MADA: Art History essay

Essay writing: History and theory of art, design and architecture

As a student in Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA) you will be expected to write essays about artworks, design objects and the built environment. Essay writing in MADA is distinctive from other faculties in its emphasis on these visual materials and the creative practices of making them. Essay assignments commonly involve responding to a question, and comparing and contrasting two or three visual examples. In responding to the essay question you will often be required to discuss the implications of your visual analysis for a given context, for example, ‘how modernist approaches have influenced contemporary architecture’.

In preparing an essay, you will consider the essay question, select visual material and apply and interpret visual and written ideas. This process will enable you to present a position on the topic. Your position is your answer to the assessment question. You support your position with evidence from your selection of visual examples and the scholarly text sources you apply.

This resource will focus on the process of preparing an essay for MADA. It includes:

  • Getting started: Understanding and refining the question.
  • Visual material.
  • Selecting and combining visual material.
  • Applying ideas in scholarly text sources to the visual examples.

For help with meeting general essay expectations, such as structure, refer to the essay writing resource.

Getting started: Understanding and refining the question

Unit resources outline instructions and may offer a choice of essay questions. These essay questions reflect the topics covered in the unit.

Essay Question

Click the highlighted terms to understand what the essay question asks you to do.

To successfully complete this, you will need to define the key terms. In this example, defining “modernist architecture” is important to recognising its legacy and influence on contemporary architecture. Modernism is a style. That means it refers to a set of characteristics that group examples – buildings – together. Characteristics can be based on materials, production methods, appearances, or particular times and places.

You will then need to undertake research to understand the relevant styles and characteristics. A good place to start is the unit’s weekly readings as they include scholarly text sources that explain why modernist architecture is distinctive. You will apply this research to the visual examples you select.

The examples you select and the texts you read will determine how you engage with the characteristics of modernist architecture. Your process of finding and selecting examples and scholarly text sources will focus your research, and in many cases, narrow the research question in your own way. Consider your choice of example buildings as you focus your research.


Essay questions like this one about modernist architecture may seem open ended. However, you can refine the question to suit your interests.

Open-ended essay questions give you creative flexibility. You could answer this question by writing about diverse topics: pioneering women architects like Eileen Gray, progressive ideas at the Bauhaus, glass and steel construction, and so on. Open-ended essay questions also encourage you to explore your own original ideas.

Navigating this resource

You can navigate the pages in this resource by either clicking on the page links here or by clicking the navigation buttons below.