The paper should be between four and six double-spaced, typewritten pages…but if you want to write more, you can and should.

Please include a cover page with your name and the title of your paper (or the name of the image) at the front, and include a good quality copy of the image you select as the last page of your paper.


This paper is a visual analysis of a single image…it is a summation of everything you have learned in this course, as applied to the study of one single image.

Use what you have learned in this course to probe into the full meaning of the image.

Select a single image from any source (photo, painting, billboard, ad, etc.). The image you pick may have multiple parts (images, words, etc.) but do not assemble a collection of images. Pick one that you find absolutely fascinating, riveting, intriguing, or otherwise compelling enough to write about. You can re-use an image you picked for one of the weekly assignments if you want, or select a new one.


This is not a research paper but a reaction paper…it is about your response to the image and what you think is important about it, what you notice in it, what you feel gives it its impact or its meaning in all the ways we have discussed.

No need for footnotes. If you want to use any quotes from the articles, chapters, or other texts just put the words within quote marks and state where they come from. Like this:

As Ada Louise Huxtable says in the article Living with the Fake and Learning to Love It, “Distinctions are no longer made or deemed necessary between the real and the false.”

Other than a sentence or two as a cited quote from someone else, this paper MUST BE IN YOUR OWN WORDS or it will not be accepted.


After the cover page, the paper itself should be in six parts:


Write a paragraph or two introducing the image and explaining what attracted you to it in the first place, why you thought it was interesting enough to write about.


The bulk of the paper is going through the four approaches to meaning one by one (Content, Appearance, Use, Context) and relating these to the image just as you have done separately for various weekly image assignments.

Content: what are the important things you see in the image and how and why do they contribute to the impact?

Appearance: what visual elements (colors, shapes, lines, etc.) and visual principles (balance, hierarchy, etc.) seem to matter in this image and why do they matter?

Use: what aspects of how the image is being used matter here? Who do you think is using the image and in what ways and for what purposes?

Context: what else that you know or find out about the image seems to affect it’s meaning or impact?


The last paragraph or two should summarize what you have said in the paper and relate the points you have made to the reason the image has an impact on you. Did the process of analyzing change your mind at all or give you new insights?


1. Pick an image that works

Pick an image that is interesting, fascinating, troubling…an image that you respond to in some way, one that you find compelling enough to look carefully at and write about for an extended period.

Pick a good quality image…don’t use a tiny thumbnail off the Web, get one that is clear and sharp.

Avoid abstract images (no Content to write about), cliché images (too obvious to be interesting), classic images (too much already written about them), and simple cartoons or logos (not enough to think about).

2. Explain your choice

Write a paragraph or two about why you picked this image, what appealed to you about it, why it seemed more compelling to you than the trillions of other images out there.

A polished version of this will become the opening paragraph or two of your final paper.

3. Write about the Content

Start with a description of what you see in the frame, what you notice that seems important.

Content is not about listing everything you see. Content is about why you notice certain things, why the order you notice them in might matter, why certain details have an impact on you and others do not, why how real an image might seem is important…or not.

Content includes what you notice (denotation) and also what you infer (connotation).

Refer back to your class notes, the chapters, and the readings to get ideas about what to look for.

4. Write about the Appearance

Go through your class notes, the chapters, and the readings about Appearance to remind yourself about what this covers and what to look for.

Appearance is about how the image makes you feel, what your response is to the colors, the shapes, the lines, the balances, the visual rhythms, etc.

Look at it upside down to avoid the Content and focus on the visual impact.

Look at the list of visual elements and principles and see which ones matter in terms of the impact of the image you picked.

5. Write about the Use

Who created the image and why? How and what is the image being used to communicate? What kinds of information does it convey? Do the people who published the image want something from you? Are the questions of value and worth part of the significance of this image? Is the image used to convince or persuade you of anything and, if so, is this successful?

Refer back to the chapter, readings, lectures about Use to get ideas about what to think about as you work on this.

6. Write about the Context

Is there any outside information (stories, ideas, facts, even other images) that you had in mind when you picked that image that made you think about in a certain way?

Is there any information that came with the image, or even that you found on your own after you picked the image, that might contribute to or affect its meaning?

Again look at the chapter, readings, and notes that relate to Context to remind you about what it covers and to give you ideas about what to look for and think about.

7. Write a summary

One or two paragraphs that summarize what you have said in the paper and relate the points you have made to the reason the image has an impact on you. Did the process of analyzing change your mind at all or give you new insights?

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