The Three-Tier Framework to Understanding Art

Portions of the following text are taken from, which is available for use under CC BY-NC-SA. Please see the citations at the bottom of the page for more information. The text has been adapted to more closely adhere to Chicago Manual of Style and Ensign College Style Guide. 

Art historians study objects of art to analyze what the works of art represented when they were created in order to learn about past cultures and civilizations. They identify the visual elements of an art piece and interpret their meaning. When you analyze a work of art, think of the artwork as a series of decisions that the artist made. Try to figure out and describe, explain, and interpret those decisions and why the artist made them. Visual analysis involves the following:

The Three-Tier Framework is a procedure that helps us deepen our understanding of art. Each tier of this framework helps us to draw different conclusions. 

Tier 3—Concept: At this level, ask questions about what a work means and how it transmits that meaning.

Tier 1: ContentTier 2: ContextTier 3: Concept

This content is provided to you freely by BYU-I Books.

Access it online or download it at