How to analyse a painting in your essay
For art students, some assignments are a staple in the curriculum – one such task is critical analysis of a particular artwork. In most cases, you will take a hard look at the artist’s work, break it down into elements, and discuss how these elements, when used together, help the artist deliver their message. When you learn about different artists’ compositional devices (features making up the art), you are better placed to explore which ones you can adapt and work with when making your own art.
When performing an artwork analysis, the teacher expects students to determine the artists’ compositional devices, and explain their choices and why they may have made them. An analysis means doing more than giving your opinion on the artwork or explaining the surface-level depiction of the art. It means understanding the artists: figuring out what may have motivated them to do the work and what they were trying to communicate. A critical analysis involves a lot of deep-diving, so being helped with writing a paper by DoMyEssay might be a good option.
But first, here are some tips for when you have a painting to study:
Do a surface-level or superficial analysis
This involves looking at the picture from a literal perspective, as an untrained eye would. What is depicted in the image? What colours does the artist use? Are there elements in the picture that you can recognise, like people, architecture or landscapes? Do these elements appear normal or altered?
Understand the artist
Once you’ve understood the superficial aspects of the piece, do some research into the artist and their work, and ask some crucial questions to help you understand the context. Here are some possibilities to explore:
What are some known facts about the piece? Who painted it, when and where?
Who was the artist and what was their artistic identity? You can look at other works by the artist to see if they have an overarching theme.
Explore unknown facts about the artist.
Try to understand the history behind the artwork. When it was painted, was it similar to other art being made at the time, or was it a novel idea? What is unusual about the painting? Is it the subject? Is it the art form?
Explore any conflict about the artwork. Some paintings are surrounded by controversy – why did people find the art piece challenging? What stood out?
What do you think the meaning of the artwork may be?
Now that you have a basic appreciation of the work and the background, it’s time to start asking critical questions to help you gain a deeper understanding of the piece. Here are some aspects to consider:
Is the artwork in an established genre?
The Last Supper, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, is generally categorised in the religious genre; on the other hand, some people interpret Diego Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads as a political mural. In some cases, the painting may not be communicating anything in particular, for example, it may just depict a specific landscape.
Does the work involve elements from other artists?
Sometimes, a piece may appropriate the work of other artists. It’s important to consider possible explanations for artists creating in this way, and also ask questions such as whether their appropriation affected the original artist in any way. Why do you think the artist chose to depict another person’s work within their own?
What responses does the artwork evoke?
Some paintings can encourage thought and contemplation, while others may bring out intense emotions in those witnessing the piece. When you look at the painting at hand, what response do you think the artist wanted? Did they succeed?
Are there symbols in the piece?
Sometimes the painter will include symbols and elements that stand for something else. Are there objects or images in the painting that you think are symbolic? Why do you think the artist used them?
Is the painting a standalone piece, or is it part of a set of images?
If the painting is standalone, the artist may have expected that the painting would portray a complete message by itself. However, if it is part of a set of images, you may need to look at all the paintings in that set to get the whole message.
Does the name of the piece have any effect?
Sometimes, you will get a different impression from an image before and after discovering its name. Do you think the painting’s title had any effect on how you interpreted the piece?
As you have seen, there are many aspects to be understood, questioned and interpreted when analysing art. Learning how to study other artists’ work critically will make you better placed to explore your own work and that of your peers. It’s an essential part of gaining greater understanding into your process, whether you are communicating effectively and how your work can be better.
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