Writing An Art History Paper: Overcome The Challenge

By: Max Malak

12 min



Writing An Art History Paper: Overcome The Challenge

Before we provide you with useful tips on how to write about art history, the essential question is: why? You can come up with an answer easily: “because I have such an assignment” or “because I need to boost my grades.” Not only are these answers boring, but they are useless since they can’t motivate you to write the paper.

It would be better for you to imagine yourself in the place of an expert writer for a specialized magazine who is creating the content for an audience. “Why am I writing about this topic?” can imply several new questions: “What do I want to tell my readers about?” and “How can I make the information I know interesting and exciting to these people?”

Of course, in the end, it is all about your grades. However, if you want to earn some brownie points with your professor, it would be a great idea to think outside the box. We want to help you create something that you will be proud of. Or, if you are just not into it, ask for professional help to save yourself some time and energy.

What Is Art History?

If you’re attending the appropriate class, you should already know the definition of art and art history. However, regardless of your background, it is always a smart idea to start with the basics. It is easier to reach your goals when you know exactly what you’re expected to provide.

So, art history studies objects of art that were created in different periods. It can be a painting, a sculpture, iconography, or some architectural object. And you don’t need to list all of them or even unite pieces in some movements. It would help if you analyzed what this art means. There are also historians who work with undefined objects, trying to discover the author or any other circumstances that preceded this work's creation.

Why Do People Study Art History?

Pursuing a degree in this field, you learn to understand cultures. When you read books about past events, you get access to some evidence. But visual art can recount stories in a pretty different manner. You perceive new information through visuals, and it is a great way to understand yourself, people who lived centuries ago, and people who lived thousands of kilometers away from you.

Besides, this discipline is also a perfect opportunity to develop critical thinking skills. Sometimes, it is even more useful than traditional history, where you memorize dates, names, and movements all the time. Instead, art history drives you to analyze. And analysis requires well-structured and convincing arguments, hence developing your critical mindset.

What Is an Art History Paper?

When you’re studying at a college or university, you deal with writing assignments all the time. Regardless of your major, you need to write essays, research papers, case studies, term papers, and so on. And when it comes to art, this kind of writing is based on the same principles you use when working on content for any other discipline.

However, you should choose a different approach. Writing an essay requires you to employ a visual vocabulary to share your impressions in concrete words. While you may receive many instructions and deal with several formats, your ultimate goal is to find and explain the relationship between the work itself and its influence on viewers. It is necessary to articulate how the materials, tools, and techniques of the artist work together to convey an overall impression.

Types Of Art History Assignments

During the educational process, you’ll be expected to develop various kinds of art history papers. It is because all of them may have different purposes, structures, topics, and so on. For example, an essay is not the same thing as a research paper.

And there are many types of essays as well. There are assignments when you need to describe something, ones where your primary task is to provide analysis, papers to compare and contrast some works, movements, or concepts. You may love some of them and hate the others. And it would help if you were well-aware of all of them to be able to deliver the fantastic result that will impress your professor.

Though each paper type has its own basic features, your professor may provide you with concrete requirements to follow. And if you decide to hire a professional author, you need to upload the file with these details so that the writer can understand your expectations.

Formal Analysis

Formal analysis is a form of writing that you won’t meet in other disciplines beyond the writing one. It is one of the most common types that students learn in their introductory course.

On the one hand, this form is pretty simple since you don’t need to provide any other information besides what you see in the artwork. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have a particular knowledge of the topic, including the author’s background, styles, techniques, etc. But your primary focus is always on the visual elements of the piece.

When writing a formal analysis paper, you need to focus on:

  • line;
  • color;
  • composition;
  • style.

While you need to describe various aspects, it is also essential to ensure your sentences are thesis-driven. Students have to come up with the overall interpretation of the piece and to make each point tie back to it.

Research Paper

Research papers are prevalent assignments because they are pretty versatile. There may be various art history research paper topics. Still, the main point is that you develop a research question or some hypothesis and conduct a little investigation to find answers.

Writing a research paper, you can focus on various details. For example, it can be the symbolic role of pieces or the author's biographical details. These papers range from theoretic analysis to critical reviews. And they often become a real challenge for students who need to devote a lot of time trying to find appropriate information and process it to come up with a good paper. Moreover, you need to look for trustworthy sources and check all the facts you use in your content.

Comparative Analysis

This type of student writing is pretty common, especially when you have a certain knowledge level and can find similarities and differences in several pieces of art.

This assignment requires you to conduct a formal analysis of two or more works and combine it with your knowledge of the topic.

A comparison paper typically starts with similarities: you need to determine whether works have the same stylistic background or the relative period. They may depict the same subject, share the same message, and so on. Looking for common things, you’ll find out that there are some differences as well. Start with the obvious ones and then move on, revealing the more specific and subtle facts.

Guidelines For Writing Art History Papers

Pursuing a degree in art history, you possess a lot of knowledge and interesting materials. Each student has one’s base of historical facts, visual information, interpretation insights. And of course, it goes about your unique vision, the way you perceive theatre topics, music, paintings, and so on. However, this knowledge base is not enough to communicate with readers, which is precisely the main task of your writing assignment.

We want to share some actionable tips with you that will make your writing better. However, it is important to remember that practice makes perfect, and you need to devote enough time to polish your skills.

Art History Paper Format

First of all, it is essential to understand what your professor expects of you. The chances you will face two identical assignments are practically nil, and you require the individual approach each time.

Pay attention to all details, mostly the format of your paper. Most student works in this discipline are written in the MLA format. So, you need to find the official guide and to follow all its requirements. And your professor may also ask you to make some changes.

The format is what you need to keep the document standardized. It is essential when you’re going to publish your work somewhere. And some requirements are necessary because of the plagiarism issues. For example, when you cite someone, you need to give credits and format them appropriately. If you forget to add some details by the requirements, it may spoil your piece's overall impression, even if it is just perfect.

Choose a Favorite Art Topic

Sometimes professors assign students a concrete topic because they want them to cover specific aspects. There are also situations when the choice is absolutely up to you, or when you have the opportunity to choose your topic from the list.

So, if you have an opportunity to decide what your paper will be about, don’t miss this chance. You need to choose the topic that you love.

It is because of several reasons. Firstly, when you’re interested in something, you have more energy to finish this task, even if it is challenging enough.

Remember how willingly you are to study your favorite disciplines and how tedious you find the boring ones. Besides, if you like the topic, the chances are you already know something about it, and you’ll easily find the necessary information and build a good structure for your paper.

Find Information

There is one wise idea to remember: while cars work on gas, your brain works on the information. If you’re sitting in front of your laptop for hours without any thought about what to write, the answer is pretty straightforward: you don’t have enough good information for your project.

You need to conduct research and find as much data from websites, books, and magazines as possible. And when it comes to art history, literature is not a limit. You can also visit some museums and galleries in your city to speak to artists or critiques. If you want to come up with an A-level paper, you need to make some effort.

Of course, you won’t use all the information you have, since you need to process it, and to decide what exactly you’ll write about.

Consider Your Target Audience

Even if you’re a first-year student without ambitions to publish your essay in a professional magazine, you should write it as if you have some readers except your professor. Imagine your target audience, and try to build a specific dialogue with it.

It will help you to structure the paper and to choose the appropriate language. For example, you can write in plain English, explaining difficult things with simple words. Or you can focus on people with the appropriate background and use professional jargon without any disclaimers.

This tip has a second side, the motivational one. You feel more responsible when you’re writing for other people, and you become more critical of yourself. Your professor knows that you’re just a student, but your imaginary audience may think you’re an expert. So could you do your best to meet its expectations?

Outline Your Paper

Now, when you have the topic, enough information, and your essay's focus, you need to structure the document. Most student papers consist of the introduction, main body, and conclusion. But you can also include several sub-sections that will help you to cover the topic better.

Regardless of the structure you choose, you need to outline the paper. Use the sheet of paper and write down your ideas, organizing them in a way you like. You can use blocks, lines, bullet lists, various mind maps, and so on.

The point is that you can easily understand what sections you should include and what they are about. Having a good outline, you’ll save yourself from the situation when thoughts come to your mind chaotically, and you lose track.

General Writing Tips To Improve Your Skills

If you want to write art history papers that hook the readers’ attention at once and keep it for a long time, you need to focus on several skills. Of course, you have to be able to write about art: to know specific terms, to play with words, to use metaphors and other literary devices. But it is essential to develop your writing skills as well.

Practice in different genres: essays, articles, critical reviews, etc., to find your voice and style. And remember that the genius idea itself doesn’t matter too much without a decent realization. Here are some good tips to make your writing better.

Be an Active Reader

To master the foreign language, you need to plunge into it: to read books in Spanish, to watch video content in Spanish, to visit Spain and speak with natives when no one helps you when you don’t understand each other. The same thing works with writing. You need to read, watch, listen, discuss everything about topics you’re interested in.

Though it is not about polishing writing itself, reading professional magazines and books, you’ll mention good practices to follow. And when you’re into books, YouTube channels, or exciting discussions with artists, you train your brain, and it will pay off.

Ask For Feedback

People tend to be very subjective when it comes to their work. When you’ve spent hours trying to write an essay, you can easily miss some weak sentences. Besides, you look at your paper from the writer's side, and it is not so easy to move into the reader’s shoes.

That’s why you need to ask someone for feedback. You can discuss the paper with a fellow student or with your friend who likes this discipline as well. Or it would be a good idea to find a mentor with writing experience who can provide you with some exciting tips.

Don’t Underestimate Proofreading

We know this feeling when you’re about to finish the paper, and once you do it, you click the “Send” button, and that’s it. You have no desire to read it repeatedly, but it is an essential thing to do.

Take a little pause after finishing the last paragraph to let your brain rest. Then get back to your document, and proofread it with a keen eye. You’ll be surprised how many typos and mistakes your content include. Make sure it is formatted correctly, and you haven’t forgotten about some of your professor’s requirements.

Proofreading helps to make your paper flawless, and you definitely shouldn’t miss this opportunity. And if you lack the time or are not sure about your editing skills, you can always hire a professional author or proofreader to help you with your creative assignment.

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Max Malak

Product Manager

Here at Studybay, I work as a Head of Affiliates in the marketing department. I studied Liberal Arts and took related classes at Tokyo Sophia University. I believe that challenges are what make my job fun and exciting. That's why I like completing complex, complicated, and even weird tasks and then sharing my experience with colleagues.

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