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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.