Fine Arts Department

A Student's Guide to Art Criticism

Art Criticism involves looking at a piece art and assessing it by oral or written discussion using a set of criteria (standards of judgment) designed to produce an in-depth interpretation and aesthetic experience of the work.

The Four Steps to Art Criticism

1. Describe Take a visual inventory of the artwork including only factual information about the objects, people, scenery, the subject/theme, and the elements of art: line, shape, value, form, texture, color, and space. It is rare that all elements of art are present together. Note the placement and position of people, objects, and scenery. There can be more than one subject in a work of art but usually one is dominant (for example a portrait of a religious figure would be first a portrait and then a religious subject). Leave judgment words such as good, bad, beautiful, ugly out of this section.

2. Analyze Ask how the work is organized or composed. What principles of design: balance, harmony, unity, emphasis, variety, repetition, movement, rhythm, proportion, contrast does the artist use to organize the elements of art? Often there are a number of principles of design used but usually only a few which are dominant. Where is the focal area or main area of interest? What leads your eye to it? Notice large geometric or free-form areas, directional lines, strongly lit or darkened areas, deep or shallow space, prominent textures or patterns, bright, dull, dark, or light colors. Is the color scheme harmonious or do colors clash? Pay attention to the relationships between shapes Are there strong contrasts between sizes, shapes, and values? Notice flat or three-dimensional shapes, forms, and areas as well as specific textures.

3. Interpret What feelings, message, or mood is the artist trying to communicate? Are there symbols that you observe that give meaning or add mystery to the work? Are there certain kinds of clothing to indicate the status of a person or people or time period in which they lived? Is there an aspect of weather that communicates mood? Are there buildings or structures or specific scenery that identifies a particular location or time? Are colors or values used naturally, expressively or symbolically? Is there a look to the work that identifies it as an artwork of a particular artistic period or by a certain artist or artistic school? Realize that everything an artist puts in an artwork is put there intentionally.

4. EvaluateIn your opinion is the piece a successful work of art? Using the previous three steps and visual evidence you’ve observed give several reasons why you think so. Limit your answers to things you’ve already discussed. What about the work’s appearance, message, mood, or feeling did you most relate to and why? Is there something about the subject matter that you are drawn to or the style you find attractive? Choose a favorite part of the work and describe what you like about it. If you didn’t think the piece was successful relate what about it you didn’t like and why not.

Subject/Themes of Art Elements of Art Principles of Design
portrait, figure, still life, landscape, narrative, historical, religious, mythological, abstract, non-objective, political/social, literary, fantasy, genre line, shape, value, texture, form, space, color balance, unity, harmony, proportion, emphasis, repetition, movement, variety, rhthym, contrast
 

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