Art Term Paper & Thesis Writing Help

(Updated on June 20, 2018 by Michelle Williams)


An art term paper is a lengthy, usually investigation-based document completed to demonstrate an art student's comprehensive knowledge of the course material by applying it to a specific subject in a thoughtful and informed way.  A term paper is typically a document of about ten pages in which a student investigates one specific aspect of a topic using both the expertise gained from the course material and external data by reputable scholars.  An art term paper is therefore different from other writing assignments an art student may have done throughout his/her art study in that it must have a significant research element rather than rely solely on the student's own analytic and interpretive skills.

Art Term Paper & Thesis Writing HelpArt reports should have clearly defined thesis statements.  A thesis is a sentence or group of sentences that summarizes the primary point or argument.  In an art term paper, a thesis should likely seek to contextualize the topic in the larger scheme of art.  For instance, if the topic of the report were on a specific artist, the document shouldn't simply be a research paper about that artist, but should contextualize that artist in terms of his/her artistic moment.  This would require the writer to discuss the artist's influences and culture, as well as the specific artistic movements that were surrounding this artist and his/her work.  If the topic of the report were a specific artistic movement, the report would seek to contextualize that artistic movement in the scope of art by comparing it to other movements, describing how it evolved from previous movements, and commenting on the subsequent movements that it influenced.

Art term papers are typically investigation-based papers.  This will require the student to read, analyze, and integrate secondary research sources into his/her assignment.  The student should include many different research sources in order to present varying opinions and insights on his/her topic.  However, the primary ideas in the document should be the student's.  The research sources should be incorporated to support the student's own thoughts, not the other way around.

Art term papers will likely include several images of art throughout the text or attached as an appendix at the end of the text.  These images should be thoroughly discussed throughout the course of the text and pointed to in order to illustrate the student's examples and ideas.  These images must also be properly labeled and include captions describing the name of the artist, the date of the work, and the title of the piece.

Art Thesis

A graduate degree student in the arts will be called upon to complete an art thesis.  Many view the art thesis as an assignment with a great deal of leeway, but artistic students know better.  Just as in any thesis, an art thesis is a complicated, research intensive, and time-consuming endeavor which carries a great deal of weight for the artistic student's future.

The leeway in preparing an art thesis comes in the wide range of topics that artistic students often have to choose from.  Nearly everything, from dance to graffiti, has been, at some point, defined as artwork.  And, although various forms of expression may very well be artwork, the point of an art thesis is to prove the assertion that the writer is attempting to defend.

Artwork theses present the unique opportunity for primary (or "original") research, as well as completing a college report based on the data and studies of others.  Since artwork is certainly not a stagnant subject, artwork theses topics present students with a wealth of subjects, those explored for centuries and those newly emerging, from which to choose.

An art thesis is a rather long composition, ranging from 30 to 50 pages or more.  The art thesis should include an introduction, abstract, literature review, methodology, discussion, and conclusion.  In an art thesis which strives to conduct primary research, the methodology chapter will be very different from an art thesis which intends to use existing research.  

Primary research for an art thesis can be conducted using interviews, observations, and even surveys.  Although, even in artwork theses, there's still a great deal of background research needed, the opportunity to explore a subject in ways that aren't the norm is greater than artwork theses which rely on existing research.  This fact can be noted and explored in the methodology chapter.

The art thesis, like any report, relies heavily on a well-thought-out thesis statement.  This statement is the basis of the entire paper and should therefore be completed after quite a bit of thought and perhaps discussion with an instructor or advisor.  The rest of the report must support the thesis statement, so it's important to make sure that the thesis statement is solid.

Most students will be assigned an advisor whose job it's to ensure that students present the best paper possible.  However, even the best advisor can't do his/her job without a student who is invested in the success of the project.  It is important that the student work together with the advisor and that he/she use the advisor to provide information, instruction, advice, and suggestions for his/her art thesis.

Art Research Paper

Whether you're an art major or merely taking an art class as a way to fill in your electives, nearly every art student will be required to write some form of art reference project.  Since the purpose of exploring art is to learn a bit about how art developed throughout the ages, students are often encouraged to select a topic in which they're interested to explore further.  Writing an art research paper helps students understand the foundation of art from all over the world.

Like any report, an art research paper must follow the basic structure of introduction, body, and conclusion.  The length of the report determines how much space is devoted to each section.  In a short, one-page paper, the introduction and conclusion should encompass no more than one paragraph.  The body of the document should be about three paragraphs.

In the case of longer art research papers, both the introduction and the conclusion can be longer.  A good rule of thumb is to follow the one-three-one report rule multiplied by the number of pages required by the instructor.  For instance, art papers that are required to be two pages long would have an introduction and a conclusion of two paragraphs each and a body that's six paragraphs.  For art papers that are required to be three pages long, plan on having an introduction and a conclusion that are each three paragraphs long while the body encompasses nine paragraphs.  Simply multiply the number of required pages by the number of paragraphs in a basic, one-page paper to determine how much space to devote to the introduction, the body, and the conclusion, or longer art research papers.

As the name implies, an art report should be research intensive.  It's important to find credible reference sources to include.  The best place to find credible references are at a local or university library.  Such sources include journal articles, text books, and thoroughly-researched reference books by respected authorities in the area of study.  Although it's tempting to find sources for an art research paper on the internet, such sources aren't always reliable, or credible.  Because of this, many instructors will limit the number of internet sources that a student can use to write his/her assignment.  The best papers are always those which follow the rules of structure as well as being backed by solid research and credible references.

Graphic Design Dissertation

Students who are studying graphic design as part of a PhD program may have to complete a graphic design dissertation as a requirement for graduating.  At the end of the program, students need to complete a dissertation in order to prove that they have spent a significant amount of time researching a particular interest within their broader subject of study.

Whenever a student is in a PhD program for graphic design, he/she will be expected to produce a reference project.  The graphic design dissertation may be difficult for many learners, especially since graphic design students tend to specialize in communicating through graphics, rather than through the written word.  

Many students in PhD programs have a tough time choosing a subject for their graphic design dissertations.  If a student needs to come up with subject ideas for his/her document, he/she should consider special interests within graphic design.  Some students, for example, enjoy the historical record of graphic design.  Other students may prefer different graphic design mediums as topic options.  Some students may also like to discuss different graphic design strategies.  

Once a student has decided on a graphic design dissertation topic, he/she needs to understand the topic.  Once a student understands his/her topic, he/she needs to do as much research into the topic as possible.  Some research may involve interviews with graphic design professionals.  Some research may require students to do a research design on their own by reviewing different designs.  Still, other students may need to research their topic in books.  

When students begin to actually write their graphic design dissertations, they need to make sure that they have an outline for the document first.  The outline will help learners to provide order and content .  An adviser should always look over the outline before the student begins to write the assignment itself.  

A graphic design dissertation is often different from other types of reports because of the nature of the subject.  The subject of graphic design can be difficult to write about simply because graphic design tends to be a subject that's highly visual.  Students may need to find a way to translate their visual communication expertise into written format.  This simple need to translate two different forms of communication differentiates a graphic design dissertation from many other types of reports on other topics, such as English or history.  

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