A woman is looking at pictures in an art gallery

Art History Essays: Unraveling the Stories Behind Famous Masterpieces

Academic exercises may come across as something dry or, at times, flat-out boring. While that may be the case, they can be quite the opposite when it comes to fashioning art history essays. Doing art history essays is doing a deep dive into the minds of highly creative individuals. Not only that but when reviewing that masterpiece, you’re looking into what drove the artist at that moment to create something that would end up becoming timeless, globally recognized, and still relevant enough to be discussed.

You’re looking at the colors, the brushstrokes, and every movement painted onto the fabric itself, marking that period for all the world to see. You can take so much from what the artist is willing to offer, take it a step further, and include the era in which the painting was made, and how that was part of the overall inspiration. The cultural context is also a critical piece that could be the primal force pushing the existence of the masterpiece itself.

When you choose to write such an essay, you’re becoming an art treasure hunter, searching for hidden meaning and additional analysis and ultimately revealing a fresh layer of understanding and meaning.

How do you start with such an essay?

Every one of these essays all start the same way. Select your masterpiece, and always pick one that resonates with you. It will help inspire you when writing as you have an emotional stake in the game. Don’t just pick what you think is the most popular and gain the most noise. Focus on the piece that speaks to you the loudest, as this will make the rest of the essay easier to complete. Not only will your interest in the specific topic drive you to make it the most complete piece, but it will also be completed with an inspired tone to make a mark on the reader.

This is vital as you’ll have to dive deeper than you ever thought possible into researching the work. You want to gather information about the specific art piece and everything you can about the artist and the artist’s career. Make sure to research the artistic movement the art was done in and the artist’s historical context and location. Finally, combine these elements and look to see if there is any significant symbolism or messaging in the art itself.

You can gather this research easily enough by starting online and heading more offline towards libraries and museums themselves. The deep dive will help you formulate a thesis statement you can hypothesize. Keep it concise, and make sure it covers what the core argument will be related to the art you’ve chosen. Are you looking at deciphering the story, hidden context, or the questions it raises for one reason or another?

Start with the formal analysis. This is where you view and give a critical opinion of the overall composition of the piece and you’ll do a complete analysis of the colors used, the brushwork, and the latest techniques of the era. Combining these elements should contribute to the overall purpose of the painting.

Historical context is key, as artists tend to find their inspiration from what is trending. Is it meant to speak about the current social issues of the time? Spark a new movement? Or simply work to challenge the status quo. This can be mixed with the biography of the artists as it will shed light on what their muse is and what their driving light looks like. You want a better understanding of the overall works of art to see if there was a pivot or growth in how the artist produced their works.

Stay organized

Anytime research is involved, even with something passionate, make sure to stay as organized as possible. Structure your essay with what needs to go in each section, and as the right reference or piece of material comes up, start to fill up those sections when possible. This will show you where the pain points may be early on and if the essay itself needs to be changed based on available resources.

Make sure your research is always focused on reinforcing the proposed thesis. Clear sections for your essay will also help with the writing portion and organize your thoughts. You can have an engaging introduction written early on to get it out of the way and become a motivator as the research goes on. Every time you add to the essay, it is another accomplishment, another verified source, or a contribution to your thesis.

Use it as a chance to challenge the current status quo

Remember that you’re searching for a unique point of view when writing an art history essay. It’s not meant to be a rehash of existing analysis under a different tone or with a few key points added in. You want to see this as a window to tackle broader themes and these more general themes can really be anything. These can include answering questions such as how does artwork epitomize the human experience and emotions? Also, how does it help us to deliver messages about love and hope or even despair and loss?

You could showcase how art has been a powerful motivator for social change and how artwork helps influence cultural shifts and mindsets, making it quite a powerful topic. There are many directions to go with such an art history essay, but ensure you always tie it back to the original masterpiece you’re writing about.

Write with a passion

You selected your masterpiece to research, so remember that and embrace the fact you’re working with something you enjoy. Make sure to showcase that in your writing and research. Approach it like a task which is purpose-driven that will help drive you to dig deeper and analyze more. Not only that but do more drafts on your art history paper and seek help and feedback from people when possible. After completing your first one, you will see how enriching an essay like this can be to us.