Art Criticism

The process of art criticism involves description, formal analysis, interpretation, and value judgment. The first step is to put into words a description of what you see, then formally analyzing the visual elements and principles of design. Next, subjectively interpret (hopefully with new insight) what the content is, taking into account style. Finally, judging, and going beyond prejudging to discernment, the work of art being studied; what do you think the artist’s intentions were? Was this communicated? Does it have value? Can you recognize the aesthetic quality in the work? Additionally, biographical or historical information should be offered. Therefore, education and evaluation help to creatively critique a work of art.

Responses to artworks based on value judgment alone are not necessarily based on comprehension but simple subjectivity. As it states in the book Artforms (2013), “If we close our eyes and minds to new work that is hard to understand, we will miss the opportunity to learn from fresh insights.”


Select a museum:

First, select a major Museum in your area. A listing of some approved museums is on the next page. If you live in a more rural area, contact the instructor to discuss options, like an online museum visit. However, in-person museum experiences will be prioritized. You will need submit the museum you have selected for instructor approval.

Select a work of art:

This is a general suggestion and not a required outline.

  1. Identification: At the museum or museum site, select a work of art. You may select a piece that you like or dislike. Copy down all the information provided; Artist, title, medium, year, etc. Write down your initial responses. How do you respond to the work? Does it invoke an emotional response? What do you think the artist was trying to communicate? It is helpful to bring a notebook to record your responses.
  2. Describe the piece and review it carefully. What do you see? Note all the details about the work. How would you describe it to someone you were talking to on the phone who can’t see it?
  3. Analyze the visual elements and design principles as you did in the short paper. Think about the relationship between form, content and subject matter in your analysis. This will be helpful in your ‘interpretation’ of the work. Use the terminology you have learned in class, particularly terms in Chapters 2 -5. Your analysis should be based your own observations while viewing the work.
  4. Interpretation Follow your analysis with a subjective interpretation of the meaning of the work. How does the work make you feel? What do you think the content is? Go beyond “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”
  5. Research the artist. Historical and biographical information on the artist often provides clues into a works intended meaning. Carefully consider the purpose and context of the piece. Did the piece you selected have any particular political or cultural message? Was the artist making a statement?
  6. Value Judgement What do you think the artist’s intentions were? Was this communicated? Does it have value? Can you recognize the aesthetic quality in the work?

Write the Final Paper:

The following will help you write your paper. It should be used as a guideline, not an outline for approaching your paper. This is very similar to the process used by art critics. This website might also help you organize your paper.

  1. Identification: Note the title of the work, the date, the artist (if known), medium, and size.
  2. Description: What do you see? As fully as possible, describe what you see.
    • What medium is used? What is it made of?
    • How big is it?
    • Go into detail about what you see. How would you describe it, in detail, to someone who had never seen it?
    • What subjects are represented?
    • It can be helpful to begin looking at a work of art from the middle and work your way out.
  3. Analysis: Describe the form of the work Explain how visual elements and principles of design are used in the work. The terms in chapters 2, 3 & 4 will be very helpful. Go back and look at the chapter outlines or Short Paper assignment. Use them to:
    • Describe the use of visual elements such as line, shape, color & space used in the pieces. For example: In what way is it balanced? Is it asymmetrical or symmetrical? What is emphasized? What seems to be the dominating visual element? Is it realistic or abstract?
  4. Interpretation: What is the content of the work? What does it mean? What do you think the artist was trying to communicate? How does the artist accomplish this through the use of form? This is an important part of analyzing a work of art, how form and content work together.
  5. Research: Include historical information about the artist. Knowing about the artist’s history can provide interesting insights into his/her work and how the work reflects the time and culture.
  6. Value Judgment: Does the piece have any value or worth? What did you like about the work? Was it the form, content, or subject matter? Did it remind you of something that you have seen or experienced?
    • How does it make you feel?
    • How or why does it evoke these feelings?
    • Rethink first description and go beyond “I like it” or “I don’t like it”
    • What did the artist have in mind? Can you tell?
    • Does the piece seem to have a certain level of insight into a subject matter?
    • Does it seem inexhaustible? Is there enough interest to hold your attention? When something is inexhaustible it calls us back again and again. Can you tell? Did the artist succeed?

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