How to Write an Art Research Paper


Writing an art research paper represents a challenge because art has a subjective quality to it. One of the central issues in aesthetic theory is the relationship between the subjective and objective qualities of art. The German philosophy Immanual Kant argued that to call an object "beautiful" is not the same as simply saying the art is "beautiful to me." A research paper should defend a point of view with well thought out arguments.

  • Select a topic that interests you and that you want to explore. Writing a research paper provides the opportunity to develop your knowledge and expertise in a certain area. For example, you may be interested in a particular artist such as Picasso, a particular art movement such as German Expressionism, a particular artistic style such as the evolution of portrait painting, a historical phenomenon such as the development of artistic autonomy or a particular issue in aesthetic theory.

  • Research the topic at libraries, online art sources, and art galleries and museums. Develop your ideas by reading what scholars and artists have written about the topic or issue. Art journals are often devoted to discussion and debate about various topics in art. Seeing the actual artworks in person is the best way to form definitive insights into the nature of the artwork. Aesthetic theory is a branch of philosophy. Plato and Aristotle initiated the discussion about aesthetic theory by asking and answering questions about what art is.

  • Write down notes, thoughts and ideas as you research the topic. Pay particular attention to how art is described and discussed. Writing about an art object is difficult because it requires using language to describe a visual experience that is subjective and personal in nature. Art critics, historians, scholars and philosophers are usually interested in making objective claims about the artist or art object in question. An art research paper, in a similar way, needs to be objective as well. Avoid simply discussing your own subjective tastes and viewpoints.

  • Select a framework for the paper. Art critics and historians usually focus on a certain aspect of the artist or the art object. The focus may be on the formal characteristics of the artwork, the sociological background and influences on the artist and the artwork, the psychological biography of the artist, or the images and symbols used in the artwork.

  • Write a rough draft of the paper. Writing the rough draft helps to sharpen and clarify your ideas. Let the draft sit for a least a day. Critically reread the draft. Pay attention to the draft's strengths and weaknesses. The argument should be persuasive, convincing and thorough.

  • Write a final draft of the paper based on your critical notes and assessments of the rough draft. Start the paper with a strong thesis statement in the introduction. Conclude the paper with a summary of the main points of the paper.

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