Visual arts - prompt questions

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Prompt questions may be generic or specially designed for a specific art work.

They may include but are not limited to the following:


  • What is the main point of focus? Which part of the work draws your eye the most?
  • Is it complex or simple?
  • Asymmetrical or symmetrical?
  • How is it arranged? Vertical/horizontal, vertical/diagonal, or does it use a grid?
  • Is it balanced? Has the artist used the Golden Section? Are there mathematical relationships?


  • Describe the colours - primary, monochrome, hot, cold, contrasting, realistic?
  • What colours are dominant?
  • Do the colours create an emotional response?
  • Do the colours flatten the picture space, or do they establish depth?
  • Could there be a cultural or symbolic reason for the choice of colours?

Paint Application

  • How has the paint been applied? Smooth/rough, thin/thick, gestural/mechanical?
  • Is there evidence of the layer of media?
  • What techniques are used - glazing, blending, scumbling?
  • What media is used - oil, acrylic, enamel, watercolour, mixed?
  • How has the paint been applied - brush, stick, roller, rags, palette knife?
  • Has the artist used the application of media to reinforce the meaning of the artwork? How?


  • Describe the tonal values of the work - light, dark, contrasting?
  • Is there a full range of tone?
  • Is tone use to guide the viewer to any parts of the painting?
  • Is tone used to create an emotional effect - dark, dramatic, gentle, peaceful, mysterious?
  • Describe the quality of light - shadow, soft, dark, non-existent, dramatic, atmospheric, musty, diffused, dull, chiaroscuro, contrasting, strong, harsh, or subtle.
  • Where is the light coming from? Is it consistent? Is it a single light source? What effect does this have?


  • Describe figures and forms.
  • Are the forms/objects naturalistic, distorted, simplified, exaggerated, proportional, graceful, monumental, formal dramatic, idealised?
  • Do the forms look solid and show volume, or are they flattened? How is this achieved?
  • Are the forms geometric, organic, mechanical, simple, complex, and/or imaginary?
  • Has perspective, and/or foreshortening been used to create realistic forms?
  • Do the forms have solidity, mass, transparency? How is this created?
  • Are the forms static or do they convey movement? How?
  • Do the forms convey an emotional content - anger, sadness, excitement, calm etc?


  • What is the relationship between the object (positive shapes) and surrounding spaces (negative shapes)?
  • How do the shapes relate to the edge of the picture and the shape of the picture plane?
  • Do the shapes create repetition, rhythm, movement, patterns etc? How is this created?
  • What natures are the shapes - geometric, organic, simple, complex, fragile, solid, etc?
  • Do the shapes have symbolic connotations - cross, circle, dove etc?


  • Is the picture space deep or shallow? How has this been created?
  • Are perspective devices used - linear perspective, aerial perspective, overlapping, placement?
  • Is there a vanishing point? Where is it placed? Why is it placed there?
  • What effect does the depth of the picture have on the viewers' response?


  • Describe the quality of line (the edges of shapes and forms) in this work - long/short, hard/soft, jagged/smooth, continuous/broken, straight/curved etc.
  • What effect does the use of line create - diagonals/curves for movement, horizontals for calm, opposing lines for tension/violence?
  • What emotional effect do the lines create? Vigorous and animated or controlled and technical?
  • Are the lines used to guide the viewer to particular parts of the picture?


  • How are the surfaces of objects treated - generalised or very specific detail?
  • How naturalistic are the surface textures like fur, glass, stone, wood? How have these effects been created?
  • Has attention been given to creating patterns and/or textures? How? Why?
  • Is detail used to guide the viewer (more detail on the important parts of the picture)?
  • Are the textures differentiated (to separate parts of the picture) or mostly the same (to unify the picture)?

Pictorial Proposition

  • What is the intention of the artist? What is he/she trying to communicate?
  • Why have they chosen a particular theme, subject?
  • Why have the chosen to include particular objects? What do these objects mean?
  • Is there a social message they artist is trying to communicate? What?

A wider context

  • How has this work been affected by the artist's personal background, beliefs, experience?
  • Has the age, gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs of the artist influenced this work?
  • How has the artist been influenced by social/cultural/historical/political/environmental events?
  • How does this work relate to other work by the same artist? What is similar and/or different?
  • How does this work relate to the work of other artists? What is similar and/or different?
  • Where/who did this artist get his/her ideas from?
  • Has this work influenced the work of later artists? Who and how?


  • What do the objects in this picture mean?
  • Where do the objects come from (appropriated)? Which culture, time period, location?
  • Are the symbols personal, culturally specific or universal?
  • What are the relationships between symbols - clashing, harmonious, sympathetic, contrasting?

Personal Response

  • How do you respond to this picture? Do you like it? How does it make you feel?
  • What do other people you know think about this picture?
  • Does society think this is an important art work? How do you know this?
  • What aspects of this work would you like to use in your own work?
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