Art Critical Writing Essay

Content of this article

  1. How to write a critical essay
  2. Preparation process
  3. Research
  4. Structure
  5. Finalizing an essay
  6. How to choose topic for a critical writing
  7. Samples

1. How To Write A Critical Essay

A critical essay seeks to provide an analysis or interpretation of either a book, a piece of art or a film. A critical essay is not the same as a review because unlike a review, it encompasses an academic purpose or goal. Students should not just aim at reviewing a book or a film, but should have an argument and include scholarly observations within their essay. Contrary to popular belief by a significant portion of students, critical essay writing is not about criticizing or focusing on the negative aspect of analysis. It is possible to have a critical essay which supports an idea or an author’s or director’s view regarding a particular theme. A critical essay is thus an objective analysis of a particular subject whose aim is to analyze the strengths or weaknesses of text, art, or a film. The above is of great importance, especially to students who think that critical essays are supposed to focus on the negative aspects of a subject.

The goal or purpose of a critical essay is to provide readers with an explanation or an interpretation of a specific idea or concept that an author, a painter or director included in their work. Additionally, writers can be asked to situate a certain theme in a book or film within a broader context. Essentially, critical essay writing involves weighing up the consistency of an author or director in trying to convey a particular message to their audience. It is thus vital to be keen and observant and note the different feelings as well as emotions conjured within a text, a film, or a painting. Writing a critical paper or criticizing might seem easy at first, but it can also be challenging.

Some of the purposes of a critical essay writing are as shown below:

  • Provide an objective account of an author’s, director’s or painter’s work.
  • Analyze the consistency of an author’s work in presenting their ideas.
  • Assess the consistency of an author’s work in maintaining and supporting their main argument or idea.
  • Present the strengths as well as weaknesses of an article.
  • Criticize the work of an author or a painter.

2. Preparation For Writing

Step 1: Understand the requirements

Students are often at fault for starting their essays without clearly understanding the instructor’s requirements. Instead of starting an essay immediately after reading the requirements, it is wise to seek any clarification from the teacher.

Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the primary source

The primary source is the book, film, or painting a student has been asked to write a critical essay about. Here, students are always advised to be careful and note everything within the source for purposes of making their essay better. If asked to write a particular book, film, or painting, students should read the book more than once, watch the film more than once, or look at the painting from different perspectives to understand the underlying themes.

Step 3: Take notes when reading/watching/assessing the primary source

Note taking is also vital to identifying the different patterns and problems within a text, film, or painting. While reading the text, or watching the movie, it is important to note the important concepts and ideas that an author or director or painter decided to incorporate within their work. The important points or aspects can indeed be overwhelming, and it is thus essential to ensure none will skip or escape the writer’s mind.

Step 4: Identify the main problems or patterns within a text, movie or art

After reviewing a text, or watching a movie or keenly analyzing a piece of art and taking notes, the next step is to identify the main problems or patterns that emerge from the notes. While noting the important aspects, certain issues or points are bound to emerge and stand out. Students thus need to be keen and identify these patterns and problems.

Step 5: Find solutions to the identified problems and patterns

The next thing after this is to try and find solutions for the identified problems and patterns. At this point, the writer should be developing their thesis statement and have their perspective clearly outlined.

3. Performing Research

Critical Essay writing is heavily dependent on how much research an individual does. In some instances, students make the mistake of depending on their primary source to write their critical essay. Unless otherwise specified by the instructor, it is always advisable to find other sources to help expand and increase the essay’s depth in content. Secondary sources help to increase an essay’s credibility and thus if needed should always be included.

Finding the right sources can be a problem and students often find themselves at fault for using unreliable sources. It is important to find genuine sources which offer reliable and accurate information lest one’s essay is filled with lies and inaccurate information. Just like how one is advised to take notes while reading or watching the primary source, it is also essential to take notes while going through the secondary sources. The notes help to determine or find patterns and points of correlation between the primary and secondary source. Understanding the relationship or the connection between the primary and secondary source is key to writing a decent critical essay. Below are some criterions for choosing the right secondary source:

  • Assess the timeliness of the source, that is, how current is the material.
  • Accuracy of the information. How reliable is the information within the source.
  • Coverage or relevance to the topic under study. Assess whether the material is of any importance or adds any value to the topic.
  • Evaluate the source of the information, that is, the author, painter, or director’s credibility.
  • Examine the objectivity or purpose of the information presented within a source. Here one assesses the possible bias within a text.

4. Critical Essay Structure

All essays follow a particular standard or format which includes an introduction, body, and a conclusion. These parts must be included in an essay to be termed as complete. However, before tackling these sections, it is important first to develop an outline for a critical essay. Critical essay outlining is essential because it provides students with a step by step guide to developing their essay.

If, for example, the topic under study is “the use of ethnic music by mainstream musicians” the outline should be as shown below:

The Use of Ethnic Music by Mainstream Musicians

Introduction

–    Explain how music keeps changing.

–    Provide a brief description of the use of ethnic music in mainstream music.

–    Pick an artist and explain why their music is of interest in this paper.

Body

–    Assess the change in music production of the artist.

–    Provide an analysis of how the artist has managed to use ethnic music.

–    Include the reception of the music of the above artist and how fans find his music.

Conclusion

–   Restate the argument or thesis statement while also mentioning why the focus was narrowed to the specified artist and their music.

–    Provide a summary of the main points.

Writing a Critical Essay Introduction

An introduction provides a description of the topic under study. While some students like providing a lot of information in the introduction, it is advisable to be brief and direct. An introduction should be specific and short but usher in the readers into the topic under study. Readers should be able to determine the writer’s focus or perspective without much fuss or without the need of reading deep into a text.  Background information is indeed of the essence, and it is thus important to include some information which will help readers to understand the entire essay.

Writing a Thesis Statement for a Critical Essay

A thesis statement reveals the main focus of the essay. Readers need to know the writer’s focus and hence the importance of a thesis statement. On many occasions, students often have flat and simple thesis statements which even though is not against any rules only help to reveal the lack of imagination or research involved. A thesis statement should be argumentative and provide readers with an assurance that they will indeed enjoy what they are reading.

Below are some tips to writing a good thesis statement:

  • Always include it in the introduction. A thesis statement should be provided early in the essay.
  • Avoid ambiguity and be as clear as possible.
  • Cliché sentence structures should be avoided. For example, “The main point of this paper is…” or “The focus of this article will be…”
  • Be specific and narrow down the statement’s scope.
  • Be original.

Writing a Critical Essay Body

While writing an essay, each sentence in the body should communicate its point. The above is almost a cliché, but it is indeed crucial to being a good critical essay writer. Each paragraph should support the thesis statement by including a claim or an argument and following it up with supporting evidence or sentences. Unless otherwise stated, critical essays should have three to six paragraphs and each of these is supposed to have five to six sentences.

Writing a Critical Essay Conclusion

A critical essay conclusion is not any different to other essay conclusions. When writing a conclusion for a critical essay, one should reiterate their stance or main argument followed by the main supporting arguments or points. Only a summary is needed here, and hence writers are asked to be brief and only include what is necessary. Readers should feel directly linked or impacted by the topic under study. An essay should leave the readers with the need or urge of finding out more about a topic.

5. Finalizing Essay

Once the paper is complete, it is essential to revise, proofread, choose a captivating title, and make appropriate citations. Revising an assignment is important because it helps to clarify the main point as well as ensures the readers’ needs are met. Having a purpose is indeed essential to writing a decent critical essay and it is important to outline it clearly. Proofreading helps one to correct grammatical errors and maintain their stance throughout their essay.

A reader’s interest is always enticed from the title and developing one is indeed an important aspect of an essay. Citations are also of the essence and help to avoid issues of plagiarism. Paraphrasing, and in-text citations should hence be taken seriously, lest a student’s work graded poorly.

6. How to choose topic for a critical analysis

Choosing a topic can be a challenge. Writers are, however, often advised to select a topic that they are familiar with and that will gift them with enough information to write the entire essay.

Below are some examples of critical essay topics:

  • Examine the literary and cultural context of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
  • Examine the use of satire in John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight Show.
  • How accurate is the assertion that satirical news shows offer people more credible news than some news channels?
  • How is the movie 21 Jump Street accurate in its depiction of high school life?
  • How does the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror film use the aspect of suspense to create horror?
  • What makes/made comedy series such as The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and How I met Your Mother popular?
  • What unique features did the directors of The Big Bang Theory, Friends, and How I met Your Mother include that made their shows standout?
  • Video games contribute to a significant reduction in attention span of both children and adults.
  • Adoption of children by gay couples.
  • How does exposure to violent videos impact the temperament of young children?
  • How is fashion a central part of a person’s identity?
  • Analyze the role of women characters in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • Examine the cultural and historical accuracy of the TV series Merlin.
  • How does the director and producer of Merlin make use humor throughout the TV series?
  • Examine how well the Game of Thrones books have been adapted into the TV series Game of Thrones.

7. Samples

7.1 First sample

7.2 Second sample

7.3 Third sample

As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.

Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.

“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”

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Poke holes

The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.

“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”

But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.

“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?

“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”

Critique your own arguments

Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.

“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”

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Fine, use Wikipedia then

The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.

“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”

Focus your reading

Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.

Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.

You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.

“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”

There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.

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Look beyond the reading list

“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”

And finally, the introduction

The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.

“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”

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