Skip to Main Content

Visual Communication: Visual Analysis

Using visual communication in scholarly work.

What is Visual Analysis?

Visual analysis is the observing, processing, and understanding of the visual choices made in creating an object.

The 5Cs of Visual Analysis

What is in the object? Was was included and what was omitted? Is it referencing an early work?

How are the elements arranged?

Why was it created? In what time period and location? What was going on at that time? How does this influence the object?

How does the object connect to the audience it was created for?

What you do think the meaning behind the object is? What are the strengths and weakness of the work? Why do you like or dislike it?

From How to Analyze Photograph Work by Jaskirt Boora


Writing a Visual Analysis

A guide to writing an art historical visual analysis, from the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University.

Principles of Design

Principles of Design

The principles of design describe the ways that artists use the elements of art in a work of art.

Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space. If the design was a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable. In symmetrical balance, the elements used on one side of the design are similar to those on the other side; in asymmetrical balance, the sides are different but still look balanced. In radial balance, the elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar.

Emphasis is the part of the design that catches the viewer’s attention. Usually the artist will make one area stand out by contrasting it with other areas. The area could be different in size, color, texture, shape, etc.

Movement is the path the viewer’s eye takes through the work of art, often to focal areas. Such movement can be directed along lines, edges, shape, and color within the work of art.

Pattern is the repeating of an object or symbol all over the work of art.

Repetition works with pattern to make the work of art seem active. The repetition of elements of design creates unity within the work of art.

Proportion is the feeling of unity created when all parts (sizes, amounts, or number) relate well with each other. When drawing the human figure, proportion can refer to the size of the head compared to the rest of the body.

Rhythm is created when one or more elements of design are used repeatedly to create a feeling of organized movement. Rhythm creates a mood like music or dancing. To keep rhythm exciting and active, variety is essential.

Variety is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer’s attention and to guide the viewer’s eye through and around the work of art.

Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the work of art, which creates a sense of completeness.

Modified handout from The Getty