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Understanding Visual Analysis Essays

A written analysis allows writers to explore the discrete parts of some thing—in this case, several visual artifacts—to better understand the whole and how it communicates its message.

We should also consider how the image(s) appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos, and why. Consider, for example, how most advertisements rely on an appeal to pathos--or emotion--to persuade consumers to buy their project. Some ads will use humor to do so. Others will evoke patriotism to persuade consumers to purchase a product (suggesting buying a certain product will make them a good American).

This particular analysis will allow students to focus on visual materials relating to their career of interest to better understand how messages related to their field are composed and presented. This project will grant students the means to evaluate qualitative and quantitative arguments in the visual artifacts as well as interpret the claims made and supporting reasons. The project also will allow students to research discipline-specific and professional visual resources.

The audience for the analysis is an audience with comparable knowledge on the topic. Students should define and explain any terminology or jargon used that may be difficult for a general audience to understand.


Begin the essay by finding at least two examples of images relating to your intended future field of study (or a field that you are interested in learning more about). Use the Visual Analysis Planning Sheet to record your observations about the images. You will describe the images in great detail.

You will also need to research and find out who made the images, when, why and for what purpose. (This is called the rhetorical situation).

The essay should also explain what the purpose and intent of the images is and if there are any implicit messages (hidden messages) as well. An ad for Coca-Cola sells soda, but it also might imply something about family values. A public service announcement about hand-washing might also imply a sense of fear about pathogens and the spread of viruses from abroad. You should explore such obvious and hidden messages in your essay. 

After describing all the key components, you’ll consider whether or not the images succeed at their goal or purpose and what these images suggest about how the field communicates its messages. See the Visual Analysis Planning Sheet for more help:

Suggested Organization of Visual Analysis Essay

I.   Introduction (1 paragraph) - should contain a hook (attention-grabber), set the context for the essay, and contain your thesis statement (described below).

a.       Thesis statement : State what two images are being analyzed and what your overall claim is about them. The thesis should make a claim about the images such as whether they are effective or ineffective at communicating their message.

II.  Explain the Rhetorical Situation of both images: (2 paragraphs)  Begin by discussing what is being advertised or displayed, who made it (company, artist, writer, etc.), who is the target audience, where and when the image was published and shared, and where the image was made (country). Provide these details for both images being discussed and analyzed.

III.   Description of both images  (4-8 paragraphs). Discuss each image in full detail, providing the following details about both:

a.   Describe what appears in the image. Be as detailed as possible.

b.   Discuss the primary color choice used and what mood these colors create.

c.       Explain the overall layout and organization of each image.

d.       Discuss the use of wording in the visual image. What font is used, what color, and size is the font.

e. Explain what the message in the visual actually says and what this message means/indicates/asks of viewers and readers.

F. Discuss any other relevant information (from the planning worksheet or anything you think is noteworthy.

IV.            Discussion and Evaluation (2-4 paragraphs) - Synthesizing your findings,and analyze what you think the smaller details accomplish.

  • Discuss if the images appeal to ethos, pathos, or logos and provide evidence to back up your claim.
  • Discuss what sociological, political, economic or cultural attitudes are indirectly reflected in the images. Back up your claims with evidence.  An advertisement may be about a pair of blue jeans but it might, indirectly, reflect such matters as sexism, alienation, stereotyped thinking, conformism, generational conflict, loneliness, elitism, and so on.
  • Assert what claims are being made by the images. Consider the reasons which support that claim: reasons about the nature of the visual's product or service, reasons about those responsible for that product or service, and reasons which appeal to the audience's values, beliefs, or desires.

V.            Conclusion (1 paragraph) - should contain both a recap of your response, as well as a closing statement in regards to your overall response to the chosen essay. Include a conclusion that reviews the messages the images make and offer a conclusion that combines the results of your findings and why they matter.

Drafting/Research Strategies:

To write a visual analysis, you must look closely at a visual object—and translate your visual observations into written text. However, a visual analysis does not simply record your observations. It also makes a claim about the images. You will describe the images in detail and then offer an analysis of what the images communicate at the surface level. You will also highlight any implicit messages that the images communicate. (Use Visual Analysis Planning Sheet). Students should begin the project by taking detailed notes about the images. Review every component of each image. Be precise. Consider the composition, colors, textures, size, space, and other visual and material attributes of the images. Go beyond your first impressions. This should take some time—allow your eye to absorb the image. Making a sketch of the work can help you understand its visual logic.

Good to Know

Below are some helpful resources to aid in creating your Visual Analysis Essay.

  • Visual Analysis essay sample
  • Photos and Illustrations 
  • Visual Elements: Play, Use, and Design
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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.

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. 

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.

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 [2024 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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visual analysis essay pdf

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

visual analysis essay pdf

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.

If you want a more in-depth look at the classic essay structure, feel free to visit our 5 PARAGRAPH ESSAY blog

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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Adam Jason

is an expert in nursing and healthcare, with a strong background in history, law, and literature. Holding advanced degrees in nursing and public health, his analytical approach and comprehensive knowledge help students navigate complex topics. On EssayPro blog, Adam provides insightful articles on everything from historical analysis to the intricacies of healthcare policies. In his downtime, he enjoys historical documentaries and volunteering at local clinics.

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A visual analysis essay is a common assignment for the students of history, art, and communications. It is quite a unique type of academic essay. 

Visual analysis essays are where images meet text. These essays aim to analyze the meanings embedded in the artworks, explaining visual 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 approach. Let’s dive into the writing steps, tips, example essays, and potential topics to help you write an excellent essay. 

Arrow Down

  • 1. What is a Visual Analysis Essay
  • 2. How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay - 7 Simple Steps
  • 3. Tips on How to Analyze a Photograph
  • 4. Tips on How to Analyze a Sculpture
  • 5. Visual Analysis Essay on Advertisement
  • 6. Visual Rhetorical Analysis Essay Examples
  • 7. Visual Analysis Essay Topics

What is a Visual Analysis Essay

A visual analysis essay basically requires you to provide a detailed description of a specific visual work of art. It is a type of analytical essay that deals with imagery and visual art instead of texts.

The subject of a visual analysis essay could be an image, painting, photograph, or any visual medium. 

In this type of essay, you need to describe the artwork and analyze its elements in detail. That is, how different elements and features fit together to make the whole work stand out. In this sense, you need to use a mixture of descriptive writing and analytical language. 

To write a good visual analysis essay, you need to know the basic visual elements and principles of design. Let’s learn about these concepts first before diving into the writing steps.

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Visual Elements for a Visual Analysis Essay

Writing a visual analysis essay involves analyzing the visual elements of a piece of art. These elements form the basis of the features and characteristics of an image. 

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 identify and explain the characteristics of the image. 

How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay - 7 Simple Steps

Now that you have an idea about visual elements and principles, you are now ready to proceed. 

Here are the steps that you need to follow for writing a visual analysis essay. Let’s discuss them in detail.

Step 1 - Gather General Information About the Artwork

Once you have a specific artwork or image, here is how to start a visual analysis essay. You need to ask some basic questions about the work and jot down your ideas.

This pre-writing step is for brainstorming ideas. Ask these questions to begin:

  • Who and what does the artwork represent? 
  • Who is the author of the piece? 
  • Who did the artist create the work for? Who is the intended audience?
  • When and where was the work created? What is its historical context?
  • Where was this work displayed for the first time?
  • Identify which medium, materials, and techniques were used to create the image?

Step 2 - Note Down the Characteristics of the Artwork

The next thing that you need to do is identify what the image depicts. Moreover, you need to identify and describe the visual art elements and design principles used in the work. 

Here’s what you need to note:

  • The subject matter and its representation.
  • Colors, shapes, and lines used in the composition.
  • The balance, proportion, and harmony within the artwork.
  • Any symbolism or metaphors present.

By pointing out such characteristics, you set the stage for a nuanced analysis in your essay.

Step 3 - Visual Analysis Essay Outline 

Once you have gathered your main points by carefully studying the image, you should now organize them in an outline.

Here is how you make an outline for your visual analysis essay:

Step 4- Write the Introduction

This is the first paragraph of a visual analysis essay in which you need to provide some background information on the topic. After grabbing the readers’ attention with an interesting fact, briefly provide information on the following points. 

  • Talk briefly about the painting and its artist or creator.
  • Provide a brief description of the painting and give historical context
  • Add an interesting fact about the artist or the painting. 

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. 

Step 5 - Provide Detailed Description, Analysis, and Interpretation

In the body section, you need to explore the artwork in detail. In the first body paragraph, simply describe the features and characteristics of the work. For instance, talk about the technique being used, shape, color, and other aspects to support your thesis. 

In the next paragraphs, you can go into the analysis and interpretation of these elements and the work as a whole. Present all the details logically and discuss the relationship between the objects. Talk about the meaning, significance, and impact of the work.

Step 6 - Writing a Conclusion

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 to create a sense of closure.

Here’s how you can do it

  • Revisit the main insights gained through the analysis, summarizing the key visual elements and principles discussed. 
  • Emphasize the significance of cultural or historical context in interpreting the visual narrative. 
  • Tie together the threads of your analysis to reinforce your thesis or main argument.
  • End with a memorable statement and encourage readers to carry the lessons learned from the analysis into their own encounters with art. 

Step 7 - Edit & Revise Your Essay

Here’s how to end your visual analysis essay: edit and revise your first draft until it becomes the perfect version. Consider these steps for an excellent revision:

  • Review for Clarity: Ensure your ideas flow logically. Clarify any ambiguous or unclear statements to enhance the overall readability of your essay.
  • Trim Unnecessary Details: Trim excess information that doesn't directly contribute to your main points. Keep your analysis focused and concise.
  • Check Consistency: Verify that your writing style remains consistent throughout the essay. Maintain a balance between formal language and engaging expression.
  • Fine-Tune Transitions: Ensure smooth transitions between different sections of your essay. Transitions help guide your reader through the analysis, making the journey more enjoyable and comprehensible.
  • Proofread for Errors: Carefully proofread your essay for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. A polished essay enhances your credibility and the overall professionalism of your work.

With these basic steps, you can craft an amazing visual analysis essay. Read on for some useful tips for analyzing different kinds of visual subjects.

Tips on 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?

Tips on 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.

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Visual Analysis Essay on Advertisement

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:

  • Textual 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 samples that you can read to understand this type of essay better. 

Art history Visual Analysis Essay Example

Political Cartoon Visual Analysis Essay

Rhetorical and Visual Analysis Essay Sample

Mona Lisa Visual Analysis Essay

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 visual appeals used in web ads.
  • What is the special about Cleo Award-winning ads?
  • The Use of Light and Shadow in Caravaggio's "The Calling of Saint Matthew"
  • The Symbolism of Colors in Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night"
  • 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. 

To conclude, 

From gathering information about the artwork to crafting a compelling analysis, we've navigated the essential steps you need for a visual analysis essay. Moreover, with the specific tips and examples, you have everything you need to get started.

So dive into the writing process with confidence and return to this blog whenever you need help on any step!

However, if you have gone through the whole article and are still unsure how to start your essay, we can help you.

Our professional essay writers at can help you with your visual analysis essay assignment. Contact us with your order details, and we will get it done for you. 

We provide essay writing service for students  that you can trust for better grades. Place your order now and get the best visual analysis essay writing help. 

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Barbara P

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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10.8: A Sample Visual Argument Analysis

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  • Saramanda Swigart
  • City College of San Francisco

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The essay "An Image Is Worth a Thousand Calls to Arms" by Saramanda Swigart analyzes a visual argument.

  • Sample visual argument analysis essay "An Image Is Worth a Thousand Calls to Arms" in PDF with margin notes
  • Sample visual argument analysis essay "An Image Is Worth a Thousand Calls to Arms" accessible version with notes in parentheses

visual analysis essay pdf

Learn How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay: An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Learn How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay An Ultimate Guide for Beginners

A visual analysis essay is not your typical everyday task, but students taking art history and communication will have to write it in their academic journey. For example, you may be asked to analyze an advertisement, painting, or photograph. How do you decipher hidden messages, cultural nuances, or symbolisms within visual media??

Whether you’ve handled a visual analysis essay before or not, this post will give you fresh and helpful ideas to help you write a winning visual analysis essay. It can seem hard at first, but following the right technique will help you complete it quickly and efficiently. Read on to learn how to write a visual analysis.


What is a Visual Analysis Essay?

A visual analysis essay is a type of academic writing in which the writer analyses and interprets visual elements in a piece of visual art, such as a sculpture, image, painting, or other visual objects. The essay goes beyond a mere description of the subject to explore the artistic choices of the creator and the effects of the choices on the audience.

The primary goal of a visual analysis essay is to help the reader understand the elements, techniques, and context of the artwork under study. Here’s a detailed list of the purposes of the visual analysis essays:

  • To critically analyze artwork or any visual work.
  • To discuss the elements of visual display in detail.
  • To unfold interesting facts about the artists and art
  • Assess the effectiveness of the art/image in current times
  • Explain the historical relevance and meaning
  • Evaluate existing literature on the subject

To achieve the goals above, students must incorporate different principles and elements of visual analysis. Also, the language used should be clear, descriptive, and simple.

Elements of Visual Analysis Essay

You can’t write a visual analysis essay without mentioning the visual elements of the subject under review. Below are common elements to consider when writing a visual analysis essay:

  • Composition — Composition refers to what the main figure is, what the other figures are, how they are placed, and what is missing. Composition is a mandatory element to consider in a visual analysis.
  • Elements of design — Usually, artists incorporate various elements of design in their work, such as different sizes, colors, lines, shapes, and other design features.
  • Focal point — To write a visual analysis paper, you need to know what the artists used to grab the audience’s attention. To know the focal point, you must understand the main goal of the piece.
  • Color — Describe the colors used and how they affect the tone and mood of the art.
  • Lines — Consider the actual lines used in the object and how they help grab the audience’s attention towards parts of the art.
  • Texture — This is the smoothness or roughness of the object. Consider if it’s real in two-dimensional or three–dimensional art.
  • Value — In art education, value refers to how and why the artist has used light and dark aspects in specific parts of their work.
  • Shape — What shapes are in the image, and what do they represent ?
  • Form — It refers to how the shadows and lights in a piece of art are used to create illusions and colors.
  • Size — This is about the overall size of the image. Artists choose a particular size so that you can see what they want you to see better.
  • Symbolic elements — If the art represents a certain art history or carries a symbolic meaning, you will need to find it and tell the reader what it means.

Principles of Design in Visual Analysis Essays

To write a winning visual analysis essay, you must also consider the principles of design. The principles help you to identify and explain various aspects of the visual display.

  • Balance — Balance is the distribution of visual elements in the art. Consider if the elements have symmetrical, radial, or asymmetrical balance.
  • Emphasis — It refers to what draws immediate attention when the audience looks at the art.
  • Movement — This refers to the use of objects or symbols repeatedly in a visual display. 
  • Pattern — Here, explain the colors of the image and how they affect the art. Discuss if they are dark or light and their impact on the mood.
  • Proportion — This principle refers to the realistic relationship between objects in the visual and their comparative link to the art.
  • Variety — How has the artist used different elements to influence the audience’s perception of the picture? Explain how different features create a certain mood or meaning.
  • Contrast — It refers to opposing elements in the visual. Describe them and tell how they affect the quality of the picture.
  • Hierarchy — Hierarchy refers to how people viewing the object can process it to different degrees. The hierarchy depends on color, size, and other elements in the images under review.
  • Rhythm — This principle refers to the use of spaces between repetitive elements.  
  • Layout — Layout is the way objects and symbols are placed in the piece of art. Explain it in detail.

How to Write a Stellar Visual Analysis Essay Step by Step

Collect all the information you can.

Before you start writing your visual analysis essay, you need to know what the artwork is about and who created it. This step involves collecting as much useful data as you can for your visual analysis. Questions to consider when gathering information for visual analysis essays include:

  • What does the artwork represent?
  • Who created the piece?
  • When and where was the visual work created
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • Where was the art displayed for the first time?
  • What elements are used?

This first step is the most time-consuming and confusing for many students, taking anywhere from several hours to many days. Yet, missing crucial details can lead to a poor paper that won’t impress your readers. If you don’t know where to begin your research or have trouble crafting a high-quality visual analysis paper, just get high-quality essay writing help with a few clicks typing “ write my essay online ” into the search bar. You can find the most-suitable service, like CustomWritings, which will take care of everything for you and help you complete your paper on time. Visit the site to receive all necessary information and talk to an expert who will help you with your assignment.

Collect all the information you can

Describe the object or subject

In the next step, you need to identify what the art depicts. You must summarize all the elements you can observe in the piece. To know the essential elements to search for, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it show?
  • What story is the artist trying to tell?
  • What characters are in the artwork, and what do they stand for?
  • What’s the primary setting?
  • What mood does it give off?

Perform detailed analysis of visual elements

Next, you will need to consider the design elements and principles discussed above and perform a detailed analysis of each. This step is another time-consuming part of writing a formal visual analysis essay. You may want to check with a professional essay writer before completing this step to speed up the process. Remember, each visual element is unique and can be interpreted differently by different people. So, don’t copy someone else’s analysis.

Perform detailed analysis of visual elements

Develop a thesis statement

Visual analysis essays typically have a thesis statement that represents the main ideas or interpretation you’ll convey in the essay. Ensure you write a thesis for a visual analysis paper that aligns with what you have observed and analyzed in the previous steps. The elements and principles you pick must support your thesis.

Create an outline

There are many aspects to be discussed in a visual analysis essay. The best way to order them is to follow a five-paragraph format for each discussion. A winning essay should contain the following sections:

  • Introduction . This is where you provide background information about the piece and the creator. Include interesting facts that will hook your reader, and highlight the main elements and principles you want to analyze. You will end the paragraph with a thesis statement.   
  • The main body . The body section can have 3 or more paragraphs that explore the artwork in detail. Choose the most significant elements you find during your research and discuss how they support your thesis statement. Present all details logically and explain how they relate to each other. Also, add your opinion about the visual argument made by the artist.
  • Conclusion . In the last section, mention the key points that strengthen your thesis. Also, reflect on the overall impact of the piece. This section must be well-done and not too short or too long.

Create an outline to good visual analysis essay

Write the essay draft

Follow your outline to write a good essay. When writing the draft, focus on the substance instead of wanting to produce a specific style. Review the first draft by identifying weak points and addressing them to create a high-quality paper.

Visual analysis papers must follow citation guidelines used in academic writing. Include citations of any external sources used in the text. Ensure you follow the correct citation style specific to the assignment guidelines e.g., APA or MLA.

Proofread and edit your essay

Once you’re done writing your essay, proofread and edit it for clarity, coherence, and logical flow. Revise it many times to make sure it is error-free. Also, delete any irrelevant details and confirm that you have cited all sources correctly. If you’re not proficient with editing, you can get fresh eyes from a friend or professional editor.

Things to Keep in Mind When Writing a Visual Analysis Essay

Do not make general claims.

Your visual analysis essay can be subject to criticism from the audience, so don’t make your claims sound like the gospel truth. Another student can have a different visual rhetorical analysis in their essay that also stands. The most important thing is to employ observable elements and principles to justify your claims and strengthen them with secondary sources.  

Avoid using excess information

If your goal is to use the elements and principles to cover the word count, it will be hard to prove the main idea. Choose only the strong features that will help you to drive the point home. Excess information can mislead or confuse the reader.

Select a good topic

The topic is the first thing a reader sees, so make it catchy. A good topic is concise, clear, and informative. You don’t have to get the topic right the first time. Edit it as you proceed with writing until you have an engaging and interesting topic.

Write a catchy introduction

A catchy introduction will hook your readers and make them want to read more of your essay. You can hook your readers using interesting hooks, such as a question, statistic, quote, interesting statement, or metaphor.

Employ a strong visual argument

The way you write your visual analysis essay should leave the reader visualizing the image you’re discussing without seeing it. Use words that bring out strong visual imagery because it adds to the reliability and authenticity of your paper.

Understand the central point of your essay

You must identify and describe the focal point of your piece. Identifying the main idea helps you to understand the meaning of the art and the overall conclusion. Also, your interpretation should convey the correct message you want the reader to know.

Follow instructions

To write a successful visual analysis paper , you must follow the instructor’s guidelines. This includes selecting the recommended visual work, following the required essay structure, applying the correct citation format, and adhering to the recommended word count.

Sample Visual Analysis Essay Topics

  • Analyze the symbolism and religious themes in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
  • Analyze the visual storytelling and cinematography in a memorable film scene from a classic movie.
  • What was Pablo’s intention in “Guernica”?
  • Generate a written report on social class shown through art.
  • What is special about Cleo Award-winning ads?
  • Review your favorite movie and analyze the visual arts in it.
  • Examine the use of space and perspective in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity.”
  • Discuss the controversy surrounding the Monalisa painting
  • Impact of ‘“The Last Supper” on religious imagery
  • Who was the audience of “The Night Watch”?

Wrapping Up

Writing a visual analysis essay can be intimidating. However, you now have all the information you need to create an outstanding visual analysis essay. Use our guide to successfully create a paper that appreciates the depth of various forms of art.

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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 Rhetoric: Analyzing Visual Documents

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Definition and Goals of Visual/Rhetorical Analysis

A visual document communicates primarily through images or the interaction of image and text. Just as writers choose their words and organize their thoughts based on any number of rhetorical considerations, the author of such visual documents thinks no differently. Whether assembling an advertisement, laying out a pamphlet, taking a photograph, or marking up a website, designers take great care to ensure that their productions are visually appealing and rhetorically effective.

The goal of any rhetorical analysis is to demonstrate your understanding of how the piece communicates its messages and meanings. One way of looking at this process is that you are breaking the piece down into parts. By understanding how the different parts work, you can offer insights as to the overall persuasive strategies of the piece. Often you are not looking to place a value judgment on the piece, and if there is an implicit or implied argument you may not be ultimately taking a side.

It’s worth asking then: is rhetorical analysis of visual documents any different than this basic description? Yes and no. Sometimes you will encounter an interplay of words and images, which may complicate the number of rhetorical devices in play. Additionally, traditional schooling has emphasized analysis of certain texts for a long time. Many of us are not so accustomed to giving visual documents the same kind of rigorous attention.

We now live in such a visually-dominated culture, that it is possible you have already internalized many of the techniques involved with visual communication (for example, every time you justify the text of your document or use standard margins, you are technically using visual rhetoric).

That said, writing a rhetorical analysis is often a process of merely finding the language to communicate this knowledge. Other times you may find that looking at a document from a rhetorical design perspective will allow you to view it in new and interesting ways.

Like you would in a book report or poetry analysis, you are offering your “reading” of the visual document and should seek to be clear, concise, and informative. Do not only give a re-telling of what the images look like (this would be the equivalent of stopping at plot summary if you were analyzing a novel). Offer your examples, explain the rhetorical strategies at work, and keep your focus on how the document communicates visually.


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  1. PDF Visual Analysis Essay

    Visual Analysis Essay Before writing a Visual Analysis essay, students ought to review and be familiar with the UWC's Toulmin Analysis handout and all the related material in their textbooks. Knowing how to write a general analysis is crucial when applying analysis to a visual subject. As with other types of analysis essays, identifying the main

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    Visual analysis is the basic unit of art historical writing. Sources as varied as art magazines, scholarly books, and undergraduate research papers rely on concise and detailed visual analyses. You may encounter a visual analysis as an assignment itself; or you may write one as part of a longer research paper.

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    Suggested Organization of Visual Analysis Essay. I. Introduction (1 paragraph) - should contain a hook (attention-grabber), set the context for the essay, and contain your thesis statement (described below). a. Thesis statement: State what two images are being analyzed and what your overall claim is about them. The thesis should make a claim ...

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    Most visual analysis papers will require a clear and vivid description of the image along with an analysis of the visual composition of the picture in order to explain how the artist put the image together to create meaning. Although visual analysis essays often focus a lot on the details of

  5. PDF Visual Analysis: Sample Paragraphs by Chrystal Ho

    by Chrystal Ho. This handout annotates sample paragraphs, taken from visual analysis assignments from YHU2267 Modern Art in East Asia. The complete essays can be found in the Writers' Centre, along with the following handouts: Visual Analysis: A Quick Guideand Close Reading Visual Art. Assignment Type: Close Analysis Prompt.

  6. How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay: Examples & Template

    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.

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    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.

  8. PDF Digital Composition—the Visual Analysis of Image

    As you compose your essay, you'll also want to think about what . the rhetorical moves made in this image say about the larger contexts and concerns surrounding it. Requirements: A 3 page visual analysis including o An approved image or more images to work with from the image database, such as google images, Flickr, and Pinterest (A list of ...

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

    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.

  10. PDF Worksheet for Instructors

    For sample worksheets and prompts to support visual analysis at the Johnson, see the PDF handout Johnson Museum Sample Worksheets in the Museum's website section for Faculty and instructors. 2. WALK-THROUGH OF VISUAL ANALYSIS This example uses a painting in the Johnson's collection, currently on view on the first floor. ...

  11. Visual Analysis Essay: Outline, Topics, & Examples

    A visual analysis essay is a common assignment for the students of history, art, and communications. It is quite a unique type of academic essay. Visual analysis essays are where images meet text. These essays aim to analyze the meanings embedded in the artworks, explaining visual concepts in a written form.


    VISUAL ANALYSIS ESSAY SAMPLE TEMPLATE 4 D. Texture 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


    July 11, 2017. The OPTIC Strategy for Visual Analysis is a simple method of rhetorical criticism designed to help with the process of analyzing visuals. OPTIC is an acronym, standing for Overview, Parts, Title, Interrelationship, and Conclusion. By following the five steps of the OPTIC strategy, you can take nearly any visual artifact (like a ...


    WHAT IS A VISUAL ESSAY? A visual essay can be an entirely visual piece or it can combine image and writing. The length of these essays varies (usually between 6 and 12 pages). A visual essay can focus on any social or political aspect of visual communication, it can be a response to the visual work of others, a commentary on visual processes ...

  15. PDF Sample Worksheets and Prompts for Visual Analysis

    These worksheets and prompts for visual analysis can be adapted to suit the learning outcomes of your course. This PDF includes: • SAMPLE WORKSHEET #1: Informal Visual Analysis Activity • SAMPLE WORKSHEET #2: Visual Analysis for a Formal Paper • SAMPLE PROMPTS FOR VISUAL ANALYSIS. SAMPLE WORKSHEET #1: Informal Visual Analysis Activity ...

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    The essay "An Image Is Worth a Thousand Calls to Arms" by Saramanda Swigart analyzes a visual argument. Sample visual argument analysis essay "An Image Is Worth a Thousand Calls to Arms" in PDF with margin notes; Sample visual argument analysis essay "An Image Is Worth a Thousand Calls to Arms" accessible version with notes in parentheses

  17. Learn How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay: An Ultimate Guide for

    A visual analysis essay is a type of academic writing in which the writer analyses and interprets visual elements in a piece of visual art, such as a sculpture, image, painting, or other visual objects. The essay goes beyond a mere description of the subject to explore the artistic choices of the creator and the effects of the choices on the ...

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    visual analysis. A description of what is happening is a fine place to start, since you will need to know how an image fits into the film as a whole. From there, try to list all the visual qualities of the image that ... features sample essays and a section on conducting film research. Bordwell, David and Kristen Thompson. Film Art: An ...

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    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. Conclusion.

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    Art Visual Analysis Essay Example| PDF Example. Sample Paper #1. [Student Name] [Assignment Name] [Date] [Instructor's Name] Details of Renaissance Paintings (Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1482) (1984) by Andy Warhol acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen. Viewed at Arkansas Arts Center Andy Warhol exhibition (October 28, 2008) A Modern Venus.

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    Demonstrate an ability to describe and analyze a visual image accurately, using both sensory details and research to enhance writing. Assignment Resources: -Computer -MLA Handbook, 7th ed. -Approved photograph list: Image 1 Citation: Chitrakar, Navesh. Rice Harvest Festival, Kathmandu. 2014. Photograph. Travel 365: Best of 2014.

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