Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Art History

Note Taking and First Analysis


Watch the video below for an idea of what goes into a visual analysis before you visit the artwork.  The first writing you'll do about the artwork is note-taking while you are in the presence of the artwork, and shortly after viewing it.  Take notes that will inform your visual or formal analysis.  Spend time looking in great detail at composition, color, texture, line, shapes, contrast, technique.  You may want to write a rough draft of your visual analysis before moving forward to do research.  After doing research, you can make connections between your visual analysis and the rest of your paper or presentation.

Sketches and photos

Include rough sketches in your notes.  You don't need to be able to draw well to do this.  If you are examining a small section of the painting, do a rough outline of the elements you are analyzing next to your notes.  If permitted, take pictures of the artwork from close up and far away.  For 3 dimensional artwork, get a variety of angles.  Take photos of both details and the full artwork.  These will be important references for you when writing later on. 

Visual (Formal) Analysis

A visual or formal analysis examines an artwork’s formal elements that we can see such as scale, composition, space, form, line, color, light, tone, texture, and pattern. The purpose of a visual analysis is to recognize and understand the choices made by the artist in creating the artwork.