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How to write Art History papers

Every art history paper has, at its focal point, a close visual analysis of at least a work of art. Writing this paper will involve you build an argument on something visual. It is important that while writing an art history paper, you start with a visual observation that brings about the generation of a case.

The writing makes use of visual observations as a yardstick to prove an argument about the art being analyzed. The principle that guides art history writing is the same that supports literature; however, you make use of a different observational approach in achieving the target.

The art history paper, therefore, uses a visual approach and relates your visual impression into a well-articulated and concrete write up. It takes many forms and the focus of any written art paper is to explain the relationship that exists between the technicality of work and the impression it has on the viewer. Also, it states how the visuals work to buttress its overall effect

So, were you given an art history paper to write, and you desire to complete the task with little or no stress? Do you also want to write an engaging paper? If your answer is yes, then follow the dos and don’ts to guide you.

To start with

You need to choose a topic you are comfortable with, and you love. Go through an art history book to identify possible topics. Settle for a topic that is eye-appealing and also compelling. Going through the art topic would give you ideas on movements, image galleries, and artists' bios.

Be well informed. If you do not have enough information, your writing will be empty. Books, websites, and articles can be consulted during information gathering. Do not forget to read the footnotes in the articles and other materials. It will help with creative thinking.

While doing this, make sure you take notes, you could also surf the internet using some keywords, titles, names that you come across. As you read, ask yourself questions, and pen down your thoughts and facts that come to your mind while you read.

The Following Are Art History Paper Assignment

Labeling Of Objects: This usually appears with artwork on display at a museum to boost audience understanding for the artwork. The object label helps to engage visitors by drawing their attention to an important point worthy of note.

The labels are usually not more than 50 words in most cases. It must be compelling, engaging, and accessible to catch the audience's attention rather than the visitor walking away from it.

The information on the object label should provide what the object is, technique, materials from which the artwork is made, for whom it was made, when, where, and inscriptions on the work.

Catalog Entry: It is done in a catalog that accompanies the particular artwork. It is usually written for the general audience. Technical terms can be used when necessary, but they should be well-defined. This type of assignment usually covers between 2-3 paragraphs, however, confirm from your tutor for the page length.

The catalog entry might emphasize a group of artists, a particular artist, a genre, or even a theme.

It must begin with the name of the artist, date of production, title, raw materials, size (dimensions), owner and condition, and bibliographical materials.

The catalog must explain the work concerning the artist and the exhibition. Describe the subject, give the technique used in making the work (if it’s not painting), who the work is meant for. It's provided for comparison with other works either from the artist or other artists.

The bibliography is usually used to conclude the catalog entry; you could refer to another catalog that the work has been published.

Preliminary Analysis

Here, you are told to explore the formal qualities of a work of art analytically. This type focuses on a particular artwork, unlike the catalog entry and object label. As the writer, you supply the contexts of the work and its relevant features.

Take note while beholding the art edifice; try to see if you can draw what you see. Write an engaging essay. The process of beholding and drawing what you see helps to promote intimacy and gives better insight.

The next thing is to write an essay describing the fundamental formal elements to further comprehend the essay. Note that the assignment you are asked to do does not require you to list all you see, but you are trying to interpret the work without looking through other external sources.

It usually begins with the available information on the object label. Date – is it a recent or an older work, and is it still relevant within a traditional related work?

Who was the artwork produced for, and is it a good example of work from a certain region or country?

Is it possible for the artwork to be viewed from different angles, i.e., viewing from the side, from the top, or from below?

The techniques involved in its production and the materials used are also something of importance.

Upon the completion of the introduction, it is of the essence if you give the audience a brief insight into the work before expanding on the formal qualities concerning the composition.

Let us look at the following examples;

Line: You have to analyze the line if applicable. Watch out for the marks of tools like burin (a metallic tool for engraving wood or copper), brush, and pencil. Can you say the work is finished, rough, or unfinished? How do all these affect the overall qualities of the work?

Colors: Can you identify the combination of colors used by the artist, primary colors – red, blue, and yellow; secondary colors – violet, orange, and green. Identify if these colors are highly saturated or difficult to identify, do the colors blend or not. Besides, are the colors used for the sake of emphasis?

Scale: Determine the dimension of the artwork concerning yourself and the audience. The work of art should be scaled on either a miniature monumental basis. And also, you need to be sure if there are different scales employed to emphasize different figures or components.

Weight and space: Determine if the work is heavy or light and also give details as to how space is used, whether it is recessed or flat.

Some other formal elements to put into consideration are unity and variety, subordination and emphasis, knowing whether the work is symmetry or asymmetry, the rhythm, siting/functions, interior or exterior.

In writing your introductory statement;

  • You must write your thesis statement. Let your intention be known about what you have noticed concerning the art, artist, building, critic, or whatever you are focusing on for the analysis.
  • If your focus on artworks, the artist's name, the title of the artwork, and the dates in the introductory paragraph. The titles can, therefore, be referenced later.
  • Coin your statement of a thesis to let the audience have a good understanding of the work of art better.

Emphasize the things that you want the audience to notice.

  • Let the artist's biography be summarized, except your art history paper is a full biography of the artist. Art history paper should focus on the art itself and not the life of the artist.
  • All information should be presented sequentially, ensuring that the arguments are in a parallel form.
  • There must be a link between your thesis statement and your findings or what you are describing in your analysis.
  • Contrast and compare after analyzing all samples
  • Do not change the sequence for the second work of art, artwork, patron, critic, and so on.
  • Ensure the same sequence is used for the third art, artwork, patron, critic, and so on.
  • Make sure a paragraph is dedicated to explaining the similarities that exist among the works of art, artworks, artists, patron, critic, architects, and so on.
  • Also, a paragraph should be assigned to express the differences that exist in the works of art, artworks, architects, patrons, critics, and so on.

There must be something you want your audience to grasp from your art history paper.

  • Let much emphasis be on your thesis statement.
  • Summarize your research findings to your audience in one or two sentences.
  • Quickly let your audience be convinced that your thesis is strongly dependent on the findings you researched.

Editing Phase

Never forget to cite or footnote your references in the art paper, especially when you make use of ideas, info, and opinions from other materials like websites, books, etc.

Highlight all the sources you used when writing the art paper and present them making use of the bibliography or citation style approved by your teacher.

Let all titles for works of art be in italics

The artist's first and last names must begin with a capital letter. However, there are exceptions for the following; ‘da’, ‘den’, ‘de’, ‘del’, and ‘van’

Besides, capital letters should be used for months and days of the week.

Country names, nationalities, and languages must begin with capital letters.

Forms of art writing

Formal Analysis: This is usually the first taught in the introductory section of your art paper, and it is fundamental to your reportage of the artworks. Here, the emphasis is placed on the visual elements of the artwork. The visual elements include style, line, color, and composition. This gives insight into the effect of the visuals on the audience. Every analysis provided must have a link to the statement of the thesis.

As a writer, you must ensure to maintain a balance while describing the artwork making use of a language-dependent on the technique of the artist and other visuals with their impact on the audience.

Note that the thesis provides the basis on which every other paragraph is written.

A Research Paper: This can either take the form of an iconographic or biographical analysis. The iconographical analysis places emphasis on the iconography of the artwork, not minding the roles played by images, mythological or historical identity of figures, and some other elements that may be visual-appealing.

The biological analysis emphasizes the details of the artist. A good example is a story behind the Sistine Chapel painting by Michelangelo. Let the background research and the analysis that link the facts to the artwork be balanced.

Interestingly, the social context and the patronage enjoyed by the artwork can be used to align the work into a historical framework.

Note also that research papers are intertwined with the thesis statement and always target a specific audience.

A Comparative Analysis: Comparing two works of arts is employed in both exam responses and research papers. It brings together the knowledge of the artist, background details needed to reference the relationship of both artworks and formal analysis. Are there aspects of the two works that stand out? Are these attributes shared?

The comparison analysis usually starts with similarities, then how the two works of art are different. Go from the ones that are obvious to the silent ones.


This is making use of another person’s idea and writing as one’s own. It is a form of misrepresentation and misuse of the intellectual property of others.

However, students should visit the internet to check if the content is plagiarized or not, as it is a severe offense.

All sources cited must be adequately acknowledged whether the materials were used directly or paraphrased.


It is advisable to begin your research early enough, do not procrastinate till the last minute. Start immediately after the midterm. Do weekly writing before the due date, as this will give you ample time to thoroughly go through the assignment (edit) before submission.

Also, ask a lot of questions on the topic from your tutor as this will help afford you more understanding on the matter. Again, do a thorough revision of your work and be sure that all the necessary things and information are provided in your art history paper.

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