Writing an Essay about a Work of Art
I. Introduction (1 paragraph): Identify the work of art, the artist, medium, date and style
or period. Describe the visual imagery—is there something being depicted in the
work of art…what is it? Introduce your reader to the most significant aspects of this
artwork—both in terms of content/meaning, and the significant visual elements/design
principles that create visual structure.
II. Main Body: The number of paragraphs in the main body depends upon the
length of the paper. You should start from the general and move to more specific observations/comments.
1. The first paragraph of the main body might discuss the subject matter or general approach of the artist. (In a research paper, you might discuss some biographical details that influenced the thinking of the artist.)
2. Subsequent paragraphs should discuss the form of the artwork—composition, space, balance, color, light, texture, shape, line, style, etc.
3. The latter portion of the body might discuss the meaning of the artwork—specifically, how the form of the artwork works with the depicted subject or image to create this content or meaning.
III. Conclusion (1 paragraph): Summarize the major points of your essay—don’t just
repeat the same exact sentences, but try to weave your ideas together to illuminate
what you feel is central to the artwork in terms of its meaning and visual structures.
Discuss your own interpretation of the artwork.
1. Your essay should be organized into paragraphs that are generally between 3 and 5 sentences in length. Each sentence in a given paragraph needs to be related to a focused point or issue that you seek to communicate. The 1rst sentence should introduce the major point of each paragraph.
2. Titles of artworks should be italicized or underlined throughout the essay.
3. After identifying the full name of the artist in your introduction, refer to him/her by last name.
4. You are required to attach a color reproduction (postcard, photograph, internet printout, etc.) of the artwork that you are writing about to your paper.
5. Papers should be double-spaced with margins no greater than 1.2”.
Works Cited: (In Text Citation) Modern Language Association (MLA)
Be sure credit has been given to scholarly sources, and some commentary leads to and/or follows the reason for citing directly quoted material.
As for the Mother and Child depictions of the fifteenth century, Tansey suggests a sort of “school of sweetness and light” for sculptors who competed in interpreting the theme “ever gentler and prettier” (713). Certainly his observation cannot go unnoticed.
Formal titles of paintings and sculpture are italicized, but not the names of buildings.
Underline that which is italicized only if italics are not available on your machine. Do not use quotation marks or italics if the title is descriptive rather than formal. Titles in the textbook are either formal and are printed in italics, or descriptive, using common words for description when no formal title exists.
Works of art cited also include the artist and the date of the work at some point in the essay. Dates only need to be mentioned once. Do not refer to the plate numbers of pictures. In the case of works of art with descriptive and generic titles, the location also is necessary. For example:
A marble bust of a little boy by Desiderio da Settignano, c. 1455-1460, from the National Gallery of Art was critically examined, as well as Fra Angelico’s Annunciation painted in the convent of San Marco in Florence, c. 1440-1455.
Documenting Internet Sources: (In Text Citation)
When citing a web page or web based source, remember to include the author of the website whenever possible. If you have this information as well as the page or section number, include that in the caption. If none of these exists, you might supply a shortened part of the title of the text.
According to an Art Net News article, “Michelangelo
did not paint the Sistine Chapel on his back. The
scaffolding was suspended below the surface of the Sistine ceiling with enough room for the artist to stand.” (Smith)
Works Cited Page: Modern Language Association (MLA)
The following are examples of documents you would reference:
1. Book :
Give both the date of publication and the date of access.
Reilly, Bernard F., Jr., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs: An Illustrated Guide with a Preface by Stephen E. Ostrow. Washington: Library of Congress, 1955. Library of Congress, 24 March 2001 http://www.loc,gov/rr/print/guide.
2. An article in a magazine:
Give both the date of publication and the date of access.
Baird, Sara. “Mom’s a Head Banger.” Salon. 7 Oct. 1977. 20 March 2001
3. A Journal Article:
Kraut, Robert, & Lundmark, Vicki (1998). “Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being?” American Psychologist 53 (1998): 22 March 2001 http://www.apa.org/journals/amp/amp5391017.html
4. Professional Website:
Virtual Computer Library. U of Texas. 22 March 2001
5. Commercial Website page:
Vacation and Last-minute Specials. American Express. 24 March
6. Personal Website:
Barlow, John Perry. Home page. 22 March 2001
7. Scholarly project:
Rhetoric and Composition. 29 Nov. 1996. University of Washington.
24 March 2001. http://eserber.org/rhetoric
8. Article in a subscription database:
Linn, Susan. “Sellouts.” American Prospect. 23 Oct. 2000: 17-20. Periodical Abstracts. University of Texas at El Paso Library, El Paso, TX. 15 March 2001
Questions to ask yourself when revising an essay:
(From Sylvan Barnet’s Short Guide to Writing About Art, inside cover)
Have I studied the object with sufficient care so that I understand what qualities in it caused my initial response, and have I studied it with sufficient care so that I have deepened or otherwise changed that response?
Is the title of my essay at least moderately informative?
Is the opening paragraph interesting, and by its end, have I focused on the topic?
Is the work of art identified as precisely as possible (artist, material, location, date, etc.)?
Do I state my point (thesis) soon enough–perhaps even in the title–and do I keep it in view?
Is the organization reasonable? Does each point lead to the next, without irrelevancies and without anticlimaxes?
Is each paragraph unified by a topic sentence or topic idea?
Are generalizations and assertions about personal responses supported by references to concrete details in the work?
Are the sentences concise, clear, and emphatic? Are needless words and inflated language eliminated?
Is the concluding paragraph conclusive without being repetitive?
Are the dates and quotations accurate? Is credit given to sources? Are photocopies of works of art included and properly captioned?
Are the long quotations really necessary? Can some be shortened (either by ellipses or by summarizing them) without loss?
Has the essay been proofread? Are the spelling and punctuation correct? Is the title of the essay in proper form? Are the titles of works of art–other than architecture–underlined [or italicized]? If there are any footnotes, are they in proper form?