How to Write a Visual Analysis Essay?

Visual arts are part of the numerous courses offered in colleges and universities. As a visual arts student, you might encounter many assignments as part of the evaluation process. Visual analysis essays are among the numerous academic papers you must submit as part of the course assessment. 

Crafting a visual analysis essay is an interesting but challenging paper for most students. Not all learners understand how to conduct a proper visual analysis and later write a good essay. Besides, you must familiarize yourself with design elements and principles to produce exceptional work. Some of the elements include line, size, shape, and color, while principles include contrast, texture, balance, and proportion. 

You will be in a better position to offer a comprehensive visual description if you understand the design concepts. Moreover, your audience will be able to create a mental picture when reading your essay, making it more effective. This article helps you learn how to write a visual analysis essay and provides insightful tips to guide your writing process. 

Definition of a Visual Analysis

What is a visual analysis essay? It is imperative to understand what this assignment is and what it entails before we proceed. It is a type of academic paper that analyzes and interprets particular images or visual displays, such as a painting, photograph, advertisement, or any other illustrative artifact. You need to analyze an image or painting and offer its detailed description. Identify the design concepts and explain how they align with the image’s appearance. Unlike the standard essay, this one should reflect your understanding of the principles and elements of design. 

Generally, a visual analysis essay explores how the visual elements add to the final artwork and the hidden message behind it. As a writer, you should scrutinize aspects such as symbolism, color combinations, and composition to reveal the artist’s intentions. Conducting a visual analysis of an artwork is more than writing descriptions and offering interpretations. These essays usually sharpen your analytical skills and deepen your understanding of visual arts. 

The Purpose of Analyzing Visual Analysis Essays

Visual analysis is an important academic exercise that enhances your comprehension of visual arts. You will learn how a painting or a photograph functions and communicates with the audience. Does it create a specific mood, elicit emotions, or generate a particular mood? Visual analysis can be used to interpret numerous visual materials. 

The main purpose of analyzing visuals is to identify and explore the features of a given material and draw out the relationship in which it was produced in its current form. After that, you need to develop a detailed argument according to your visual analysis findings. 

What Is Formal Analysis: Art History

Formal analysis is a vital skill in the history of art. It is a basic ability you can use to develop clear observations. When you are conducting a formal analysis, you are identifying the visible features of an image or particular artwork. These include general elements like shape, color, or line. You must be a keen observer to uncover different elements in the image. Keep in mind that artworks communicate certain messages, emotions, or moods. Thus, a formal analysis seeks to answer how the visual display or image makes you feel or see, and it’s mostly a multi-layer product with multiple meanings. 

How to Conduct Visual Analysis: What to Look For

Whether you are an art or journalism student, crafting this essay can be quite challenging. Not everyone has a keen eye for detail, which can compromise your performance. Fortunately, you can learn the fundamental principles of design and apply this knowledge to different visual materials, cutting across photography or painting. 

So, what do you look for when conducting a visual analysis? Let us discuss a painting since it is a common artwork when it comes to formal analysis. 

Here are a few aspects to consider when you want to conduct a visual analysis:

  • The painter. You should reveal the identity of the painter and their era of art. Is the painter a classical or modern artist? It will help you to select the right analysis approach. 
  • Painter’s purpose. Find out the purpose of the painter’s creation of the artwork. Was it for fun or commercial purposes? 
  • Target audience. Find out the target audience of the painting through the painter’s intentions. 
  • Historical context. Before you analyze and write, ensure you research the painter or artist thoroughly. Read about the different artistic movements to determine the direction of your analysis. 

To compose an effective essay, you can familiarize yourself with these points and get the right information and context to use in your work. 

Visual Analysis Essay Structure: How to Write a Visual Analysis Paper

Writing a visual analysis essay might seem simple initially, but it requires you to have an in-depth understanding of the steps involved. A majority of students pursuing Art, Design, or Media courses find it challenging to craft this paper. To ace the assignment, follow the steps below to guide your composition: 

Step 1: Select Your Visual Material 

Choosing your visual subject is a crucial phase when you are composing an analysis essay. Sometimes, you get to decide on the image, painting, or artwork that captures your interest. For instance, you can pick a modern landscape image or a Van Gough painting, depending on what you like. Consider what captures your eye in the artwork, whether it is the beautiful scenes in the painting or the static poses. 

Step 2: Observe and Describe the Visual Display

This step entails observing what you see in the visual image. If you choose the Monalisa painting, you should be keen and look at the smallest details. You can describe the mystery smile and how it makes you feel. Talk about the color combination and the emotions invoked. In addition, you can also describe the texture of the image drawn out by the paint strokes. Ensure you are familiar with the concepts of design elements and principles to make your description more elaborate. 

Step 3: Identify the Context of the Artwork

Proceed to identify the context of the image you chose in the first step. Keep in mind that you are analyzing the artwork and uncovering subtle clues about it. Think about the artist; it could be a Van Gough piece. What was happening in the 19th century that inspired his art pieces? You should research and find out what life was like in that particular decade, as well as the people’s feelings and worries. This phase will help you conduct a deeper analysis to understand the creation of the artwork and its meaning. 

Step 4: Write a Thesis Statement 

Now that you have your visual context, you can develop a strong thesis statement that will guide your entire analysis. For example, if you are analyzing Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ painting, your thesis statement can focus on his battle with depression at that point in his life and how he still had hope for the future. 

Example: “I am going to discuss how the painting depicts darkness and the evidence of hope through the shining stars in the sky. 

Your thesis statement is the foundation of your analysis essay. It guides you through the writing process and allows the readers to know the direction of your analysis. 

Step 5: Outline Your Essay

Outlining your research work is critical since it will help you organize your thoughts. A visual analysis essay outline will help you know how to categorize data for your essay. Having an outline is like breaking your entire paper into smaller sections that you can easily explain. For instance, you can cover the design principles, the artistic message, and the context in different paragraphs. An outline will help you track your thoughts and make your work organized and clear.

Step 6: Interpret and Analyze your Essay 

This phase entails the interpretation and analysis of the visual material. Find out why the artist used the details in the image. It could be the shining stars, the heavy paint strokes, or the symbolism in the Van Gogh art piece. Take time to scrutinize the work and find the meaning behind the design principles and elements. 

For instance, in ‘Starry Night,’ Van Gogh might be saying that despite the tragedy in his life, he could still find something beautiful – a light that illuminates his darkness. Your work in this stage is to analyze the artwork and find meaning. 

Step 7: Discuss Counterarguments 

Since you are composing a visual rhetorical analysis essay, you should address different opinions. Counterarguments are crucial since you are trying to explore alternative angles. Leaning on one perspective will make your readers feel constrained in one opinion. Thus, addressing counterarguments will strengthen your academic paper and reveal your analytical thinking skills. 

Step 8: Cite Your Research Sources

After finalizing your work, remember to cite your sources appropriately. Proper citations are essential in academic writing since your work should be original. 

If you want to learn how to start a visual analysis essay, follow the detailed steps above. Understanding a visual analysis essay structure is vital since it will guide your entire writing process. 

However, you can always seek professional assistance from expert writers who are ready to help you craft exceptional essays. Learn how to produce comprehensive analyses of different visual materials. No matter how complex your visual analysis essay topics are, you can rely on us.

Learn From Visual Analysis Examples

You can search online and find numerous visual analysis essay examples as reference points for your work. 

Below is an example of an analysis essay of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting – The Starry Night 

Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch painter born in March 1853 and died in July 1890. He was a post-impressionist artist who was famous in the 19th century. Van Gogh’s popularity was based on his modern paintings, which  influenced expressionism in art. He used striking colors, strong brushwork, and captivating contours to express his art. Despite a poor life and suffering rejection from the woman he loved, his paintings were a force to reckon with. He had a severe breakdown and was admitted into an asylum where he produced one of his greatest paintings – The Starry Night. It was created in 1889 and is still revered to date. It consists of a landscape with a sky, bright yellow stars and a moon, with trees at the bottom. Van Gogh uses vibrant colors and strokes to express and bring out a unique style of composition. He produced the painting in a lunatic asylum, and it depicts the mystery of the night as well as his own life. 


Visual essays are mandatory assignments you must encounter as an arts or communications student. Learning the tips and tricks to analyze art pieces is a vital skill that will help you both in school and your career in the field of communications or art. 

Before you analyze any visual material, you must research extensively and get exhaustive information about the artist, their life, and the historical era they belong to. Scrutinizing an artwork is not only fun but a deeper exercise that requires attention and focus. Painters love to hide intricate details behind their work, and that is why famous paintings still remain a mystery to date. Hence, by mastering visual analysis skills, you will develop your esthetic taste and appreciation of art.

Share this story:
Post author
Adam Stone
Religion & Theology
Meet Adam Stone, a seasoned writer at with expertise in crafting top-notch academic papers. Get quality essays, research papers, and more from a trusted professional.
15% discount
on your first order
Order with discount