What are the judges looking for?
If you are in England and Wales Year 10 or 11, Scotland S4 and S5, or Northern Ireland Years 11 (4th) and 12 (5th):
Your essay should be 400 words maximum
We’d like you to focus on describing what you see in your chosen artwork.
If you are in England and Wales Year 12 or 13, Scotland S6, or Northern Ireland Years 13 (L6th) and 14 (L6th)
Your essay should be 600 words maximum (excluding footnotes)
We’d like you to include citations to your references, either as footnotes at the end of the essay or as hyperlinked words and phrases in the text of your essay.
Demonstrate to the judges that you’ve done some research about the work you have chosen.
Left: Girl Combing Her Hair by Harold Gilman (1876–1919). Photo credit: Royal Albert Memorial Museum, CC BY-NC-SA.
Centre: Seated Buddha by Indian School or Thai School. Photo credit: Folkestone Museum, CC BY-NC-SA.
Right: Pride of Place by Briton Riviere (1840–1920). Photo credit: Royal Albert Memorial Museum, CC BY-NC-SA.
Top tips for writing about art
Start by describing what you see. Use a range of vocabulary to describe the work you have chosen. Think about how to describe the style, subject matter and atmosphere of the work you have chosen. Maryam Khan explores how the 'dynamic stances' in Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne encourage the viewer's imagination, in her second place winning essay in the Year 10 & 11 category for 2019.
Is there a person in the painting? Are they sitting or standing? What are they wearing? What are they doing? What’s the main colour in the painting? Is the painting dark or light? Take a look at Viola Turrell's winning 2019 essay for Year 12 & 13 which carefully describes the lone subject in Peter Doig's Blotter to help us see the painting in a new light.
You don’t have to write about everything represented in the picture. It’s fine to focus on a particular aspect or detail.
Not sure about what vocabulary to use? Check out the Art History Lexicon on the Art History Archive website.
Left: The Summer Isles by David Young Cameron (1865–1945). Photo credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection, CC BY-NC-SA.
Centre: The Smallest Show on Earth by Geoffrey Scowcroft Fletcher (1923–2004), © Grundy Art Gallery, CC BY-NC-SA.
Right: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor by Walter Wallis. Photo credit: National Portrait Gallery, London, CC BY-NC-ND.
Analyse what you see and try to make connections. Why do you think the person in the painting is doing that action? Does it mean anything to the artist? Does it mean anything to the time period the artwork was painted in?
Grace Page describes how artist Claudia Williams' powerful first hand experience led her to create Greenham, Peace Vigil - in her essay for the Year 12 & 13 category in 2019 which won second place.
You might want to tell your reader something about the life and society of the artist in order to contextualise the painting. Or you might tell your reader something about the history of the work after it was made.
Support for your research
If you’re not sure about how to research an artwork, artist or time period, there are plenty of places online you could start with – including Wikipedia, the Khan Academy, the BBC or Heni Talks. You could also visit a library and ask a librarian to help, or even go directly to the source – visit your local gallery or museum!
Left: Ratisbon Triptych (centre panel) by unknown artist. Photo credit: Blairs Museum, CC BY-NC.
Centre: Sunflowers by Curt Herrmann (1854–1929). Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service, CC BY-NC-SA.
Right: La mort d'Arthur by James Archer (1823–1904). Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery, CC-BY-NC-ND.
Make it personal
You might want to tell your reader something about your particular connection to this work, such as why it appeals to you or what you find particularly interesting about it.
What was it about this work that made you choose it? Did you find out something about the artwork or the artist that related or appealed to you specifically? Remember, your passion and enthusiasm will encourage your audience to look closer and share your interest.
Write about the things you care about
Does the artworks connect to any current issues that matter to you? Does it inspire you to write about any emotionally charged topics that you care about?
For example, Jack Harrison's winning 2019 essay for Year 10 & 11 connects C. R. W. Nevinson to Banksy, through the violent depiction of 'the emotional horrors of war' in La Mitrailleuse.
Take a look at this year's winning essays:
Years 12 and 13
Years 10 and 11