Essay #2: Visual / Textual Analysis
For this essay, you will analyze a visual text (a painting, film, or video) and explore why the artist(s) employed the techniques that she/he/they did. The aim is to write a paper (to craft and defend a “thesis”) that proposes a compelling and unique analysis/argument, or makes a strong and interesting statement about a visual text (a painting, film, or video).
If you’re writing about a painting, you’ll want to look at the section on visual analysis in your Student’s Guide. However, most of you will probably be writing about a film or video. So, if you you’re writing about a film/video, explore cinematography (shots), editing (cuts), mise-en-scene, sound, plot, props, figure behavior, larger meaning, etc. (all of the many, many elements we’ve addressed in class and through various assignments – initially drawn from pages 113-117 in Student’s Guide to First-Year Writing, but you can also find them on the music videos worksheet).
What message(s) might this image/film/video be trying to communicate? How? Why? Remember tocreate vibrant analysis, not just a simple description or plot summary. It will probably be useful to look up reviews of the image/film/video that you select; however, I don’t want you to just repeat what other critics say. I’m really interested in your personal analysis.
So, here it is: You may write about ONE of the following for this assignment:
Most people end up selecting one of the first two options above
Here is an acronym that many past students have found helpful in figuring out what to write about for this assignment: DIM! Let me elaborate:
ü D: Debatable… What I mean is that it would be great if the subject of your essay could be “debatable.” It would be great if you could actually have an argument about your topic. If you could imagine someone stating the opposite of your point, then it’s debatable. One thing to think about: If you pick a movie (or video), what would a critic with a negative opinion say about it? Do you agree with them? If not, argue against them. Or you could argue for their point, too (it can be fun to argue an unpopular point). It can be fun to argue against an imaginary opponent (just support yourself with a lot of details!)
ü I: Innovative (or Interesting)… Something that is innovative is something that has never been said before. I understand that it’s hard to come up with something entirely new to say. But I would recommend that you try to write about something that you haven’t really heard about too much before. Try to write about your topic in a new way—in a way that actually interests you. Do you have something interesting to say about your topic? If you can answer “yes,” then that might be a good topic.
ü M: Managable… Don’t pick a topic which is too tiny or too huge. You have 4 – 6 pages to express your point. For example, students often make the mistake of analyzing an entire film. This is often too large of a subject for this assignment. I want you to be able to really “zoom in”… rather than just give us a “zoomed out” summary of the whole film.
Overall, I’d generally recommend writing about something that you like, something that you can imagine working on for a while without it being terribly boring. HOWEVER: It’s also good to select a photo/film/video that also has a little bit of “weird” to it – something that you sort of like, but you’re not exactly sure what you think or feel about it (something with some mystery to it). This often makes a topic more fun to write about, and it is also easier to come up with more paragraphs and pages, too.
I understand that it can be difficult to figure out what to write about for this paper – although if students are regularly attending the class and doing the in-class writing assignments, they almost always come up with a good topic. I always recommend that you talk to me about your topic.
For this assignment, many instructors would require you to write about a written text. For example, you might have to write about a poem, short story, or essay. However, I generally have students write about a visual text, because they find it an easier and more fun way to get into this type of analysis (you’ll certainly have to dig into written texts in future English classes, which is great; I think you can use the exact same methods we’re talking about here to analyze a written text). That said, there are several things I must require of you:
About that last point: I was fairly lax with the previous assignment; grammatical errors will incur bigger deductions for this paper. If you are worried about this, PLEASE see a tutor (they’re free!) before handing in your final draft.
FOR THE FINAL DRAFT: It will be 4-8 pages, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins, and a 12 point font.
To sum up, the main thing here is this: You will be saying something about a visual text’s “Big Idea.” Or, rather, expressing your own Big Idea about a visual text.
Then, you’ll be back that up with a lot of specific examples.
 I personally hate the term “thesis” – but your essay must have a main idea that is driving it forward (otherwise, why would a reader want to read it?). I generally use the term Big Idea instead.
Try it now!
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