Writing the A2 Art Personal Study: examples, help and guidance

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

This article has been written for CIE A Level Art students who are working on their A2 Art Personal Study . It focuses purely on how to write the text of the Study; a previous article outlines how to come up with a good topic ; a future article will address the illustrations and presentation methods.

The Personal Study is an area of uncertainty for many A Level Art students. It differs from projects that are usually completed within high school Art programmes, as it involves a substantial written component (maximum 3,500 words) – something which can intimidate students, especially if they are unfamiliar with how to critically analyse an artwork, make informed judgements and write personal evaluations. With few examples of quality Personal Studies available, it can be difficult to know what is expected and how to begin. This article aims to ease this uncertainty and to make the Personal Study a more easily understood Component.

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A2 Art personal study

1. Research thoroughly

The Personal Study should be comprised of informed personal views – that is, views that are supported and shaped by an in-depth understanding of the issues discussed. Before starting the project, students should conduct thorough background research, selecting and recording information from second-hand sources (such as books, websites and other publications) and first-hand sources (interviews with artists, studio visits / gallery visits etc). Interviews with artists should be planned thoroughly, after preliminary second-hand research has been completed (as findings from research will suggest important issues to discuss with the artist).

Students are often uncertain about how to phrase questions, so sample questions have been included below (the exact questions asked will depend on the topic and focus of the study):

  • Please talk me through the process you follow when designing your paintings. Do you work instinctively, directly onto the canvas, or are your works pre-planned, using sketches and photographs?
  • What influences your choice of colour? I am interested particularly in the colours used in [insert name of painting/s]. Could you explain your thought process behind the use of colour in this work, particularly the [give example]?
  • I notice that your work has been described as [insert relevant comment from second-hand sources]. Do you agree with this statement? How do you respond to this?
  • I notice that [insert an aesthetic feature of their artwork i.e. ‘angular line’ or ‘organic form’] is a dominant feature of your work. Is this strongly connected to the ideas that you are exploring? Have you used these elements deliberately?
  • Can you show me work in progress or semi-complete artwork? I would love to understand the process you go through and how you apply media at different stages.
  • Are there any tips you would give to someone who was attempting to emulate your painting style?
  • Which artists have influenced your work? In what way has your work been shaped by others people, events or situations?

2. Evaluate and interpret research findings

Conducting research is critical for creating an excellent Personal Study, however, it should be noted that submitting research on its own will not gain a student any marks. Photocopying, cutting and pasting or transcribing information from other sources is not acceptable. Examiners do not want to read long lists of facts or chronological sequences of events. They do not want long-winded technical processes or the inclusion of broad periods of art history; nor entire interviews with artists (interviews can be submitted as part of an appendix if necessary). Students should not include an extensive artist biography (only brief and relevant details are needed) nor include vast passages of text that have been regurgitated from other sources.

Instead, students must select the information which is relevant and analyse this in detail, evaluating and interpreting findings in relation to the focus of their study . Research should be used to help form intelligent, knowledgeable, personal responses : to explain, justify or support the viewpoints, judgements and conclusions that are presented.

Evidence of research might be demonstrated, for example, through the use of carefully chosen quotes (to support or contrast the student’s own ideas) or through the inclusion of correct terminology and background knowledge to communicate an in-depth understanding of relevant issues. Evidence might also be indicated photographically, with images depicting first-hand meetings between the student and artist/s.

This Personal Study by CIE A2 Level Art and Design student Alice Ham, from  ACG Parnell College , shows a cleverly selected quote alongside images by New Zealand charcoal artist Liam Gerrard . Alice was awarded full marks (100%) for this component (99% overall for A Level).

100% A Level Art Personal Study

3. Structure the Personal Study in a logical and clear manner

Before writing the Personal Study, students should plan the content, order and structure of their study thoroughly (often in conjunction with planning the layout of their project – this will discussed in more detail in a subsequent post). This should include headings and subheadings of material discussed and rough diagrams indicating how this will be supported by images. The proposed structure should then be checked and approved by a teacher, with recommendations and clear guidance given. While the structure of each Personal Study will differ, depending on the topic chosen, every study should follow the basic format outlined below:

  • Introduction . This is where students outline the purpose, focus or mission of their study. This may include question/s they are going to answer; themes they are going to explore; issues they hope to address etc. It should set the scene for the project and may include reasons for selecting a topic and an indication of how / why the topic is of personal relevance or interest to the student. It is important that the intentions of the project are clearly set out in this section, so that the remainder of the project can be structured accordingly.
  • Body . This is the main part of the Personal Study and will need careful thought. It is usually organised into separate sections (which may be formal chapters, or simply different areas of a visual study), usually with individual headings and sometimes sub-headings. (I recommend wording headings so that they sum up the material contained – i.e. ‘ Analysis of Composition: [artwork title] ’ rather than ‘ Chapter 3 ’. This means that the examiner is able to see immediately that the student has covered a range of appropriate areas). The sections should be ordered logically and address the focus of the project; they should NOT ramble haphazardly from one issue to the next. High school Art students have a tendency to write without any preconceived order or structure, discussing issues spontaneously as they think of them. While this can be a suitable approach for more creative writing tasks – and can pulled off by certain students – this strategy runs the risk of creating a muddled and incoherent Personal Study.
  • Conclusion . This is where students summarise key points from the project, arrive at final conclusions and make considered personal judgements about what has been learnt.

This is one of the concluding paragraphs in a Personal Study by Nikau Hindin (who achieved 98% for CIE A Level Art while studying at ACG Parnell College), entitled ‘ Identity, Consumerism & Popular Culture: How composition conveys a message ‘. The project was focused upon the analysis of artwork by New Zealand artist Kelcy Taratoa , with comparisons made with the work of American artist Bill Barminski :

Taratoa’s use of composition helps convey his message concerning identity construction. The arrangement of elements is symbolic of an unconscious hierarchy within his paintings that forces the viewer to question and analyse them. The contents of the paintings can be identified, as they reflect New Zealand society. Taratoa’s use of colour is vibrant and modern, echoing the technological era we live in. Barminski has a more dynamic and humorous approach to conveying his message. He mocks consumerism with his witty and blunt slogans and replications of consumer products. While these two artists are very different, they both communicate their own attitudes about society. Making a political statement through your paintings forces an audience to engage. Ultimately we want our art to be remembered and admired and I think if the message of a painting is clear then the viewer is more likely to go away and think about it. Paintings are a powerful tool to communicate a meaning that is deeper than the 2mm of paint on a canvas. Paintings are an artist’s voice.
  • Bibliography / References / Acknowledgements . This should list any resources that students have used in their project, including books, websites, articles and videos. It might also include sources of first-hand information, such as museums, galleries or websites, as well as acknowledgements, thanking the artist for their time.

4. Write clearly and coherently

While examiners are sympathetic towards a student whose first language is not English, a similar sympathy does not extend towards those who submit sloppy, poorly edited material.

Just as it is expected that a Coursework project should contain beautiful well-composed artwork, a Personal Study is expected to contain well-structured, well-edited material. Even if a student has chosen to produce a largely visual project, submitting a sequence of annotated images, the text should communicate with intention and the writing quality should match that achieved by an A Level English student. Poor grammar, spelling errors and ‘txt’ speak are inexcusable.

As with any important written project, drafts should be rewritten and refined several times: chapters re-arranged; paragraphs and annotation reorganised; repetitive material, waffle and unnecessary regurgitation eliminated. Teachers, parents and friends can all be recruited to read through drafts, highlighting spelling errors and identifying areas where the writing is muddled. While the work must of course remain entirely that of the student, feedback from a fresh set of eyes is invaluable.

5. Use subject-specific vocabulary

A Personal Study should include an appropriate range of Art related terms and vocabulary. While the exact words used will be dependent upon the nature and focus of the study, there are a number of general Art-specific terms which students should be familiar with (these will be listed, with their definitions, in an upcoming article). Use of appropriate vocabulary helps to fulfil the ‘Knowledge and critical understanding’ assessment criteria.

6. Make it PERSONAL

As the title indicates, a Personal Study must communicate distinctly personal opinions, insights, judgements and responses, demonstrating a clear engagement with the artwork studied.

This excerpt from an 100% OCR A Level Art Personal Study by Yantra Scott entitled ‘ An investigation into gender roles in contemporary art ‘ illustrates this:

I first encountered Sarah Lucas whist briskly strolling through the crowded rooms of the Tate. Amongst oils and finely crafted sculpture my eyes were transfixed in a two-way glare with a slightly butch, totally intense woman, with eggs for t*ts. Ever since then I’ve been hooked.

It is evident that Yantra not only visited and viewed artwork in the flesh, but had a strong personal reaction to it. It could never be assumed that this segment had been reworded from a textbook: it is absolutely the words of a passionate high school Art student. Although Yantra uses coarse language within her study (something which should be emulated with caution) this project is an exceptional example of an intelligent and personal response to a topic. (More of Yantra’s work, as well as the entire text of her study, can be read in full on the great Julia Stubbs’ website ).

Similarly, this quote from an 88% OCR A2 Art Personal Study (one of the examples given in the OCR A2 Art Exemplar Work – Personal Study document ) shows a personal response integrated within the analysis of Damien Hurst ’s work, illustrated below.

The glass is thick, so thick that it is intimidating. It is as if it is holding something terrible back. It makes you question the formaldehyde and query, what if the tank did break? The formaldehyde is not clear as I expected but is quite strongly coloured by a blue and green pigment. This colour is very clinical and has the connotations of a hospital…

The musings about the tank breaking and the formaldehyde differing from expectations are clearly the individual thoughts of a high school art student.

modern art by damien hurst

7. Understand ‘cultural context’

Within the Personal Study, students must demonstrate an understanding of cultural context –  an understanding that an artist does not create work in isolation, but rather creates work that is shaped and influenced by the circumstance/s they finds themselves in. This might mean that discussion of the influence of natural, social, political or cultural environments is appropriate, or that – as is more common – the influence of other artists is discussed, with comparisons made between artwork that has been created in similar or differing contexts.

Akif Hakan Celebi photographer

The excerpt below is from a CIE A Level Art and Design Personal Study by Tirion Jenkins, of  YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College . Titled ‘Alternative Fashion Photography’, her Personal Study was awarded Best in Hong Kong (2012) and includes analysis of ‘One night in Mong Kok’ by photographer Akif Hakan Celebi . Tirion demonstrates a clear understanding of the interrelationship between a photographer’s work and the setting in which it was created.

The setting itself creates an intoxicating atmosphere with the rows of fluorescent light bulbs and layers of luminous signs that form an endless maze of gaudy colours. However, the setting does not overwhelm the two models who draw my eyes despite the signs above them. They create the focal point of the image through the use of the rule of thirds as they are placed off-centre and through their quirky appearance which magnetises the eye towards them. They seem to belong to a different world to the passersby behind them with their flare of red hair and audacious choice of feathered flittered clothes. Akif has further crafted the image through the use of makeup as their chalk white faces further segregates and emphasises their surreal doll-like appearances. …Akif’s pictures are reminiscent of Japanese cinema which he says he is so influenced by. “I like…its writhed and crazy stories; I feel very close to that way of looking at the world.” This photograph is particularly mystical due to the vibrant and decorative bokeh of Hong Kong’s street lights in the background.

8. Critically analyse artworks

The core of the A2 Art Personal Study is the in-depth analysis of selected artist works. Some of these artworks must be viewed in person, however it is common (and completely acceptable) for students to analyse work from a combination of primary and secondary sources.  In the best studies, artworks are chosen specifically to facilitate the discussion of issues which are relevant to the study.

The advice in this section is particularly important and should be read closely by students who are hoping to achieve a high grade for their Personal Study.

When analysing artwork, it is helpful to analyse the work in terms of composition, format, structure and visual elements (such as shape, line, texture, colour, space, tone) . Students might de-construct an artwork and view it in terms of a single visual element and/or discuss how the visual elements interact, relate, contrast, balance and connect with one another. Descriptions of important terms have been included below to aid this process:

  • Composition is the placement or organisation of visual elements within an artwork – the way these have been composed, combined or ‘put together’. Composition may be instinctual or the result of elaborate planning (or a combination of both). A ‘compositional device’ is an aspect of a composition which has a certain effect (such as the use of frames within frames, which might help create a sense of distance or space within an artwork).
  • Format is the overall shape, size and orientation (portrait or landscape) of an artwork, i.e. whether a work is painted on a long, horizontal oblong canvas, or upon a vertically orientated A4 portrait board. Format can be influenced by practical considerations (i.e. the nature and shape of the object or scene depicted) as well as being an active decision by the artist to help communicate a particular meaning or idea.
  • The structure of an artwork is the organisation of basic forms within a composition (this will be illustrated in more detail in the subsequent post focusing on imagery).
  • Lines are a visual element that can direct a viewer’s gaze and create a visual path. These can direct attention to a focal point and create depth through perspective or horizon lines. Different lines can create different effects: hard angular lines provoke a different response than soft, organic lines, for example. Repetition of lines can create a sense of movement or rhythm.
  • Shape is a visual element that is created by the junction of lines or changes in tone: the perceived boundaries of form. Larger shapes can become dominant focal points within an artwork; similar shapes can be repeated to create balance and create unity / visual harmony. Shapes can be symbolic, i.e. they can represent more complex forms and carry meaning. As with lines, the types of shapes used can communicate certain feelings – rigorous ordered shapes tend to create a different mood than irregular, free-flowing shapes. Shapes might also be used to create borders / frames and boundaries that connect, overlap or intersect, perhaps helping to draw viewers from the foreground / middle-ground to background.
  • Space – the absence of form – is an often overlooked visual element. Described as being either positive (the space contained within the boundary of an object) or negative (the background space in and around an object), space can determine how busy and cluttered a painting is. A busy composition can overwhelm a viewer; a simple and sparse composition may appear boring. Careful integration of space is fundamental to any artwork.
  • Form is a visual element that is usually discussed more easily in relation to three dimensional objects (as three-dimensional forms are usually described within two dimensional works in terms of shape, tone and line).
  • Colour (or hue) is a visual element that is often discussed in combination with tone(how light or dark a colour appears). Colour can affect the mood of an artwork due to colour associations – i.e. blue might indicate sadness. Tone can help to communicate a sense of distance (items that are further away generally appear lighter – due to ‘atmospheric perspective’). Both tone and colour can be used to create contrast within an artwork, attracting the viewer’s attention and helping to create focal areas. Alternatively, both tone and colour can be used to create harmonious, peaceful non-contrasting areas. Use of light and shadow or warm and cool might also be an important area to discuss.
  • Texture can be real (the result of brush strokes, irregularities in materials, and the application of a range of materials) or implied…i.e. a surface that is made to looktextured. As with the other visual elements, texture should be integrated so that it balances and becomes an aesthetically pleasing addition to an artwork. Surface qualities – along with other detailed areas and intricate patterns – are only able to be appreciated fully when viewed in person.

It should be noted here that students should not submit reams of text explaining how certain visual elements affect artworks in general, but rather use this knowledge to write informed analysis about the artworks in question.

Here is another example by Nikau Hindin, discussing the use of line in paintings by Kelcy Taratoa. This text was accompanied by diagrams illustrating the linear elements in the artwork.

…Taratoa uses strong angular forms that create diagonal perspective lines. These lines are called ‘leading lines’ and direct us to the focal point of this painting, which is a portrait of Taratoa. They also lead our eyes past him and make us look at the background. This helps to convey Taratoa’s message that one’s identity is linked to social circumstance, upbringing (background) and popular culture.  Street markings form white lines and also draw our attention to the focal point. Street markings represent paths and therefore they may be paths to finding and constructing ones identity. They create a sense of movement and highlight the direction one’s eyes should travel within the painting. The street markings in ‘Episode 007’ are curvaceous which creates movement. The curvy lines mirror the organic forms of the superhero’s muscular body, creating a visual link. In ‘Episode 0010’ the repetition of line of the zebra crossing creates a sense of rhythm and leads us to the portrait of Taratoa in the left corner. Horizontal lines are repeated in the background of the painting to unite separate parts of the painting.

As well as the aesthetic qualities discussed above, most students also include sections where they analyse artwork in terms of materials, processes, stylistic influences, techniques (use of media) . For some, this is the primary focus of the Personal Study. This might include analysis of the way an artist has applied paint to a canvas (mark-making, brush strokes), the sequence of building up layers of paint over a prepared ground, or the sequence of events involved in creating a graphic design: from conceptual sketches, development of ideas, construction in Photoshop, through to proofing, paper selection and final printing. It might involve discussion about the way a composition is planned and designed and then the various processes that are undertaken in its completion. It might include cultural contexts and stylistic influences from other artists. In any sections of the Personal Study which are dedicated to process and technique, it is important to note (as mentioned above) that the examiners do not want the regurgitation of long, technical processes, but rather would like to see personal observations about how processes effect and influence the artwork that has been created.

In all analysis of artwork, whether this involves discussion of composition, aesthetic qualities, cultural contexts, use of media, or approach to a theme, it is important that students move beyond simple observations and add perceptive, personal insight. For example, if a student notices that colour has been used to create strong contrast in certain areas of an artwork, they might follow this with a detailed and thoughtful assumption about why this is the case: for example, perhaps the contrast was created deliberately to draw attention to a focal point in the artwork, helping the artist to help convey thematic ideas. These personal insights could be backed up by earlier research, confirmed or suggested by the artist, or might be educated assumptions made by the student, based upon their own responses and personal interaction with the artwork.

Some final recommendations are included below:

  • ‘Analysis of artwork’ does not mean ‘description of artwork’ . Analysis means taking an artwork apart (thinking about it in terms of individual elements, such as line, or colour or technique), analysing these individually and/or in terms of how they relate to one another, and making personal observations and judgements, connecting this to the theme or focus of the assignment.
  • Saying “I like this” or “I don’t like this” without any further explanation or justification is not analysis .
  • Writing should be carefully integrated with the images , so that it is clear which text relates to which images (this will be discussed more in the subsequent post).

Alice Ham, a Year 13 student at  ACG Parnell College  (awarded 100% for her Personal Study) has produced some excellent analysis of artwork by  Liam Gerrard :

In most works (the exception usually applies to those done in commission) the focus of the piece is centred, surrounded by empty space and never grounded through shadow or the like. This is another way in which Gerrard plays with commonly held opinions. Typically, a most aesthetically pleasing composition will follow the rule of thirds – a well known ‘rule’ that correlates to the focus of artworks being offset within the composition, and the entire image being visually divided into 3 sections. Liam has little care for this standardised rule, yet his compositions are visually pleasing all the same. I believe this could be because of the negative space, there is no overcrowding and it allows the viewer to focus on the subject. I also think this space is played upon in the display of the artwork. Galleries in general will have white or very light coloured walls so as not to distract from what is on display. By placing these white canvases on the white walls, hung without obvious framing, the artwork is allowed to ‘flow’ into the viewer’s world, there is no line of separation. This forces the viewer to study Gerrard’s pieces, and perhaps consider the personal message they address for the viewer in everyday life.

Analysis of artwork

Some of the text above has been reproduced here to aid ease of reading:

The expression on the pig’s face is perhaps what would draw the viewer into this picture the most. It directly contradicts the gruesome depiction of decapitation and appears almost to be laughing. This work like most of Gerrard’s others is a single object centred on a stark white background. The amount of empty space in this picture is very eye catching and directs the viewer’s vision inwards, there is no chance of distraction by details in a menial part of the work. Once again Gerrard uses charcoal in his personal style, leaving the artwork in black and white. This lack of colour is cold, it presents the reality of the grisly scene without the embellishment of colours. This does not allow the audience to be caught up in what is ‘pretty’ but forces them to take in every details in it’s highly realistic, and perhaps disturbing, state. The shock factor of this piece is emphasised ten- fold by the sheer size. It cannot be realised until you view this piece in reality, but being dwarfed looking up into a pig’s head captured mid laugh brings upon you a bizarre sense of fascination.

9. Explain the relationship to Coursework (if appropriate)

As explained in the previous post about topic selection, it is no longer necessary that the Personal Study relate to a student’s Coursework project. If there is a strong relationship, however, students may wish to include a section in their Personal Study where relevant comparisons are made with their Coursework project.

10. Don’t exceed the word count

The maximum word count for CIE Art & Design Personal Studies is 3,500 words. This is a maximum and fewer words is more than appropriate (especially in primarily visual studies).

If a student is slightly over the word count, this is unlikely to be an issue (it is rare that examiners would know your exact word count, as no-one is likely to count every word in a project from start to finish); however, if a student is significantly over the word limit, this is obvious and a problem, running the risk that the examiners will run out of time (or enthusiasm) to read your project in its entirety. Almost all cases of word count breaches come from students who have attempted to bulk up their study with unnecessary information from second-hand sources. If you are encroaching the word limit, you should immediately ensure that you have not included supplementary research material or unnecessary information summarised from textbooks. If you are still battling with the word count and inclusion of material from second-hand sources is not an issue, you should re-edit your project, eliminating waffle, and ensuring you communicate succinctly.

Final Notes

I encourage teachers to locate and print the excerpts from Personal Studies that are included in the 9704 Standards booklet on the CIE Teachers’ password protected site , which can be downloaded as a PDF document from the A Level Art & Design page. This document is invaluable.

Finally, we are actively looking for more examples of high achieving Personal Studies to share on the Student Art Guide. If you or someone you know someone who excelled in this Component, please read our submission guidelines for more information.

If you found this information helpful, you may wish to read the previous article in this series: How to select a great A2 Art Personal Study Topic  or our overview of the CIE A Level Art: Personal Study .

Amiria Gale

Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.


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High school sketchbooks publication


  • TC9: Speaking Truth to Power - issue-based art
  • Superheroes! (And patterned pants)
  • Ancient Greece: figures and forms
  • Eek! A wolf ate my sketchbook
  • Ancient Egypt: What a Relief!
  • Shapes and (hi)stories
  • Figures & Factories
  • Noughts & Crosses - playing with art (hi)stories
  • Self-Portraits (Pt.1) About Face
  • Self-Portraits (Pt.2) More than just a pretty face
  • Why study Art?
  • Preparing for the Personal Study
  • #abstractadvent
  • Eye to Pencil


  • To shed some light on what the Personal Study actually is (although the official line from Edexcel can be found  here  - other exam boards available).
  • To provide students with practical advice for writing their essay - developing a theme, planning, structuring, writing a bibliography etc.
  • Be no more than 3000 words (short and punchy is better than drawn out and draining).
  • Focus on a specific artist/photographer or art movement (or alternatively, a concept or artifact).
  • Be related to your own investigations and practical (course)work.
  • Include supporting images - from your chosen focus, your own work, and relevant wider connections.
  • Include a bibliography (see below).
  • Be informative, insightful and provide a personal perspective.
  • Be a well-presented labour of love; a pleasure for others to pick up and read.


  • Liar! Jeff Wall, photography and truth
  • Modernism, Abstraction and the work of Barbara Hepworth
  • The Human Figure: Sizing up Euan Uglow


  • Explain your interest in the subject and the connection that you have to this.
  • Set out your intentions clearly.
  • Provoke a desire to read on (for example, by using intriguing yet-to-be-answered questions).
  • Reference relevant threshold concepts  - the big ideas (or transformative knowledge) significant to your focus.


  • Revealing insights to specific artwork(s)   – descriptive writing incorporating lesser-known facts; wider contextual connections; personal insights - perhaps in relation to your own practical work and experiences. But don't dismiss how an artwork makes you feel or impacts upon your senses. ( Refer to Threshold Concept #6 ). Be sensitive to your intuition and honest in accounting this.
  • Imaginative leaps and connections –  this might include linking an artwork or idea to another work or idea, or perhaps a significant moment in time. Connections might be made between styles, techniques or ideologies; moments of personal, historical or cultural significance can be linked with thoughtful insights or questions. ( Refer to Threshold Concept #7 ).
  • Narrowing your focus   – when the possibilities seem endless, narrowing your focus might help. For example, if referencing a particular artwork, consider focusing on one of these 4 aspects:  TECHNICAL, VISUAL, CONTEXTUAL and CONCEPTUAL.  Do you want to provide technical insights (the type of materials used, the technical skills involved etc.), or perhaps a visual analysis is more fitting (of subject matter, composition etc.)? All essays should demonstrate contextual understanding, and reveal concepts and ideas, but this might not be necessary for every artwork referenced. ( Refer to Threshold Concept #3 ).
  • Accompanying images/illustrations  – Your Personal Study should be accompanied with relevant images/illustrations, but there is no set way to do this. Most students opt to embed these alongside their writing for ease of reference. Alternatively, they might be included as an appendix - a page at the end of the essay. Either way, think carefully about the relevance, order, scale and placement of images, and reference them consistently within your text. You can do this in a couple of ways, e.g:
  •   “ An example of this expressive technique can be seen in Figure 1."
  • “ This technique was very expressive (Figure 1) and... ”
  • Your initial reaction   – i n f ormed by instinct, intuition, emotional response, existing knowledge etc. This is appropriate when your initial reactions are justified e.g.  “I'm intrigued by this because…”; "when I first  encountered  the work I was taken by surprise because..."  But if what follows is  a basic and superficial understanding of wider contexts  then, well, that might just make your teacher cry. “I’m interested in Cubism because I like how Picasso’s artworks are made up of cube-like shapes”; or “Pop Art appeals because it uses bright colours and film stars” . Whether your teacher cries tears of despair or laughter will depend on your relationship with them, or perhaps their performance management targets. But they won't be tears of joy.   
  • Based on a deeper understanding/complex grasp of wider contexts  – demonstrating a confident stance; justified, informed opinions​; an ability to make imaginative connections etc. Compare these improved examples to the previous tear-inducing responses: “I’m interested in Cubism, particularly how the concept of recording multiple viewpoints evolved through experimenting with - and challenging - traditional methods of depiction..."; “I’m interested in how Pop Art emerged as a response to Abstract Expressionism. It strikes me as a mischievous movement; an antidote to the  excessive chin-holding culture which pervaded galleries at that time …” 
  • From an alternative perspective – demonstrating an awareness that art is not fixed in meaning but subject to interpretation; that the opinions of others can provide alternative perspectives 0r counter-balance an  argument etc. Placing yourself in someone else’s shoes can demonstrate a deeper awareness of the capacity of art to evoke various opinions and responses. For example, consider the perspective of a feminist, a modernist, or a post-modernist.  “Rothko may have set out to provoke a sense of claustrophobia with his Seagram Restaurant commission, but I can imagine a dining capitalist might have been less sensitive to the colour fields on the wall, and more preoccupied with the greenbacks in hand…”  ​


  • Revisit the aims or investigative questions set out at the start. You do not need to have definitive answers though. Sensitive  and honest reflections, or even new, increasingly complex questions are fine.
  • Summarise key thoughts that have arisen from your study.
  • Offer reflective, personal opinions on your research, and how this has shaped - or will shape - your own practical work.
  • Share thoughts on potential opportunities for future exploration, if given more time.
  • Include a short reflection on the process of the study itself – the research and thinking skills that you've developed along the way.
  • Author –  put the last name first.
  • Title –  this should be underlined or in quotation marks.
  • Publisher -  in a book this is usually located on one of the first few pages.
  • Date –  the date/year the book/article was published.
  • Photography Writing
  • Photography Literacy
  • A beginner’s bookshelf
  • Andrew Graham-Dixon  History of British Art  (Although pretty much any book, article or TV series from AGD is a good bet.  The Art of Germany  being my absolute favourite).
  • Mathew Collings  This is Modern Art
  • The Penguin book of Art Writing
  • Whitney Chadwick  - a range of titles available

Personal Investigation Essay

Writing a Personal Study for A-Level Art and Design

Tips for writing an A-Level Art and Design Pesonal Study

Image Credit: Ricardo Viana

What Topic Should I Do My Study On?

  • Compare and contrast the work of two painters. Choose two that have some similarities, maybe in subject matter or the time they lived in. Discuss the similarities and then the differences. You can focus on just one area of their work if they were prolific. E.g. Braque and Picasso, Hirst and Emin, Magritte and Dali.
  • Discuss what has influenced an artist's work. The influence of African art on Picasso and the Cubists has been done rather a lot, so how about van Gogh and Japanese art, the influence of the pre-Raphaelites on surrealism, the influence of primitive art on sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
  • How has one artist's work influenced many? Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ansel Adams have influenced hundreds of other photographers.
  • Of course you can think of any question to set yourself. Was Turner the first impressionist? Was Andy Warhol prophetic in his obsession with celebrity culture?

Making Your Personal Study Personal

Next the study should be PERSONAL. This means it should be about your response to the works of art. How does it make you feel? What story does it tell you? What do you conclude from looking at the picture, sculpture, or photograph?

Your study should be about your opinions and feelings. You can refer to other people's interpretations of a piece but you should always state this and never pass these opinions off as you own. Always write it in quotations and give the author's name.

A personal study is not just a biography of the artist. You will get few marks for simply re-writing a book on an artist's life. Biographical details should be brief and could be included as an appendix if you have too many words! Also, this is an art project, so make your study visual with lots of examples of artists works, diagrams and your visual responses to the works.

Art: Together We Create

Image Credit: My Life Through A Lens

What Should My Personal Study Include?

You should of course always refer to the syllabus for your particular exam board, but here are a few suggestions of things to include in your study.

  • Introduction . State the purpose of the study that is, the question that you are going to answer or the theme which you are going to explore.
  • Make an analysis of at least two pictures by each artist in your study. Describe the picture, how it makes you feel, what it tells you. Is it relaxing or energetic, narrative or impressionistic?
  • Visit galleries to view original works and write about your visit. How does it feel to view an original work compared with seeing a reproduction? Were the colours different? Was it bigger or smaller than you imagined? Exciting or disappointing?
  • Conclusion . What is the answer to your question. What have you found out? Was it what you expected or were you surprised by it?
  • Add a bibliography and list any other resources that you used, such as museums and galleries that you have visited or websites that you have used.

Recommended Books

These are two books that I found invaluable during my A-Level Art course.

The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich

The Story of Art - E.H. Gombrich A bestselling history of art book and quite rightly so. From prehistory to the present day, this book is so well written that you can read it for pleasure.

This book is an investment, because if you decide to continue studying art you will still be referring to it all the time.

Approaching Art and Design by Rod and Dorothy Taylor

Approaching Art and Design: A Guide for Students - Rod Taylor and Dorothy Taylor.

Sadly out of print but you may be able to find it secondhand or in your local library.

This is a book which gives an approach to studying A-Level art and shows you the standard required to succeed. It emphasises the importance of basic drawing skills, then shows how to develop drawings into a final piece of work. It does mainly focus on drawing and painting skills but is also relevant to 3D and Textiles.

Finally, best of luck with your A-Level art!

Updated 2nd March 2023

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How to Write an Art Essay

Examining creativity

When it comes to learning how to write a first class art essay, you need to remember that showing off your best writing skills will guide you to winning the challenge. When your skills are tested in writing an essay of this kind, you will be mandated to write an account of what you see and then you need to analyze it. Basically, your main job is to use some words that will best explain the photos of the subject. From the start of learning  how to write a first class art essay , you need to deal with the phonology of the dexterity, you need to be informed about the terms and the principles of how to write the essay.

More importantly, when you know  how to write a first class art essay , you will be able to describe every image accordingly before you, but you also need to write a complete description on each with appropriate justification for the viewpoint of the art. The essay does not just need a description randomly about different aspects of the artwork, regardless if it is sculpture, painting or building. You need to be informed about what you will say about a particular topic with your capacity to analyze and to describe the artwork you have chosen.

The Types of Art Writings

If you are following Sylvan Barnet’s writings, you will see that he was able to identify 5 kinds of writing styles for art. In the process of learning how to write a first class art essay, it will be an advantage on your part if you will be able to use these various categories to fully comprehend the expectations of the mentor with any of the probable assignments. If you are allowed to do whatever you want and pick a topic, you can use these writing tips for brainstorming or discovering some of the ideas for the topic of the assignment.

Sociological essay checks a particular era in history and imposes how that specific era can be influential to the topic of your choice. It is probable that your point of conversation will also promote some comprehensive queries about social influences, topics about the result of the economics of the art, the struggles women are facing to be recognized in the art field and others.  For instance, the essay might emphasize on the way some rural farm photography of Walker Evans might have swayed Roosevelt’s wish to make the Farm Security Administration’s progress.

Image writing it is also known as iconography. It is a kind of writing that prefers to describe the photos using the complexity discovery of different signs noted in an artwork option. For example, the writer points to the theme in Rembrandt are THE ASSASSIN as residents of Holland. But within a critical checking of the signs in the painting might show off that the characters in the painting might really show off that the characters in the painting might be known as saints.

Form analysis will request the pupils who have chosen to learn how to write an essay about art to check the formal part of the art piece, and from there to come up with a conversation about the parts in an original or imaginative fashion to aid other people to see and fully comprehend the subject being checked.

Biographical essays will enable the author who has learned how to write an essay about art to check the personal life of the artists and how it affects his/her masterpiece. Barnet gives an instance of how Ansel Adams had affected the photographic career of Harry Callahan.

Iconological essay this is the study of a photo. It uses different texts & specimens to fully understand a particular piece of artwork. For instance, the individual who has discovered how to write an essay about art might pick an ancient rendition of different Greek mythological tales to give light to the readers on the photos representing the myths as showed in the ancient form of Greek art.

Strategies Prior to Writing the Essay

Check the subject – you need to know the basis of the artist for picking a particular subject that includes the pros and the cons as well.

Use of lines – did the artist use heavy or light lines only? How do the lines run, are they straight or parallel? Are the lines straight or are they curved. Are there goals or results that must be achieved out of the lines used?

Coloration – does the artist use real colors, or is the colors more give the warmth of coolness? Probably, the colors are brighter or subdued. If possible, what is the effect of the colors to the entire subject?

Light – how does the artist work with light? Does he/she use shadows? Probably, there is an interface between the 2 and what are the messages he/she is conveying to the audience?

Space – is there a sense of space through the work you have picked?  What is the arrangement of the shapes used through the space of the work?  How the application does affect the subjects of the artists?  How does the space used affect the response of the people to the artwork?

Style – are there any elements involved in the artwork that recognizes the style of the artist?

Compositions—are there any formal features or basics of the artwork that intermingle with one another? Does the composition of the work relay the theme or the idea of the artwork? Does it lead your eyes to go through the piece consistently?

You need to always check the setting of the work. You need to consider when the work was made, who made it and where did the artist work on it. How the history has influenced the work?  Does it deals with particular historical or cultural subjects? As you go through the process of learning the ways to write an essay about art, you must consider writing some questions that you can answer within the coverage of the essay. These queries will help you in checking for the existence of the sources in the library. You might also wish to check and then keep other data or flyers that the museum might have.

Advice for writers

Pupils who wish to know how to write an art essay can deal with the work in the same way he/she did in writing any other paper. You just need to be attentive in a topic that includes making a thesis sentence. You also need to relax and deal with a particular structure. You need to be aware of proper grammar and arranging, that includes writing clearly and making the paragraphs easy to understand.  But, when you have discovered the ways to write an essay about art, you must also understand the agreements that must be used in the art world. If you are having a hard time, you need to take a closer look at our assignment writing services. On the other hand, some tips are here for you, you might consider them as you work on your art essay.

Don’t just focus in describing your paper – proper analysis is important too. There is a common protest from professors is that the pupils are always describing the artwork without considering the argument they hope to make. Be sure you consider the purpose of the paper and then prefer to outline all the details of the description, this is better when it comes to illustrating the artwork and your analysis.  There is a usual format used by pupils who have learned the ways to write an essay about art is to make the paper, so that the real theme sentence is situated at the last part of the essay.

The customary student is well trained from the start of composition, construction and they are introduced on how to open a paragraph as the holder of the theme sentence. When you find out how to work on an essay, you will be able to know that it is essential to know that the information is logical and well picked with care that they can help in building the primary point that you are trying to make.

You also need to ponder about the structure of your writing. If you are discussing a particular art movement, you might wish to use sequential form. On the other hand, if you are to tackle about particular elements you see in the artwork, try the spatial format for your essay.  When you write about an artwork, do not use “I”. Any pupil who has learned the art of writing an essay can be sure that using an “I” will ruin all your efforts to make a formal writing piece. But, that does not mean that your judgment is not essential, but that makes your judgment placed in a serious & academic style. You need to relay your idea of the artwork and not your judgment of it.


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