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:
- The film you selected for the “finding negative and positive reviews” assignment (note: this is often the most popular option that students select, which is just fine; just make sure that you are picking something very specific and interesting to write about this film – rather than just writing an overview of the movie)
- An analysis of a different movie which seems especially compelling to you (is there something you want to say about it, and then can you come up with many specific elements to analyze?)
- A detailed analysis of a music video (one which we watched in class – one that I played or one a classmate played – or it could also be one which you personally select)
- A comparison/contrast of two different music videos by the same director or musical artist
- A comparison of two different films from the same director
- A detailed analysis of a painting in the UAMA (approve this with me first, to make sure you have enough material to write about)
- An analysis of something specific or interesting in regards to the Black Mirror episode we watched
- Specific themes or similarities in two different episodes of Black Mirror
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:
- Assume your audience to be college-educated. Therefore, this assignment must be completed according to the general rules and standards of academic discourse (failure to do so will result in a reduced grade). Some summary and restatement of plot and characters is allowed; however, do not let this be a majority of your paper. You must engage in real analysis.
- This is not just a “research paper”… You may use other sources to support your opinions (in fact, I really want you to quote from other critics, and it will probably be helpful, regardless, to read what others have said), but I want you to be saying something yourself. I’m most interested in your opinion!
- Again, you’ll need to do a real analysis to receive a good grade.
- For example, you’ll need to do a “close reading” (re-read Chapter 2 in Student’s Guide to First-Year Reading if you don’t know what I mean; or, for this assignment, once again look at the pages about visual analysis, too).
- So, for a film or video, you probably will want to cite specific moments. You could (should) support these arguments with a specific timecode if necessary (ex. 00:13:46).
- It’s often easiest (and best) to organize your essay in a typical academic manner (thesis statement, topic sentences, PIE paragraphs). Refer back to the Student’s Guide or come see me if you need help. There are other ways to compose essays, but if you find yourself adrift, this is often the best way to go.
- Compose your essay in Standard Written English (SWE). Essays with multiple grammatical, spelling, and stylistic errors per page will receive a deduction of at least ONE letter grade.
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.