Perhaps when you made the selection for fine art as a major, not only were you pleased to be following your heart, but maybe you thought there was a side bonus, and you’d get to skip a lot of the more arduous academia tasks. No such luck! Now, maybe that doesn’t describe you entirely, but either way, we’re going to assume you’re reading this because you need to write an art essay, for whatever reason! Allow us to share a few tips to make the process easier.
Structure over chaos
If you’re an art student, you may already be accustomed to looking at the world through this lens of chaos and structure, as it’s a useful rubric for understanding art, and the art of the essay as well. Let’s consider this from the perspective of the art reflection essay, a very common type for this program.
In this and other cases, it will serve you well at the outset to think about the relationship between art as an exercise in ‘flow’ or ‘chaos’, and the essay as an exercise in structure. Now, of course you will find these two master elements of reality working together almost anywhere you look, but in this case we are generally talking about taking your impressions, feelings, observations, visceral reactions, and giving them names, categories, and descriptions. That is how you take the experience of art and put it in an analytical, written form.
Let your ideas flow
Your essay will need to follow a core structure that really applies for essays of all types, which means you can start with good general advice from a student writing centre or other services at your school library. This is good for topic sentences and paragraph structure, which are tools for structure, but first you must know your content, and that generally comes out of experience, which is more free-flowing, or chaotic.
Let’s take the reflection essay in which you are to describe your experience of creating a piece as part of the creative process. Very often our experiences do not happen in neat little boxes, but flow together, but we must put them in boxes to describe them.
Start jotting down notes about the experience. Start from the beginning. What was the process like when you were first thinking about it? Where did it take you? As you began, what doubts or inspirations did you experience? Was there a time when you felt lost, and then perhaps found your way back to your creative thread? What was that all about?
Look for the ‘boxes’
When you allow yourself to jot down the strongest impressions you have as they come to you (whether in a reflection or a critique), you will likely see a kind of structure forming. Some thoughts will identify the creative thinking process, some may describe the emotional elements associated with self-doubt, faith, and inspiration, others may reflect learning that occurs through use of your medium. Each of these can then become a paragraph or section of the essay, and your topic sentences suggest themselves.
- “In approaching this topic, I found myself thinking not only of colour and technique, but of the emotions I wanted to lead the process.” Then you can describe them.
- Second, you may say, “while much of my experience seemed like stress about deadlines, I found the experience of doubt as an artist within that experience.” Describe those moments.
- “Finally, as much as I experienced doubt along the way, I learned that by focusing on simple technical components, I could harness the energy of my emotions and push forward with the task”.
When all is said and done, writing an essay is not a simple task, anymore than is completing a piece of art. They are both things anyone can do, but it requires some thought and perhaps talent to do them well. Regardless, breaking down any task into its elements helps us organize our thoughts, and give structure to the free-flow of our experiences. The art essay is no different!