comparative visual analysis
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How to conduct a Comparative Visual Analysis?
A comparative visual analysis is a formal (or visual) analysis of two or more works of art. It also
adds another layer of analysis which is an evaluation of similarities and differences between the
works of art. This added layer of analysis is useful in recognizing trends within historical
periods, regional similarities, or studying an artist’s oeuvre.
Always begin by describing the individual works of art, as you would in a visual
Why is the comparison relevant? This should be your focus when answering the
question, as there are multiple reasons why these works of art have been clubbed
together for a comparison.
You can either follow the “Lumping” method or the “Splitting” method for this exercise.
In the “Lumping” method you will discuss all details of one work first, and then all the
details of the other work, and so on dependent on the number of artworks in the
prompt/question. You must refer back to the points raised in the first work of art while
discussing the other works of art, so that you conduct a comparison and not simply write
a description. This method is appropriate for a longer analysis.
In the “Splitting” method you will choose specific points in your argument. Then, you
will use both works of art simultaneously to make comparisons based on the point that
you are talking about. Once done with your first point you will move on the second,
third, and so on. You will discuss both works of art at the same time in each point. This
method is better when conducting short comparisons.
What must a good visual analysis include? (This is relevant because you are still conducting a
visual analysis for each work of art.)
A good visual analysis includes but is not limited to:
Identification, i.e. identify the work, its title, date, artist (if know), period, culture, and
material. In case of architecture identify the location as well.
Once you have identified the work of art you must first describe it. Description can (and
usually does) include the composition of the work, the elements of design crucial to it,
and its focal point. A description serves to introduce the main ideas of your analysis.
Once you have described the work of art, you must examine and analyze aspects of your
description, such as colour, line, texture, shape, form, size, and value. In some instances,
analysis can also include the symbolic aspects of the artwork. This is the part where you
construct a meaning using the elements within a work of art.
For more information on how to conduct a visual analysis, please feel free to use the following
How to do a visual (formal) analysis in art history?, Smarthistory,
Visual Analysis, Thomson Writing Program, Duke University,
You must follow these instructions:
1. You will write the exam in-class although you will be given the questions and
instructions in advance.
2. Your comparative visual analysis must be at between 750-1000 words, i.e. 3-4 pages
3. Your visual analysis must have an argument and provide a good comparison of the
artworks provided in the prompt. Usually an argument must be stated as “In this essay, I
will argue…” or rather you may ask a question at the beginning, which serves as your
4. You must use at least four sources, these may be from the course syllabus or from
Brightspace, or you may do external research, whichever you prefer.
5. These should be cited in-text. You may use the following format, which is only provided
as an example: (Huntington, Indus Valley Civilization, pp. 4).
6. You must have a title for your comparative visual analysis.
7. You may bring in other art works to compare with the given set of works, but please
limit this to only one or at most two other works of art. The focus should be on the
comparison assigned in the prompt.
How will you be graded?
All answers will be graded in the following manner:
A-range grades will include: (i) a clear title, (ii) a strong argument, (iii) four pages or more
(1000 words or more), (iv) good and effective use of four or more sources clearly tied to your
argument and corroborating your evidence, (v) comparing all works of art given in the prompt,
(vi) in-text citations, (vii) clearly articulated idea about what you want to say in the comparison,
(viii) fluid sentence structure, excellent grammar, capitalization, and use of punctuation, (ix) and
overall argumentative and clear answer.
B-range grades will include: (i) some semblance of a title ti a basic argument although not
fully developed, (iii) three to four pages (750-1000 words), (iv) use of three sources, (v) attempt
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