Writing an art comparison essay can be a difficult task for the novice art student. Students of art or art history often assume that any interpretation is as good as another, but in reality, to adequately interpret a work of art and then compare it to another, you will need to learn a little about the artist and the historical context of its composition.
Research the historical context of each piece of art. In order to adequately understand any work of art you must understand the circumstances under which it was produced. Artists are considered cultural innovators and often have an idea or truth they are trying to convey with any given composition or group of compositions. You have to first understand the artist as a person before you can adequately understand the meaning of his or her work. In order to understand the artist as a person you will also need to understand the time in which they lived. Picking up a good art history or humanities textbook will help you get started understanding the context.
Find the similarities and differences. Once you have placed each work within the proper context and before you actually begin to write your essay, sit down with a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil and write down the similarities and differences in each work. Questions to consider are the historical, political, philosophical, and religious differences of the time in which each work was composed. What do each of these works say about these issues? Do the works contain any symbolism? If so, how do the symbols differ and how are they similar? What do the symbols tell the observer about each composition?
Consider the medium through which the piece of art was created. Is it a painting or sculpture? Is the art representational or abstract? Is there a technique or style used that tells the observer something about the meaning of the composition? Who or what are the subjects of the work? The questions you can ask regarding any particular work of art are actually unlimited, but should always include some of these basic questions.
Compose your essay. Once you have analyzed each key piece of art you should develop some type of thesis statement related to that analysis. For instance, a comparison of any of Jackson Pollack's works with Van Gogh's "Starry Night" might yield a thesis statement indicating that both artists expressed themselves similarly by painting in a manner that revealed their inner emotions. Van Gogh was known to cake the paint onto the canvas and create a visible texture that was reminiscent of his inner torment while Pollack's abstract art was created by slopping paint onto large canvases, often in a drunken rage. You can then compare and contrast the elements of each composition to reveal how these artists methods were similar. The key to writing a good comparison and contrast essay is to be as clear and concise as possible, but also to be as detailed as possible regarding each element of the compositions.
Revise your work. If you are submitting your work for a grade you should take the time to reread and revise your essay before turning it in. Even the best writers rarely get their work exactly right on the first try. Have someone else proofread and offer suggestions for revision if possible. It is generally much easier for someone else to spot clarity issues and point them out than it is for you to do it yourself. Getting a little help from a friend, family member, or colleague is a great way to strengthen your writing and increase your chances of getting a positive response from the reader.
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- University of North Carolina: Comparing/Contrasting
- Academy of Art University: Compare/Contrast Art History Essay
- Landmarks in Humanities; Gloria K. Fiero; 2nd ed.; New York, 2009.
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