Writing in Art & Art History

Writing for Art & Art History is most often critical analysis. Papers generally follow the traditional format for an analytical essay: intro with thesis, body paragraphs in support of the thesis, and a conclusion. Include a topic sentence for each paragraph and keep your thoughts clear and concise. The writing should state its intention, and then work slowly to prove said intention to the reader. Since this writing is critical analysis, all claims should be supported by evidence.

There are several different types of writing in Art & Art History. Formal analysis is a study of the principles and elements of art. Stylistic analysis is a study of the art object in the context of the stylistic period in which it was created. Patronage analysis explores the effects of a patron on an art object, as well as that object’s personal history. Iconographic analysis is the study of the content of the images and their symbolic associations. Theoretical analysis/criticism looks into social and historical contexts of the piece and their implications for interpretation.

Avoid sweeping generalizations and assuming authority on the topic. For example, instead of saying “the Laocoon is an amazing and awe-inspiring masterpiece in the time period,” say, “the Laocoon’s command of form, use of dramatic movement and strong diagonal form makes it a masterpiece of its time period.” Pay close attention to the definitions of the elements and principles of art. These terms and their definitions can be the building blocks for your critical essay, adding a level of sophistication and understanding when used properly. Be aware of subtle differences in meaning, which can often lead to their misuse (e.g. color and value, or shape and form). Read and reread the definitions before including them in your writing!