Visual Analysis Essay Assignment

ART 200 Art Appreciation: Orientation
Visual Analysis Essay Assignment
Length and Formatting Requirements:
at least two full pages of text, no more than three (excluding heading/title)
professional, 12-point font (EX: Times New Roman)
1-inch margins
no extra spaces between paragraphs
italicize artworks’ titles (EX: Van Gogh’s Starry Night)
Use third-person narrative to keep tone objective and formal
On a separate page at the end of the essay, include an image of the artwork with an appropriate caption that identifies, artist, title, date, and location
Objective: A visual analysis is the result of closely looking at the visual elements of an artwork (composition, line, shape, color, space, scale, texture, value contrast, etc.) and interpreting their effects to suggest plausible meaning. This essay requires thorough observation and careful word choices to demonstrate how intended meanings are communicated through aesthetic objects.
Students will select an artwork of their choice and determine which visual elements are most compelling. They must not only describe what is represented, but also analyze how these elements affect the artwork’s meaning. Be sure to use accurate art vocabulary. For this assignment, discussion of historical context is unnecessary.
NOTE 1: Students are not permitted to select an artwork discussed in lectures and/or the text; any overlap will result in an automatic letter grade deduction.
NOTE 2: For topic inspiration, search the following museum collection databases to find an artwork not discussed in lectures and/or the text:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
The Art Institute of Chicago:
The J. Paul Getty Museum:
Here is a brief list of questions to help your critical analysis. Please note that this is NOT a comprehensive list, and not all of these points will relate to your topic:
Space: How do form and space interact? Does the work use systems to create the illusion of space, or is space flat? Is the figure meant to be seen in space from a particular view? Is it frontal? Does it turn in space? Can its composition be fully appreciated and understood from one vantage point, or does it require more? How do these points impact meaning?
Line and Shape: Is there linear emphasis on the surface of the object? Are the dominant linear elements seen in the forms themselves or are they incised in the surface of the forms? Describe the character of the lines: Primarily horizontal, vertical, diagonal, smooth and flowing? Do lines direct the way in which one “reads” the work? How does the artist use shapes to suggest meaning?
Light: Describe the lighting effects. How does light affect the work? Are the forms and surfaces arranged so that a particular effect of light and shade will be attained? Does light enhance or play against contour?
Color, Surface, and Texture: Consider the surface texture. Is it polished or unpolished? Is texture implied? How does texture affect the the expressive qualities of the work? Consider the color scheme and its effects.
Remember, iconography and subject matter are not visual elements. That said, if the artwork contains important iconography that expresses meaning, how does the artist use specific visual elements to direct viewers’ attention to these symbolic objects?
Basic Essay Elements:
INTRODUCTION – In your introductory paragraph, provide the artist, title, and date of your artwork. Include a brief overview of the main subject or figures (in other words, what are we looking at?). The last line of your essay’s introductory paragraph must be your thesis statement, which answers the following question: what are the most important compositional elements in this artwork and why?
Remember, a THESIS STATEMENT is an argumentative statement that conveys your essay’s main idea. A thesis can be somewhat hypothetical, but is defensible with information other than opinion (i.e., visual evidence). The thesis statement suggests the ultimate interpretation that will be proven in the body paragraphs that follow. View this presentation for examples of strong and weak thesis statements for this essay.
BODY – Your essay’s body paragraphs support your thesis statement. Since the primary focus of this essay is an interpretation of the formal elements, these paragraphs will include a combination of description and analysis.
CONCLUSION – Revisit your thesis statement (although with different phrasing than when first presented in the introduction). Include a brief summary of the main points you demonstrated in your essay, and end with some final comments about how your insights help us to better understand your artwork.
Visual Analysis Essay Grading Rubric:

Poor and/or Incomplete (5 points)
Below Average (10 points)
Average (14 points)
Above Average (17 points)
Excellent (20 points)
Thesis statement

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