Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

ARTH 368: Japanese Art

Museum Paper

Museum Paper (25%): This includes a 7-8 page paper on works from the collection of the Seattle Asian Art Museum. It is intended to be a useful exercise for students to look closely at artworks and learn various visual skills.

Analyzing a Work of Art

For information about formal analysis, see The Art of Writing about Art and A Short Guide to Writing about Art (also ebook version available).

As you view a work of art, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my personal response to the work? What do I feel?
  • What is the title? Does it help explain the work?
  • When, where, and why was the work made? By whom?
  • What is the medium of the work?
  • What is the size of the work?
  • What is the subject matter? Is there symbolic meaning?
  • How does the work reflect its time? Historical? Cultural? Political? Social?
  • How do the visual elements (line, color, space, texture) contribute to the work? What about the design (proportion, balance, unity/variety, rhythm)?
  • What is the focal point of the work that draws in the viewer's eye?
  • If the work represents a person, what is the facial expression? Gestures? Posture? Position of the body or hands?

What's a secondary source?

In secondary sources, authors analyze and interpret primary source materials. 

Secondary sources can be scholarly or popular.  Scholarly sources (sometimes called "academic" or "peer-reviewed" sources) are written by and for experts and typically include bibliographies and citations.  Popular sources are written for a general, non-expert audience and can be authored by anyone.

Examples: articles from art journals, books published by museums or university presses, exhibition catalogs

Tips on Using SAAM's Catalog

In the Seattle Art Museum website for the collection, look for a bibliography associated with an image to find secondary sources for your museum paper. Search Primo for the item.

Example of  a book cited in a bibliography about Sakyamuni Descending the Mountain:

Examples of an article citation about Sakyamuni Descending the Mountain:

Finding More Sources

Start with Primo to find books and articles about the artwork you have chosen. Search:

  • Artist's name, ex. Tsuji Kako
  • Period, ex. Edo
  • Subject of the artwork, ex. bambo
  • Technique, ex. ink painting
  • Genre, ex. landscape painting
  • Art form, ex. screen painting, sculpture, ceramics


Background Information


Search these databases to find articles.