Visual analysis 101

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Johnson Museum Visual Analysis 101



This document offers a detailed explanation and walk-through of visual analysis. The PDF includes:


WORKSHEET FOR INSTRUCTORS: tailored explanation of visual analysis and teaching tips


WALK-THROUGH OF VISUAL ANALYSIS: demonstration of visual analysis for instructors, 

but can be edited and shared with students 


WORKSHEET FOR STUDENTS: tailored explanation of visual analysis and prompts 


FURTHER INFORMATION FOR INSTRUCTORS: a list of online and other resources on 

visual analysis and visual literacy


What is visual analysis?

Visual analysis is a method of understanding art that focuses on an artwork’s visual elements

such as color, line, texture, and scale. In its strictest definition, it is a description and explanation 

of visual structure for its own sake. Yet the purpose of visual analysis can also recognize the 

choices that an artist made in creating the artwork, as well as to better understand how the 

formal properties of an artwork communicate ideas, content, or meaning. Visual analysis is often 

used as a starting point for art-historical writing.

Visual analysis is not just for art. It is also a critical part of visual literacy, a skill that helps people 

read and critically interpret images, whether in a museum, on social media, in entertainment, 

advertising, or the news. As citizens of the 21st century, we are constantly confronted with visual 

media. Practicing visual analysis sharpens critical judgment skills and helps people seek out 

answers instead of passively receiving information. This is especially important when exposing 

hidden ideologies that may motivate seemingly neutral images. 

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