This painting is among Burchfield's earliest paintings, in which he portrayed his hometown and surrounding area with a fresh and responsive eye. The artist reacted deeply to things he knew well, and he attempted to convey more than just a fleeting visual impression of familiar scenes. Like other paintings of this early phase of Burchfield's career, Moonlight Over the Arbor has a direct, uncomplicated innocence. Burchfield created a vertical composition of moonlight that is evocative of a summer night. He emphasized the mood of the scene: its qualities of light, the feel of the season and weather, and even the sense of sound—or silence—that might be associated with his subject. Moonlight Over the Arbor is painted energetically, with an emphasis on pattern and two-dimensional effect that reveals the artist's knowledge of Japanese art. The only implication of movement, leaves rustling in a light breeze, comes from the foliage's rhythmical brushwork. All else is still and quiet, as befits a summer night.