DEFINING VISUAL ANALYSIS ESSAY: TIPS AND EXAMPLES
When getting a task to write a visual analysis essay for the first time, the very term is enough to get an inexperienced writer confused. So, what is a visual analysis essay? Putting it briefly, it is exactly what one may think just reading the term: it is an essay where you analyze a visual piece. Such essays are usually assigned in English, History, or Art History classes. You discuss the visual piece, as well as the tools and technique(s) that the author used to create it. You also have to try and reveal the message that the author put into this work at the time of creation, how well it worked then, and how well it holds up today.
Visual analysis essays can be quite diverse in terms of their purpose and focus of interest. For example, you can talk about Botticelli’s art and explain how it works as a prism that allows us to look into the historical events which served as its context. Alternatively, you can take a look at some of the more modern pieces, like Jeff Soto’s “Last Voyage” and try to see in which interior this painting will work best to please the eye.
UNDERSTANDING THE MEANING BEHIND A VISUAL OBJECT
The only thing that makes any visual piece (basically, anything you see) worth discussing and analyzing in an essay is the meaning that you, as an observer, see or are supposed to see in it. Sometimes, this meaning is rather subtle, and one must make an effort to have it revealed – as in most works of art. In other instances, this meaning is straightforward because the author intends to get a particular message through to the audience without requiring too much effort from the latter – for example, an advertisement. So, how exactly does one analyze a visual object.
There are several key elements to consider here:
- The goal that the author puts in his or her work
- The audience at whom the work is primarily aimed
- The composition elements of the visual object in question
- The historical, social, and other background details of the subject’s creation and original presentation to the audience
OUTLINING YOUR VISUAL ANALYSIS ESSAY
Just as any other essay, a visual analysis essay will begin with an introduction. The introduction here has the same purpose as in any other type of essay
– to present your subject to your reader and to get them interested. There are several most common ways to achieve this:
- To describe the visual piece in question in such an expressive language that your reader has a vivid picture of it
- To give a brief historical overview of the creation of the visual piece in question
- To talk about the motivation that drove the author into creating such a piece
- To mention some exciting trivia about the piece
- To make a claim that this particular work was (or still is) misunderstood and promise to explain to your reader the true meaning behind the visual piece in question
Mind that these methods are not mutually exclusive. Your visual analysis essay will be your original piece of work, you are the author, and you are welcome to combine two or more of these methods in the introduction to your essay.
The introduction also has to include the thesis statement which presents the main idea of your essay. Here, your thesis statement will be the claim you make regarding the meaning of the visual piece under analysis.
The introduction is always followed by the main body paragraphs. Each of the main body paragraphs is devoted to a particular point of discussion. In this case, the points of discussion may be the key elements of visual analysis that we have discussed earlier in this article. Usually, the sufficient number of main body paragraphs in an essay is three, but you may want to specify it with your instructor to be perfectly sure.
Concluding your visual analysis essay, you can always stay on the safe side and use framing technique – just restate your introduction. If you have written many essays throughout your years as a student, you know that this is the safest and most obvious way to conclude pretty much any essay you write. In this case, you will also probably think that this approach is boring. With visual analysis essays, there are several ways to make your conclusion more creative and exciting both to read and to write. Here is what you can do:
- Compare your first reaction to the visual piece in question to the one that its original audience had
- Try to imagine what the author would have to say about how the piece is perceived today
- Put the piece in the context of the variety of other similar artworks and define its place in this context
- Focus on the elements that reveal this piece as one belonging to this particular author
DESCRIBING A VISUAL PIECE
One may think that a proper education in art is necessary for putting together a visual analysis essay worth reading and that one cannot possibly analyze a visual piece properly without such an education. This is not entirely true. The truth is that, unless you are blind, you are surrounded by visual pieces all the time throughout your life – so, you should have a thing or two to say about how they look and why. Moreover – once again – you are the writer here, and this is your writing. So, if you were assigned to write a visual analysis essay, it means that your instructor is particularly interested in what you have to say about a visual object, how you perceive it through the lens of your experience, skills, traits, etc.
So, it is wrong to feel unfit or unprepared to write a visual analysis essay just because you are not entirely familiar with all the "artsy" terminology. Even if you are, there are surely some tricks that you have noticed creators of visual pieces (artists, advertisers, designers, etc.) use to achieve a particular effect on the audience. For instance, how they make the objects that they want you to notice first bigger and lighter, and how they minimize and fade out the rest of the picture. You are also sure to have some ideas about what colors can symbolize what objects or emotions – for example, how red color is associated with blood and symbolizes danger, how blue associates with the sea and symbolizes peace and tranquility, how green associates with nature, etc.
If you want to create a winning description of a visual piece, you need to make it as vivid as possible. To achieve this, you need to mention some details that one does not pay too much attention to at a glance, but yet they are so meaningful that you can claim that they create the meaning of the piece. To notice these details, you need to take a scrupulous look at the visual piece that you are analyzing and look for them specifically.
Curiously, many experts who specialize in analyzing visual pieces agree that it is best to put away the research about the history of the visual piece, its context, the author’s intentions, etc. It is your visual analysis essay, so your perception of the visual piece should be the focus of your writing. In other words, you should trust your eyes about what you have to write in your essay, rather than anything that other people may have to say on the subject. Of course, it may be beneficial to look for prompts and ideas in other people’s opinions and studies, but not before you take a scrupulous look at your subject yourself and come up with some conclusions of your own.
SCRUTINIZING A VISUAL PIECE
The meaningful details that make up the overall meaning of the visual piece that we have talked about earlier in this article may be somewhat challenging to spot with an untrained eye. One needs to know where to look for them. So, here are some prompts and brief descriptions of the design elements of any visual piece that one needs to consider when analyzing it:
- Composition. Just as one may guess, it is how the author has put the visual piece together. It has to do with the placement of the things in relation to one another. In other words, when looking at the composition of a visual piece, you pay attention to the central figure in the picture, to its relation to other figures, as well as to what might have been on the picture but was (deliberately) left out by the author. This helps you understand what the author wanted you to see on the picture, thus installing a particular meaning, as well as mood and tone, in it. One may say that the focal point of the picture is the focal point of the author’s message.
- ]Colors. The visual piece under your analysis may be monochromatic (using only one color). If it is not, then you will have to keep the color wheel in mind (if you are not familiar with what it is, it is crucial for your visual analysis essay that you look it up). If the colors used (or dominating) on the picture are placed opposite on the color wheel, then you know that this is complementary coloring. Generally, you have to pay close attention and notice all the colors that you can see in the given visual piece, including black and white. You should also ponder about how the used colors contribute to the mood and tone of the visual piece. If you think long enough, you may also notice whether or not the colors and the associations they give you are obvious and predictable. An example of how a particular color can be used in a picture is the highlighting or outlining a particular object in a particular mood.