Accessible version | Skip to content | Change your text size

Table of contents

Previous pageNext page

The language of a visual analysis

Let's now focus more closely on the elements of the visual analysis and how they are used. Read through the text again then complete the exercises below.

Somehow, the red does not look quite as red as it might.[1] There is no shortage of red in this painting and you would expect that it would dominate.[2] It occupies over half of the field and the only colours counterbalancing it are the relatively minor squares of blue and yellow, plus bands of white and thick black lines.[3]

It is a consequence of the neutral elements of black and white balancing the positive element of the red that means these elements are not allowed to have a neutral function.[4] They have a certain agency induced upon them by virtue of answering the primary colours.[5] They are activated by the structure of the painting, which is curiously dynamic in its push and pull of presence.[6] This could explain why the red is not as overpowering as it might otherwise be.[7]

The challenge of this painting, as of all abstract painting, is what to say about it.[8] To describe the colours as being activated suggests a kind of formalism or invokes the formalesque, which involves observing how the work is harmonious, but does not consider how it reveals meanings.[9] The mood evoked by this painting and the careful placement of colour suggests, however, that it has a meaning deeper than mere formalism would allow.[10]

There is no figure in this painting to act as a surrogate for the viewer, yet the work seems nevertheless to be about the sublime and the uncontactable.[11] The large red zone, which is suspended by borders that are in turn suspended around the edges, invites unmediated contemplation of the essential.[12] It is an absolute or elemental component of visuality, namely the colour red.[13] You cannot get more basic than that, other than the fellow primary colours, yellow and blue.[14] Add the two primary tones of black and white and you have an allegory of essence (or being) in minimal physical form.[15]

  1. Which sentences provide a description of the painting?
  2. Your answer:



  3. Which sentences describe the technique(s) used to create it?
  4. Your answer:



  5. Which sentences offer an interpretation of the meaning or intention of the painting?
  6. Your answer:



  7. Which sentences include an evaluation of the work?
  8. Your answer:

More advice on developing your academic skills in Art & Design.

word outputDownload a printable version of this page (.doc)
Problems? Questions? Comments? Please provide us feedback.