ART CRITICISM AND FORMAL ANALYSIS OUTLINE
Defining Art Criticism
- Art criticism is responding to, interpreting meaning, and making critical judgments about specific works of art.
- Art critics help viewers perceive, interpret, and judge artworks.
- Critics tend to focus more on modern and contemporary art from cultures close to their own.
- Art historians tend to study works made in cultures that are more distant in time and space.
- When initially introduced to art criticism, many people associate negative connotations with the word “criticism.”
A professional art critic may be
- a newspaper reporter assigned to the art beat,
- a scholar writing for professional journals or texts, or
- an artist writing about other artists.
Journalistic criticism –
- Written for the general public, includes reviews of art exhibitions in galleries and museums.
- (Suggestions that journalistic criticism deals with art mainly to the extent that it is newsworthy.)
Scholarly art criticism
- Written for a more specialized art audience and appears in art journals.
- Scholar-critics may be college and university professors or museum curators, often with particular knowledge about a style, period, medium, or artist.
-Four levels of formal analysis, which you can use to explain a work of art:
- Description = pure description of the object without value judgments,
analysis, or interpretation.
- It answers the question, “What do you see?”
- The various elements that constitute a description include:
- Form of art whether architecture, sculpture, painting or one of the minor arts
- Medium of work whether clay, stone, steel, paint, etc., and technique (tools used)
- Size and scale of work (relationship to person and/or frame and/or context)
- Elements or general shapes (architectural structural system) within the composition, including building of post-lintel construction or painting with several figures lined up in a row; identification of objects
- Description of axis whether vertical, diagonal, horizontal, etc.
- Description of line, including contour as soft, planar, jagged, etc.
- Description of how line describes shape and space (volume); distinguish between lines of objects and lines of composition, e.g., thick, thin, variable, irregular, intermittent, indistinct, etc.
- Relationships between shapes, e.g., large and small, overlapping, etc.
- Description of color and color scheme = palette
- Texture of surface or other comments about execution of work
- Context of object: original location and date
- Analysis = determining what the features suggest and deciding why the artist used such features to convey specific ideas.
- It answers the question, “How did the artist do it?”
- The various elements that constitute analysis include:
- Determination of subject matter through naming iconographic elements, e.g., historical event, allegory, mythology, etc.
- Selection of most distinctive features or characteristics whether line, shape, color, texture, etc.
- Analysis of the principles of design or composition, e.g., stable,
repetitious, rhythmic, unified, symmetrical, harmonious, geometric, varied, chaotic, horizontal or vertically oriented, etc.
- Discussion of how elements or structural system contribute to appearance of image or function
- Analysis of use of light and role of color, e.g., contrasty, shadowy,
illogical, warm, cool, symbolic, etc.
- Treatment of space and landscape, both real and illusionary (including use of perspective), e.g., compact, deep, shallow, naturalistic, random
- Portrayal of movement and how it is achieved
- Effect of particular medium(s) used
- Your perceptions of balance, proportion and scale (relationships of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part) and your emotional
- Reaction to object or monument
- Interpretation = establishing the broader context for this type of art.
- It answers the question, “Why did the artist create it and what does it mean
- The various elements that constitute interpretation include:
- Main idea, overall meaning of the work.
- Interpretive Statement: Can I express what I think the artwork is about in one sentence?
- Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my interpretation?
- Judgment: Judging a piece of work means giving it rank in relation to other works and of course considering a very important aspect of the visual arts; its originality.
- Is it a good artwork?
- Criteria: What criteria do I think are most appropriate for judging the artwork?
- Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork relates to each criterion?
- Judgment: Based on the criteria and evidence, what is my judgment about the quality of the artwork?
Barrett’s Principles of Interpretation
- Artworks have “aboutness” and demand interpretation.
- Interpretations are persuasive arguments.
- Some interpretations are better than others.
- Good interpretations of art tell more about the artwork than they tell about the critic.
- Feelings are guides to interpretations.
- There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same artwork.
- Interpretations are often based on a worldview.
- Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative.
- Interpretations can be judged by coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness.
- An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about.
- A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.
- Interpretations ought to present the work in its best rather than its weakest light.
- The objects of interpretation are artworks, not artists.
- All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.
- All art is in part about other art.
- No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork.
- The meanings of an artwork may be different from its significance to the viewer. Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavor, and the community is ultimately self- corrective.
- Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own.
Barrett, Terry. (1994) Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company.