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Where do I start?

It is best to begin your visual analysis as you would any other assignment by understanding the requirements of the task. What exactly are you being asked to do? How long should your analysis be? When is it due? What other specifications do you need to keep in mind?

Using your research skills of reading, observing and experimenting, start by collecting your raw material. Some students like to commence with reading about their chosen artwork in a critical guide, noting which features or qualities of the artwork are particularly discussed. If you choose to do this, think about why these elements have been highlighted and how they might contribute to the overall success or otherwise of the piece.

Other students prefer to start with their own observation and the questions in Inspections opens in a new window can guide you here. Ideally, do your observation in person rather than by looking in a book or on a website. For the purposes of this exercise, however, let us look at Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930, oil on canvas, 50.8 x 50.8 cm, private collection. Reproduced with permission from Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives.

Mondrian image: Composition with red, yellow and blue, 1930

As you observe this artwork, record your thoughts and responses. Ask yourself questions. For example:

  • What is this object or artwork made of?
  • When and where was it made?
  • Is the work representational? If so, what is represented in the work? How has it been represented?
  • Why might the artist have chosen to represent these ideas in this way?
  • How do the formal elements of line, tone, colour, texture, shape and space work to convey meaning?
  • How are contrast, unity, balance, harmony, symmetry, discord, repetition and proportion used?
  • If it is a mimetic representation, what sense is evoked through the use of focal point(s), perspective, proximity and implied motion?
  • What feeling do you get when you look at this object or artwork?
  • What aspects of the work contribute to this feeling?
  • What meaning do you think the artwork or object carries?
  • Does its title provide any insight into its meaning or purpose?
  • Do you think it succeeds as a work of art or design? Why? Why not?
Answers to these questions and any other thoughts can be recorded in a table download a word document. Once you have observed and read about the artwork, experiment with turning your ideas into a coherent piece of writing.

word outputDownload a printable version of this page (.doc)
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