the art.
  • Movement - You will have to explain the objects or other elements that appear multiple times.
  • Pattern - Basically, here, you need to reveal how colors affect the art and in which way.
  • Proportion - Define the connection and how the objects are linked in the art.
  • Variety - How all the objects here are used to create one specific mood of the art.
  • Contrast - Define the opposing object in that art.
  • Hierarchy - Define how people can define and process that specific piece of art.
  • Rhythm - The link between repetitive objects used.
  • Layout - Where and how the objects are placed in that piece of art. Explain in detail.

Before we move to the analysis essay examples visual analysis, we need to give you some guidelines and some details on how you can write this paper by yourself. Visual papers are very complicated, as we have stated countless times, so you will want to use this guide, and you will always get a simpler outcome. Yes, you will have to write about pictures, but to make this fun, always use all the steps below. Don't forget that you need to conduct a proper analysis, and you need to pay close attention to all the elements we have revealed above.

  • Collect all the information you can The first step is the most time-consuming. You will have to collect as much data and pieces of the infraction as you can. You need strong essays on visual statements, and for that, you need details. This can take anywhere between 1 day and 1 month, so be prepared to take your time and use it properly. Only once you have all the details should you move to the next step. Trying to compete for this paper with poor data or lack of it will not do you any good, and you will be left with a poor paper that won't impress your readers!
  • Describe the picture Here we have an interesting step. You will need to explain the main goal of that art, when and how it was created, the mood of the picture, and so much more. In general, write about the main setting here and also explain the story of why the art was created. You also need to identify all the characters of the art and explain them as well.
  • Perform detailed analysis Now you will have to take a deep look into all the elements we have discussed above and explain each one. As you can see, this is a very time-consuming task. You may want to check and learn more about essays for sale when you are doing this step. These can help you more than you can imagine and usually speed up the whole process.
  • Create an outline Keep in mind that these assignments have an introduction, main paragraphs, and conclusion. You need to say something about the artist in the introduction. In the main paragraphs, you will have to examine the art in detail and cover all the elements (the ones we have discussed above). In conclusion, you need to provide a brief summary of the main topic and the art.
  • Citations You will have to use citations in your paper. It means that you did your research, and you can provide a much better paper. At the same time, you need to follow specific rules on how you can do this without making a mistake. If you make a mistake here, you will end up with plagiarism which can be a huge problem.
  • Proofread and edit your paper The last step is critical. You need to proofread your paper with fresh eyes, and you need to correct any mistakes seen. Keep in mind that you may have to get help from your friend if you are not proficient with proofreading. This will polish your paper and help you get the grade you like and need.

If you're new to writing visual analysis essays, PapersOwl's essay writing service can provide valuable assistance. Our team of skilled writers can help you create a compelling visual analysis essay in a timely and efficient manner. With our guidance, you can develop the skills necessary to write a structured and insightful analysis of an image, video, or artwork. From learning the fundamentals to examining key elements, our experts can guide you through the writing process with clarity and precision.

Here we have visual analysis essay examples of titles that you can use and can learn more about. Each visual analysis example is different and common, so you will probably have to write on that topic or something similar. These have huge importance, and we can see these being used by all students all over the world. A good visual analysis essay will probably be linked to one of these titles more than you can imagine, and they will give you a preview or at least help you understand what you need to do. Always remember that choosing the topic you like is one of the main benefits you can get. This means that you will do something you like or you are interested in, and therefore you can expect a much better outcome which translates to a much better grade. Writing about something you don't like or you don't have any interest in is not ideal. It can be a huge problem, in fact.

  • Detailed analysis of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss 1907-1908
  • Explain how visual elements are used in Almond Blossom by Vincent van Gogh 1888-1890
  • Identity and Seated Harlequin by Picasso in 1901
  • Examine the themes used in Paul Klee's The Tree of Houses from 1918
  • The main purpose and also the main goal of Lindsay Key was created by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1985
  • Describe Two Boys with Fish by Mario Macilau from 2018
  • Kevin Carter's Starving Child and Vulture 1993
  • Philippe Halsman's Dali Atomicus: The story here 1948
  • Modern art and Couple on Seat were created by Lynn Chadwick in 1984
  • Analyze and explain the biblical context of Pieta created by Michelangelo

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Visual analysis essay sample art starts with the outline. This is the plan you will need to complete and follow. Basically, here you will create all the facts, points, and main elements that you must use in writing later on.

All the examples visual analysis essays have the same thing, and each essay comes with this first, but you can't see it. Anyway, in this case the scenario, you will need to start with more details, and you will need to pay close attention to the elements we have to explain here.

The purpose is impressive, and you can see a huge appeal of the outline due to a simple reason. You can easily make a better paper. It is an important element of a visual analysis essay writing guide.

  • Introduction: You need to start with a brief introduction to the topic. Then you will have to say something about the artist and the piece of art. If possible, use some interesting facts. They are always a great idea. Here you also have to explain the main elements of the art you want to analyze. In this case scenario, you will end the intro using a thesis statement. This may sound weird, but it is the way to go.
  • Body: This is the biggest part of your assignment and one that has huge importance. You will need to have 3 or more ideas. You will need to defend them using actual facts and details that are all accurate, specific, and related to that piece of art. There is no need to add that here. You will have to stay focused on the elements we have covered above, both types. Take a look at any visual analysis essay example, and you will see the overall complexity and specifics that make this process hard.
  • Conclusion: In the visual analysis conclusion, you will have to end the paper and make your thesis even stronger. This section must be well-completed, and it must come with a strong deduction or main idea. Don't make it too long or too short.

To start your essay , you will need to be focused on several elements and incorporate them into your paper. You will have to start with claims and explain each one. These are basic facts about the art you are analyzing. If you have an outline of described visual, this process is much easier. Then explain the visual composition and the genre paired with text. These are a bit easier to complete, but they do have a lot of variations, so stay focused. Appeal, selling, and story are the next elements here. The first one is to define how the art is interesting to the audience. The second is to define there is a sale pitch claim, and the last is the story behind the art you are analyzing.

As you can see, writing a visual analysis essay is far from an easy and simple task. You will need to check some of the examples, and you will have to be focused on the details and specifics used in them. This can give you a better idea of what your main goal is and how you can make your own assignment fit the requirements. The example is mandatory to know about. The analysis will be much easier, and with more detailed analysis, you can complete the task in less time. Anyway, here are a few tips you need to know before you start this process.

  • Your main purpose when doing analysis is to examine both types of elements we have described above. Try to explain what meaning and how these affect the art you are defining.
  • You will have to provide detailed comments and specifics about the organization. This is of huge importance, and it will make the whole progress a bit easier to understand.
  • Try to relate that piece of art with other pieces you have completed already, and know more about.

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A huge part of the visual analysis essay structure is the main section. Here you will need to write on several different levels. There are two main elements you need to complete, and you need to stay focused as much as possible.

Basically, here you will be focused on the analysis and the description. The first element is the description, and here, you need to provide basic facts and the ones you can see with your eye. The second is analysis. Try to explain how the artist made that art and what he used. Basically, you need to analyze the art and provide that analysis to the readers.

Here you will also have to add an interpretation of that art. The last thing is evaluation. Here you need to explain why that piece of art is so important and beneficial.

Yes, this is the last part of your process, and you need to be careful here. Try to link the art with another art or try to explain its significance as easily as possible. You can also say something about the reaction people had when they saw that piece of art for the first time and the reaction they have today (if it is an old piece of art).

In general, you don't have to restate your thesis and try to keep things detailed and straightforward. This will help you leave an impression on the reader, which is one of the main things you need to aim for.

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visual essay meaning

The Visual Essay

Visual essay.

What Does Creating a Visual Essay Imply?

To begin with, a visual essay appears to stand out of the crowd. Actually, it is a totally different assignment from a classic essay. The point is that while covering this written task, you shouldn’t write anything at all except for some short informative statements!

In fact, this academic assignment requires expressing your thoughts on this or that topic using:

Moreover, to present your point of view on the required topic you may combine all above-mentioned means with some short informative statements related to the theme.

Handling Visual Assignments

Clearly, the most difficult and challenging step while fulfilling this task is finding really suitable and gripping visuals, pictures and images to use. Obviously, it presumes using creative approach and skills. In other words, ability to generate fresh ideas seems to be a determinant factor on your road to success.

Recommendations on Composing a Visual Essay

Are there any clear effective hints, which can help you to create your visual paper with ease? Of course, there are! And you shouldn’t seek for them, because they are posted below:

  • Surf the web and use camera to collect the data for your essay.
  • Incorporate thought provoking visuals, images and pictures in your paper.
  • To make your presentation more griping feel free to use graphs, various charts and bars.
  • All the data you want to use should be up-to-date and relevant.
  • Don’t forget about numerous visuals aids while defending your paper.
  • Show your paper to your relatives of friends before submitting it. They may give you favorable advice as well.

Competent Help with Visual Essays

Still feel a little bit frustrated because of these academic assignments? Don’t fall into despair! There is always a way out from any tough situation! Visual papers are not an exception.

How to Write a Visual Essay

By Marlene Inglis, eHow Contributor

Visual essays tell a story either by using text or props.

A visual essay can be a group of pictures depicting or exploring a topic without any text or it can be a combination of visuals or images plus text. Your essay can be a commentary on ideas ranging from gardening to social uprisings and can focus on political or environmental issues. Pictures used in your essay can be current pictures or ones collected over a period of time and the essay can be presented either as a word document or as a .jpeg image file format with some accompanying text.


  • Create your visual essay by deciding which format you will be using for your essay. Remember that the purpose of your essay is to inform, persuade or enlighten your reader. Create an essay that is factual but not boring, lots of images or pictures but not enough to overwhelm, thought provoking but not thoughtless.
  • Use charts, bars or graphs to tell your story. Select a subject such as statistical processing control (SPC), a process used in the manufacturing industry to monitor product quality, and create graphic charts, bars and graphs. Use vivid colors in your presentation so your audience can observe and compare the variations in manufacturing the product over certain times of the year. Create comparative charts and graphs to show the current year’s product quality compared to previous years. Using the appropriate visuals for your subject matter is paramount in keeping your audience interested and informed.
  • Write your essay on a topic such as “uprisings” and use current pictures or images of an uprising in a country. Collect dozens of pictures pertinent to your subject matter and save them in a .jpeg format. Select pictures that can tell your story such as individuals looting and hauling store merchandise across their backs, people of all ages being unceremoniously dragged across roads, tanks lumbering through city streets while people run for cover and cars and buildings ablaze. Accompany the pictures with suitable background music and your visual essay would not need much text since the pictures by themselves will speak to your audience.
  • Use visual aids or props. Purchase various fast foods such as hamburgers, fries, nachos, coke, etc. for your essay on “The obesity epidemic”. Research the fat content, the amount of sugar, salt and other ingredients contained in each food item. Prepare a power point presentation with text to accompany your visual essay and include information on the normal amount of fat, salt, sugar etc. each body requires per day compared to the amount that these items provide. Include some pictures of people in various body sizes. Your presentation should be informative but not preachy. Let your audience make their own decision.

How to Write a Picture Analysis Essay

By Tom Becker, eHow Contributor

A picture is always more than the sum of its parts.

Art moves us. Whether it makes us feel joy, sorrow or revulsion, art has the power to affect us and express ideas that transcend rational thought and language. Art communicates these primal experiences not just through an artist’s inspiration, but also through very clear, recognizable visual communication techniques. Writing a picture analysis essay requires a basic understanding of essay structure and these visual communication techniques. Excellent picture analysis essays combine both these elements while addressing the more ephemeral ideas and experiences communicated by a picture.

  • Note how the picture makes you feel. Do this before you make any intellectual analysis of the picture. Immediate, unprepared and unguarded observation will often tell you more about the content communicated by the painting than rigorous analysis.
  • Address the age of the picture. Take note of the period from which it comes, what styles dominated that era, what techniques artists used and who commissioned the work. Consider the current events going on at the time of the picture’s creation and what social or cultural elements or changes may have affected its content.
  • Find out the dimensions of the picture. A large picture communicates very differently from a small one. Generate reasons why the picture communicates well or poorly due to its size.
  • Look for the composition of the picture. Composition refers to the way the elements are oriented in relationship to one another. Observe if the objects seem crowded or sparse, symmetrical or asymmetrical. Consider why the objects in the picture have their specific orientation.
  • Take note of how the picture is cropped. Cropping refers to images that only partially appear in the picture, as if someone “cropped” them out of the picture. Address how cropping focuses the viewer on certain aspects of the picture and what ideas the cropping may help communicate.
  • Observe the levels of light in the picture. Take note of the visible and obscured objects and where the picture draws the viewer’s eye. Think of the role light and darkness play in communicating feelings or ideas in the picture.
  • Look for color. Observe the way the picture utilizes color or lack of color. Address the effect different colors in the painting have on the ideas it communicates.
  • Observe the form of the images in the picture. Whether an image has clearly defined lines and boundaries representing a real object, or has no defined shape can communicate very different ideas and emotions. Address the reasons why the image has or does not have a clearly defined shape.
  • Look for texture. Pictures with completely flat surfaces may communicate differently than pictures with highly textured surfaces. Address how the texture or lack of texture conveys ideas and emotions in the picture.
  • Take note of your gut reaction to the painting after your thorough analysis. Address how the various elements came together to help form your initial impressions and how analysis either strengthened or weakened your initial impressions.

Essay Structure

  • Choose a thesis. A thesis represents the main idea of your essay, the point you wish to communicate. Use your thorough analysis of the picture to make a list of opinions you wish to assert about the picture. Choose the strongest idea that most clearly communicates and unifies your assertions as your thesis.
  • Introduce the first assertion of your essay with a topic sentence stating that assertion.
  • Develop the assertion in the next few paragraphs by citing specific examples that back up your assertion.
  • Conclude each assertion by restating the assertion and briefly summarizing the manner in which you have proved your assertion.
  • Introduce your next assertion with a topic sentence and continue in this fashion until you have made all the assertions backing up your thesis.
  • Conclude the essay with a restatement of your thesis statement, briefly restate your assertions and finish with a sentence or two stating what you have proved with the essay.

Read more: How to Write a Picture Analysis Essay |

How to Start a Reflection Essay on Art

By Isaiah David, eHow Contributor

Because a reflection essay on art is your chance to go back and take an informal look at a substantial project you have completed, many people incorrectly assume that it will be the easiest part. In reality, it takes a mature perspective, a developed voice, and the ability to be simultaneously informal and articulate to write a good reflection essay on art. In this article, I assume that you are writing a reflective essay on art you have made yourself, but the instructions can be easily adapted to help you reflect on an art history unit or a report you did on an art exhibit.

  • Consult the rubric. Generally, your teacher will provide a list of points you are expected to address. Jot down a few notes on each point. Don’t try to be comprehensive – keep it light and flowing at this stage. Think of the first things that come to your mind.
  • Look at your art project. What does it make you think about? Do you like it? Hate it? Take a closer look at the details. Was there some part that you had to struggle to complete? Was there something that came easy or hit like a burst of inspiration? Write down as much or as little as you are inspired to.
  • Think about the project as a whole. Find a moment that encapsulated the whole process of creating, refining, and finishing your work of art. It could be the first moment where you really felt engaged in the project, or it could be an obstacle that nearly stopped you dead in your tracks and that you had to overcome. That is where you should start your reflective essay.
  • Use the drama of the moment you just thought of to begin your essay. You want your essay as a whole to tell the story of your project, and your first paragraph to tell a story within that story to draw the reader in. Use vivid descriptive to make the reader feel what you felt.
  • Leave the reader hanging. Don’t tell the whole story of whatever moment you chose in your introductory paragraph – leave something for the ending. Then, you can keep the reader interested in the story within the story even as you lead them through the entire process.
  • Step back to tell the rest of the story. For example, if you start with a description of a last minute problem you had to solve in your art project, you might start the next paragraph with something like “By that point, of course, I had been working on the project for 6 weeks.” This will take you right back to the beginning of the project, allowing you to reflect on each stage in order.
  • 7 As you go through, use the details you thought about in step 2. If there are some aspects of your work that you are especially proud of, tell the reader how they came about. If there are other aspects that you don’t like, tell the reader why you don’t like them. Don’t just list them, but put them in at whatever stage of your project they occurred.
  • Make sure to hit every detail on the rubric. Try to keep it in the back of your mind as you go through. Tat way, you can integrate it into the flow of your essay and make it sound more natural.
  • For your conclusion, come back to the mini story and relate it to the project as a whole. If you found you had to trust your intuition to complete one aspect of your piece, explain what the project as a whole has taught you about intuition in art. If you had to scrap it all and start over at some stressful point, you might talk about what you learned about the need to plan, or the willingness to admit to yourself when you are wrong. Be humble. Show that there is something you had to learned, and that you learned it.

Read more: How to Start a Reflection Essay on Art |

How to Write an Art Essay

By Melanie Novak, eHow Contributor

Writing an essay about a piece of art is best approached by considering two things:

  • What did the artist set out to accomplish?
  • How well did that artist achieve her goal?

This criterion is useful in a few ways. It’s relatively fair (you won’t be holding the work to unrealistic standards), it clearly sets up the basis for your critique, and looking at a work this way avoids a thumbs-up or thumbs-down review. You can use this approach to write about a book, movie, theatrical performance, painting, piece of music or any other creative work.

The bulk of the work of writing about art is actually the time it takes to analyze the work and write the outline. There are some challenging steps in the first parts of this how-to, but if you have a strong, solid outline, the writing will be easy.

Analyzing the work

  • Write what you think the artist was trying to achieve with this work of art.
The famous Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century, is a notoriously inscrutable painting. You cannot, obviously, know exactly what da Vinci intended by painting this portrait. Many accomplished art historians have written extensively about this painting. So what can there be for you to say? Plenty.
In this example, an essay on the well-known painting the Mona Lisa, you might conclude that the artist was trying to paint a portrait that told a story about a particular woman. This may seem obvious, but remember that goal is quite different from, say, an instructional painting with an obvious religious allegory or an abstract modern painting, and so the evaluation of this particular work will accordingly be different.
  • Write what you know or feel as a result of the creative work.
For instance, what do you know about the woman from looking at how she was painted by da Vinci? These needn’t be facts about her identity, but rather impressions that you have of her.
Be as honest and specific about your reactions as you can. Do not worry about your own authority. You don’t need to be a professional art critic or have painted an Italian masterpiece yourself to be able to write an effective essay about the Mona Lisa.
  • Compare your answer in Step 2 to the artist’s goal in Step 1. Is your reaction what the artist intended—is the work of art successful?
Remember that it doesn’t matter whether or not you “like” whatever you are writing about. Rather you are using your own responses to write an analysis of the work itself.
Remember that you can write an essay that examines how the work was unsuccessful using the same method as when writing an essay on a successful work.
  • List the variables—all the decisions the artist or artists had to make—that went into creating the work. In the example of the Mona Lisa, the variables would be subject, composition, materials (paint and surface), color palette, brush strokes and level of detail.
  • Write next to each variable a short description. For instance, for the Mona Lisa, you would write “subject–woman,” “composition–close-up of face, centered in the frame,” “color palette–muted,” etc.

 The thesis statement and finalizing the outline

  • Write a rough thesis statement based on all the steps above. Don’t use first person, even though your own responses have informed your thinking so far.
A rough thesis statement might be “Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a visually beautiful painting using Renaissance painting techniques, but its subject remains mysterious.”
Your thesis statement should not be “The Mona Lisa is good.”
  • Organize the variables in a way that supports your thesis statement. You don’t need to include every variable you listed. You may want to write one paragraph for each variable.
  • Note how each variable contributed to the overall success (or lack of success) of the creative work.

Writing the essay

  • Write as specifically as possible when you are describing the variables and your responses to them. It is often the description that will convince your readers of your point.
  • Write an engaging introduction and satisfying conclusion.

Read more: How to Write an Art Essay |

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