Essay on Art

500 words essay on art.

Each morning we see the sunshine outside and relax while some draw it to feel relaxed. Thus, you see that art is everywhere and anywhere if we look closely. In other words, everything in life is artwork. The essay on art will help us go through the importance of art and its meaning for a better understanding.

essay on art

What is Art?

For as long as humanity has existed, art has been part of our lives. For many years, people have been creating and enjoying art.  It expresses emotions or expression of life. It is one such creation that enables interpretation of any kind.

It is a skill that applies to music, painting, poetry, dance and more. Moreover, nature is no less than art. For instance, if nature creates something unique, it is also art. Artists use their artwork for passing along their feelings.

Thus, art and artists bring value to society and have been doing so throughout history. Art gives us an innovative way to view the world or society around us. Most important thing is that it lets us interpret it on our own individual experiences and associations.

Art is similar to live which has many definitions and examples. What is constant is that art is not perfect or does not revolve around perfection. It is something that continues growing and developing to express emotions, thoughts and human capacities.

Importance of Art

Art comes in many different forms which include audios, visuals and more. Audios comprise songs, music, poems and more whereas visuals include painting, photography, movies and more.

You will notice that we consume a lot of audio art in the form of music, songs and more. It is because they help us to relax our mind. Moreover, it also has the ability to change our mood and brighten it up.

After that, it also motivates us and strengthens our emotions. Poetries are audio arts that help the author express their feelings in writings. We also have music that requires musical instruments to create a piece of art.

Other than that, visual arts help artists communicate with the viewer. It also allows the viewer to interpret the art in their own way. Thus, it invokes a variety of emotions among us. Thus, you see how essential art is for humankind.

Without art, the world would be a dull place. Take the recent pandemic, for example, it was not the sports or news which kept us entertained but the artists. Their work of arts in the form of shows, songs, music and more added meaning to our boring lives.

Therefore, art adds happiness and colours to our lives and save us from the boring monotony of daily life.

Get the huge list of more than 500 Essay Topics and Ideas

Conclusion of the Essay on Art

All in all, art is universal and can be found everywhere. It is not only for people who exercise work art but for those who consume it. If there were no art, we wouldn’t have been able to see the beauty in things. In other words, art helps us feel relaxed and forget about our problems.

FAQ of Essay on Art

Question 1: How can art help us?

Answer 1: Art can help us in a lot of ways. It can stimulate the release of dopamine in your bodies. This will in turn lower the feelings of depression and increase the feeling of confidence. Moreover, it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Question 2: What is the importance of art?

Answer 2: Art is essential as it covers all the developmental domains in child development. Moreover, it helps in physical development and enhancing gross and motor skills. For example, playing with dough can fine-tune your muscle control in your fingers.

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Art Essay Examples

Cathy A.

Art Essay Examples to Get You Inspired - Top 10 Samples

Published on: May 4, 2023

Last updated on: Jan 30, 2024

art essay examples

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Are you struggling to come up with ideas for your art essay? Or are you looking for examples to help guide you in the right direction? 

Look no further, as we have got you covered!

In this blog, we provide a range of art writing examples that cover different art forms, time periods, and themes. Whether you're interested in the classics or contemporary art, we have something for everyone. These examples offer insight into how to structure your essay, analyze art pieces, and write compelling arguments.

So, let's explore our collection of art essay examples and take the first step toward becoming a better art writer!

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Good Art Essay Examples

In the following section, we will examine a selection of art essay examples that are inspiring for various academic levels.

College Art Essay Examples

Let’s take a look at college art essay examples below:  

The Intersection of Art and Politics: An Analysis of Picasso's Guernica

The Role of Nature in American Art: A Comparative Study

University Art Essay Examples

University-level art essay assignments often differ in length and complexity. Here are two examples:

Gender and Identity in Contemporary Art: A Comparative Study

Art and Activism: The Role of Street Art in Political Movements

A Level Art Essay Examples

Below are some art paper examples A level. Check out: 

The Use Of Color In Wassily Kandinsky's Composition Viii

The Influence of African Art on Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'avignon

A Level Fine Art Essay Examples

If you're a student of fine arts, these A-level fine arts examples can serve as inspiration for your own work.

The Use Of Texture In Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night

Exploring Identity Through Portraiture: A Comparative Study

Art Essay Examples IELTS 

The Impact of Art on Mental Health

The Effects of Technology on Art And Creativity

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AP Art Essay Examples

A Comparison of Neoclassical and Romantic Art

An Examination Of The Effects Of Globalization On Contemporary Art

Types of Art Essay with Examples

Art essays can be categorized into different types. Let's take a brief look at these types with examples:

Art Criticism Essay : A critical essay analyzing and evaluating an artwork, its elements, and its meaning.

The Persistence of Memory" by Salvador Dali: A Critical Analysis

Art History Essay: A comprehensive essay that examines the historical context, development, and significance of an artwork or art movement.

The Renaissance: A Rebirth of Artistic Expression

Exhibition Review: A review of an art exhibition that evaluates the quality and significance of the artwork on display.

A Review of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Exhibition

Contemporary Art Essay: An essay that explores and analyzes contemporary art and its cultural and social context.

The Intersection of Technology and Art in Contemporary Society

Modern Art Essay: An essay that examines modern art and its significance in the development of modernism.

Cubism and its Influence on Modern Art [insert pdf]

Art Theory Essay: An essay that analyzes and critiques various theories and approaches to art.

Feminist Art Theory: A Critical Analysis of its Impact on Contemporary Art [insert pdf]

Additional Art Essay Example

Let’s take a brief look at some added art essay samples:

Artwork Essay Example

Artist Essay Example

Advanced Higher Art Essay Example

Common Art Essay Prompts

Here are some common art essay topics that you may encounter during your coursework:

  • Describe a piece of artwork that has inspired you.
  • A comparative analysis of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's David.
  • Analyze the cultural significance of a particular art movement.
  • Discuss the relationship between art and politics.
  • Compare and contrast two works of art from different time periods or cultures.
  • The representation of identity in art
  • The Evolution of Artists' Paintings:
  • From Traditional to Contemporary Art
  • The representation of identity in Frida Kahlo's self-portraits.
  • The significance of oil on canvas in the history of art.
  • The significance of the Mona Lisa in the Italian Renaissance

Art Essay Topics IELTS

Here are some art essay topics for IELTS students. Take a look: 

  • The value of art education.
  • The role of museums in preserving art and culture.
  • The impact of globalization on contemporary art.
  • The influence of technology on art and artists.
  • The significance of public art in urban environments.

Tips For Writing a Successful Art Essay

Here are some tips for writing a stand-out art essay:

  • Develop a clear thesis statement that guides your essay: Your thesis statement should clearly and concisely state the main argument of your essay.
  • Conduct thorough research and analysis of the artwork you are writing about : This includes examining the visual elements of the artwork, researching the artist, and considering the historical significance.
  • Use formal and precise language to discuss the artwork: Avoid using colloquial language and instead focus on using formal language to describe the artwork.
  • Include specific examples from the artwork to support your arguments: Use specific details from the artwork to back up your analysis.
  • Avoid personal bias and subjective language: Your essay should be objective and avoid using personal opinions or subjective language.
  • Consider the historical and cultural context of the artwork: Analyze the artwork in the context of the time period and cultural context in which they were created.
  • Edit and proofread your essay carefully before submitting it: Ensure your essay is well-organized, coherent, and free of grammatical errors and typos.
  • Use proper citation format when referencing sources: Follow the appropriate citation style guidelines and give credit to all sources used in your essay.
  • Be concise and focused in your writing: Stick to your main thesis statement and avoid going off-topic or including irrelevant information.
  • Read your essay aloud to ensure clarity and coherence: Reading your essay out loud can help you identify inconsistencies or any other mistakes.

The Bottom Line!

We hope that the art essay examples we've explored have provided you with inspiration for your own essay. Art offers endless possibilities for analysis, and your essay is a chance to showcase your unique opinions.

Use these examples as a guide to craft an essay that reflects your personality while demonstrating your knowledge of the subject.

Short on time? Let CollegeEssay.org help you! All you have to do is to ask our experts, " write college essay for me " and they'll help you secure top grades in college.

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Take the first step towards excellence in your art studies with our AI essay writer !

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art subject essay

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Subject Matter in Art – A Guide to Decoding an Artwork

Avatar for Isabella Meyer

What is subject matter in art, and how is it recognized? Interpreting art requires the willingness to closely observe an artwork and to question every aspect of it. To understand what the subject matter is in a work of art, we first need to identify the work’s focal point or topic. Common examples of subject matter include landscapes, still life scenes, portraits of people, animals, and so on. Below, we will be taking an in-depth look at the various types of subject matter in art, so that you may have a clearer understanding of how to view artwork, as well as discover which types of subject matter you would like to use in your own art.

Table of Contents

  • 1 What Is Subject Matter in Art?
  • 2.1 The Expression of Ideas and Emotions
  • 2.2 Using Subject Matter to Enhance Communication
  • 2.3 Expressing the Worldview of the Artist
  • 3.1 Still Lifes
  • 3.2 Landscapes
  • 3.3 Portraits
  • 3.4 Historical
  • 3.5 Abstract
  • 3.6 Religion
  • 3.7 Mythology
  • 4.1 Subject Matter in Prehistoric Art
  • 4.2 Subject Matter in Ancient Art
  • 4.3 Subject Matter in Renaissance Art
  • 4.4 Subject Matter in Baroque Art
  • 4.5 Subject Matter in Romanticism Art
  • 4.6 Subject Matter in Impressionism Art
  • 4.7 Subject Matter in Modern Art
  • 5 Subject Matter and Art Criticism
  • 6.1 What Great Paintings Say. 100 Masterpieces in Detail (2016) by Rainer and Rose-Marie Hagen
  • 6.2 The Secrets of Art: Uncovering the Mysteries and Messages of Great Works of Art (2021) by Debra N. Mancoff
  • 6.3 What Great Artworks Say: Interpreting Masterpieces of Art (2022) by Christopher P. Jones
  • 7.1 What Are Popular Types of Subject Matter in Art?
  • 7.2 Does All Art Have a Subject Matter?

What Is Subject Matter in Art?

Every artist imagines how their work will be interpreted. Perhaps they have a specific set of ideas or emotions that they want to convey through their particular choice of subject matter. Depending on the art piece, the intent of the creator may be readily apparent and obvious, or it could be more difficult to determine. This can be especially true for abstract art representing a certain theoretical concept. It is up to you as a viewer of the artwork to thoroughly evaluate and analyze it in order to develop a personal interpretation of what the subject matter is.

For every work of art that you come across, you need to consider what the artist may have intended for you to think, feel, or experience when viewing or interacting with the work they created.

Understanding Subject Matter in Art

With abstract art, or art that lacks a clearly identifiable subject matter, different individuals can put forward various diverse explanations for what the subject matter of the art truly is. Regardless of the variation of opinions, all of them are regarded as valid, as there is no one particular way to view such artworks. The aim of the artist is to encourage the viewer to closely observe and consider the various facets of the artwork in order to interpret it. It’s fascinating how we can all observe the very same artwork and have multiple interpretations of it. Life would actually be very dull if we all held the same views on everything.

There are instances when the subject matter is apparent. Sure, you might argue that the subject matter of a dog drawing is actually a cat, but it’s unlikely that a lot of people would agree with you on that point – unless perhaps it’s a very bad drawing.

The Function of Subject Matter in Art

What role does the subject matter play in art? Well, as we shall see, it serves multiple functions in art. These include the expression of ideas and emotions, the enhancement of communication, and the portrayal of the perception and view of the artist. Below, we shall explore these various functions of subject matter in art in greater detail.

The Expression of Ideas and Emotions

The subject matter of art is essential in conveying the artist’s feelings and thoughts. Artists typically utilize their chosen subject matter to express their thoughts, emotions, and experiences.

Subject Matter and Artistic Intent

The subject matter, whether it’s a portrait, a landscape, an abstract idea, or a societal issue, becomes a visual expression of the artist’s unique emotions and ideas.

Artists can stir up certain emotions as well as provoke intellectual reactions from audiences through their skillful use of color, shape, composition, and other artistic fundamentals. It enables individuals to convey their distinct vision, share what drives them, and emotionally and intellectually engage the audience.

Using Subject Matter to Enhance Communication

Subject matter is also important in improving communication between the audience and the artist. Art has the ability to communicate across cultures and historical eras by breaking through linguistic barriers. Artists can convey storylines, concepts, and messages that appeal to a variety of people by choosing specific subject matter.

A historical artwork showing a noteworthy event, for instance, might teach the audience about events from the past that have played a formative role on their present, while an allegory is used to convey ideas in a symbolic format.

How to Identify an Artwork's Subject

A portrait is able to capture an individual’s essence and portray their personality or even social standing. Similarly, non-representational subject matter in abstract art can elicit complex emotions as well as challenge the audience’s point of view. The subject matter functions as a visual language through which artists are able to communicate their ideas and connect with the audience. It offers a framework for interpretation and analysis, allowing for meaningful discourse and developing greater respect for the artist’s works.

Expressing the Worldview of the Artist

The subject matter of art often conveys the artist’s unique view of the world around them. Artists perceive and interpret their environment through their own personal lens of experience, and the subject matter they choose allows them to portray their subjective experiences and their unique points of view. Every artist sees and interprets the world in their own unique manner, shaped by their upbringing, cultural backgrounds, personal views, and experiences.

Subject Matter and Artistic Identity

The subject matter an artist chooses becomes an outlet for conveying their unique point of view and providing insight into their worldview.

The subject matter serves as a medium for artists to exhibit their particular viewpoints, whether they choose to portray realistic settings, abstract concepts, or innovative creative ideas. It allows artists to achieve a primary goal of art, which is to encourage the viewer to perceive and consider a variety of thoughts, observations, critiques, and comments on society, nature, human relationships, and other aspects of life that may either reflect or differ from their own. Artists help create the variety and complexity of creative expression by exhibiting their distinct perspectives through their use of subject matter in art.

The Various Types of Subject Matter in Art

If you are unsure what kind of subject matter is best for your art, explore various kinds of art and notice what appeals to you. Once you’ve narrowed it down, produce a few pieces in that particular style and determine whether you’re drawn to it. You should also think about what subject matter is popular in your neighborhood or online.

However, don’t create art only for the sake of getting online “Likes”. It can be an absolutely soul-destroying exercise that can potentially get you labeled as a one-trick pony and leave you feeling restricted

Continue to keep practicing and exploring any subject matter you end up choosing, as the more you produce, the better the portrayal of your subject matter will become. Let’s examine the most popular types of subject matter in art below.

Still Lifes

Scenes featuring objects from everyday life have been found in ancient Roman frescoes and mosaics . These served purposes ranging from advertising dishes served in restaurants, to symbols of prosperity.

The still life as we know it dates from the 17th century where Dutch and Flemish painters in Northern Europe, and artists in Spain began to depict every-day objects as a means of displaying their mastery of painting various textures, forms, and plays of light.

Still life is a very popular subject matter in art that focuses on presenting inanimate objects in a carefully created environment. Flowers, food, fruit, cutlery, vases, books, and other common objects are only a few examples of what could potentially be included in the still-life arrangement. Still-life artworks, as opposed to other artworks that feature landscapes, people, or historical events, focus on the composition and portrayal of these various objects. All of the components are meticulously chosen and arranged by the artist to produce a visually pleasing and harmonious configuration.

Subject Matter in Still Life Art

In some still life styles such as vanitas paintings , objects such as skull, rotten fruit, dead flowers, and so on, serve a symbolic purpose, representing ideas such as the brevity of life.

To create a feeling of aesthetic appeal, they also need to consider aspects such as color, lighting, texture, and the overall balance of the various objects in the picture. Still-life artworks can be extremely lifelike, capturing subtle details and textures with great accuracy, or they can also be more abstract or stylized, emphasizing the overall composition and atmosphere instead of a perfect portrayal. Artists use still-life paintings to experiment with different creative approaches or to communicate symbolic or metaphorical messages through the selection and arrangement of particular objects.

A landscape is another popular subject matter in art that depicts scenery from nature, such as valleys, mountains, rivers, woods, or other outdoor settings. It mainly depicts the majesty of nature, portraying the physical characteristics, climatic conditions, and general atmosphere of a certain location. Landscape artists strive to express a feeling of depth, space, and the interplay between the scene’s various elements. They typically illustrate the interplay of light and shadows, the colors of the sky and surrounding terrain, as well as the different patterns and textures seen in nature.

Artists are able to produce a visual depiction that enables people to immerse themselves in the environment while experiencing a broad range of emotions and associations by expertly employing techniques like composition, perspective, and color theory .

Subject Matter in Landscape Art

Landscapes have been an enduring subject matter throughout art history, emerging in a variety of creative styles and periods, and drawing, painting, photography, and digital art are all examples of landscape art mediums. While landscape painting is generally considered a relatively uncontroversial genre, there are examples where depictions of land have elicited surprising responses. J. H. Pierneef’s preference for painting South African landscapes completely devoid of people or signs of habitation have been critiqued as a form of declaring ownership over contested territory. While in Mexico, paintings of significant regions and landmarks became symbols of national pride imbued with political significance.

The great thing about portraits is that there are so many different types that you can choose from, ranging from hyper-realistic to cartoonish caricatures. Realistic portraits strive for a high level of realism and detail, accurately depicting the subject’s physical characteristics. Besides the physical representation of the subject, the best artists are also able to capture a bit of the sitter’s personality and temperament.

Subject Matter in Portraiture

Candid portraiture, as opposed to the more formal types of portraits, portrays the individual in a far more natural state. They attempt to convey the essence of an individual’s personality or activities in a spontaneous and unplanned manner. Self-portraits are works of art in which the creator is the subject matter.

Self-portraits have been made by artists throughout history for the purpose of self-reflection, self-expression, or as a way of documenting their development, both physically as well as artistically.

For a large part of our history, we did not have cameras, and the only way that certain events could be documented was through art. Much of art academia was based around historical art depiction too, so there is no shortage of historical art as a subject matter in art. Historical art serves to educate as well as sway our opinions.

While history paintings appear to document the events of history, this genre was also often used as a tool of propaganda, and therefore the accuracy of historical paintings can often be dubious.

Subject Matter in History Painting

However, they can still serve as a rich source of knowledge regarding the clothing and lifestyles of the people that lived at the time of the work’s creation. For centuries art played an important role in the dissemination of ideas and stories, as many people were illiterate, and art was their only means of conveying information.

Abstract art does not try to capture visual reality as we experience it. Instead, it focuses on the use of textures, forms, shapes, lines, and colors, to create symbolic, non-representational, or simply abstract compositions. The subject matter of abstract art often originates from the creator’s own imagination, emotions, or concepts instead of explicitly referencing specific objects or settings.

Artists began to question established conceptions of representation at the beginning of the 20th century, looking for new ways of representing reality, ideas, and emotional states.

They shifted their attention away from the need to depict objects realistically in favor of the expressive power of colors, shapes, and forms. One of the distinguishing features of abstract painting is its focus on the visual parts themselves and their interactions within a composition.

Abstract Art Subject Matter

Abstract artworks that inspire emotions, feelings, or intellectual reactions are often produced by artists trying out various techniques, such as layering, brushwork, and textures. The best part about abstract painting as a subject matter is that it gives you more artistic freedom and is more open to individual interpretation.

Yet another subject matter that has been around for many centuries in art is religion. Religion offers people a framework for comprehending the world and their position in it. Devotion, religious rites, and the sublime nature of religious experiences have long been conveyed through art for thousands of years. Individuals are able to connect with their religion through both making and viewing these revered religious artworks. Historically, Religious art has been used for educating individuals about religious teachings, as it portrays religious narratives visually, making them easier to comprehend and follow.

Religious art allows artists to delve into a rich tapestry of iconography and symbolism, allowing them to create meaningful creations that are also visually striking.

Religious Art Subject Matter

Mythological stories provide painters with a wealth of inspiration. They offer an abundance of people, events, and symbolic aspects that can be incorporated into their works. Artists use myths to create impressive and thought-provoking works of art, using a variety of styles and materials to portray their interpretations of legendary themes. What are now known as myths were in fact narratives with deeply religious connotations to ancient peoples. While myths about the gods were used to explain the world at large, legend of heroes often reflected the origin stories and cultural values of specific tribes and groups.

Heroism, love, redemption, betrayal, and mortality are all common themes and facets of the human condition in mythology.

Subject Matter of Mythological Art

During the Renaissance, artists found inspiration in ancient texts such as  The Metamorphoses , and great epic poems like the  Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, and the  Argonautica. These tales have since been used by artists to dive into the depths of relationships, human emotions, and challenges. Mythological art often acts as a mirror, reflecting humanity’s accomplishments, weaknesses, and aspirations while offering insights into our shared humanity. They often include archetypes, which are mythological figures and themes that symbolize the fundamental traits of the human mind and psyche.

The Historical Development of Subject Matter in Art

Over the millennia, humans have adapted the subject matter of their artworks to better suit the time in which they were created. What was important to us in the prehistoric age has changed significantly in the ultra-modernized era. Let us investigate how subject matter in art has evolved throughout human history.

Subject Matter in Prehistoric Art

Because prehistoric art spans a wide range of time and traditions, the subject matter can vary greatly from one region to another and across different eras. However, there are still a few common features that can be observed throughout these distinct eras. Handprints, abstract designs and animals were popular themes in prehistoric art.

Subject Matter in Prehistoric Art

Animals like horses, bison, deer, birds, and extinct species like mammoths are often depicted in cave paintings , rock carvings, and portable artworks. These animal images may have served a practical function, such as recording key hunting scenes, or they could have carried some sort of symbolic or even spiritual significance.

The location of many of these images deep within caves where they could only be reached with much danger and difficulty has also led some scholars to speculate that they may have served as part of shamanistic rituals.

Subject Matter in Ancient Art

Artists from this period created magnificent sculptures, reliefs, and paintings to portray gods and culture heroes that depicted either their localized attributes or events drawn from narratives associated with them. Monarchs and rulers were also common subject matter in ancient art. They portrayed monarchs in various scenarios indicative of their status and suggesting their divine connections. Important events such as wars and victories were also often represented in ancient art.

Ancient art also offers insights into ancient civilizations’ daily lives and social activities. These pieces of art represent scenes from ordinary life like hunting, farming, fishing, dining, dancing, and other daily activities.

Subject Matter in Ancient Art

Sacred and civic architecture was also very important in ancient art. Ancient civilizations achieved incredible feats in the creation of enormous temples and tombs. Frescoes and reliefs discovered within these structures often portrayed religious images, historical events, or mythical narratives. Ancient art spans many cultures, including Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Mayan, and Indus Valley, among many others. Each civilization’s traditions, subject matter, and aesthetic choices were distinct.

Subject Matter in Renaissance Art

As a result of the renewed interest in ancient Greece and Rome, artists from the Renaissance era often used mythology and classical topics as their preferred subject matter. With the rise of Humanism, art also provided an outlet for philosophical, cultural, and scientific exploration. New concepts such as mathematical formulae to create illusions of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane allowed artists to introduce greater spatiality and naturalism into their art.

Subject Matter in Renaissance Art

Portraiture arose as a result of Renaissance art’s increased attention on individuals. Artists expertly captured the likeness and personality of their subjects, who included affluent patrons, political figures, and royalty.

Portraits exhibited the sitter’s riches, rank, and intelligence, as well as an insight into their character and inner lives. Historical events and metaphorical situations were also often represented by Renaissance painters. Historical paintings illustrated key historical events, conflicts, or moments, whereas allegorical artworks used symbols to express various philosophical, moral, or political ideals.

Subject Matter in Baroque Art

Baroque art continued to feature religious and biblical tales, demonstrating the Catholic Church’s dominance throughout this time period. These works attempted to emotionally captivate viewers by depicting extreme moments of religious zeal, divine intervention, and martyrdom.

To create a feeling of spiritual drama, artists from this period employed vivid contrasts of light and shadow, dynamic compositions, and dramatic postures.

Subject Matter in Baroque Art

Landscapes in the Baroque period gained popularity as painters sought to delve deeper into the natural world. To elicit emotional responses from audiences, these settings typically included dramatic lighting, rocky terrains, and atmospheric effects. The landscapes were painted as independent pieces or as settings for religious or mythical storylines, conveying nature’s magnificent power and beauty.

Subject Matter in Romanticism Art

The creepy, macabre, and enigmatic were all popular themes throughout the Romantic period, and the supernatural, visions, dreams, and the occult were all explored by the artists. They represented haunting ruins, scary landscapes, and ghostly figures, reflecting a concern with the darkest parts of the human mind and the unknown.

Subject Matter in Romanticism

Romantic painters also emphasized the value of the individual and the strength of the human imagination during the Romanticism period.

Artists and intellectuals were portrayed as heroic characters who had the ability to influence the world through their independent thinking. Individuals were shown in artworks conveying their inner ideas and wishes, questioning established societal norms, and celebrating personal independence.

Subject Matter in Impressionism Art

Impressionist painters concentrated on capturing images from ordinary life, attempting to capture the spirit of a moment instead of precise reproduction. Landscapes and nature were especially appealing to Impressionist artists. They portrayed a variety of outdoor landscapes, including meadows, gardens, rivers, and seascapes.

These landscapes highlighted the impact of shifting lighting and weather conditions, capturing the interplay of sunshine, shadows, and ambient subtleties.

Themes of leisure and recreation were also often depicted in Impressionist artworks . Picnics, boating, wandering through parks, watching concerts, or enjoying outdoor events were all represented by artists of this era. The goal of these paintings was to portray the carefree and joyful moments of ordinary everyday living.

Subject Matter in Impressionist Art

Subject Matter in Modern Art

Modern art typically addressed the political and social issues of the time, expressing the contemporary world’s upheavals and transitions. Artists’ art was used to criticize power dynamics, inequality, war, and the effects of urbanization and industrialization. Modern art depicted the human condition in a fast-changing world as its subject matter.

Subject Matter in Modern Art

With the growth of mass media and consumer society in the 20th century, contemporary artists started infusing popular cultural aspects into their pieces of art. They were inspired by commercials, celebrities, and comic books. Pop art , for instance, glorified mass-produced graphics and consumer commodities, blending both high and low art. Modern art’s subject matter is immensely diversified, reflecting the wide range of creative movements and the openness for experimentation that evolved during this time period.

Contemporary artists pushed the frontiers of art, questioned old views of what constitutes art, and embraced new subject matter that represented the complexities of the contemporary world as well as their own aesthetic ideals.

Subject Matter and Art Criticism

The subject matter is an important starting point for interpreting, analyzing, and assessing artworks in art criticism. The subject matter of an artwork offers vital contextual information about it, aiding viewers in understanding the social, cultural, historical, and personal environments in which it was made.

Art critics are able to gain knowledge of the artist’s motives, influences, and larger cultural or aesthetic trends that may have inspired the piece of art by evaluating the subject matter.  

Analyzing the subject helps art critics to dive into the artwork’s fundamental concepts, symbols, and intended meanings. Art critics can examine how efficiently the artist’s artistic choices and skills connect with their desired aesthetic impression by studying the subject matter. Art critics can connect with artwork on numerous levels by evaluating the relevance of the subject matter and improving their appreciation and respect for the artist’s artistic approach.

Recommended Reading

If you’re an art lover, then learning the various intricacies of how artists use visual elements to convey ideas and emotions will greatly enhance your ability to interpret art and broaden your horizons.

If you’re an artist, then gaining insight into the wide range of methods that artists have used to express themselves, will take your own art to a whole new level.

Fortunately there are some excellent books out there that demonstrate exactly how to go about decoding a work of art. Below are some of our favorites.

What Great Paintings Say. 100 Masterpieces in Detail (2016) by Rainer and Rose-Marie Hagen

Few books on art provide as much background information on such a range of artworks as those created by Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen. Following their first publication of this kind in 1995, they have since produced multiple books that explore the themes, subject matter, and cultural and historical background of hundreds of the world’s greatest artworks. Books in this series include What Great Paintings Say. Italian Renaissance and What Great Paintings Say . Beautiful Nudes .

What Great Paintings Say. 100 Masterpieces in Detail

  • Comprehensive guide to the historical contexts of artworks
  • Full-color illustrations with close-up details of artworks
  • Large, heavy, and expensive, but an absolute must-have 

The Secrets of Art: Uncovering the Mysteries and Messages of Great Works of Art (2021) by Debra N. Mancoff

Art-Detective Debra N. Mancoff uses her years of expertise to reveal the depth of understanding that combining the latest scientific research, historical insight, and relentless research can provide into artworks. The surprising discoveries she discloses may be based on fact, but are as captivating as the best fiction, and guaranteed to change the way you look at and think about these artworks. If your interest in art extends beyond the surface, then you have to own this book.

The Secrets of Art: Uncovering the mysteries and messages of great works of art

  • Fascinating insight into how each artwork featured was created
  • Combines latest scientific and historical research into art
  • Expert insider knowledge ideal for artists and enthusiasts alike

What Great Artworks Say: Interpreting Masterpieces of Art (2022) by Christopher P. Jones

Christopher P. Jones combines his skill as a writer with over two decades of experience in art critique to produce books that takes the reader on an exciting adventure into the various mental processes that lie behind the creation of some of the world’s most compelling artworks. The books are small and lightweight enough to carry around with you, while still boasting beautiful full-color reproductions of the artworks he discusses. The other books in this series include  Great Paintings Explained and  How to Read Paintings .

What Great Artworks Say: Interpreting masterpieces of art (Looking at Art)

  • Highly informative and easy-to-read guide to interpreting art
  • Each of the 15 artworks featured is illustrated in full color
  • Ideal affordable and portable guide-book for museum visits
“What is subject matter in art?”, appears self-explanatory at first look, yet there may be more than one way to respond to that question. Is the subject matter as the observer perceives it or as the artist asserts? In art, the subject matter pertains to the message that the artist wishes to convey to their viewers. It might be an opinion, a feeling, or something that is tangible. It could potentially be either representational or abstract in nature too. Over the years, the subject matter in art has changed significantly along with our own development as a species.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are popular types of subject matter in art.

Art has existed for an extremely long time and throughout the different eras, it has come to favor different subjects, based in the cultural role of art. Where art forms part of religious rituals and sacred environments, religious themes tend to predominate. Historically, the development of audiences for art who valued and were capable of buying art saw an expansion of subject matter into more secular themes, such as still life, landscape, and genre scenes. Portraiture is another subject that has been around for centuries. Thankfully, this type of subject matter can teach us much about how people looked and dressed in their time, as well as how they viewed themselves. History painting has long served to convey nationalistic ideals, while mythological subjects were very popular for many centuries but have become less prominent in modern times.

Does All Art Have a Subject Matter?

While the subject matter of a piece is a prevalent feature in many artworks, especially those depicting familiar objects, situations, or ideas, there are types of art that highlight other qualities or pursue non-representational techniques. Some types of art, such as abstract art, may not have a typical subject matter. The artists of these works instead tend to focus on other characteristics like form, texture, color, line, or the relationship between forms and compositions. Instead of conveying specific themes or tales, in this types of art the artist’s and viewer’s aesthetic experience, and conceptual and/or emotional reaction is the artwork’s subject matter.

isabella meyer

Isabella studied at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English Literature & Language and Psychology. Throughout her undergraduate years, she took Art History as an additional subject and absolutely loved it. Building on from her art history knowledge that began in high school, art has always been a particular area of fascination for her. From learning about artworks previously unknown to her, or sharpening her existing understanding of specific works, the ability to continue learning within this interesting sphere excites her greatly.

Her focal points of interest in art history encompass profiling specific artists and art movements, as it is these areas where she is able to really dig deep into the rich narrative of the art world. Additionally, she particularly enjoys exploring the different artistic styles of the 20 th century, as well as the important impact that female artists have had on the development of art history.

Learn more about Isabella Meyer and the Art in Context Team .

Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “Subject Matter in Art – A Guide to Decoding an Artwork.” Art in Context. July 10, 2023. URL: https://artincontext.org/subject-matter-in-art/

Meyer, I. (2023, 10 July). Subject Matter in Art – A Guide to Decoding an Artwork. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/subject-matter-in-art/

Meyer, Isabella. “Subject Matter in Art – A Guide to Decoding an Artwork.” Art in Context , July 10, 2023. https://artincontext.org/subject-matter-in-art/ .

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Essays About Art: Top 5 Examples and 9 Prompts

Essays about art inspire beauty and creativity; see our top essay picks and prompts to aid you.

Art is an umbrella term for various activities that use human imagination and talents. 

The products from these activities incite powerful feelings as artists convey their ideas, expertise, and experience through art. Examples of art include painting, sculpture, photography, literature, installations, dance, and music.

Art is also a significant part of human history. We learn a lot from the arts regarding what living in a period is like, what events influenced the elements in the artwork, and what led to art’s progress to today.

To help you create an excellent essay about art, we prepared five examples that you can look at:

1. Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? by Linda Nochlin

2. what is art by writer faith, 3. my art taught me… by christine nishiyama, 4. animals and art by ron padgett, 5. the value of art by anonymous on arthistoryproject.com, 1. art that i won’t forget, 2. unconventional arts, 3. art: past and present, 4. my life as an artist, 5. art histories of different cultures, 6. comparing two art pieces, 7. create a reflection essay on a work of art, 8. conduct a visual analysis of an artwork, 9. art period or artist history.

“But in actuality, as we all know, things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class, and above all, male. The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education–education understood to include everything that happens to us from the moment we enter this world…”

Nochlin goes in-depth to point out women’s part in art history. She focuses on unjust opportunities presented to women compared to their male peers, labeling it the “Woman Problem.” This problem demands a reinterpretation of the situation’s nature and the need for radical change. She persuades women to see themselves as equal subjects deserving of comparable achievements men receive.

Throughout her essay, she delves into the institutional barriers that prevented women from reaching the heights of famous male art icons.

“Art is the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects that can be shared with others. It involves the arranging of elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions and acts as a means of communication with the viewer as it represents the thoughts of the artist.”

The author defines art as a medium to connect with others and an action. She focuses on Jamaican art and the feelings it invokes. She introduces Osmond Watson, whose philosophy includes uplifting the masses and making people aware of their beauty – he explains one of his works, “Peace and Love.” 

“But I’ve felt this way before, especially with my art. And my experience with artmaking has taught me how to get through periods of struggle. My art has taught me to accept where I am today… My art has taught me that whatever marks I make on the page are good enough… My art has taught me that the way through struggle is to acknowledge, accept and share my struggle.”

Nishiyama starts her essay by describing how writing makes her feel. She feels pressured to create something “great” after her maternity leave, causing her to struggle. She says she pens essays to process her experiences as an artist and human, learning alongside the reader. She ends her piece by acknowledging her feelings and using her art to accept them.

“I was saying that sometimes I feel sorry for wild animals, out there in the dark, looking for something to eat while in fear of being eaten. And they have no ballet companies or art museums. Animals of course are not aware of their lack of cultural activities, and therefore do not regret their absence.”

Padgett recounts telling his wife how he thinks it’s unfortunate for animals not to have cultural activities, therefore, can’t appreciate art. He shares the genetic mapping of humans being 99% chimpanzees and is curious about the 1% that makes him human and lets him treasure art. His essay piques readers’ minds, making them interested in how art elevates human life through summoning admiration from lines and colors.

“One of the first questions raised when talking about art is simple — why should we care? Art, especially in the contemporary era, is easy to dismiss as a selfish pastime for people who have too much time on their hands. Creating art doesn’t cure disease, build roads, or feed the poor.”

Because art can easily be dismissed as a pastime, the author lists why it’s precious. It includes exercising creativity, materials used, historical connection, and religious value. 

Check out our best essay checkers to ensure you have a top-notch essay.

9 Prompts on Essays About Art

After knowing more about art, below are easy prompts you can use for your art essay:

Essays About Art: Art that I won't forget

Is there an art piece that caught your attention because of its origin? First, talk about it and briefly summarize its backstory in your essay. Then, explain why it’s something that made an impact on you. For example, you can write about the Mona Lisa and her mysterious smile – or is she smiling? You can also put theories on what could have happened while Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa.

Rather than focusing on mainstream arts like ballet and painting, focus your essay on unconventional art or something that defies usual pieces, such as avant-garde art. Then, share what you think of this type of art and measure it against other mediums.

How did art change over the centuries? Explain the differences between ancient and modern art and include the factors that resulted in these changes.

Are you an artist? Share your creative process and objectives if you draw, sing, dance, etc. How do you plan to be better at your craft? What is your ultimate goal?

To do this prompt, pick two countries or cultures with contrasting art styles. A great example is Chinese versus European arts. Center your essay on a category, such as landscape paintings. Tell your readers the different elements these cultures consider. What is the basis of their art? What influences their art during that specific period?

Like the previous prompt, write an essay about similar pieces, such as books, folktales, or paintings. You can also compare original and remake versions of movies, broadway musicals, etc.

Pick a piece you want to know more about, then share what you learned through your essay. What did the art make you feel? If you followed creating art, like pottery, write about the step-by-step process, from clay to glazing.

Visual analysis is a way to understand art centered around what the eyes can process. It includes elements like texture, color, line, and scale. For this prompt, find a painting or statue and describe what you see in your essay.

Since art is a broad topic, you can narrow your research by choosing only the most significant moments in art history. For instance, if you pick English art, you can divide each art period by century or by a king’s ruling time. You can also select an artist and discuss their pieces, their art’s backstory, and how it relates to their life at the time.

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips !

art subject essay

Maria Caballero is a freelance writer who has been writing since high school. She believes that to be a writer doesn't only refer to excellent syntax and semantics but also knowing how to weave words together to communicate to any reader effectively.

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Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL® College of Liberal Arts

Writing Essays in Art History

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These OWL resources provide guidance on typical genres with the art history discipline that may appear in professional settings or academic assignments, including museum catalog entries, museum title cards, art history analysis, notetaking, and art history exams.

Art History Analysis – Formal Analysis and Stylistic Analysis

Typically in an art history class the main essay students will need to write for a final paper or for an exam is a formal or stylistic analysis.

A formal analysis is just what it sounds like – you need to analyze the form of the artwork. This includes the individual design elements – composition, color, line, texture, scale, contrast, etc. Questions to consider in a formal analysis is how do all these elements come together to create this work of art? Think of formal analysis in relation to literature – authors give descriptions of characters or places through the written word. How does an artist convey this same information?

Organize your information and focus on each feature before moving onto the text – it is not ideal to discuss color and jump from line to then in the conclusion discuss color again. First summarize the overall appearance of the work of art – is this a painting? Does the artist use only dark colors? Why heavy brushstrokes? etc and then discuss details of the object – this specific animal is gray, the sky is missing a moon, etc. Again, it is best to be organized and focused in your writing – if you discuss the animals and then the individuals and go back to the animals you run the risk of making your writing unorganized and hard to read. It is also ideal to discuss the focal of the piece – what is in the center? What stands out the most in the piece or takes up most of the composition?

A stylistic approach can be described as an indicator of unique characteristics that analyzes and uses the formal elements (2-D: Line, color, value, shape and 3-D all of those and mass).The point of style is to see all the commonalities in a person’s works, such as the use of paint and brush strokes in Van Gogh’s work. Style can distinguish an artist’s work from others and within their own timeline, geographical regions, etc.

Methods & Theories To Consider:

Expressionism

Instructuralism

Postmodernism

Social Art History

Biographical Approach

Poststructuralism

Museum Studies

Visual Cultural Studies

Stylistic Analysis Example:

The following is a brief stylistic analysis of two Greek statues, an example of how style has changed because of the “essence of the age.” Over the years, sculptures of women started off as being plain and fully clothed with no distinct features, to the beautiful Venus/Aphrodite figures most people recognize today. In the mid-seventh century to the early fifth, life-sized standing marble statues of young women, often elaborately dress in gaily painted garments were created known as korai. The earliest korai is a Naxian women to Artemis. The statue wears a tight-fitted, belted peplos, giving the body a very plain look. The earliest korai wore the simpler Dorian peplos, which was a heavy woolen garment. From about 530, most wear a thinner, more elaborate, and brightly painted Ionic linen and himation. A largely contrasting Greek statue to the korai is the Venus de Milo. The Venus from head to toe is six feet seven inches tall. Her hips suggest that she has had several children. Though her body shows to be heavy, she still seems to almost be weightless. Viewing the Venus de Milo, she changes from side to side. From her right side she seems almost like a pillar and her leg bears most of the weight. She seems be firmly planted into the earth, and since she is looking at the left, her big features such as her waist define her. The Venus de Milo had a band around her right bicep. She had earrings that were brutally stolen, ripping her ears away. Venus was noted for loving necklaces, so it is very possibly she would have had one. It is also possible she had a tiara and bracelets. Venus was normally defined as “golden,” so her hair would have been painted. Two statues in the same region, have throughout history, changed in their style.

Compare and Contrast Essay

Most introductory art history classes will ask students to write a compare and contrast essay about two pieces – examples include comparing and contrasting a medieval to a renaissance painting. It is always best to start with smaller comparisons between the two works of art such as the medium of the piece. Then the comparison can include attention to detail so use of color, subject matter, or iconography. Do the same for contrasting the two pieces – start small. After the foundation is set move on to the analysis and what these comparisons or contrasting material mean – ‘what is the bigger picture here?’ Consider why one artist would wish to show the same subject matter in a different way, how, when, etc are all questions to ask in the compare and contrast essay. If during an exam it would be best to quickly outline the points to make before tackling writing the essay.

Compare and Contrast Example:

Stele of Hammurabi from Susa (modern Shush, Iran), ca. 1792 – 1750 BCE, Basalt, height of stele approx. 7’ height of relief 28’

Stele, relief sculpture, Art as propaganda – Hammurabi shows that his law code is approved by the gods, depiction of land in background, Hammurabi on the same place of importance as the god, etc.

Top of this stele shows the relief image of Hammurabi receiving the law code from Shamash, god of justice, Code of Babylonian social law, only two figures shown, different area and time period, etc.

Stele of Naram-sin , Sippar Found at Susa c. 2220 - 2184 bce. Limestone, height 6'6"

Stele, relief sculpture, Example of propaganda because the ruler (like the Stele of Hammurabi) shows his power through divine authority, Naramsin is the main character due to his large size, depiction of land in background, etc.

Akkadian art, made of limestone, the stele commemorates a victory of Naramsin, multiple figures are shown specifically soldiers, different area and time period, etc.

Iconography

Regardless of what essay approach you take in class it is absolutely necessary to understand how to analyze the iconography of a work of art and to incorporate into your paper. Iconography is defined as subject matter, what the image means. For example, why do things such as a small dog in a painting in early Northern Renaissance paintings represent sexuality? Additionally, how can an individual perhaps identify these motifs that keep coming up?

The following is a list of symbols and their meaning in Marriage a la Mode by William Hogarth (1743) that is a series of six paintings that show the story of marriage in Hogarth’s eyes.

  • Man has pockets turned out symbolizing he has lost money and was recently in a fight by the state of his clothes.
  • Lap dog shows loyalty but sniffs at woman’s hat in the husband’s pocket showing sexual exploits.
  • Black dot on husband’s neck believed to be symbol of syphilis.
  • Mantel full of ugly Chinese porcelain statues symbolizing that the couple has no class.
  • Butler had to go pay bills, you can tell this by the distasteful look on his face and that his pockets are stuffed with bills and papers.
  • Card game just finished up, women has directions to game under foot, shows her easily cheating nature.
  • Paintings of saints line a wall of the background room, isolated from the living, shows the couple’s complete disregard to faith and religion.
  • The dangers of sexual excess are underscored in the Hograth by placing Cupid among ruins, foreshadowing the inevitable ruin of the marriage.
  • Eventually the series (other five paintings) shows that the woman has an affair, the men duel and die, the woman hangs herself and the father takes her ring off her finger symbolizing the one thing he could salvage from the marriage.

Essay Writing Guide

Last updated on: Nov 20, 2023

Art Topics - 200+ Brilliant Ideas to Begin With

By: Nova A.

14 min read

Reviewed By: Rylee W.

Published on: Apr 23, 2019

Art Topics

Are you a student struggling to find interesting and engaging art topics for your assignments or projects?

The world of art is vast and diverse, offering countless possibilities for exploration and creative expression. However, with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to narrow down your focus. But fret not, as we're here to help you navigate this artistic maze! 

In this blog, we will provide you with a curated list of fascinating art topics that will inspire your creativity and make your assignments stand out. Whether you're interested in exploring different art movements or delving into the cultural and historical significance of art, we've got you covered.

So let’s get started!

Art Topics

On this Page

Art Topics For Students

Here are some engaging art topics to write about that will spark your creativity and deepen your understanding of the artistic world.

  • The Impressionist movement and its impact on art.
  • Exploring the use of color in abstract art.
  • The influence of nature in landscape painting.
  • The evolution of portraiture throughout history.
  • The symbolism in still life paintings.
  • The role of art in social and political activism.
  • Exploring different art mediums: painting, sculpture, photography, etc.
  • The connection between art and emotions.
  • Exploring cultural diversity in art.
  • The representation of mythology in art.

Art Topics for Elementary Students

Here's a table with three columns containing art topics suitable for grades 3, 4, and 5:

Art Topics For Elementary School Students -WriteMyEssay.help

History Art Topics

We always turn back and refer to history in hopes of avoiding past mistakes and learning new things. The same goes for art history. It provides us with a great number of exciting subjects and topics.

You can write about any art movement, time period, and school, talk about their origin and uniqueness, etc. Following are some amazing topics related to history that can help you draft an exceptional piece of writing. 

  • Egyptians used the same art canon for 3000 years. Why?
  • The history and techniques used in printmaking.
  • What is the philosophy of art? Explain the relationship between art and philosophy.
  • African countries and the return of cultural property post World War II.
  • Discuss primeval musical instruments.
  • Stained glass in Medieval France.
  • Venetian carnival masks and their history.
  • Human sacrifice in Mayan culture and its depiction in art.
  • Components of sculptures in Ancient Greece.
  • Draw a comparison between Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids.
  • The history and origin of Greek theater.
  • Biblical motives in the early paintings of Leonardo da Vinci.
  • The significance of Christian symbols in Renaissance art.
  • The beauty standards of Renaissance women.
  • The significance of Raphael’s work.

Art Topics on Artist Bibliography

Artist’s bibliographies make up for interesting essay topics. You never know what you might find going deep into their personal and professional lives, struggles, childhood, and their thinking and ideas.

We have gathered a list of artists from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, respectively, for you to choose for your upcoming art essay.

18th Century

  • William Blake
  • Francisco Goya
  • J. M. W. Turner
  • Samuel Morse
  • Jacques-Louis David
  • Eugene Delacroix
  • Thomas Gainsborough
  • Mikhail Lomonosov
  • John James Audubon
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Katsushika Hokusai
  • Marie Tussaud
  • E. T. A. Hoffmann
  • Grandma Moses

19th Century

  • Vincent Willem Van Gogh
  • Claude Manet
  • Gustav Klimt
  • Rabindranath Tagore
  • Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse
  • Hilaire Germain Edgar
  • Auguste Renoir
  • Georges Seurat
  • Alfred Sisley
  • Edgar Degas
  • Paul Cezanne
  • John Everett Millais
  • Frederic Remington
  • Thomas Lawrence
  • Adolf Menzel

20th Century

  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Frida Kahlo
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Judy Chicago
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Andy Warhol
  • Henry Spencer Moore
  • Georgia Totto O’Keeffe
  • Alberto Giacometti
  • David Smith
  • Vanessa Bell
  • Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Benny Andrews

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Art Topics on Different Epochs

The 18th century was an era of lavish architecture and musicians.

  • Influence of industrial revolution on art development.
  • Late Baroque architecture.
  • Rococo interior design.
  • Importance of Denis Diderot’s critiques of French art in the 18th century.
  • Neoclassicism sculpture: A combination of new and old ideas.
  • Comparison between Baroque and Rococo art designs.
  • Well-known composers of First Viennese School.
  • Marquis de Sade and its contribution to literature.
  • Significance of Denis Diderot’s criticism of French Art.
  • History of the famous Eugene Delacroix’s paintings.

The work of the artists of the 19th century.

  • Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and its colorists.
  • Why is the carving of the Veiled Virgin by Giovanni Strazza so special?
  • How were the Victorian beauty standards portrayed in their art?
  • Monet’s Sunrise: what is so special about the light?
  • Dancing paintings by Edgar Degas.
  • Changes in the methodology of Impressionism paintings.
  • Artists and their depiction of Victorian beauty standards.
  • The relation between Goya’s prints and French caricatures.
  • The historical significance of Francisco de Goya’s paintings.
  • Paul Gauguin's savage art.

20th-century movements

  • Art Deco and Art Nouveau: similarities and differences.
  • Surrealism in Salvador Dali’s sculptures.
  • Basic principles of futurism.
  • Frida Kahlo’s paintings and the most commonly used symbol in them.
  • Techniques used in Jackson Pollock’s art?
  • The Kiss by Gustav Klimt: discuss its styles.
  • Jasper Johns Flag: realistic and artificial motifs.
  • Futurism and its basic principles.
  • Unusual techniques in the art of Jackson Pollock.
  • Evolution of mannerism in Pablo Picasso’s paintings.

Art Therapy Topics

Art therapy is a worthwhile resource to explore. Here is an interesting list of art therapy topic ideas that you can consider before starting your writing process.

  • Art therapy as an industry.
  • Art Therapy a Form of Psychotherapy.
  • Art Therapy in Abused Children.
  • Art for Communities and Families.
  • Art therapy and the creative process.
  • Benefits of art therapy.
  • Art Therapy in Group Setting.
  • Art Therapy in Children and its Effectiveness.
  • Quantitative Research in Art Therapy.
  • The Power of Art Therapy.
  • Techniques Used For Art Therapy.
  • Losing Yourself in Art.
  • Art Therapy Resources.
  • Art Therapy Activities.
  • Art therapy and mental health.

Art Debate Topics

Coming up with an interesting Art debate topic can be tricky. There are a number of things that you need to consider when coming up with an interesting topic. Following are some of the unique  debate topics  ideas that you can consider choosing.

  • Should abstract be considered a type of art?
  • Should art be recognized more academically?
  • Should kids draw horror art?
  • The purpose of art.
  • Is it possible to appreciate art without liking it?
  • Art vs. Design.
  • How important is art for children's education?
  • How art affects and reflects the world.
  • Is Art Really Necessary Anymore?
  • Was Hitler’s contribution to the arts powerful?
  • Modern art and its legitimacy.
  • Critiquing styles of Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg.
  • The uniqueness of Russian artists.
  • How is primitivism real art?

Art Persuasive Speech Topics

When given to come up with a persuasive speech, it is often up to students to choose a topic.

Choosing the right topic is not an easy task. Here you can find some of the interesting art persuasive speech topic ideas to help you start the process.

  • Do some pets pose a danger to the community?
  • Is battery farming ethical?
  • Why should art classes be enforced in all public schools?
  • How can one benefit from having a pet?
  • What makes a dog a perfect pet?
  • How are dolphins important to the environment?
  • Reasons why you should not raise wild animals as pets
  • What we lose when animals go extinct.
  • Reasons why students should be taught to play musical instruments in school.
  • Significance of learning different languages.
  • Why should graffiti be considered art?
  • Why should museums be free for citizens?
  • Significance of cultural art education in schools
  • Effectiveness of music therapy.
  • How cultural interactions can make people successful professionally?

You can also explore articles to find more  persuasive speech topic ideas  on  5StarEssays.com  and write compelling essays.

Art Topics on Different Cultures

  • How has pop art influenced American culture?
  • Styles and material used in Japanese calligraphy.
  • How does the henna pattern differ in the Middle East, India, and Africa?
  • Asian tribes: their fashion and textile.
  • Maori culture: war dance haka.
  • Bollywood and the Hindi film industry.
  • Why should inappropriate language in English literature be removed?
  • Bollywood dance routines Vs. Americans.
  • History and significance of pop music culture.
  • Why should art therapy be covered in medical health insurance in different parts of the world?
  • Pros and cons of watching Sci-Fi films.
  • Comparison between the romantic comedy of Hollywood Vs. Bollywood.
  • Features of Irani cinema.
  • Significance of sitar in Hindu culture.
  • Contemporary dance forms in different cultures.

Art Topics on Ancient Civilization

  • Influence of science on Ancient Greek sculptures
  • Explain the main reasons for the shift in Roman artistic style in the 4th century.
  • The Great Wall of China and its construction.
  • Women and Politics in Ancient Rome.
  • Female representation in Ancient Art.
  • Art and architecture in Ancient Times.
  • The story behind the art and architecture of Ancient Rome.
  • Describe Ancient Greek literature and theater.
  • Contribution of Ancient Civilizations to the modern art
  • Depiction of beauty in Ancient Art

Art Research Paper Topics

Despite the fact that art cannot be measured with figures as its value depends on personal impressions, it still can be a subject for research.

It is quite a challenging task to study something full of emotions. But don’t worry, as there is much credible data that you can include in your research paper only if you choose the right topic.

Following are some of the interesting topic ideas that you can choose to start with.

  • Gothic and Neo-Gothic.
  • Comparison of Nazi and Soviet art.
  • Can abstract art be decoded?
  • The art of disgusting.
  • Bauhaus movement.
  • Surrealist movement.
  • Photography as art.
  • History and origin of Abstract Expressionism.
  • Similarities and differences between Claude Monnet and Edouard Manet.
  • How cultural identity affects the creation of art?
  • Breaking stereotypes through art and literature.
  • Limitations of the performance art.
  • Mysterious photography and artwork of Vivian Maier.
  • Jazz music of the 19th century.
  • Hidden meanings in the famous paintings.

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Modern Art Topics

Modern art consists of interesting movements, styles, and forms. Choose any of the below topics to write on.

  • The abstract expressionism movement.
  • Pablo Picasso, founder of cubism.
  • Impressionism Vs. Cubism.
  • Development of American pop art.
  • Is contemporary art merely a way for greedy capitalists to make money?
  • Political cartoons as an art form.
  • Are people scared of modern art?
  • History and techniques of printmaking.
  • The definition of “Philosophy of Arts.”
  • The artistic styles of Art Deco.

Art History Compare and Contrast Essay Topics

Writing a compare and contrast essay isn’t easy, but it allows you to learn a great deal about different time periods, artists and their work and movements, etc.

  • Picasso’s blue and rose periods: similarities and differences.
  • Baroque and Rococo design styles: compare and analyze.
  • Traditional vs. Modern Caribbean music.
  • Renaissance vs. Baroque Epoch
  • What are the main differences between Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci?
  • Roman Vs. Greek mythology.
  • Venus de Milo Vs. The Thinker.
  • Similarities and differences between the artworks of the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • The artwork of India and Africa.
  • Styles and techniques of painting landscapes.

We have added a variety of more compare and contrast essay topics in this blog; go check it out.

Art Argumentative Essay Topics

  • The most significant piece of art of the 20th century and why?
  • Graffiti art or vandalism?
  • Banksy artist or vandal?
  • What contributed to making Paris a center of art in the 20th century?
  • Why do we need art in our lives?
  • Why is TV becoming obsolete?
  • Significance of print media in current times.
  • Advantages of listening to classical music.
  • How painting can help treat mental illnesses.

Need more argumentative essay topics? Check out our blog on  argumentative essay topics .

Cause and Effect Essay Topics on Art

  • Did iconoclasm affect Muslim art, and how?
  • Causes of the decline of art in Medieval Europe?
  • How has the cultural revolution influenced Chinese art?
  • The invention of the printing press changed the status of the mass media. Examples must be provided to support your position.
  • Raphael’s influence on the art of the Renaissance.
  • Influence of Hitler’s work on literature.
  • Influence of WWI of art.
  • Influence of WWII on literature.
  • How the work of William Blake paved the path for modern art?
  • How did art influence the people during Hitler’s time?

Art Topics For Presentation

  • The evolution of street art: From graffiti to mainstream acceptance.
  • The impact of technology on contemporary art.
  • Art therapy: The healing power of creativity.
  • Women artists throughout history: Challenging gender norms and making their mark.
  • Exploring cultural appropriation in art: Appreciation vs. exploitation.
  • Art and environmental activism: Raising awareness through creative expression.
  • The influence of ancient civilizations on modern art.
  • Art as a form of storytelling: Narrative elements in visual arts.
  • The role of art museums in preserving and promoting artistic heritage.
  • The intersection of art and science: The fusion of creativity and innovation.

Performing Arts Topics

  • The influence of dance in different cultures
  • The evolution of musical theater
  • The impact of technology on contemporary dance performances.
  • The portrayal of social issues in modern dance
  • The role of improvisation in theater
  • Exploring different styles of classical music
  • The significance of costume design in theater
  • How music influences our feelings and experiences.
  • The power of storytelling through puppetry
  • The fusion of traditional and contemporary elements in multicultural performances.

Literary Arts Topics

  • Exploring the use of symbols to convey deeper meanings.
  • The evolution of the novel: From its early forms to modern genres.
  • The impact of postcolonial literature
  • Exploring magical realism in literature: Blending reality and the fantastical.
  • The role of satire in social critique
  • Women writers and the feminist literary movement
  • The portrayal of mental health in literature
  • The influence of mythology in contemporary literature
  • Analyzing the portrayal of bleak future societies.
  • The power of storytelling in oral traditions

Art and Society Topics

  • Art as a vehicle for social change
  • How art shapes and revitalizes communities.
  • Exploring the intersection of art, capitalism, and consumer culture.
  • Analyzing instances of art being censored or restricted due to societal or political factors.
  • Examining the benefits and challenges of arts education in schools.
  • Exploring the therapeutic benefits of engaging with art.
  • How artists express and challenge notions of race, gender, sexuality, and culture.
  • Examining the relationship between art, digital media, and technological advancements.
  • Exploring how artists respond to and raise awareness about ecological issues.
  • Analyzing art projects that promote dialogue, collaboration, and inclusivity within communities.

Art Topics for Personal Development

  • Art journaling for self-reflection and growth
  • The power of imagination and artistic expression to manifest personal goals and aspirations.
  • Exploring art techniques as a form of meditation and cultivating present moment awareness.
  • Using art-making as a means to reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance well-being.
  • Creating visual representations of personal stories and experiences.
  • Using different art mediums to process and communicate emotions.
  • Utilizing collage or mixed media techniques to visually represent personal goals and aspirations.
  • Engaging in artistic activities to explore personal identity, values, and beliefs.
  • Using art-making as a means to cope with and overcome challenges and adversity.
  • Experimenting with different art styles and mediums to discover one's unique artistic voice.

Miscellaneous Art Essay Topics

  • Contemporary artists, you like and why?
  • What is your opinion on true art: what is it?
  • If you are an artist, how would you explain your kind of art to others?
  • Does life and nature influence art?
  • What are your views on art therapy?
  • Difference between a French and American artist.
  • History and evaluation of animation
  • Significance of censorship
  • Origin of Crop art
  • Urban sculptures and their significance
  • What is fiber art?
  • The emergence of textile arts
  • History of graphic novels
  • Interactive art of modern times
  • Introduction and significance of tramp art?

In conclusion, choosing an art topic is an important and personal decision for an art student. It's a process that involves self-reflection, exploration, and experimentation. By reflecting on your interests, researching, and seeking inspiration, you can discover the subjects that truly ignite your creativity. 

Remember, there's no right or wrong answer when it comes to art topics. The key is to follow your passion and enjoy the journey of artistic exploration. 

So, whichever topic you choose, just add it to our AI essay generator and get an AI essay for reference. 

Or, if you need help writing a high-quality paper, feel free to contact 5StarEssays.com expert essay writers. Simply request ‘ write my essay ’ and get assistance for all types of academic essays and papers. 

Nova A.

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As a Digital Content Strategist, Nova Allison has eight years of experience in writing both technical and scientific content. With a focus on developing online content plans that engage audiences, Nova strives to write pieces that are not only informative but captivating as well.

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ARTS - Herzberg: Writing Essays About Art

  • Art History
  • Current Artists and Events
  • Local Art Venues
  • Video and Image Resources
  • Writing Essays About Art
  • Citation Help

What is a Compare and Contrast Essay?

What is a compare / contrast essay.

In Art History and Appreciation, contrast / compare essays allow us to examine the features of two or more artworks.

  • Comparison -- points out similarities in the two artworks
  • Contrast -- points out the differences in the two artworks

Why would you want to write this type of essay?

  • To inform your reader about characteristics of each art piece.
  • To show a relationship between different works of art.
  • To give your reader an insight into the process of artistic invention.
  • Use your assignment sheet from your class to find specific characteristics that your professor wants you to compare.

How is Writing a Compare / Contrast Essay in Art History Different from Other Subjects?

You should use art vocabulary to describe your subjects..

  • Find art terms in your textbook or an art glossary or dictionary

You should have an image of the works you are writing about in front of you while you are writing your essay.

  • The images should be of  high enough quality that you can see the small details of the works. 
  • You will use them when describing visual details of each art work.

Works of art are highly influenced by the culture, historical time period and movement in which they were created.

  • You should gather information about these BEFORE you start writing your essay.

If you describe a characteristic of one piece of art, you must describe how the OTHER piece of art treats that characteristic.

Example:  You are comparing a Greek amphora with a sculpture from the Tang Dynasty in China.

Greek amphora

If you point out that the color palette of the amphora is limited to black, white and red, you must also write about the colors used in the horse sculpture.

Organizing Your Essay

Thesis statement.

The thesis for a comparison/contrast essay will present the subjects under consideration and indicate whether the focus will be on their similarities, on their differences, or both.

Thesis example using the amphora and horse sculpture -- Differences:

While they are both made from clay, the Greek amphora and the Tang Dynasty horse served completely different functions in their respective cultures.

Thesis example -- Similarities:

Ancient Greek and Tang Dynasty ceramics have more in common than most people realize.

Thesis example -- Both:

The Greek amphora and the Tang Dynasty horse were used in different ways in different parts of the world, but they have similarities that may  not be apparent to the casual viewer.

Visualizing a Compare & Contrast Essay: 

Introduction (1-2 paragraphs) .

  • Creates interest in your essay
  • Introduces the two art works that you will be comparing.
  • States your thesis, which mentions the art works you are considering and may indicate whether the focus will be on similarities, differences, or both. 

Body paragraphs 

  • Make and explain a point about the first subject and then about the second subject 
  • Example: While both superheroes fight crime, their motivation is vastly different. Superman is an idealist, who fights for justice …… while Batman is out for vengeance. 

Conclusion (1-2 paragraphs) 

  • Provides a satisfying finish 
  • Leaves your reader with a strong final impression. 

Downloadable Essay Guide

  • How to Write a Compare and Contrast Essay in Art History Downloadable version of the description on this LibGuide.

Questions to Ask Yourself After You Have Finished Your Essay

  • Are all the important points of comparison or contrast included and explained in enough detail?
  • Have you addressed all points that your professor specified in your assignment?
  • Do you use transitions to connect your arguments so that your essay flows into a coherent whole, rather than just a random collection of statements?
  • Do your arguments support your thesis statement?

Art Terminology

  • British National Gallery: Art Glossary Includes entries on artists, art movements, techniques, etc.

Lee College Writing Center

Writing Center tutors can help you with any writing assignment for any class from the time you receive the assignment instructions until you turn it in, including:

  • Brainstorming ideas
  • MLA / APA formats
  • Grammar and paragraph unity
  • Thesis statements
  • Second set of eyes before turning in

Contact a tutor:

  • Phone: 281-425-6534
  • Email:  w [email protected]
  • Schedule a web appointment: https://lee.mywconline.com/

Other Compare / Contrast Writing Resources

  • Southwestern University Guide for Writing About Art This easy to follow guide explains the basic of writing an art history paper.
  • Purdue Online Writing Center: writing essays in art history Describes how to write an art history Compare and Contrast paper.
  • Stanford University: a brief guide to writing in art history See page 24 of this document for an explanation of how to write a compare and contrast essay in art history.
  • Duke University: writing about paintings Downloadable handout provides an overview of areas you should cover when you write about paintings, including a list of questions your essay should answer.
  • << Previous: Video and Image Resources
  • Next: Citation Help >>
  • Last Updated: Jun 19, 2023 4:30 PM
  • URL: https://lee.libguides.com/Arts_Herzberg

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Talking Point

Why study art?

Find out why art education is important from artists, young people and major cultural figures

Art in schools shouldn’t be sidelined… it should be right there right up in the front because I think art teaches you to deal with the world around you. It is the oxygen that makes all the other subjects breathe Alan Parker, filmmaker

Arts education is in crisis. In the UK, school time and budgets are under pressure and school inspections increasingly value ‘core’ subjects as the indicators of school level and success. Subjects including art, music and drama are often sidelined in the curriculum. This has led to a steady decline in the number of students choosing to study arts subjects at school.

In 2018 a landmark research project commissioned by Arts Council England, and undertaken by the University of Nottingham, called Tracking Learning and Engagement in the Arts (TALE) outlined the overwhelmingly positive benefits of arts and cultural education for young people. The research drew from the experience and voices of thousands of young people and their teachers in secondary and special schools.

We have pulled together some of these voices and findings from TALE and other research, as well as helpful resources on studying art.

Whether you’re choosing art as a GCSE; would like to study art or design at university; or are a parent or teacher interested in arts education: explore, join in and have your say!

Why is it important to study art?

School in general is so stressful… this is the one lesson I look forward to every week because I know it’s not going to majorly stress me out. Student, Three Rivers Academy, Surrey
[School is] all very robotic. It’s all very, it needs to be this, this and this. You can’t do this because it is wrong. It’s all following a strict script. That’s not what we’re made to do. We’re made to be our own person, we’re made to go off and do something that someone else hasn’t done before. Student, Ark Helenswood, Hastings
Creativity is critical thinking and without it how are you going to open up and ask harder questions? Art opens up those… possibilities to think beyond what we already know. Catherine Opie, artist

Learning through and about the arts enriches the experience of studying while at school as well as preparing students for life after school.

  • Arts subjects encourage self-expression and creativity and can build confidence as well as a sense of individual identity.
  • Creativity can also help with wellbeing and improving health and happiness – many students in the TALE study commented that arts lessons acted as an outlet for releasing the pressures of studying as well as those of everyday life.
  • Studying arts subjects also help to develop critical thinking and the ability to interpret the world around us.

What are art lessons like? What do you learn?

You feel free because it’s just you sitting down, doing your work. No one is there to tell you what to do. It is just you, sitting there and expressing yourself, and sometimes we listen to music, which is helpful because you get new ideas. Student, Archbishop Tenison School, south London
Art is a non pre-prescribed dangerous world full of possibilities. Cate Blanchett, actor

The art room is a very different space to other spaces in the school. On her visit to Archbishop Tenison School in London TALE researcher Lexi Earl describes the bustle of the art classroom:

‘There are piles of sketchbooks, jars with pencils, paintbrushes, sinks splattered with paint. There are large art books for students to reference. Often there is a kiln, sometimes a dark room too. There are trays for drying work on, or work is pegged up over the sink, like clothing on a washing line.’

  • The art room is a space where students have the freedom to express their ideas and thoughts and work creatively.
  • The way art is taught means that interaction with other students and with the teacher is different in art and design classes. Students comment on the bonds they form with classmates because of their shared interests and ideas. The art teacher is someone they can bounce ideas off rather than telling them what to do.
  • Studying art and design provides the opportunity to acquire new skills. As well as knowledge of different art forms, media and techniques you can also gain specialist skills in areas such as photography and digital technologies.

Have your say!

Do you think art is important? Do you think the arts should be an essential part of education? How do you think studying art is useful for the future?

Why Study Art? 2018 is an artwork by collective practice They Are Here commissioned by the Schools and Teachers team at Tate. The inspiration for the artwork was prompted by Mo, a 14 year old workshop participant who told the artists that ‘art is dead’.

All responses are welcome whether you’ve studied art or not! (You will be re-directed to the Why Study Art? artwork site).

Tate champions art in schools

ASSEMBLY at Tate Modern © Tate

Every year Tate Modern hosts ASSEMBLY, a special event for around 1500 London school students and their teachers. The students are invited to occupy, explore and take part in activities in Tate’s Blavatnik building and Turbine hall – which are closed to all other visitors.

This annual event, first staged in 2016 which invited schools from all over the UK, reflects Tate’s mission to champion the arts as part of every child’s education. The project aims to highlight not only the importance of visual culture in young people's lives, but the importance of those young people as future producers of culture.

Research at Tate

Tracking Arts Learning and Engagement (TALE) was a collaborative research project involving Tate, The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the University of Nottingham. The research focused on thirty secondary schools spread across England and included three special schools.

Over three-years (2015 – 2018) the research investigated four main questions:

  • What do teachers learn from deep engagement with cultural organisations?
  • How do teachers translate this learning into the classroom?
  • What do pupils gain from these learning experiences?
  • What do the two different models of teacher professional development at Tate and RSC offer and achieve?

See the findings of the project and explore fascinating insights through the project blogs that feature the voices of students and teachers interviewed during the research.

I don’t want to be an artist – why bother studying art?

It doesn’t matter if you’re going to study history or geography or science, you still need to be creative because the people who are the outliers in those fields are the most creative people. To have art eroded in schools is disastrous… Cornelia Parker, artist
Those skills go with you for the rest of your life as well. If you go for an interview, if they can see that you’re confident it is better for them because they know that they can ask questions that need to be asked. Student, Ark Helenwood, Hastings

Art may not be your favourite subject, but studying the arts alongside other subjects significantly boosts student achievement. Schools that integrate arts into their curriculum show improved student performance in Maths, English, critical thinking and verbal skills.

Arts education can also help with developing skills and ways of working that will benefit you in the future in whatever career you choose.

  • The leading people in any field are those who can think creatively and innovatively. These are skills that employers value alongside qualifications. Making and participating in the arts aids the development of these skills
  • When you study art you learn to work both independently and collaboratively, you also gain experience in time management – skillsets valued by employers
  • Studying the arts teaches determination and resilience – qualities useful to any career. It teaches us that it is okay to fail, to not get things totally right the first time and to have the courage to start again. As a drama student at King Ethelbert’s School, Kent commented: ‘Like with every yes, there is like 10 nos… It has taught me that if I work on it, I will get there eventually. It is determination and commitment. It has definitely helped’

Is art good for society and communities generally?

You don’t have innovation if you don’t have arts. It’s as simple as that Anne-Marie Imafidon, CEO of Stemettes which encourages girls to pursue careers in science and technology
It was really when I was at art school that I started to see the relationship between history, philosophy, politics and art. Prior to that I thought that art was just making pretty pictures – actually art is connected to life. Yinka Shonibare, artist
Art and cultural production is at the centre of what makes a society what it is Wolfgang Tillmans, artist

Arts and cultural learning is more important than ever for the health of our communities and our society

Creativity is essential in a global economy that needs a workforce that is knowledgeable, imaginative and innovative. Studying arts subjects also increases social mobility – encouraging and motivating students from low-income families to go into higher education. Studying the arts can also help with understanding, interpreting and negotiating the complexities and diversity of society

  • Students from low-income families who take part in arts activities at school are three times more likely to take a degree
  • By making art a part of the national curriculum, we give the next generation of artists, designers, engineers, creators and cultural leaders the opportunity to develop the imagination and skills that are vital to our future
  • Engagement with the arts helps young people develop a sense of their own identity and value. This in turn develops personal responsibility within their school and wider community
  • Arts and cultural learning encourages awareness, empathy and appreciation of difference and diversity and the views of others

Tate Collective

Tate Collective is for young people aged 15 to 25 years old. Its aim is to facilitate new young audiences in creating, experimenting and engaging in our galleries and online with Tate's collection and exhibitions.

In 2018 Tate launched £5 exhibition tickets for Tate Collective members. If you are 16 to 25 sign-up free to Tate Collective. You don’t have to live in the UK – young people anywhere in the world can join! Enjoy the benefits of exhibition entry for £5 (you can also bring up to three friends to shows, each for £5); as well as discounts in Tate’s cafes and shops.

I love art – but can it be a career?

Studying art and design at school opens the door to a range of careers in the creative industries. The creative industries, which include art, design and music, are an important part of the British economy – one of the areas of the economy that is still growing.

Art lessons at school include teaching functional and useful skills that prepare students for future careers in the arts. Art departments also forge links with arts organisations and creative practitioners, companies and agencies. They organise visits and workshops which provide inspiring opportunities to for students to see what it’s like to ‘do’ a particular job and hear how artists and designers got where they are. As a student at Uxbride High School commented:

When it is from someone who has actually been through it and does it now you get the push where you’re like ‘oh, so I could actually genuinely do that myself’, without having a teacher say it to you.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in art and design explore our art school and art career resources:

Working at Tate

Find out about working at Tate including how to apply, current jobs or vacancies and what we do

Art School Debate

Battling about where to study art or whether it's a good idea? Get a second opinion from those in the know...

Explore more

Student resources.

From GCSE and A level exam help and advice on applying for art school, to fun resources you can use when you visit our galleries.

Play, make and explore on Tate Kids

IELTS Preparation with Liz: Free IELTS Tips and Lessons, 2024

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  • Test Information FAQ
  • Band Scores
  • IELTS Candidate Success Tips
  • Computer IELTS: Pros & Cons
  • How to Prepare
  • Useful Links & Resources
  • Recommended Books
  • Writing Task 1
  • Writing Task 2
  • Speaking Part 1 Topics
  • Speaking Part 2 Topics
  • Speaking Part 3 Topics
  • 100 Essay Questions
  • On The Day Tips
  • Top Results
  • Advanced IELTS

IELTS Essay Ideas: Is Art a Waste of Time?

Art is a common topic to get in IELTS writing task 2. Below is a sample essay question with ideas.

While some people think that art if an important subject for children to study, others think it is a waste of time. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.

Art is Useful

  • children need to learn to express their thoughts and feelings
  • it is often easier for young children to draw pictures than to express complex feelings in words
  • creative thinking should be developed
  • creative thinking is beneficial later in life

Art is A Waste of Time

  • the importance of technology, sciences and languages
  • most artists struggle to make a living from selling their art
  • having a balance of subjects is the best way to help children develop a balanced character in life

Recommended

Essay Ideas: Littering in Cities

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Dear Liz thanks of you a lots…

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Good morning teacher, I’m Shakeeb Rahman V.k, belong to kerala. Would you please help me out with your idea book.

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You can find my e-book for sale on this page: https://elizabethferguson.podia.com/

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Liz , i saw a post where you provided ideas for alot of topics , can you please tell me where can i find that as i have been looking for that everywhere on your page ??/

The post said that I am making an e-book of ideas for topics – it isn’t available yet.

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hi liz, is that book available now. because i have to appear for exam on 2nd feb. I am nervous, and i dont know why, maybe reading is my greatest fear, as my scores are not consistent. Sometimes i get more than 35 and sometimes below 20. Kindly give an advice how to be more focused.

My e-book on Ideas for IELTS Essays is not ready yet. Hopefully in March.

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Is your e-book on Ideas for IELTS Essays available in online?

Sorry, I’m just on the last bit of preparation. It’ll be ready soon. Maybe in one or two weeks.

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dear Liz, your ideas and vocabulary really helped me a lot.thanks so much🥰. I am from Uzbekistan🇺🇿

You’re welcome 🙂

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Many thanks to you Liz, I appreciate your excellent lessons and videos. I think they are the best of all. So useful and so professional! Thank you very much.

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Would you tell me please what the word ‘art’ really means? is it craft or painting?

(I asked this question anywhere else on your blog but can not locate now 🙁 )

Thanks a lot for you help.

There are two words which you need to learn: 1) The arts This relates to art and other skills which reflect human creativity and expression such as dancing, threatre, video making, design etc 2) art This relates to painting, drawing and sculpting. It is usually something created with hands or brushes and involves an image or picture being formed. This is a general definition.

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Hi Liz, I’m from Venezuela but I’m living in Saudi Arabia. Although i use English at work I’m afraid to take the IELTS exam. I can’t afford to enroll a course. But i really want to have this IELTS certification. Could you please help me? im clueless, i dont know how to start this process.

Watch the video on the home page: https://ieltsliz.com/ . Then read the information page so you understand what the test is: https://ieltsliz.com/ielts-help-faq/ . After that start learning and practising each part of the test. The main pages can be accessed through the red bar at the top of the website. Good luck!

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Hi Liz, I am Apana from Nepal. I gave IELTS test on dec 10 2016,I need band score 7 in each test but i got 7 in listening and 6 in remaining three test.I am planning to prepare again for IELTS but I am quiet hopeless now. Any suggestions for me. looking forward to hear from you.

Check to see if you used the right techniques on this page: https://ieltsliz.com/ielts-exam-tips-on-the-day/

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Many Thanks and Art is the best to express your thoughts and feelings.

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I am very thankful to u Liz for posting ur valuables emails…These mails really help us a lot Regards

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Many thanks for all your efforts and cooperation, wishing you all the best.

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Thank you so much for your helping!

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Hi Liz, Thanks for your post am writing my academic Ielts next week and i require 7 in each band but am really struggling with reading especially True , false not given answers. and multiple choice questions. i am aslow reader . what can i do to improve.

Watch the free video on this page for TFNG: https://ieltsliz.com/ielts-reading-lessons-information-and-tips/

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Hello mam tell me listening score is diffrent G T and acedamic

There is no GT listening test. There is one listening test with one scoring for ALL students.

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Dear liz thanks of you a lot by providing such exigent hints about IELTS writing task 2 . I am greatly thankful of you that you are struggling for our betterment in IELTS

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Thank you. I have to praise these fantastic ideas.

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Ms. Liz, thank you very much , received mail from you, taking lots of guidance which you written in your mail. i m not good in writing , reading , and listening part. kindly suggest how can increase my knowledge. lots of regards

See the main page of this website. Here is the main page for writing task 1: https://ieltsliz.com/ielts-writing-task-1-lessons-and-tips/ . Other main pages are accessed through the red bar at the top of this website.

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happy new year to you dear Liz I am very thankful to you for your useful posts which I practice in my academy Regards Vicky

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Thanks for your sharing, Liz. Happy new year!!

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Thank you so much Liz ..

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Thank you very much 🙂

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Very helpful and important in my preparation. Thank you very much . I wish happy New Year.

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Thank you,dear Liz! Looking forward to reading your next post!

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Thank you Madam to help us

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I’ve been benefiting tremendously from your emails. More of it please, God will bless you beyond your imagination. Many thanks. Mathew from Nigeria

I’m glad my posts are useful 🙂

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You are such a kind and generous person !!

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Hi Liz, Thank you for the emails.happy new year!! It would be more helpful if u send like this in a daily base.

Thank you Keerthana

I can’t send them on a daily basis but I will send them as often as I can. Happy New Year to you !! 🙂

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Thanx liz Your post really helpful to us

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Great Thanks Liz for valuable emails. please make your emails on daily base

Best Regards Azhar

I wish you could. However, I do promise some good posts this year!! 🙂

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LIz, Thank you for your posts, actually, I do enjoy them fully If art is a waste of time?, art is what makes the world go by, I am an Spanish Spoken English Teacher, who lives in Uruguay,I do get involved in whatever , remote art courses for adults, which make me feel in Heaven By the way, I am currently doing one course for THE MOMA, which is excellent, demanding but challenging, we deal in turns with painters such as Frida Kalho,Diego Rivera, Pable Picasso,Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec and many other Thank you for your concern

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Defining ‘Art’

Defining ‘Art’, Essays on Art

For a practice that has followed humanity since the dawn of consciousness, the question ‘What is Art?’ is notoriously difficult to answer. The Oxford English Dictionary, typically an authority when it comes to definition, calls art “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

When asked to ‘think of an artwork’ there’s a pretty good chance that Oxford’s definition covers what you imagined. Oxford’s definition establishes some crucial distinctions: art is created by humans, so a beautiful tree is not art unless a human has applied their creativity to it, as with a bonsai tree. Also, art may be appreciated for its beauty or emotional power. While many artworks are visually pleasing, ugly or disturbing work is valid, and can be appreciated for its emotional power. So if Oxford has the definition nailed, why have generations of aestheticians, philosophers, writers, artists and academics defined and redefined what they think art is? First, some examples. We’ll begin with the pragmatic. In 1957, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote: “Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.” Another practical definition comes to us from Charles Eames: “Art resides in the quality of doing; process is not magic.”

For many artists and writers art is an intensely personal and difficult act, with Oscar Wilde calling art a mode of individualism , the French writer André Gide saying it’s “the point where resistance is overcome” and Italian film director Federico Fellini called art “autobiography . “

For Leo Tolstoy art was something greater than the individual. In his essay What is Art he wrote: “Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man’s emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” And this is the crux of why art is difficult to define. The Oxford English defines art as an object created with intention, but generations of artists have seen art as many things. And they are all correct, because art is as complicated, diverse and contentious as human nature. No one definition will ever properly encapsulate what art is. So here, in no particular order are Obelisk’s definitions of art:

— Art is a process — Art is communication — Art is an expression of humanness

Reed Enger, "Defining ‘Art’," in Obelisk Art History , Published August 15, 2019; last modified October 12, 2022, http://www.arthistoryproject.com/essays/defining-art/.

What is Artistic Composition?, Essays on Art

What is Artistic Composition?

Geometry and the Subconscious

The Elements of Art, Essays on Art

The Elements of Art

Eight tools, infinite expression

Basic Composition Techniques, Essays on Art

Basic Composition Techniques

A few easy tips

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How to analyze an artwork: a step-by-step guide

Last Updated on August 16, 2023

This article has been written for high school art students who are working upon a critical study of art, sketchbook annotation or an essay-based artist study. It contains a list of questions to guide students through the process of analyzing visual material of any kind, including drawing, painting, mixed media, graphic design, sculpture, printmaking, architecture, photography, textiles, fashion and so on (the word ‘artwork’ in this article is all-encompassing). The questions include a wide range of specialist art terms, prompting students to use subject-specific vocabulary in their responses. It combines advice from art analysis textbooks as well as from high school art teachers who have first-hand experience teaching these concepts to students.

COPYRIGHT NOTE: This material is available as a printable art analysis PDF handout . This may be used free of charge in a classroom situation. To share this material with others, please use the social media buttons at the bottom of this page. Copying, sharing, uploading or distributing this article (or the PDF) in any other way is not permitted.

READ NEXT: How to make an artist website (and why you need one)

How to analyse a piece of art

Why do we study art?

Almost all high school art students carry out critical analysis of artist work, in conjunction with creating practical work. Looking critically at the work of others allows students to understand compositional devices and then explore these in their own art. This is one of the best ways for students to learn.

Instructors who assign formal analyses want you to look—and look carefully. Think of the object as a series of decisions that an artist made. Your job is to figure out and describe, explain, and interpret those decisions and why the artist may have made them. – The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 10

Art analysis tips

  • ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this’ without any further explanation or justification is not analysis . Personal opinions must be supported with explanation, evidence or justification.
  • ‘Analysis of artwork’ does not mean ‘description of artwork’ . To gain high marks, students must move beyond stating the obvious and add perceptive, personal insight. Students should demonstrate higher order thinking – the ability to analyse, evaluate and synthesize information and ideas. For example, if color has been used to create strong contrasts in certain areas of an artwork, students might follow this observation with a thoughtful assumption about why this is the case – perhaps a deliberate attempt by the artist to draw attention to a focal point, helping to convey thematic ideas.
Although description is an important part of a formal analysis, description is not enough on its own. You must introduce and contextualize your descriptions of the formal elements of the work so the reader understands how each element influences the work’s overall effect on the viewer.  – Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art 2
  • Cover a range of different visual elements and design principles . It is common for students to become experts at writing about one or two elements of composition, while neglecting everything else – for example, only focusing upon the use of color in every artwork studied. This results in a narrow, repetitive and incomplete analysis of the artwork. Students should ensure that they cover a wide range of art elements and design principles, as well as address context and meaning, where required. The questions below are designed to ensure that students cover a broad range of relevant topics within their analysis.
  • Write alongside the artwork discussed . In almost all cases, written analysis should be presented alongside the work discussed, so that it is clear which artwork comments refer to. This makes it easier for examiners to follow and evaluate the writing.
  • Support writing with visual analysis . It is almost always helpful for high school students to support written material with sketches, drawings and diagrams that help the student understand and analyse the piece of art. This might include composition sketches; diagrams showing the primary structure of an artwork; detailed enlargements of small sections; experiments imitating use of media or technique; or illustrations overlaid with arrows showing leading lines and so on. Visual investigation of this sort plays an important role in many artist studies.
Making sketches or drawings from works of art is the traditional, centuries-old way that artists have learned from each other. In doing this, you will engage with a work and an artist’s approach even if you previously knew nothing about it. If possible do this whenever you can, not from a postcard, the internet or a picture in a book, but from the actual work itself. This is useful because it forces you to look closely at the work and to consider elements you might not have noticed before. – Susie Hodge, How to Look at Art 7

Finally, when writing about art, students should communicate with clarity; demonstrate subject-specific knowledge; use correct terminology; generate personal responses; and reference all content and ideas sourced from others. This is explained in more detail in our article about high school sketchbooks .

What should students write about?

Although each aspect of composition is treated separately in the questions below, students should consider the relationship between visual elements (line, shape, form, value/tone, color/hue, texture/surface, space) and how these interact to form design principles (such as unity, variety, emphasis, dominance, balance, symmetry, harmony, movement, contrast, rhythm, pattern, scale, proportion) to communicate meaning.

As complex as works of art typically are, there are really only three general categories of statements one can make about them. A statement addresses form, content or context (or their various interrelations). – Dr. Robert J. Belton, Art History: A Preliminary Handbook, The University of British Columbia 5
…a formal analysis – the result of looking closely – is an analysis of the form that the artist produces; that is, an analysis of the work of art, which is made up of such things as line, shape, color, texture, mass, composition. These things give the stone or canvas its form, its expression, its content, its meaning. – Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art 2

This video by Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Naraelle Hohensee provides an excellent example of how to analyse a piece of art (it is important to note that this video is an example of ‘formal analysis’ and doesn’t include contextual analysis, which is also required by many high school art examination boards, in addition to the formal analysis illustrated here):

Composition analysis: a list of questions

The questions below are designed to facilitate direct engagement with an artwork and to encourage a breadth and depth of understanding of the artwork studied. They are intended to prompt higher order thinking and to help students arrive at well-reasoned analysis.

It is not expected that students answer every question (doing so would result in responses that are excessively long, repetitious or formulaic); rather, students should focus upon areas that are most helpful and relevant for the artwork studied (for example, some questions are appropriate for analyzing a painting, but not a sculpture). The words provided as examples are intended to help students think about appropriate vocabulary to use when discussing a particular topic. Definitions of more complex words have been provided.

Students should not attempt to copy out questions and then answer them; rather the questions should be considered a starting point for writing bullet pointed annotation or sentences in paragraph form.

How to write art analysis

CONTENT, CONTEXT AND MEANING

Subject matter / themes / issues / narratives / stories / ideas.

There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same artwork. An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about. – Terry Barrett, Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary 6
Our interest in the painting grows only when we forget its title and take an interest in the things that it does not mention…” – Françoise Barbe-Gall, How to Look at a Painting 8
  • Does the artwork fall within an established genre (i.e. historical; mythical; religious; portraiture; landscape; still life; fantasy; architectural)?
  • Are there any recognisable objects, places or scenes ? How are these presented (i.e. idealized; realistic; indistinct; hidden; distorted; exaggerated; stylized; reflected; reduced to simplified/minimalist form; primitive; abstracted; concealed; suggested; blurred or focused)?
  • Have people been included? What can we tell about them (i.e. identity; age; attire; profession; cultural connections; health; family relationships; wealth; mood/expression)? What can we learn from their pose (i.e. frontal; profile; partly turned; body language)? Where are they looking (i.e. direct eye contact with viewer; downcast; interested in other subjects within the artwork)? Can we work out relationships between figures from the way they are posed?
What do the clothing, furnishings, accessories (horses, swords, dogs, clocks, business ledgers and so forth), background, angle of the head or posture of the head and body, direction of the gaze, and facial expression contribute to our sense of the figure’s social identity (monarch, clergyman, trophy wife) and personality (intense, cool, inviting)? – Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art 2
  • What props and important details are included (drapery; costumes; adornment; architectural elements; emblems; logos; motifs)? How do aspects of setting support the primary subject? What is the effect of including these items within the arrangement (visual unity; connections between different parts of the artwork; directs attention; surprise; variety and visual interest; separates / divides / borders; transformation from one object to another; unexpected juxtaposition)?
If a waiter served you a whole fish and a scoop of chocolate ice cream on the same plate, your surprise might be caused by the juxtaposition , or the side-by-side contrast, of the two foods. – Vocabulary.com
A motif is an element in a composition or design that can be used repeatedly for decorative, structural, or iconographic purposes. A motif can be representational or abstract, and it can be endowed with symbolic meaning. Motifs can be repeated in multiple artworks and often recur throughout the life’s work of an individual artist. – John A. Parks, Universal Principles of Art 11
  • Does the artwork communicate an action, narrative or story (i.e. historical event or illustrate a scene from a story)? Has the arrangement been embellished, set up or contrived?
  • Does the artwork explore movement ? Do you gain a sense that parts of the artwork are about to change, topple or fall (i.e. tension; suspense)? Does the artwork capture objects in motion (i.e. multiple or sequential images; blurred edges; scene frozen mid-action; live performance art; video art; kinetic art)?
  • What kind of abstract elements are shown (i.e. bars; shapes; splashes; lines)? Have these been derived from or inspired by realistic forms? Are they the result of spontaneous, accidental creation or careful, deliberate arrangement?
  • Does the work include the appropriation of work by other artists, such as within a parody or pop art? What effect does this have (i.e. copyright concerns)?
Parody: mimicking the appearance and/or manner of something or someone, but with a twist for comic effect or critical comment, as in Saturday Night Live’s political satires – Dr. Robert J. Belton, Art History: A Preliminary Handbook, The University of British Columbia 5
  • Does the subject captivate an instinctual response , such as items that are informative, shocking or threatening for humans (i.e. dangerous places; abnormally positioned items; human faces; the gaze of people; motion; text)? Heap map tracking has demonstrated that these elements catch our attention, regardless of where they are positioned –  James Gurney writes more about this fascinating topic .
  • What kind of text has been used (i.e. font size; font weight; font family; stenciled; hand-drawn; computer-generated; printed)? What has influenced this choice of text?
  • Do key objects or images have symbolic value or provide a cue to meaning ? How does the artwork convey deeper, conceptual themes (i.e. allegory; iconographic elements; signs; metaphor; irony)?
Allegory is a device whereby abstract ideas can be communicated using images of the concrete world. Elements, whether figures or objects, in a painting or sculpture are endowed with symbolic meaning. Their relationships and interactions combine to create more complex meanings. – John A. Parks, Universal Principles of Art 11
An iconography is a particular range or system of types of image used by an artist or artists to convey particular meanings. For example in Christian religious painting there is an iconography of images such as the lamb which represents Christ, or the dove which represents the Holy Spirit. – Tate.org.uk
  • What tone of voice does the artwork have (i.e. deliberate; honest; autobiographical; obvious; direct; unflinching; confronting; subtle; ambiguous; uncertain; satirical; propagandistic)?
  • What is your emotional response to the artwork? What is the overall mood (i.e positive; energetic; excitement; serious; sedate; peaceful; calm; melancholic; tense; uneasy; uplifting; foreboding; calm; turbulent)? Which subject matter choices help to communicate this mood (i.e. weather and lighting conditions; color of objects and scenes)?
  • Does the title change the way you interpret the work?
  • Were there any design constraints relating to the subject matter or theme/s (i.e. a sculpture commissioned to represent a specific subject, place or idea)?
  • Are there thematic connections with your own project? What can you learn from the way the artist has approached this subject?

Wider contexts

All art is in part about the world in which it emerged. – Terry Barrett, Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary 6
  • Supported by research, can you identify when, where and why the work was created and its original intention or purpose (i.e. private sale; commissioned for a specific owner; commemorative; educational; promotional; illustrative; decorative; confrontational; useful or practical utility; communication; created in response to a design brief; private viewing; public viewing)? In what way has this background influenced the outcome (i.e. availability of tools, materials or time; expectations of the patron / audience)?
  • Where is the place of construction or design site and how does this influence the artwork (i.e. reflects local traditions, craftsmanship, or customs; complements surrounding designs; designed to accommodate weather conditions / climate; built on historic site)? Was the artwork originally located somewhere different?
  • Which events and surrounding environments have influenced this work (i.e. natural events; social movements such as feminism; political events, economic situations, historic events, religious settings, cultural events)? What effect did these have?
  • Is the work characteristic of an artistic style, movement or time period ? Has it been influenced by trends, fashions or ideologies ? How can you tell?
  • Can you make any relevant connections or comparisons with other artworks ? Have other artists explored a similar subject in a similar way? Did this occur before or after this artwork was created?
  • Can you make any relevant connections to other fields of study or expression (i.e. geography, mathematics, literature, film, music, history or science)?
  • Which key biographical details about the artist are relevant in understanding this artwork (upbringing and personal situation; family and relationships; psychological state; health and fitness; socioeconomic status; employment; ethnicity; culture; gender; education, religion; interests, attitudes, values and beliefs)?
  • Is this artwork part of a larger body of work ? Is this typical of the work the artist is known for?
  • How might your own upbringing, beliefs and biases distort your interpretation of the artwork? Does your own response differ from the public response, that of the original audience and/or  interpretation by critics ?
  • How do these wider contexts compare to the contexts surrounding your own work?

COMPOSITION AND FORMAT

  • What is the overall size, shape and orientation of the artwork (i.e. vertical, horizontal, portrait, landscape or square)? Has this format been influenced by practical considerations (i.e. availability of materials; display constraints ; design brief restrictions; screen sizes; common aspect ratios in film or photography such as 4:3 or 2:3; or paper sizes such as A4, A3, A2, A1)?
  • How do images fit within the frame (cropped; truncated; shown in full)? Why is this format appropriate for the subject matter?
  • Are different parts of the artwork physically separate, such as within a diptych or triptych ?
  • Where are the boundaries of the artwork (i.e. is the artwork self-contained; compact; intersecting; sprawling)?
  • Is the artwork site-specific or designed to be displayed across multiple locations or environments?
  • Does the artwork have a fixed, permanent format, or was it  modified, moved or adjusted over time ? What causes such changes (i.e. weather and exposure to the elements – melting, erosion, discoloration, decaying, wind movement, surface abrasion; structural failure – cracking, breaking; damage caused by unpredictable events, such as fire or vandalism; intentional movement, such as rotation or sensor response; intentional impermanence, such as an installation assembled for an exhibition and removed afterwards; viewer interaction; additions, renovations and restoration by subsequent artists or users; a project so expansive it takes years to construct)? How does this change affect the artwork? Are there stylistic variances between parts?
  • Is the artwork viewed from one angle or position, or are dynamic viewpoints and serial vision involved? (Read more about Gordon Cullen’s concept of serial vision here ).
  • How does the scale and format of the artwork relate to the environment where it is positioned, used, installed or hung (i.e. harmonious with landscape typography; sensitive to adjacent structures; imposing or dwarfed by surroundings; human scale)? Is the artwork designed to be viewed from one vantage point (i.e. front facing; viewed from below; approached from a main entrance; set at human eye level) or many? Are images taken from the best angle?
  • Would a similar format benefit your own project? Why / why not?

Structure / layout

  • Has the artwork been organised using a formal system of arrangement or mathematical proportion (i.e. rule of thirds; golden ratio or spiral; grid format; geometric; dominant triangle; or circular composition) or is the arrangement less predictable (i.e. chaotic, random, accidental, fragmented, meandering, scattered; irregular or spontaneous)? How does this system of arrangement help with the communication of ideas? Can you draw a diagram to show the basic structure of the artwork?
  • Can you see a clear intention with alignment and positioning of parts within the artwork (i.e. edges aligned; items spaced equally; simple or complex arrangement; overlapping, clustered or concentrated objects; dispersed, separate items; repetition of forms; items extending beyond the frame; frames within frames; bordered perimeter or patterned edging; broken borders)? What effect do these visual devices have (i.e. imply hierarchy; help the viewer understand relationships between parts of artwork; create rhythm)?
  • Does the artwork have a primary axis of symmetry (vertical, diagonal, horizontal)? Can you locate a center of balance? Is the artwork symmetrical, asymmetrical (i.e. stable), radial, or intentionally unbalanced (i.e. to create tension or unease)?
  • Can you draw a diagram to illustrate emphasis and dominance (i.e. ‘blocking in’ mass, where the ‘heavier’ dominant forms appear in the composition)? Where are dominant items located within the frame?
  • How do your eyes move through the composition?
  • Could your own artwork use a similar organisational structure?
  • What types of linear mark-making are shown (thick; thin; short; long; soft; bold; delicate; feathery; indistinct; faint; irregular; intermittent; freehand; ruled; mechanical; expressive; loose; blurred; dashing; cross-hatching; meandering; gestural, fluid; flowing; jagged; spiky; sharp)? What atmosphere, moods, emotions or ideas do these evoke?
  • Are there any interrupted, suggested or implied lines (i.e. lines that can’t literally be seen, but the viewer’s brain connects the dots between separate elements)?
  • Repeating lines : may simulate material qualities, texture, pattern or rhythm;
  • Boundary lines : may segment, divide or separate different areas;
  • Leading lines : may manipulate the viewer’s gaze, directing vision or lead the eye to focal points ( eye tracking studies indicate that our eyes leap from one point of interest to another, rather than move smoothly or predictably along leading lines 9 . Lines may nonetheless help to establish emphasis by ‘pointing’ towards certain items );
  • Parallel lines : may create a sense of depth or movement through space within a landscape;
  • Horizontal lines : may create a sense of stability and permanence;
  • Vertical lines : may suggest height, reaching upwards or falling;
  • Intersecting perpendicular lines : may suggest rigidity, strength;
  • Abstract lines : may balance the composition, create contrast or emphasis;
  • Angular / diagonal lines : may suggest tension or unease;
  • Chaotic lines : may suggest a sense of agitation or panic;
  • Underdrawing, construction lines or contour lines : describe form ( learn more about contour lines in our article about line drawing );
  • Curving / organic lines : may suggest nature, peace, movement or energy.
  • What is the relationship between line and three-dimensional form? Are  outlines used to define form and edges?
  • Would it be appropriate to use line in a similar way within your own artwork?

leading lines - composition

Shape and form

  • Can you identify a dominant visual language within the shapes and forms shown (i.e. geometric; angular; rectilinear; curvilinear; organic; natural; fragmented; distorted; free-flowing; varied; irregular; complex; minimal)? Why is this visual language appropriate?
  • How are the edges of forms treated (i.e. do they fade away or blur at the edges, as if melting into the page; ripped or torn; distinct and hard-edged; or, in the words of James Gurney, 9 do they ‘dissolve into sketchy lines, paint strokes or drips’)?
  • Are there any three-dimensional forms or relief elements within the artwork, such as carved pieces, protruding or sculptural elements? How does this affect the viewing of the work from different angles?
  • Is there a variety or repetition of shapes/forms? What effect does this have (i.e. repetition may reinforce ideas, balance composition and/or create harmony / visual unity; variety may create visual interest or overwhelm the viewer with chaos)?
  • How are shapes organised in relation to each other, or with the frame of the artwork (i.e. grouped; overlapping; repeated; echoed; fused edges; touching at tangents; contrasts in scale or size; distracting or awkward junctions)?
  • Are silhouettes (external edges of objects) considered?
All shapes have silhouettes, and vision research has shown that one of the first tasks of perception is to be able to sort out the silhouette shapes of each of the elements in a scene. – James Gurney, Imaginative Realism 9
  • Are forms designed with ergonomics and human scale in mind?
Ergonomics: an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely – Merriam-webster.com
  • Can you identify which forms are functional or structural , versus ornamental or decorative ?
  • Have any forms been disassembled, ‘cut away’ or exposed , such as a sectional drawing? What is the purpose of this (i.e. to explain construction methods; communicate information; dramatic effect)?
  • Would it be appropriate to use shape and form in a similar way within your own artwork?

Value / tone / light

  • Has a wide tonal range been used in the artwork (i.e. a broad range of darks, highlights and mid-tones) or is the tonal range limited (i.e. pale and faint; subdued; dull; brooding and dark overall; strong highlights and shadows, with little mid-tone values)? What is the effect of this?
  • Where are the light sources within the artwork or scene? Is there a single consistent light source or multiple sources of light (sunshine; light bulbs; torches; lamps; luminous surfaces)? What is the effect of these choices (i.e. mimics natural lighting conditions at a certain time of day or night; figures lit from the side to clarify form; contrasting background or spot-lighting used to accentuate a focal area; soft and diffused lighting used to mute contrasts and minimize harsh shadows; dappled lighting to signal sunshine broken by surrounding leaves; chiaroscuro used to exaggerate theatrical drama and impact; areas cloaked in darkness to minimize visual complexity; to enhance our understanding of narrative, mood or meaning)?
One of the most important ways in which artists can use light to achieve particular effects is in making strong contrasts between light and dark. This contrast is often described as chiaroscuro . – Matthew Treherne, Analysing Paintings, University of Leeds 3
  • Are representations of three-dimensional objects and figures flat or tonally  modeled ? How do different tonal values change from one to the next (i.e. gentle, smooth gradations; abrupt tonal bands)?
  • Are there any unusual, reflective or transparent surfaces, mediums or materials which reflect or transmit light in a special way?
  • Has tone been used to help communicate atmospheric perspective (i.e. paler and bluer as objects get further away)?
  • Are gallery or environmental light sources where the artwork is displayed fixed or fluctuating? Does the work appear different when viewed at different times of day? How does this affect your interpretation of the work?
  • Are shadows depicted within the artwork? What is the effect of these shadows (i.e. anchors objects to the page; creates the illusion of depth and space; creates dramatic contrasts)?
  • Do sculptural protrusions or relief elements catch the light and/or create cast shadows or pockets of shadow upon the artwork? How does this influence the viewer’s experience?
  • How has tone been used to help direct the viewer’s attention to focal areas?
  • Would it be appropriate to use value / tone in a similar way within your own artwork? Why / why not?

Color / hue

  • Can you view the true color of the artwork (i.e. are you viewing a low-quality reproduction or examining the artwork in poor lighting)?
  • Which  color schemes have been used within the artwork (i.e. harmonious; complementary; primary; monochrome; earthy; warm; cool/cold)? Has the artist used a broad or limited color palette (i.e. variety or unity)? Which colors dominate?
  • How would you describe the intensity of the colors (vibrant; bright; vivid; glowing; pure; saturated; strong; dull; muted; pale; subdued; bleached; diluted)?
  • Are colors transparent or opaque ? Can you see reflected color?
  • Has color contrast been used within the artwork (i.e. extreme contrasts; juxtaposition of complementary colors; garish / clashing / jarring)? Are there any abrupt color changes or unexpected uses of color?
  • What is the effect of these color choices (i.e. expressing symbolic or thematic ideas; descriptive or realistic depiction of local color; emphasizing focal areas; creating the illusion of aerial perspective; relationships with colors in surrounding environment; creating balance; creating rhythm/pattern/repetition; unity and variety within the artwork; lack of color places emphasis upon shape, detail and form)? What kind of atmosphere do these colors create?
It is often said that warm colors (red, orange, yellow) come forward and produce a sense of excitement (yellow is said to suggest warmth and happiness, as in the smiley face), whereas cool colors (blue, green) recede and have a calming effect. Experiments, however, have proved inconclusive; the response to color – despite clichés about seeing red or feeling blue – is highly personal, highly cultural, highly varied. – Sylvan Barnet, A Short Guide to Writing About Art 2
  • Would it be appropriate to use color in a similar way within your own artwork?

Texture / surface / pattern

  • Are there any interesting textural, tactile or surface qualities within the artwork (i.e. bumpy; grooved; indented; scratched; stressed; rough; smooth; shiny; varnished; glassy; glossy; polished; matte; sandy; grainy; gritted; leathery; spiky; silky)? How are these created (i.e. inherent qualities of materials; impasto mediums; sculptural materials; illusions or implied texture , such as cross-hatching; finely detailed and intricate areas; organic patterns such as foliage or small stones; repeating patterns ; ornamentation)?
  • How are textural or patterned elements positioned and what effect does this have (i.e. used intermittently to provide variety; repeating pattern creates rhythm ; patterns broken create focal points ; textured areas create visual links and unity between separate areas of the artwork; balance between detailed/textured areas and simpler areas; glossy surface creates a sense of luxury; imitation of texture conveys information about a subject, i.e. softness of fur or strands of hair)?
  • Would it be appropriate to use texture / surface in a similar way within your own artwork?
Industrial and architectural landscapes are particularly concerned with the arrangement of geometries and form in space… Dr. Ben Guy, Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment using CGI Digital Twins, Urban CGI 12
  • Is the pictorial space shallow or deep? How does the artwork create the illusion of depth (i.e. layering of foreground, middle-ground, background ; overlapping of objects; use of shadows to anchor objects; positioning of items in relationship to the horizon line; linear perspective ( learn more about one point perspective here ); tonal modeling; relationships with adjacent objects and those in close proximity – including the human form – to create a sense of scale ; spatial distortions or optical illusions; manipulating scale of objects to create ‘surrealist’ spaces where true scale is unknown)?
  • Has an unusual viewpoint been used (i.e. worm’s view; aerial view, looking out a window or through a doorway; a scene reflected in a mirror or shiny surface; looking through leaves; multiple viewpoints combined)? What is the effect of this viewpoint (i.e. allows certain parts of the scene to be dominant and overpowering or squashed, condensed and foreshortened ; or suggests a narrative between two separate spaces ; provides more information about a space than would normally be seen)?
  • Is the emphasis upon mass or void ? How densely arranged are components within the artwork or picture plane? What is the relationship between object and surrounding space (i.e. compact / crowded / busy / densely populated, with little surrounding space; spacious; careful interplay between positive and negative space; objects clustered to create areas of visual interest)? What is the effect of this (i.e. creates a sense of emptiness or isolation; business / visual clutter creates a feeling of chaos or claustrophobia)?
  • How does the artwork engage with real space – in and around the artwork (i.e. self-contained; closed off; eye contact with viewer; reaching outwards)? Is the viewer expected to move through the artwork? What is the relationship between interior and exterior space ? What connections or contrasts occur between inside and out? Is it comprised of a series of separate or linked spaces?
  • Would it be appropriate to use space in a similar way within your own artwork?

Use of media / materials

  • What materials and mediums has the artwork been constructed from? Have materials been concealed or presented deceptively (i.e. is there an authenticity / honesty of materials; are materials celebrated; is the structure visible or exposed )? Why were these mediums selected (weight; color; texture; size; strength; flexibility; pliability; fragility; ease of use; cost; cultural significance; durability; availability; accessibility)? Would other mediums have been appropriate?
  • Which skills, techniques, methods and processes were used (i.e. traditional; conventional; industrial; contemporary; innovative)? It is important to note that the examiners do not want the regurgitation of long, technical processes, but rather to see personal observations about how processes effect and influence the artwork in question. Would replicating part of the artwork help you gain a better understanding of the processes used?
  • Painting: gesso ground > textured mediums > underdrawing > blocking in colors > defining form > final details;
  • Architecture: brief > concepts > development > working drawings > foundations > structure > cladding > finishes;
  • Graphic design: brief > concepts > development > Photoshop > proofing > printing.
  • How does the use of media help the artist to communicate ideas?
  • Are these methods useful for your own project?

Finally, remember that these questions are a guide only and are intended to make you start to think critically about the art you are studying and creating.

How to analyse your own artwork

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article you may also like our article about high school sketchbooks (which includes a section about sketchbook annotation). If you are looking for more assistance with how to write an art analysis essay you may like our series about writing an artist study .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

[1] A guide for Analyzing Works of Art; Sculpture and Painting, Durantas

[2] A Short Guide to Writing About Art , Sylvan Barnet (2014) (Amazon affiliate link)

[3] Analysing Paintings , Matthew Treherne, University of Leeds

[4] Writing in Art and Art History , The University of Vermont

[5] Art History: A Preliminary Handbook , Dr. Robert J. Belton, The University of British Columbia (1996)

[6] Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary , Terry Barrett (2011) (Amazon affiliate link)

[7] How to Look at Art , Susie Hodge (2015) (Amazon affiliate link)

[8] How to Look at a Painting , Françoise Barbe-Gall (2011) (Amazon affiliate link)

[9] Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist James Gurney (2009) (Amazon affiliate link)

[10] Art History , The Writing Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

[11] Universal Principles of Art: 100 Key Concepts for Understanding, Analyzing and Practicing Art , John A. Parks (2014) (Amazon affiliate link)

[12] Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment using CGI Digital Twins , Dr. Ben Guy, Urban CGI (2023)

Amiria Gale

Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.

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High school sketchbooks publication

Descriptive Essay on Art Appreciation

Read this essay on art to learn more about knowing, identifying, and understanding the qualities of art.

Art is an object that possesses beauty, admired and appreciated by the people, and cannot be found anywhere but in particular places where people can visit. Creating artwork, therefore, requires excellent imagination to give the piece of work the desired aesthetic value. The works of Art in the Ancient culture were of various forms which included architecture, sculpture, and graphic arts (Funch, 1999).

Architecture and sculpture are the oldest forms of art that existed and still exist in the present day. For example, the pyramids that are among the tallest structures in the world.

The primary materials used in architecture were stone, wood, and glass. The sculpture also used stone and wood. Other materials used in sculpture included bronze, marble, silver, copper, wood, and clay. The two techniques involved were carving and casting. Carving means subtracting material to get the desired figure while casting is adding material to obtain the desired figure (Carroll & Eurich, 1992).

Initially, a two-dimensional form of work was used for both architecture and sculpture, but as art advanced through the ages, the two-dimensional form of work was applied. The materials used for both architecture and sculpture included wood and stone. Sculptures also used marble, copper, bronze, silver, and clay.

Sculpture and architecture employed some techniques and processes that were similar to arrive at the final desired object. Carving and casting were mainly used in sculpture which was also practiced in some parts of architectural objects to obtain the shapes required.

The sculptures were painted using the colors of the natural things they represent, while architectural objects were painted according to their use, and the message they portrayed.

Materials were put together in a line to form the shape aimed at both architecture and sculpture. The texture is the roughness or smoothness of a surface as is seen when it is illuminated by light. Different materials have different textures so the artist can make materials of the textures he requires. Most sculptured objects have a smooth finish, while architectural objects are rough.

The value of an Art depends on the materials used to make it, its size, and the image it represents. The beauty and the natural appearance of an object are found in its symmetry(Art Through the Ages, n.d.).

This is used mainly in sculptures of animal or human images to display the true natural appearance. The artists obtained a balance by making symmetrical sculptures and some architectural objects like the pyramids in Egypt. The balance was achieved to give the art natural beauty and safety (Parker, 2003).

The work of art always carries a subject matter. Sculptures of animals by the people of the past appreciated the mysterious way that a supernatural being created the world. Architectural buildings were sacred places and symbolized the presence of God, a sign of adherence to traditional values and way of accompanying death after life.

Works of art such as sculptures represent the real natural environment and thus appreciate nature. The art’s message is to display the purity of nature and for the moral evaluation of the people. Sculptures of Gods and buildings like pyramids represented the presence of a supernatural being and a creator (Horovitz, 1995).

Functions of art are divided into personal, social and physical functions. Individual purposes include religious practices and a sense of control over the entire universe. Social functions dealt with aspects of the life of all the people not personally. It also covered the political functions of the people.

Physical functions were symbolized by architecture, crafts, and industrial design. Artists had a crucial role in ancient cultures. They served the interests of the people, appreciated nature and showed the changing times (Parker, 2003).

Art Through the Ages . Web.

Carroll, H. A., & Eurich, A. C. (1992). Abstract intelligence and art appreciation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 23(3), 214-220.

Funch, B. S. (1999). The psychology of art appreciation. London: Abm Komers.

Horovitz, B. L. (1995). Art Appreciation of Children. The Journal of Educational Research, 31(2), 17-23.

Parker, D. H. (2003). The Principles Of Aesthetics . Web.

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1. IvyPanda . "Descriptive Essay on Art Appreciation." October 28, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/art-appreciation-2/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Descriptive Essay on Art Appreciation." October 28, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/art-appreciation-2/.

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Home — Essay Samples — Arts & Culture — Pablo Picasso — Comparative analysis in art: Pablo Picasso And Henry Moore

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Comparative Analysis in Art: Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore

  • Categories: Art History Comparative Analysis Pablo Picasso

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Words: 2436 |

13 min read

Published: Jun 16, 2021

Words: 2436 | Pages: 5 | 13 min read

In this essay, we have explored two distinct artworks, Henry Moore's "Woman Seated in the Underground" and Pablo Picasso's "Bullfight Scene," each offering unique perspectives on their subjects. Both artists demonstrate that art can convey powerful emotions and truths without necessarily reproducing reality with true-to-life detail. They use their chosen mediums and compositions to offer their unique perspectives on the world, inviting viewers to interpret and engage with their works on a deeper level.

These two artists employ different visual languages and mediums to convey their messages. Picasso's rapid ink strokes and the use of watered-down ink create a sense of motion and depth in his depiction of the bullfight, while Moore's drawings rely on a network of nervous, scratchy lines and subdued watercolors to evoke the collective suffering of shelterers during wartime.

The interpretation of these works often requires a deeper understanding of the artists' intentions and backgrounds. Moore's Underground drawings, for example, were initially misinterpreted by the British public, who felt excluded from the Underground world he portrayed. Picasso's "Bullfight Scene" may be seen as a celebration of tradition or as a foreshadowing of the artist's later years, and the debate surrounding its themes is ongoing.

Table of contents

Art comparison essay outline, art comparison essay example, introduction.

  • Introduction to the essay's focus on comparing Henry Moore's "Woman Seated in the Underground" and Pablo Picasso's "Bullfight Scene"

Picasso's "Bullfight Scene"

  • Description of Picasso's artwork, including its medium, size, and subject matter
  • Analysis of Picasso's emphasis on motion and form over fine detail
  • Discussion of the use of ink and tonal variation to depict the bullfight

Moore's "Woman Seated in the Underground"

  • Description of Moore's artwork, including its medium, size, and historical context during the Blitz
  • Examination of the portrayal of a woman in the London Underground during wartime
  • Analysis of the use of media, line, and body language to convey atmosphere and mood

Differences in Visual Languages

  • Exploration of the distinct visual languages employed by Picasso and Moore
  • Discussion of how their backgrounds and artistic approaches influenced their respective artworks

Interpreting the Artworks

  • Argument against the necessity of true-to-life detail for successful portrayal
  • Examination of how the public's interpretation of Moore's artwork differed from his intentions
  • Analysis of the need for viewers to decode and understand the artist's "truth" in both artworks

Analysis of Pablo Picasso's "The Weeping Woman"

  • Description of Picasso's artwork "The Weeping Woman"
  • Analysis of its vibrant colors and distorted features
  • Interpretation of the artwork's emotional and symbolic elements
  • Summary of the comparisons and interpretations of both sets of artworks
  • Reflection on the artists' abilities to convey emotions and meaning through their chosen mediums
  • Final thoughts on the subjective nature of art interpretation

Analysis of Pablo Picasso’s Artwork “The Weeping Woman”

Works cited.

  • Ashford, D. (2007). Henry Moore: Art and Life. Yale University Press.
  • Carey, F. (1988). Henry Moore. Tate Gallery Publishing.
  • Moore, H. (1988). A Shelter Sketchbook. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd.
  • Newton, E. (1945). Henry Moore: Sculpture and Drawings 1921-1948. Thames and Hudson.
  • Penrose, R., & Golding, J. (1981). Picasso: Sculptor/Painter. Museum of Modern Art.
  • Phaidon. (2013). 10 Works of Art That Capture the Spirit of London. Phaidon Press.
  • Picasso, P. (1960). Bullfight Scene. Ink on paper, 480 x 623 mm. Museu Picasso.
  • Tate. (2004). Henry Moore: Woman Seated in the Underground. Tate Britain. Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/moore-woman-seated-in-the-underground-t03139
  • Tate. (n.d.). Henry Moore 1898-1986. Tate Britain. Retrieved from https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/henry-moore-349
  • Wood, P. (1999). The Challenge of the Avant-Garde. Yale University Press.

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art subject essay

Anne Buckwalter on Art, Life & Everything In Between

By Will Fenstermaker

June 14, 2017

The 10 Essays That Changed Art Criticism Forever

There has never been a time when art critics held more power than during the second half of the twentieth century. Following the Second World War, with the relocation of the world’s artistic epicenter from Paris to New York, a different kind of war was waged in the pages of magazines across the country. As part of the larger “culture wars” of the mid-century, art critics began to take on greater influence than they’d ever held before. For a time, two critics in particular—who began as friends, and remained in the same social circles for much of their lives—set the stakes of the debates surrounding the maturation of American art that would continue for decades. The ideas about art outlined by Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg are still debated today, and the extent to which they were debated in the past has shaped entire movements of the arts. Below are ten works of criticism through which one can trace the mainstreaming of Clement Greenberg’s formalist theory, and how its dismantling led us into institutional critique and conceptual art today.

The American Action Painters

Harold Rosenberg

One: Number 31

Harold Rosenberg, a poet who came to art through his involvement with the Artist’s Union and the WPA, was introduced to Jean-Paul Sartre as the “first American existentialist.” Soon, Rosenberg became a contributor to Sartre’s publication in France, for which he first drafted his influential essay. However, when Sartre supported Soviet aggression against Korea, Rosenberg brought his essay to Elaine de Kooning , then the editor of ARTnews , who ran “The American Action Painters” in December, 1952.

RELATED: What Did Harold Rosenberg Do? An Introduction to the Champion of “Action Painting”

Rosenberg’s essay on the emerging school of American Painters omitted particular names—because they’d have been unfamiliar to its original French audience—but it was nonetheless extraordinarily influential for the burgeoning scene of post-WWII American artists. Jackson Pollock claimed to be the influence of “action painting,” despite Rosenberg’s rumored lack of respect for the artist because Pollock wasn’t particularly well-read. Influenced by Marxist theory and French existentialism, Rosenberg conceives of a painting as an “arena,” in which the artist acts upon, wrestles, or otherwise engages with the canvas, in what ultimately amounts to an expressive record of a struggle. “What was to go on the canvas,” Rosenberg wrote, “was not a picture but an event.”

Notable Quote

Weak mysticism, the “Christian Science” side of the new movement, tends … toward easy painting—never so many unearned masterpieces! Works of this sort lack the dialectical tension of a genuine act, associated with risk and will. When a tube of paint is squeezed by the Absolute, the result can only be a Success. The painter need keep himself on hand solely to collect the benefits of an endless series of strokes of luck. His gesture completes itself without arousing either an opposing movement within itself nor the desire in the artist to make the act more fully his own. Satisfied with wonders that remain safely inside the canvas, the artist accepts the permanence of the commonplace and decorates it with his own daily annihilation. The result is an apocalyptic wallpaper.

‘American-Type’ Painting

Clement Greenberg

Frank Stella

Throughout the preceding decade, Clement Greenberg, also a former poet, had established a reputation as a leftist critic through his writings with The Partisan Review —a publication run by the John Reed Club, a New York City-centered organization affiliated with the American Communist Party—and his time as an art critic with The Nation . In 1955, The Partisan Review published Greenberg’s “‘American-Type’ Painting,” in which the critic defined the now-ubiquitous term “abstract expressionism.”

RELATED: What Did Clement Greenberg Do? A Primer on the Powerful AbEx Theorist’s Key Ideas

In contrast to Rosenberg’s conception of painting as a performative act, Greenberg’s theory, influenced by Clive Bell and T. S. Eliot, was essentially a formal one—in fact, it eventually evolved into what would be called “formalism.” Greenberg argued that the evolution of painting was one of historical determinacy—that ever since the Renaissance, pictures moved toward flatness, and the painted line moved away from representation. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were two of the landmarks of this view. Pollock, who exhibited his drip paintings in 1951, freeing the line from figuration, was for Greenberg the pinnacle of American Modernism, the most important artist since Picasso. (Pollock’s paintings exhibited in 1954, with which he returned to semi-representational form, were regarded by Greenberg as a regression. This lead him to adopt Barnett Newman as his new poster-boy, despite the artist’s possessing vastly different ideas on the nature of painting. For one, Greenberg mostly ignored the Biblical titles of Newman’s paintings.)

Greenberg’s formalist theories were immensely influential over the subsequent decades. Artforum in particular grew into a locus for formalist discourse, which had the early effect of providing an aesthetic toolkit divorced from politic. Certain curators of the Museum of Modern Art, particularly William Rubin, Kirk Varnedoe, and to an extent Alfred Barr are credited for steering the museum in an essentially formalist direction. Some painters, such as Frank Stella , Helen Frankenthaler , and Kenneth Noland, had even been accused of illustrating Greenberg’s theories (and those of Michael Fried, a prominent Greenbergian disciple) in attempt to embody the theory, which was restrictive in its failure to account for narrative content, figuration, identity, politics, and more. In addition, Greenberg’s theories proved well-suited for a burgeoning art market, which found connoisseurship an easy sell. (As the writer Mary McCarthy said, “You can’t hang an event on your wall.”) In fact, the dominance of the term “abstract expressionism” over “action painting,” which seemed more applicable to Pollock and Willem de Kooning than any other members of the New York School, is emblematic of the influence of formalist discourse.

The justification for the term, “abstract expressionist,” lies in the fact that most of the painters covered by it took their lead from German, Russian, or Jewish expressionism in breaking away from late Cubist abstract art. But they all started from French painting, for their fundamental sense of style from it, and still maintain some sort of continuity with it. Not least of all, they got from it their most vivid notion of an ambitious, major art, and of the general direction in which it had to go in their time.

Barbara Rose

Galvanized Iron

Like many critics in the 1950s and 60s, Barbara Rose had clearly staked her allegiance to one camp or the other. She was, firmly, a formalist, and along with Fried and Rosalind Krauss is largely credited with expanding the theory beyond abstract expressionist painting. By 1965, however, Rose recognized a limitation of the theory as outlined by Greenberg—that it was reductionist and only capable of account for a certain style of painting, and not much at all in other mediums.

RELATED: The Intellectual Origins Of Minimalism

In “ABC Art,” published in Art in America where Rose was a contributing editor, Rose opens up formalism to encompass sculpture, which Greenberg was largely unable to account for. The simple idea that art moves toward flatness and abstraction leads, for Rose, into Minimalism, and “ABC Art” is often considered the first landmark essay on Minimalist art. By linking the Minimalist sculptures of artists like Donald Judd to the Russian supremacist paintings of Kasimir Malevich and readymades of Duchamp, she extends the determinist history that formalism relies on into sculpture and movements beyond abstract expressionism.

I do not agree with critic Michael Fried’s view that Duchamp, at any rate, was a failed Cubist. Rather, the inevitability of a logical evolution toward a reductive art was obvious to them already. For Malevich, the poetic Slav, this realization forced a turning inward toward an inspirational mysticism, whereas for Duchamp, the rational Frenchman, it meant a fatigue so enervating that finally the wish to paint at all was killed. Both the yearnings of Malevich’s Slavic soul and the deductions of Duchamp’s rationalist mind led both men ultimately to reject and exclude from their work many of the most cherished premises of Western art in favor of an art stripped to its bare, irreducible minimum.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Philip Leider

Double Negative

Despite the rhetorical tendency to suggest the social upheaval of the '60s ended with the actual decade, 1970 remained a year of unrest. And Artforum was still the locus of formalist criticism, which was proving increasingly unable to account for art that contributed to larger cultural movements, like Civil Rights, women’s liberation, anti-war protests, and more. (Tellingly, The Partisan Review , which birthed formalism, had by then distanced itself from its communist associations and, as an editorial body, was supportive of American Interventionism in Vietnam. Greenberg was a vocal hawk.) Subtitled “Art and Politics in Nevada, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Utah,” the editor’s note to the September 1970 issue of Artforum , written by Philip Leider, ostensibly recounts a road trip undertaken with Richard Serra and Abbie Hoffman to see Michael Heizer’s Double Negative in the Nevada desert.

RELATED: A City of Art in the Desert: Behind Michael Heizer’s Monumental Visions for Nevada

However, the essay is also an account of an onsetting disillusion with formalism, which Leider found left him woefully unequipped to process the protests that had erupted surrounding an exhibition of prints by Paul Wunderlich at the Phoenix Gallery in Berkeley. Wunderlich’s depictions of nude women were shown concurrently to an exhibition of drawings sold to raise money for Vietnamese orphans. The juxtaposition of a canonical, patriarchal form of representation and liberal posturing, to which the protestors objected, showcased the limitations of a methodology that placed the aesthetic elements of a picture plane far above the actual world in which it existed. Less than a year later, Leider stepped down as editor-in-chief and Artforum began to lose its emphasis on late Modernism.

I thought the women were probably with me—if they were, I was with them. I thought the women were picketing the show because it was reactionary art. To the women, [Piet] Mondrian must be a great revolutionary artist. Abstract art broke all of those chains thirty years ago! What is a Movement gallery showing dumb stuff like this for? But if it were just a matter of reactionary art , why would the women picket it? Why not? Women care as much about art as men do—maybe more. The question is, why weren’t the men right there with them?

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

Linda Nochlin

Linda Nochlin

While Artforum , in its early history, had established a reputation as a generator for formalist theory, ARTnews had followed a decidedly more Rosenberg-ian course, emphasizing art as a practice for investigating the world. The January 1971 issue of the magazine was dedicated to “Women’s Liberation, Woman Artists, and Art History” and included an iconoclastic essay by Linda Nochlin titled “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

RELATED: An Introduction to Feminist Art

Nochlin notes that it’s tempting to answer the question “why have there been no great women artists?” by listing examples of those overlooked by critical and institutional organizations (a labor that Nochlin admits has great merit). However, she notes, “by attempting to answer it, they tacitly reinforce its negative implications,” namely that women are intrinsically less capable of achieving artistic merit than men. Instead, Nochlin’s essay functions as a critique of art institutions, beginning with European salons, which were structured in such a way as to deter women from rising to the highest echelons. Nochlin’s essay is considered the beginning of modern feminist art history and a textbook example of institutional critique.

There are no women equivalents for Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Delacroix or Cézanne, Picasso or Matisse, or even in very recent times, for de Kooning or Warhol, any more than there are black American equivalents for the same. If there actually were large numbers of “hidden” great women artists, or if there really should be different standards for women’s art as opposed to men’s—and one can’t have it both ways—then what are feminists fighting for? If women have in fact achieved the same status as men in the arts, then the status quo is fine as it is. But in actuality, as we all know, things as they are and as they have been, in the arts as in a hundred other areas, are stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all those, women among them, who did not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle class and above all, male. The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.

Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief

Thomas McEvilley

Tribal Modern

One of the many extrapolations of Nochlin’s essay is that contemporary museum institutions continue to reflect the gendered and racist biases of preceding centuries by reinforcing the supremacy of specific master artists. In a 1984 Artforum review, Thomas McEvilley, a classicist new to the world of contemporary art, made the case that the Museum of Modern Art in New York served as an exclusionary temple to certain high-minded Modernists—namely, Picasso, Matisse, and Pollock—who, in fact, took many of their innovations from native cultures.

RELATED: MoMA Curator Laura Hoptman on How to Tell a Good Painting From a “Bogus” Painting

In 1984, MoMA organized a blockbuster exhibition. Curated by William Rubin and Kirk Varnedoe, both of whom were avowed formalists, “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” collected works by European painters like Paul Gaugin and Picasso with cultural artifacts from Zaire, arctic communities, and elsewhere. McEvilley takes aim at the “the absolutist view of formalist Modernism” in which MoMA is rooted. He argues that the removal tribal artifacts from their contexts (for example, many were ritual items intended for ceremonies, not display) and placement of them, unattributed, near works by European artists, censors the cultural contributions of non-Western civilizations in deference to an idealized European genius.

The fact that the primitive “looks like” the Modern is interpreted as validating the Modern by showing that its values are universal, while at the same time projecting it—and with it MoMA—into the future as a permanent canon. A counter view is possible: that primitivism on the contrary invalidates Modernism by showing it to be derivative and subject to external causation. At one level this show undertakes precisely to coopt that question by answering it before it has really been asked, and by burying it under a mass of information.

Please Wait By the Coatroom

The Jungle

Not content to let MoMA and the last vestiges of formalism off the hook yet, John Yau wrote in 1988 an essay on Wifredo Lam, a Cuban painter who lived and worked in Paris among Picasso, Matisse, Georges Braque, and others. Noting Lam’s many influences—his Afro-Cuban mother, Chinese father, and Yoruba godmother—Yau laments the placement of Lam’s The Jungle near the coatroom in the Museum of Modern Art, as opposed to within the Modernist galleries several floors above. The painting was accompanied by a brief entry written by former curator William Rubin, who, Yau argues, adopted Greenberg’s theories because they endowed him with “a connoisseur’s lens with which one can scan all art.”

RELATED: From Cuba With Love: Artist Bill Claps on the Island’s DIY Art Scene

Here, as with with McEvilley’s essay, Yau illustrates how formalism, as adapted by museum institutions, became a (perhaps unintentional) method for reinforcing the exclusionary framework that Nochlin argued excluded women and black artists for centuries.

Rubin sees in Lam only what is in his own eyes: colorless or white artists. For Lam to have achieved the status of unique individual, he would have had to successfully adapt to the conditions of imprisonment (the aesthetic standards of a fixed tradition) Rubin and others both construct and watch over. To enter this prison, which takes the alluring form of museums, art history textbooks, galleries, and magazines, an individual must suppress his cultural differences and become a colorless ghost. The bind every hybrid American artist finds themselves in is this: should they try and deal with the constantly changing polymorphous conditions effecting identity, tradition, and reality? Or should they assimilate into the mainstream art world by focusing on approved-of aesthetic issues? Lam’s response to this bind sets an important precedent. Instead of assimilating, Lam infiltrates the syntactical rules of “the exploiters” with his own specific language. He becomes, as he says, “a Trojan horse.”

Black Culture and Postmodernism

Cornel West

Cornel West

The opening up of cultural discourse did not mean that it immediately made room for voices of all dimensions. Cornel West notes as much in his 1989 essay “Black Culture and Postmodernism,” in which he argues that postmodernism, much like Modernism before it, remains primarily ahistorical, which makes it difficult for “oppressed peoples to exercise their opposition to hierarchies of power.” West’s position is that the proliferation of theory and criticism that accompanied the rise of postmodernism provided mechanisms by which black culture could “be conversant with and, to a degree, participants in the debate.” Without their voices, postmodernism would remain yet another exclusionary movements.

RELATED: Kerry James Marshall on Painting Blackness as a Noun Vs. Verb

As the consumption cycle of advanced multinational corporate capitalism was sped up in order to sustain the production of luxury goods, cultural production became more and more mass-commodity production. The stress here is not simply on the new and fashionable but also on the exotic and primitive. Black cultural products have historically served as a major source for European and Euro-American exotic interests—interests that issue from a healthy critique of the mechanistic, puritanical, utilitarian, and productivity aspects of modern life.

Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power

Anna C. Chave

Tilted Arc

In recent years, formalist analysis has been deployed as a single tool within a more varied approach to art. Its methodology—that of analyzing a picture as an isolated phenomena—remains prevalent, and has its uses. Yet, many of the works and movements that rose to prominence under formalist critics and curators, in no small part because of their institutional acceptance, have since become part of the rearguard rather than the vanguard.

In a 1990 essay for Arts Magazine , Anna Chave analyzes how Minimalist sculpture possesses a “domineering, sometimes brutal rhetoric” that was aligned with “both the American military in Vietnam, and the police at home in the streets and on university campuses across the country.” In particular, Chave is concerned with the way Minimalist sculptures define themselves through a process of negation. Of particular relevance to Chave’s argument are the massive steel sculptures by Minimalist artist Richard Serra.

Tilted Arc was installed in Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan in 1981. Chave describes the work as a “mammoth, perilously tilted steel arc [that] formed a divisive barrier too tall to see over, and a protracted trip to walk around.” She writes, “it is more often the case with Serra that his work doesn’t simply exemplify aggression or domination, but acts it out.” Tilted Arc was so controversial upon its erecting that the General Services Administration, which commissioned the work, held hearings in response to petitions demanding the work be removed. Worth quoting at length, Chave writes:

A predictable defense of Serra’s work was mounted by critics, curators, dealers, collectors, and some fellow artists…. The principle arguments mustered on Serra’s behalf were old ones concerning the nature and function of the avant-garde…. What Rubin and Serra’s other supporters declined to ask is whether the sculptor really is, in the most meaningful sense of the term, an avant-garde artist. Being avant-garde implies being ahead of, outside, or against the dominant culture; proffering a vision that implicitly stands (at least when it is conceived) as a critique of entrenched forms and structures…. But Serra’s work is securely embedded within the system: when the brouhaha over Arc was at its height, he was enjoying a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art…. [The defense’s] arguments locate Serra not with the vanguard but with the standing army or “status quo.” … More thoughtful, sensible, and eloquent testimony at the hearing came instead from some of the uncouth:
My name is Danny Katz and I work in this building as a clerk. My friend Vito told me this morning that I am a philistine. Despite that I am getting up to speak…. I don’t think this issue should be elevated into a dispute between the forces of ignorance and art, or art versus government. I really blame government less because it has long ago outgrown its human dimension. But from the artists I expected a lot more. I didn’t expect to hear them rely on the tired and dangerous reasoning that the government has made a deal, so let the rabble live with the steel because it’s a deal. That kind of mentality leads to wars. We had a deal with Vietnam. I didn’t expect to hear the arrogant position that art justifies interference with the simple joys of human activity in a plaza. It’s not a great plaza by international standards, but it is a small refuge and place of revival for people who ride to work in steel containers, work in sealed rooms, and breathe recirculated air all day. Is the purpose of art in public places to seal off a route of escape, to stress the absence of joy and hope? I can’t believe this was the artistic intention, yet to my sadness this for me has become the dominant effect of the work, and it’s all the fault of its position and location. I can accept anything in art, but I can’t accept physical assault and complete destruction of pathetic human activity. No work of art created with a contempt for ordinary humanity and without respect for the common element of human experience can be great. It will always lack dimension.
The terms Katz associated with Serra’s project include arrogance and contempt, assault, and destruction; he saw the Minimalist idiom, in other words, as continuous with the master discourse of our imperious and violent technocracy.

The End of Art

Arthur Danto

Brillo

Like Greenberg, Arthur Danto was an art critic for The Nation . However, Danto was overtly critical of Greenberg’s ideology and the influence he wielded over Modern and contemporary art. Nor was he a follower of Harold Rosenberg, though they shared influences, among them the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Danto’s chief contribution to contemporary art was his advancing of Pop Artists, particularly Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein .

In “The End of Art” Danto argues that society at large determines and accepts art, which no longer progresses linearly, categorized by movements. Instead, viewers each possess a theory or two, which they use to interpret works, and art institutions are largely tasked with developing, testing, and modifying various interpretive methods. In this way, art differs little from philosophy. After decades of infighting regarding the proper way to interpret works of art, Danto essentially sanctioned each approach and the institutions that gave rise to them. He came to call this “pluralism.”

RELATED: What Was the Pictures Generation?

Similarly, in “Painting, Politics, and Post-Historical Art,” Danto makes the case for an armistice between formalism and the various theories that arose in opposition, noting that postmodern critics like Douglas Crimp in the 1980s, who positioned themselves against formalism, nonetheless adopted the same constrictive air, minus the revolutionary beginnings.

Modernist critical practice was out of phase with what was happening in the art world itself in the late 60s and through the 1970s. It remained the basis for most critical practice, especially on the part of the curatoriat, and the art-history professoriat as well, to the degree that it descended to criticism. It became the language of the museum panel, the catalog essay, the article in the art periodical. It was a daunting paradigm, and it was the counterpart in discourse to the “broadening of taste” which reduced art of all cultures and times to its formalist skeleton, and thus, as I phrased it, transformed every museum into a Museum of Modern Art, whatever that museum’s contents. It was the stable of the docent’s gallery talk and the art appreciation course—and it was replaced, not totally but massively, by the postmodernist discourse that was imported from Paris in the late 70s, in the texts of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard, and Jacques Lacan, and of the French feminists Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. That is the discourse [Douglas] Crimp internalizes, and it came to be lingua artspeak everywhere. Like modernist discourse, it applied to everything, so that there was room for deconstructive and “archeological” discussion of art of every period.

Editor’s Note: This list was drawn in part from a 2014 seminar taught by Debra Bricker Balken in the MFA program in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts titled Critical Strategies: Late Modernism/Postmodernism. Additional sources can be found here , here , here (paywall), and here . Also relevant are reviews of the 2008 exhibition at the Jewish Museum, “Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940–1976,” notably those by Roberta Smith , Peter Schjeldahl , and Martha Schwendener .

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Art writing task 2 questions for IELTS

Here you can find common IELTS essay questions for "Art" topic.

For a long time art has been considered an essential part of all cultures in the world. However, nowadays people’s values have changed, and we tend to consider science, technology and business more important than arts.

What do you think are the causes of this?

What can be done to draw people’s attention to art?

The government's investment in arts, music and theatre is a waste of money. Governments should invest these funds in public services instead.

To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Studying art in school improves students' performance in other subjects, because it is easier for multi-skilled students to learn new things. That's why art should be obligatory in schools.

Do you agree or disagree?

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Art Should Be Obligatory In Schools | Band 8 IELTS Essay Sample

by Manjusha Nambiar · June 24, 2020

Studying art in school also improves students’ performance in other subjects, because it is easier for multi-skilled students to learn new things. That’s why art should be obligatory in schools. Do you agree or disagree?

Here is a band 8 IELTS essay on this topic written by one of our students. Need help with IELTS writing? Get your IELTS essays, letters and reports corrected by me.

Band 8 IELTS essay sample

Some people believe that studying arts should be made compulsory in schools because it would improve the overall performance of the students and being multi-skilled, they can easily learn new things. However, I do not agree with this view and I will defend my stand in the following paragraphs.

One of the most important aspects of art subjects is that they could improve the social skills of the pupils. This is because the disciplines like music and theatre would help them to overcome their hesitation and boost their confidence to face people / face an audience. For example, when a child sings a song in front of a huge audience, use they when the sex is unknown or insignificant become more confident than before. However / by contrast it would be overwhelming to even stand on the stage for those who have never been in such a situation. Besides this, disciplines such as drawing and painting would enhance their imagination and creativity.

Nevertheless, arts should not be obligatory in academia as compulsion would lead to pressure and thus affect the students’ performance. For instance, technical studies require a lot of concentration and hard work, and if those students are forced to attend music or dance classes, this would overburden them and reduce their concentration in the core studies. Hence, arts could be made optional, so that those who are interested would take it by their own wish and reap its benefits. This would not only reduce their stress but also prepare them for the promising future.

In conclusion, although art studies would enhance social skills and enhance creative thinking in pupils, I believe that it should not be made a compulsory part of their curriculum as forcing is naturally averse to humans, and it would do more harm than good.

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Black History Month 2024: African Americans and the Arts 

A woman reads a book

The national theme for Black History Month 2024 is “ African Americans and the Arts .”  

Black History Month 2024 is a time to recognize and highlight the achievements of Black artists and creators, and the role they played in U.S. history and in shaping our country today.  

To commemorate this year’s theme, we’ve gathered powerful quotes about learning, culture and equality from five historic Black American authors, teachers and artists who made a significant impact in the Arts, education ― and the nation.  

  Making history  

“Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.” – Carter G. Woodson, Author, Journalist, Historian and Educator, 1875-1950  

Known as the “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson was primarily self-taught in most subjects. In 1912, he became the second Black person to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard.   

He is the author of more than 30 books, including “T he Mis-Education of the Negro. ”  

Carter G. Woodson dedicated his life to teaching Black History and incorporating the subject of Black History in schools. He co-founded what is now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. (ASALH) . In February 1926, Woodson launched the first Negro History Week , which has since been expanded into Black History Month.  

Carter G. Woodson

Providing a platform  

“I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent.” – Augusta Savage, Sculptor, 1892-1962  

An acclaimed and influential sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta Savage was a teacher and an activist who fought for African American rights in the Arts. She was one out of only four women, and the only Black woman, commissioned for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. She exhibited one of her most famous works, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which she named after the hymn by James Weldon Johnson, sometimes referred to as the Black National Anthem. Her sculpture is also known as “ The Harp, ” renamed by the fair’s organizers.  

Photograph of Augusta Savage

Raising a voice  

“My mother said to me ‘My child listen, whatever you do in this world no matter how good it is you will never be able to please everybody. But what one should strive for is to do the very best humanly possible.’” – Marian Anderson, American Contralto, 1897-1993  

Marian Anderson broke barriers in the opera world. In 1939, she performed at the Lincoln Memorial in front of a crowd of 75,000 after the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) denied her access to the DAR Constitution Hall because of her race. And in 1955, Marian Anderson became the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. She sang the leading role as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera.  

art subject essay

Influencing the world  

“The artist’s role is to challenge convention, to push boundaries, and to open new doors of perception.” – Henry Ossawa Tanner, Painter, 1859-1937  

Henry Ossawa Tanner is known to be the first Black artist to gain world-wide fame and acclaim. In 1877, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts , where he was the only Black student. In 1891, Tanner moved to Paris to escape the racism he was confronted with in America. Here, he painted two of his most recognized works, “ The Banjo Lesson” and “ The Thankful Poor of 1894. ”    

In 1923, Henry O. Tanner was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government, France’s highest honor.  

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Rising up  

“Wisdom is higher than a fool can reach.” – Phillis Wheatley, Poet, 1753-1784  

At about seven years old, Phillis Wheatley was kidnapped from her home in West Africa and sold into slavery in Boston. She started writing poetry around the age of 12 and published her first poem, “ Messrs. Hussey and Coffin ,” in Rhode Island’s Newport Mercury newspaper in 1767.   

While her poetry spread in popularity ― so did the skepticism. Some did not believe an enslaved woman could have authored the poems. She defended her work to a panel of town leaders and became the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry. The panel’s attestation was included in the preface of her book.  

Phillis Wheatley corresponded with many artists, writers and activists, including a well-known 1 774 letter to Reverand Samson Occom about freedom and equality.  

Phillis Wheatley with pen and paper

Honoring Black History Month 2024  

Art plays a powerful role in helping us learn and evolve. Not only does it introduce us to a world of diverse experiences, but it helps us form stronger connections. These are just a few of the many Black creators who shaped U.S. history ― whose expressions opened many doors and minds.  

Black History Month is observed each year in February. To continue your learning, go on a journey with Dr. Jewrell Rivers, as he guides you through Black History in higher education. Read his article, “A Brief History: Black Americans in Higher Education.”  

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Creating Photo Essays About Community: A Guide to Our Where We Are Contest

Step-by-step directions for depicting what’s memorable and meaningful about groups and the places where they gather.

A group of young people lying on a weathered wooden stage, with their heads resting on one another's stomachs and their arms embracing one another. Some of the people are texting or holding their phones up to take selfies.

By Katherine Schulten

It’s hard not to be inspired by the immersive 2023 photo-essay series Where We Are .

As you scroll through and are introduced to young female wrestlers in India , rappers in Spain , band kids in Ohio and Black debutantes in Detroit , you can’t help but think about the communities you have been a part of — or have noticed in your own neighborhood or school.

That’s why we hope you’ll participate in our new contest , which invites teenagers to use these photo essays as mentor texts to document the local, offline communities that most interest them.

How do you go about that? The steps are outlined below.

Have fun, and if you are submitting to our contest, make sure you do so by March 20.

How to Create Your Photo Essay

Step 1: read the where we are series closely., step 2: decide what local community will be the subject of your photo essay., step 3: take photos that show both the big picture and the small details., step 4: interview members of the community about why it is special., step 5: give your photo essay context via a short written introduction., step 6: write captions for your photos that give new information or add depth or color., step 7: edit all the pieces together and submit..

Immerse yourself in several of these photo essays, using our related activity sheet to help you start to notice and name some of the things that make this series special.

When you’re done, we’ll help you use those same strategies to document the community you have chosen.

Here are free links to the entire series:

1. The Magic of Your First Car 2. At This Mexican Restaurant, Everyone is Family 3. Where the Band Kids Are 4. In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own 5. At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier’ 6. For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball 7. At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ 8. In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ 9. For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline 10. In Guatemala, a Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film 11. On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ 12. At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission 13. For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels like Home

A local band and its fans? The kids who hang out at a nearby basketball court? The people who tend a community garden? Your grandpa’s weekly breakfast with old friends at a local diner?

Our related Student Opinion forum will help you brainstorm ideas and then encourage you to detail what’s special about the people and place you choose. Remember that our rules allow you to work with up to three other people on this project, so consider sharing ideas with others to find a project that excites all of you.

Though we will allow you to choose a community you are a part of, we encourage you not to. Approaching a group as an outsider can help you notice and document aspects of that community with relative objectivity, capturing details that insiders may be too close to see.

Once you’ve chosen a group to photograph, begin by introducing yourself to ensure the participants are open to your project. Make sure they understand that, if you are a finalist, the pictures you take may be published on the New York Times website. You should also be sure to get contact information from each member of the group for any follow-up questions.

Next, spend a day or so just observing, noticing how and where the members of this community spend time, what they do together and how they relate to one another. Start to plan your piece, keeping in mind that, via six to eight photos, photo captions and a short introduction, you’ll need to impart the following:

What is this community?

Who is in it?

Where and when does it meet?

How did the community come to be? How does it operate?

Why does it matter to its participants? What is it about the connections people make in this space that makes it special? Why should it matter to viewers?

If there’s one thing to notice about the Where We Are series, it is that the photos and the writing both “zoom out” to provide a big picture and “zoom in” to focus on the meaningful details. If you have followed our related activity sheet , you’ve already noted how individual pieces do that.

You might have also observed that in each photo essay there are images that show the physical space; images that spotlight the people who gather there; and close-up images that focus on meaningful objects or details, like food, clothing, tattoos, jewelry, hair or hands.

Here are some steps you can take to do this too.

1. Ground your piece in a specific physical space.

Keep in mind that our contest allows you to submit only eight photos, so the more specific you can be about the place you choose, the easier it will be to tell a story. For example, rather than trying to document everything about the boys’ soccer team at your school, you might focus on their Wednesday practices at a local field.

Take photos that establish that space, perhaps at different times of day, from a variety of angles, with and without people. Here, for instance, is Sarapes, a Mexican restaurant in a quiet Connecticut suburb that is a “headquarters” for a group of 20-somethings.

As you look at this image and the ones below, ask yourself:

What can you tell about this space from the photograph?

What can you guess about the people who gather here, and what might this place might mean to them? What do you see that makes you say that?

Here is a meeting area at the Texas Wesley Foundation , a Methodist campus ministry group at University of Texas at Austin.

And here is the caption that comes with it:

“We call ourselves a Methodist group, but we are enthusiastic to accept people of other faiths, people who might not have any faith, or who are questioning their faith,” said Brandon. “We really like to meet people where they’re at.”

How do the caption and image echo and build on each other?

Next is one of many shots of Camp Naru , a summer camp for Korean American youth, where fostering a “strong, secure sense of identity and community is one of the main goals.” How can you see that in this image?

Finally, here is a big-picture look at the Southern California landscape that is the setting for “ The Magic of Your First Car .” What adjectives come to mind? Before you read the full piece, what can you already imagine about the teenagers who “get away from the prying eyes of parents” by driving? What additional images might you expect to see in the full essay?

2. Focus on the people who gather there.

Community is all about people, so consider the ways you can document both the ways they come together and the ways they might experience the group individually.

For instance, here is an arresting close-up image from “ For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline .” What is interesting about it to you? How does the photo speak to the title of the piece?

Here is an image from “ Where the Band Kids Are .” What adjectives would you use to describe this community based on what you see here?

Here is another group shot. What adjectives would you use to describe this community? What would you expect individual portraits of its members to show?

Now, look at the related photo essay to see how close your answers were.

Here are some of the people that call Sarapes , the Mexican restaurant, their refuge. Action shots like this one often tell a viewer more than posed photos. What does this one say to you?

Finally, here is an image from “ On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life.’ ” Though we don’t see any faces, the composition of the photo tells us a great deal. What do you think is going on here? What do you see that makes you say that? After you make your guesses, click into the photo essay and see how accurate your ideas were.

3. Zoom in on telling details about the people and the place.

You looked at a “zoomed out” image above from “ The Magic of Your First Car .” Here is a close-up. What does it tell you? What compositional elements give you that information? Why do you think the photographer chose this focus?

If you’ve already looked at several of the photo essays, you may have noticed that many, like this one, contain close-ups of hands. Why do you think that is?

Next, can you guess which photo essay the image below is from?

Before we reveal the answer, here is another close-up from the same photo essay, this one taken at night. Are you getting warmer?

Answer: “ At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier.’ ” If you got it right, what clues in the photos helped? How do the images echo the idea expressed in the title?

Below is a photo that focuses on one member of a queer community in Los Angeles . What do you notice? What do you admire about the composition, the lighting, the angle or anything else? Why?

Now let’s look at a big-picture image and a close-up to see how they work together. Here is a shot from “ For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball .”

Finally, here is a close-up. What do the two tell you together? What would be missing if you only took one type of shot?

4. Don’t forget to experiment and have fun.

If you’ve mastered the ideas above, now it’s time to play. As you worked through the images, you asked yourself, “How does composition convey meaning?” even if you didn’t realize that was what you were doing.

Our detailed photo guide , developed for an earlier contest, encourages you to think about how to experiment with basic composition techniques like rule of thirds, angle, depth of field, leading lines, framing and distance. It also helps you think about lighting, color and cropping, as well as making the best use of the tools available on most smartphones.

Read through it before and after you have documented your community and then look through the images you have taken. Do you have enough variety? Can you identify techniques like rule of thirds and leading lines in the images from the Where We Are series? If you haven’t used them in your own work, could you experiment?

Below are a few more images from Where We Are essays for inspiration. What do you notice? What compositional choices did the photographer make? How would different choices change the meaning?

Last question: Two of the four images above are from the same photo essay. Which are they, which piece do they come from, and how did you know? What unites the two images?

According to the rules of our contest, you only need one quote from a member of the community you have chosen, but, of course, you are allowed to use many more. We encourage you to weave them into both your captions and your introduction, just as the authors of the Where We Are series did.

Never conducted an interview before? We have advice. Scroll down to Steps 3 and 4 in this guide we created for our Profile Contest to find many practical tips from Times journalists for preparing for and conducting an interview.

But to start, you just need a few good questions. For example, you might ask:

What’s special about this community for you?

What do you like to do here?

What are some of your favorite memories or stories about this group?

What would an outsider to this community not understand or notice?

Is there history about this place or these people that I should understand?

If you were photographing this community, what important places, objects or moments would you try to capture? Why?

Finally, many journalists end interviews with this question: “Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I did?” Sometimes the most interesting information is elicited that way!

Then look over what you wrote down and choose the best quotes. Maybe they give information that your photo essay needs, maybe they are colorful and show personality or maybe they do all of those things.

To see how this works, we’ll look at one of the essays, “ At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission .”

Here is how the first quote was used, in the introduction:

Sydney had grown up Methodist and thought she knew what to expect from a Christian student organization. But she was surprised by just how welcoming the Wesley was. The students and adult leaders seemed genuinely invested in drawing her out of her shell and getting to know her, with no agenda. “It’s really not about getting people into this religion,” she said. “It’s just about being a community who supports others and loves others. And that was huge to me.”

How does it both paraphrase Sydney’s words and directly quote her? What does that quote tell the reader up front about this community? Why is that information important, and why might a participant’s own words be a compelling way to express this?

Later we meet Ethan. What does his experience — again, both paraphrased and directly quoted — add to your understanding of the inclusivity of this community? What colorful description does he offer for what happens in this group? How does this description add information to what is depicted in the photos?

Ethan’s parents are Buddhist and were surprised when their son started spending so much time with a Methodist organization. For his part, Ethan describes himself as agnostic and says he hasn’t felt any pressure from the Wesley to change that, but he appreciates the camaraderie the group offers. “There was this one worship where, when there was a swell in the music, someone burst into tears, and then they hugged one of their friends. I am not sure what was going on there, but it was definitely a very profound experience,” he said.

Listen for the same things as you interview. How can one person’s description of an experience add necessary information, depth, history or background to what you have depicted in images? Did you get any quotes that are too good not to use? How could you highlight them? Do they belong in your introduction or as a photo caption?

The essays in the Where We Are series are longer than the introductions you will write if you are participating in this contest. Many of those essays are about 600 words, double what we have allowed student participants. (You have up to 300 words, but you can use fewer if you can still convey what you need to.)

But you can use the first few paragraphs of each essay — what appears before the first photos — as mentor texts for your own introductions, and we’ll show you how, below.

First though, let’s remember your broader goals. As we wrote at the top of this post, together, your introduction, photo essay and captions should answer these questions:

Why does it matter to its participants? Why should it matter to viewers?

Take a look at “ In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own ” as an example. Here is the introduction, the first 200 or so words before the photo essay begins to scroll:

At the bustling Yaba Market in Lagos, Nigeria, there is something for everyone. Chatter rises from the traders, whose stalls sprawl over miles of cracked gray concrete and packed earth. They might be selling baskets of fresh fruit, wheelbarrows stuffed with phone cases, piles of sequined fabrics or racks of second-hand clothes. If you’re lucky, you might find a vintage jacket you’ve been searching for, or a pair of long-lasting Levi’s jeans. But you’re never going to be as lucky as Dencity : the coolest of the cool kids of Lagos. These skaters, often clad in a uniform of baggy pants and crop tops, head to the market to go thrifting each week. They’re armed with fashion knowledge only the young, fun and determined can possess and seek out the best streetwear they can find. Founded by 26-year-old Blessing Ewona in 2020 in response to the dearth of spaces for young queer people and female skaters in Nigeria, Dencity skate, dream and thrift together. From their trips to the market to regular skate meet-ups at the dilapidated National Stadium or Tarkwa Bay beach, they have traced their own map of the city.

How many of the questions we listed above do these paragraphs answer? How do they work with the top image, which we’ve embedded above this section? What descriptions stand out? What context and background does it provide?

Now let’s break your task down.

1. Make your writing as vivid and varied as your images.

Much of the writing in these essays is just as interesting as the photos, as the example above shows. Here is another, the opening of “ At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ ”:

As the winter sun ascends over a mustard farm, pale orange bleeding into sharp yellow, a line of 36 girls all dressed alike — T-shirts, track pants, crew cuts — emerges into an open field, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Under a tin shed, they sit on their haunches, bent over stone mortars. For the next 20 minutes, they crush raw almonds into a fine paste, straining out a bottle of nut milk. They will need it to regain their strength.

And here is how “ On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ ” begins:

On a warm evening in October 2021, Enzo Crispin mounted his cobalt motorcycle and set off into the night. Hundreds of others joined his caravan, the rumbles of their engines filling the air of Fort-de-France, the capital of the French Caribbean island territory of Martinique. The riders popped up on one wheel, stood up on their bikes, brushed their hands along the ground — all while zooming along at top speed. Completely exhilarating. Potentially illegal, at least on public streets. This is “cabrage,” which roughly translates from French as a rodeo on wheels.

How do these introductions both “zoom out” and “zoom in”? How do they play on your senses, helping you see, hear, taste, touch and smell this place and what happens in it? How could you do those things in your introduction?

2. Offer background to help viewers understand what they are seeing and what it means.

Here is the introduction to “ For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels Like Home ”:

Coming of age is marked by a series of firsts. Your first kiss. Your first job. Your first drink. Many who grew up in Dearborn, Mich., would add to the list: your first hookah. Located just outside downtown Detroit, Dearborn is home to one of the United States’ largest Arab American communities: Nearly 50 percent of residents identify as having Arab ancestry, according to the U.S. census . Middle Eastern shops, where you may find portable hookah cups , dot the streets. There is also the Arab American National Museum (which sells hookah-themed socks) and the Islamic Center of America , one of the nation’s oldest and largest mosques. And then there is the long list of hookah lounges, where locals spend hours leisurely smoking flavored tobacco through water pipes while catching up, watching soccer games or enjoying a live Arabic music performance. “A spot like a hookah lounge, it’s sacred,” particularly for immigrants and refugees far from home, said Marrim (pronounced Mariam) Akashi Sani, 25, who is Iraqi-Iranian. “And it’s something you have to create for yourself when you’re displaced, and you might not ever be able to go back home because you don’t really know what home is anymore.”

How do the opening two lines grab your attention? How does the demographic information in the third paragraph explain the focus on hookah lounges? How does the quote at the end offer important information that complements the demographic data and gives it meaning?

Next is the introduction to “ For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball ”:

In a heady swirl of bright white silk and lace, the young ladies of the Cotillion Society of Detroit Educational Foundation are presented as debutantes. The Society’s annual ball is the culmination of eight months of etiquette lessons, leadership workshops, community service projects and cultural events. As the girls take to the dance floor, they become part of a legacy of Black debutantes in the city and beyond. Debutante balls, which traditionally helped girls from high society find suitable husbands, emerged from Europe in the 18th century. Black Americans have adopted a unique version of them since at least 1895 . Responding to the politics of the Jim Crow era, these balls, which emphasized women’s education, echoed the work of the racial upliftment movement and women’s clubs, said Taylor Bythewood-Porter, the curator of a recent exhibition on Black cotillions at the California African American Museum. Organizers saw the balls as a way to “dismiss the idea of Black people not being smart enough, or good enough, or worthy enough.” For today’s debutantes, many of whom grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods of Detroit, gaining an informal network of Black adult mentors was “life-changing,” said Sage Johnson, 17. “Signing up for debutantes, I thought it was just one big ball. But there were a lot more layers to it.”

How do the second and third paragraphs add key context and history to this photo essay? How does the quote at the end bring these cotillions into the 21st century, and help you anticipate what is to come?

Ask yourself, What background will my viewers need to understand what they are seeing, and appreciate its nuances? Do I need to add that information myself, or can some of the quotes from participants do that work for me?

In most traditional newspaper articles, you will find a caption under each photo explaining more detail about the image and its relationship to the story. As you scroll through Where We Are, however, you’ve probably noticed that, thanks to the elegant way these pieces are produced, the captions float up on or around the photos.

In these essays, the captions continue the story. Your captions will do that too. But in the Where We Are pieces, photo captions are interspersed with more of the written essay. Because you are doing a “mini” version of this project, however, after your initial introduction, the only writing we will read will come from your captions. Make sure they continue to tell your story in a way that makes sense to the reader and helps build meaning.

For instance, here is an image from “ In Guatemala, A Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film .”

The caption?

The team has quickly become a family, meeting up for dinners and to celebrate each other’s birthdays. They are, said Sebastián, a community first and a production house second.

Notice how those words work with the image. Can you see “family” and “community” and “team” conveyed in the way this image is composed, the looks on the faces, the colors and light? How?

Here is another example, from “ In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ .” Before you read the caption, what do you imagine is happening in this picture?

Here is the caption, which both offers some background about the group and includes a wonderful quote:

Luis Rodríguez Collado, at right, the youngest of the group, grew up in Spain, the child of Mexican immigrants. “We aren’t just emoting with language, but with song and dance, with sounds and rhythm,” said Luis, a.k.a. Luis 3K. “At 19, I sincerely don’t know anything more liberating than this.”

As you construct your captions, ask yourself:

What information do I need to add to these images to make the meaning and nuances clear?

Can using quotes from participants work? What might they add?

How do these captions continue the story I started in my introduction? Do they build on one another and make sense both separately and together? Do they avoid repetition, with each other or with the introduction? Do they strengthen the key ideas of my piece? How?

At this point you may have dozens of images, and pages of notes. How do you put it all together?

Way back when you were first analyzing the Where We Are series, we called your attention to the fact that the images, essay and captions don’t repeat information exactly the same way . Each element adds something new.

We also talked about how, from the very first image, the one the authors chose for the top, a theme is hinted at, and then echoed in the introduction and continued in the captions. Whatever key ideas about this community you want to get across — maybe that it is a refuge or home, that it offers freedom or that it challenges participants creatively or athletically — look through your images and writing and find all the ways you think you have done that. Do you need more emphasis on this theme? A variety of ways of showing it?

Speaking of variety , that’s another lens to look through when considering your piece as a whole. In terms of both the photos and the writing, have you “zoomed out” enough to establish a place and a context? Have you “zoomed in” to show detail? Are your images taken from different angles and points of view? Do they show both the group and individuals? Are they dynamic and interesting and surprising?

Then, show your work to others, and, perhaps, ask them to analyze it using the last four questions on our related activity sheet . That will prompt them to tell you what is working, but make sure to also ask them if there is anything confusing about your piece, or if they think there is information missing.

Then, go back and fill in anything your piece needs, and play with the sequence of your images until they tell the story you want to tell.

Good luck. We can’t wait to see the results!

Katherine Schulten has been a Learning Network editor since 2006. Before that, she spent 19 years in New York City public schools as an English teacher, school-newspaper adviser and literacy coach. More about Katherine Schulten

EU AI Act: first regulation on artificial intelligence

The use of artificial intelligence in the EU will be regulated by the AI Act, the world’s first comprehensive AI law. Find out how it will protect you.

A man faces a computer generated figure with programming language in the background

As part of its digital strategy , the EU wants to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) to ensure better conditions for the development and use of this innovative technology. AI can create many benefits , such as better healthcare; safer and cleaner transport; more efficient manufacturing; and cheaper and more sustainable energy.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the first EU regulatory framework for AI. It says that AI systems that can be used in different applications are analysed and classified according to the risk they pose to users. The different risk levels will mean more or less regulation. Once approved, these will be the world’s first rules on AI.

Learn more about what artificial intelligence is and how it is used

What Parliament wants in AI legislation

Parliament’s priority is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes.

Parliament also wants to establish a technology-neutral, uniform definition for AI that could be applied to future AI systems.

Learn more about Parliament’s work on AI and its vision for AI’s future

AI Act: different rules for different risk levels

The new rules establish obligations for providers and users depending on the level of risk from artificial intelligence. While many AI systems pose minimal risk, they need to be assessed.

Unacceptable risk

Unacceptable risk AI systems are systems considered a threat to people and will be banned. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioural manipulation of people or specific vulnerable groups: for example voice-activated toys that encourage dangerous behaviour in children
  • Social scoring: classifying people based on behaviour, socio-economic status or personal characteristics
  • Biometric identification and categorisation of people
  • Real-time and remote biometric identification systems, such as facial recognition

Some exceptions may be allowed for law enforcement purposes. “Real-time” remote biometric identification systems will be allowed in a limited number of serious cases, while “post” remote biometric identification systems, where identification occurs after a significant delay, will be allowed to prosecute serious crimes and only after court approval.

AI systems that negatively affect safety or fundamental rights will be considered high risk and will be divided into two categories:

1) AI systems that are used in products falling under the EU’s product safety legislation . This includes toys, aviation, cars, medical devices and lifts.

2) AI systems falling into specific areas that will have to be registered in an EU database:

  • Management and operation of critical infrastructure
  • Education and vocational training
  • Employment, worker management and access to self-employment
  • Access to and enjoyment of essential private services and public services and benefits
  • Law enforcement
  • Migration, asylum and border control management
  • Assistance in legal interpretation and application of the law.

All high-risk AI systems will be assessed before being put on the market and also throughout their lifecycle.

General purpose and generative AI

Generative AI, like ChatGPT, would have to comply with transparency requirements:

  • Disclosing that the content was generated by AI
  • Designing the model to prevent it from generating illegal content
  • Publishing summaries of copyrighted data used for training

High-impact general-purpose AI models that might pose systemic risk, such as the more advanced AI model GPT-4, would have to undergo thorough evaluations and any serious incidents would have to be reported to the European Commission.

Limited risk

Limited risk AI systems should comply with minimal transparency requirements that would allow users to make informed decisions. After interacting with the applications, the user can then decide whether they want to continue using it. Users should be made aware when they are interacting with AI. This includes AI systems that generate or manipulate image, audio or video content, for example deepfakes.

On December 9 2023, Parliament reached a provisional agreement with the Council on the AI act . The agreed text will now have to be formally adopted by both Parliament and Council to become EU law. Before all MEPs have their say on the agreement, Parliament’s internal market and civil liberties committees will vote on it.

More on the EU’s digital measures

  • Cryptocurrency dangers and the benefits of EU legislation
  • Fighting cybercrime: new EU cybersecurity laws explained
  • Boosting data sharing in the EU: what are the benefits?
  • EU Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act
  • Five ways the European Parliament wants to protect online gamers
  • Artificial Intelligence Act

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