How to Write a Report on a Piece of Art

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"Art:" It’s a subjective form of creation that defies definition and eludes specificity. Using these tips, however, you’ll trade the dread of a daunting task for a place of respect among those infamous art snobs.

Things You'll Need

  • Artwork
  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Computer

Thinking about Art

  • Contemplate the art, and formulate a thesis or argument.

    “What distinguishes Art History papers from the papers you might be asked to write in other courses? Perhaps the biggest difference creates the biggest challenge: in Art History papers, you must be able to create an argument about what you see. In short, you have to translate the visual into the verbal.” ~ Karen Gocsik, Dartmouth College

    Gocsik accurately articulates the essence of reviewing and critiquing art in her description of how to write an Art History paper. The purpose of an art review is to not only descriptively analyze the piece, but also to posit a thesis and thoroughly support the claim with details from the art’s physical form as well as context.

  • Choose an artwork to analyze.

    Gocsik also makes several recommendations for choosing an analyzing the artwork in preparation for writing, and suggests writing everything down as it comes to mind. Having concrete notes will help organize your thoughts during the actual writing process.

    In choosing an artwork to analyze, she says, be sure to choose one that has not only emotional appeal but also intellectual capacity. Remember to consider all media: painting, sculpture, photography, etc. You want to have something thought provoking to say in your paper, and you can and should evaluate the piece based on the emotions it raises within yourself as well as the formal elements of the piece such as the style, lighting, medium used, colors, point-of-view, composition, and space. Also, consider how the piece is displayed. Hanging and displaying artwork is not merely a haphazard, informal job. It is a careful study and requires specific education as well as critical analysis skills.

    Formal analysis: This type of paper requires studying the concrete physical observations of an artwork (such as the cubist portrayals of living forms in Picasso’s work) and analyzing them in a new way—thinking outside the box in order to understand the piece.

    Sociological essay: This paper examines the artwork within its historical context and considers how a particular time in history influenced both the artist’s life and the artwork. “For example, a sociological essay might explore how Walker Evans' photography of the rural poor affirmed Roosevelt's decision to create the Farm Security Administration” (qtd. in Gocsik).

    Biographical essay: This essay expounds upon the sociological examination of the artist and applies his life and person to the way he or she created art and the influence personality and circumstances had on the piece.

    Iconography (“image writing”) uses symbolism present within the art to grasp a more significant understanding of the work.

    Iconology (“image study”) analyzes a piece through relevant documents and contextual literature. “For example, such an essay might use ancient versions of Greek myths to shed light on pictorial representations of that myth in Archaic Greek art” (qtd. in Gocsik).

    Holding the various options for analysis in mind is helpful when settling down to begin reflecting on the artwork and prewriting.

  • Choose a format for your paper.

    There are several ways to approach the task of writing about art: Gocsik uses Sylvan Barnet’s A Short Guide to Writing about Art to itemize these. The following utilizes these excellent resources in paraphrase.

    Formal analysis: This type of paper requires studying the concrete physical observations of an artwork (such as the cubist portrayals of living forms in Picasso’s work) and analyzing them in a new way—thinking outside the box in order to understand the piece.

    Sociological essay: This paper examines the artwork within its historical context and considers how a particular time in history influenced both the artist’s life and the artwork. “For example, a sociological essay might explore how Walker Evans' photography of the rural poor affirmed Roosevelt's decision to create the Farm Security Administration” (qtd. in Gocsik).

    Biographical essay: This essay expounds upon the sociological examination of the artist and applies his life and person to the way he or she created art and the influence personality and circumstances had on the piece.

    Iconography (“image writing”) uses symbolism present within the art to grasp a more significant understanding of the work.

    Iconology (“image study”) analyzes a piece base through relevant documents and contextual literature. “For example, such an essay might use ancient versions of Greek myths to shed light on pictorial representations of that myth in Archaic Greek art” (qtd in Gocsik).

    Holding the various options for analysis in mind is helpful when settling down to begin reflecting on the artwork and prewriting.

Tips & Warnings

  • These final writing tips will seal your competitive edge on quality art reviewing.
  • 1. Analyze as you describe. Don’t get carried away with tedious lists of physical observation. Break the piece down a little at a time.
  • 2. In writing paragraphs, keep the topic sentences at the end. Although this recommendation is atypical in most writing guides, this style uses your description and analysis to build an argument and arrive at the conclusion. Warrant your claims with solid evidence from your research and analysis.
  • 3. Don’t be afraid to research what others have said about your chosen piece.
  • 4. Despite the personal emphasis this subjective paper naturally derives , avoid using the first person. Maintain a professional third-person standard and make clear, logical arguments.
  • The subjectivity of art and art analysis need not engulf you. This is your chance to thoughtfully and masterfully evaluate whichever artwork you choose, in whichever slant you wish to use.

References

  • Photo Credit Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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