How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay - Expert Advice

Last Updated: 27 March 2023

You are probably wondering , what is a visual analysis essay? To begin with, a visual analysis essay is not a normal essay. Instead, it is a common essay written for art history, English, or History courses. Its main aim is to describe an image or a piece of art and discuss its composition and analyze its meaning to the artist and audience. Visual analysis essays also decipher the historical relevance and meaning and evaluate the effectiveness of the image/art in the current times.

It is paramount that a student understands how to write a visual analysis essay. The skill helps in handling essays requiring students to analyze advertisements, artworks, paintings, sculptures, and architectural buildings. Sometimes, it is just about a detailed analysis of a photograph or a picture.

Even though it sounds intimidating, composing a good visual analysis research paper is not difficult. In this article, we explore some of the tips and tricks for you to ace your visual analysis essays.

Important Steps when Writing Visual Analysis Essays

  1. Begin by choosing a controversial and argumentative topic. Succeeding in this step determines your success in the preceding sections. If you have been given artwork or painting, come up with an eye-catching title for your essay.
  2. When writing the introduction to the visual essay, begin from broad to narrow. You can always use elements of descriptive essays when describing the artwork of choice. Focus on the shape, objects, colors, people, features, and people within the artwork.
  3. Respond to the visual by exploring your thoughts and feelings when you interact with the chosen artwork.
  4. Consider the key elements of the artwork and what meaning they might have to the overall makeup. This makes your body paragraphs. If you are working on a shorter essay, stick to the five-paragraph format. This means choosing three core elements and discussing each in its own paragraph.
  5. Give an interpretation of the artwork in the body paragraphs. When interpreting, you should consider the meanings in the past and now. If there are modern art movements, relate the art to their philosophies.
  6. Connect the analysis to theory as you cleverly give your opinion.
  7. Write an eye-catching conclusion to your visual analysis essay. You should restate the thesis and highlight some interesting facts on the artwork. If possible, compare the artwork to other artworks done by the same author or one with the same school of thought.
  8. Edit and proofread the essay. Whenever you are writing an essay about paintings, sculptures, photography, architecture, and other visuals, your presentation of facts should be devoid of any grammar mistakes. You can always seek the help of professional editors.

Outline of a Visual Analysis Paper


Like any other academic essay, visual analysis essays have an introduction, body, and conclusion.

When writing an introduction to the visual analysis essay:


The body of the visual analysis essay should support and develop the thesis. Therefore, begin by observing the artwork and then describe it both superficially and critically. Consider the texture, color, shape, space, composition, visual stability, and any other visual attributes.


The conclusion should reflect your thesis statement. You can compare the reception of the painting by the antagonists and protagonists. Besides, you can also make a brief comparison to other artworks of the same genre. Finally, you can close the essay by exploring how the artwork and the artist contributed to society through art.

Related Reading: Restating a thesis in the conclusion.

Elements of Focus during Visual Analysis


It would help if you explored various aspects that constitute the artwork or image. Look at the spatial placement of features in the artwork or image. Your focus should be on the main figure and how it is placed in relation to other accompanying figures.  Remember, composition creates meaning and elicits emotional reactions on the audience.



Color is a very important aspect when writing a visual argument paper or a visual arts response paper. Different colors and their reactions create a different emotional response. When analyzing the color of an image, a building, or an artwork, be sure to explain what it would mean or portend critically. Some images can be monochromatic. However, there are still some that use complementary colors for good contrast. Colors also create meaning by affecting mood, symbolism, and reception.


Value refers to the degree of dark and light in different parts of an image, painting, or a picture. Now, it brings to life the idea of balance, which is how different visual elements are distributed for stability or instability.

It also defines the emphasis or what part of the image catches your attention.


When analyzing paintings or sculpture, texture refers to the roughness of the artwork. Mostly, it also creates the meaning of the artwork by linking its aspects to create a perceived reality.

It focuses mostly on the major qualities of the surface. It could be transparent, translucent, rough, smooth, or reflective. Overall, it contributes to the composition.


The form reflects the existence of a 3-D space, which entails interaction of light, and three-dimensional space (length, width, and height).

IT narrows down to how the artists have used black and white to create meaning, be it 2D or 3D.

Form influences the close to the realness of the painting or sculpture.


When creating artwork, artists use different shapes that also have and develop the meaning of the artwork. Effective use of shape brings into the equation attention to details.


When writing a visual analysis paper, your attention should be drawn to the symbolic elements included deliberately by the artists. Surprisingly, some of these symbols are mistakes incorporated as part of the artwork but which have meaning.


When drawing, artists use different lines to bring a particular idea to life. Mostly, lines are basic design elements used to respond to the perception of the audience.  Look at the bold, short, long, dotted, or thick lines.

Focal Point

This is common when analyzing a painting. It is the part that attracts the attention of the audience on first sight. It also conveys the core message of the artist. When discussing the themes, it is inevitable to discuss the focal point.

Checklist when Writing Visual Arts Response Papers

As we indicated before, writing an art paper requires critical thinking, creativity, and reasoning skills. Although visual analysis essays stress more on describing the image, they also need to extend to cover the meaning of the images/artwork. Here are some of the few aspects to consider:

  1. Look at the types of claims that the image or artwork makes. This is more like the statement of the art. It could be a fact, definition, cause and effect, policy, or value claim.
  2. Focus more on the visual composition of the image. Here, look at the composing elements and how they relate to the claims above. Look at the balance, color, key figures, symbols, layout, themes, exclusions, and other aspects.
  3. What is the genre of the image? Is it fine art, filmography, advertisement, pamphlet, poster, graphic image, vector image, illustration, or caricature?
  4. Consider the text written or the caption of the artist.
  5. Look at the logos, pathos, and ethos. This means incorporating an analysis essay aspect of appeals.
  6. Explore the points that the artwork puts through. Is it educative, cultural, controversial, or symbolic?
  7. Finally, check at what story it puts forth. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then artistic works are worth a lot more.

What to Cover in a Sculpture Analysis Essay

When learning how to write a visual analysis essay, you will realize that sometimes it is a sculpture. If so, here are the tips and tricks.

Parts to consider when writing a Painting Analysis Paper

There comes a time when it is a painting that is the epicenter of your visual analysis term paper. Here are a few areas that you can pull strings on:

What areas are of importance when analyzing an architectural work?

Studying arts, English or History becomes interesting when you are tasked with architectural work analysis essays. Even though the technicality surrounding the name seems hard, this is a type of essay you will enjoy right from the start through the end. However, here are some ideas to incorporate in building analysis essays:

How do you Cite Images and Artwork in Visual Analysis Essays

Professors assessing visual analysis essays are always a keen lot. Now, to avoid plagiarism and its consequences, it is best that you cite the images or artwork.

When you include the image or artwork in your paper, be sure to follow the standard MLA or APA guidelines. Ensure the name of the artist, date of creation, place of creation, and the medium used is well stated in the italicized title.

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