Tips for Visual Analysis in IB English

Students tackling the IB English course will practice many methods of analysis, including visual interpretation. This skill, looking at photos and art, analyzing their components and contextualizing them to think about their significance, is likely a new or underdeveloped skill in most students. Aegis Advisors’ IB English tutors work on this skill frequently with our students, so we wanted to share some tips and tricks for visual analysis.

1. Know your vocabulary.
The tools we use to analyze visuals are very different from textual tools. In a book, a student can look at syntax, rhetoric, repetition, allusion, and other literary devices that communicate meaning. These were all tools that needed to be learned, and the tools for visual analysis are no different. We recommend that students work with IB English tutors to learn about value, perspective, framing, contrast, texture, composition, and more. These modes of analysis give a student the words to describe what they are seeing in a visual, something many students struggle with when they are first starting this practice.

2. Start with observations.
Once a student feels comfortable with the tools of visual analysis–this can be through practice with simple compositions led by an IB English Tutor–they can begin the process of complex analysis. Our IB English tutors recommend that students begin with a five minute period of observation, no writing. This tactic allows students to fully engage with the details of the photo. At first they will likely notice bigger parts of the visual: who or what is the center of the visual? What colors are used? Where is the eye drawn? These are important questions, but if a student jumps right into writing down conclusions just based on the obvious aspects of the visual, they may miss important details. A longer period of initial observation will prompt students to start noticing details. For example, an area that looks dark might be showing shadows or outlines. A crowd of faces might show details of individual emotions. A background might be more significant with further scrutiny when a student feels less distracted by the aspects of the foreground. After a set period of time for just observing, then our IB English tutors recommend that students record all of these observations in whatever terms they see fit.

3. Organize with one’s tools.
After recording observations, our IB English tutors work with students to organize their thoughts using the tools and vocabulary from their initial introduction to visual analysis. By using their shared vocabulary, they will be able to describe what they see and set themselves up for see purpose in the artistic choices. Organizing thoughts into different sections with corresponding tools also allows students to see what points of analysis they might not have considered. For example, if after organization, most of the student’s observations of the visual are about framing, theme, and perspective, they might consider looking specifically for contrast or shape. This allows students to more completely analyze a visual.

4. Understand the context.
Now that a student can meaningfully talk about the aspects of a visual, our IB English tutors recommend they research the artist and the context. Understanding where the visual stands in social and political history can help students make educated and evidenced conjectures about how this visual might function in society. For the example of a photo from the Vietnam War, a student would want to understand the context of the war: who were the sides? What were they fighting for? How did the world see this war? Then a student can begin to look at the artist: what did they believe about the war? Why did they do their work on this topic? What was the reaction to their work? All of these questions will shed light on the visual choices of the artist.

5. Connect visual to purpose and context.
The final and most important stage of analysis works to use the context of a visual to explain why the artist chose the visual aspects, what the student observed in step 1, and how they relate to the context. Practice with our IB English tutors can help with this final step as they guide students to conclusions and help them practice this critical thinking skill.

Overall, visual analysis is an important cultural skill for IB English students to learn as they become citizens of the world and face visuals in their everyday lives. Aegis Advisors’ skilled tutors excellently prepare students for this academic and personal pursuit and have expertise in all major curriculums and test preparation.

Aegis Advisors has a team of experienced and committed private tutors who can help on IB English as well as a full range of subjects across all major curriculums. Contact us today to learn how we can support you.