Art Criticism: How to Criticize a Work of Art

#Art Criticism: How to Criticize a Work of Art
A four step process

This is what I give my students as a guide to art appreciation:

1. Description- What do I see? Study the work in detail carefully. Describe the work in full detail. Be factual. Mention everything you see.

2. Analysis- How is the work organized? Look for and talk about the elements and principles of art and design that seems to dominate the work.

Look at how the artist has used The Elements of Art
• Lines- real and implied, curved and straight, direction of movement
• Shapes, Space, Forms- Are the shapes geometric or free-form? Where is the horizon? Where is your point of view as the viewer? (Above, below, in the work, or outside)
• Colors- Warm, cool, bright, dull, soft, bold, etc.
• Value- light: reflecting much light; dark: absorbing much light.
• Texture-Both the medium and the objects portrayed: rough, smooth, shinny, dull

Look at The Principles of Design
• Rhythm- Are there repeats of elements or images?
• Movement- Is there an illusion of action? How does the eye move around the work?
• Balance- Formal or Symmetrical, informal or asymmetrical
• Proportion- The size relationships between one part to the whole or one part to another part
• Variety- Visual difference and contrast within the work
• Emphasis- What part is dominant, and what part is subordinate?
• Unity- Does the work hold together?

3. Interpretation- What is happening? This is more than storytelling. As in literature, you need to interpret and generalize from data given. You need to find the metaphor or allegory in the work. What is the artist trying to communicate? Use your intelligence, imagination and courage to explain and tell the meaning of the work. This is based on the facts you have observed and your own life experiences. You can express your feelings, but they must be backed up by the observations you have made about the work.

4. Judgment- What do I think of the work? Does the work hold together visually? Does it communicate with the viewer? Judge whether the work succeeds or fails. You give your opinion backed by the three steps above. To make a judgment, you need to be honest with yourself. You need to know why you feel the way you do.

Three Theories of Judging Art

Imitationalism -Some people believe that art should imitate what we see in the real world.
Formalism – Some people believe that the most important part of a work is in the use of the principles of design and the elements of art. A work is successful if the texture, color, lines, etc are organized properly.
Emotionalism – Some people believe that the most important part of the work is the mood the artist communicates.

Perhaps it is best to use all three theories when judging a work of art.

Adapted from many sources, including Arttalk by Rosalind Ragans

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