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How do I write my visual analysis?

At university you are expected to engage with the language and concepts of analysis. This may seem difficult or intimidating at first, but developing a critical vocabulary and an awareness of visual history and theory is part of becoming an artist or designer. Pay close attention to the terms, concepts and theories discussed by your lecturers and tutors in class, and keep a glossary of new words. This is an excellent way to expand your vocabulary and gain an understanding of how these words and ideas can be used.

Writing a visual analysis is partly a technical activity, but it is also a reflective and subjective one where your personal responses are central. Your analysis should therefore integrate the descriptive language of formal observation with phrases which are more speculative. The language of your visual analysis should be simple and precise. When describing the object or artwork, use the present tense to reveal the work from the viewer's perspective. The object or artwork itself is often the subject of the description, rather than the artist or designer. For example:

The pot shows…

The painting demonstrates…

Your description of the technique involves explaining and detailing the means by which the designer or artist has achieved a particular effect. Use evidence or examples from the work to demonstrate what you mean. Be evocative. Think about how you would describe the artwork or design to someone who has not seen it. Which features are most intriguing? How do they contribute to the overall effect? How does it make you feel?

Thick paint has been applied with rough brushstrokes creating an interesting, dynamic texture.

These descriptions of the object and technique form the basis of your interpretation of the meaning or intention of the work. Often, you are only guessing at the artist or designer's meaning and this uncertainty can be conveyed through verbs like evokes, creates, appears and suggests which reflect thinking or guesswork. Other conditional forms, such as may, could and seems can also be used.

This choice of subject seems intended to…

The artist appears to be implying…

These words may also be used in your evaluation of the work. Here, you should feel free to express your opinion but remember to support your views with evidence.

Overall, this work conveys a strong sense of joy, especially through the use of vibrant, exciting colours which left me feeling elated long after I left the gallery.

A good visual analysis can stimulate both personal and artistic insight. You can learn more about the pleasures of writing visual analyses by reading Associate Professor Robert Nelson's Reflections on analysis.

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