nouns and verbs

theory topics


using nouns and verbs in visual analysis


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writing about art and design


The most important part of writing about art and design is expressing your ideas clearly. During my thirty plus years of teaching I have seen countless students' analysis come unstuck by the incorrect use of verbs. Some students tell me they should use a wide varitety of verbs in an analysis to make their writing more engaging. I disagree. I believe when we write about art and design, we should use the right verbs. In the image above I am using shape and colour to depict the bush. See below for a full explanation.


Some verbs partner well with some nouns, others just don't. Let's get started.

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1 - Nouns and verbs?




Nouns are the things, tools, concepts or effects in art and design. These include design elements and principles, techniques, methods, materials, emotions and visual effects.




Verbs are actions that designers or tools do to the things. These include actions such as use, create, convey, display, depict, elude.


The problem is, which verbs go with which nouns? We can't use them all. Take this sentence for example;

This is incorrect. The sentence means 'The designer takes colour, and shows it to people then draws a picture of hierarchy.


Unfortunately the meaning is gone. It's 'Lost in Translation'.


The sentence should read;

Wow, that's better.


To find out how to do it correctly let's group the nouns first, then see which verbs should be used correctly.


Abstract nouns


1 – Something that exists in a viewer’s mind


These are states of being, concepts, emotions or feelings. We may need to add ‘a sense of’, a ‘feeling of’, ‘an impression of’ or 'view to' before these abstract nouns.


Examples of these nouns;
Use these verbs with these nouns;
2 - A visual effect


Also abstract nouns in that these things cannot be held. However, as designers we believe visual effects are very real. Therefore they need to be treated differently from states of being or feelings.


Examples of these nouns;
Use these verbs with these nouns;
3 - Design elements and/ or principles


These are probably abstract nouns too, as they cannot be held or felt. However, again they are real components of art and design. These nouns are not destinations in themselves, but rather tools used to create other visual effects (above) or concrete nouns (below).


Please note; hierarchy, figure-ground, proportion and balance are not included in this group as they are not components but effects created by using components.


Examples of these nouns;
Use these verbs with these nouns;

Concrete nouns


4 - Real things one could touch or feel


These are real things we could touch or feel. They are objects, animals or people.


Examples of these nouns;
Use these verbs with these nouns;

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2 - Putting it into action

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3 - Practice tasks


1 - Brainstorm verbs


Start a class discussion. Brainstorm all the verbs you think you could use in a visual arts analysis. Remember, who is doing the action. Is it a designer - like 'the designer uses line to depict a house' or is it a design element - like 'colour is used to create a pattern'.


Make a list on the board and in your notes.


2- Complete the following sentences.


Choose the correct verb and write it in the spaces below:

3 - Write about this Harmony Day poster


Now, I hate to use my own graphic design as an example but to avoid copyright issues I have placed a poster of mine below. Good or bad graphics, it will still do as a resource for discussion.


Describe and discuss the following concepts, design elements, principles and/ or visual effects in full sentences. Take care to choose the verbs that match the nouns you are using in your discussion:

visual communication example

Loyola College Harmony Day 2016 R Roberts.


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