Art criticism is like a playing detective. You assume the artist has created a message for you to uncover, and it’s your job to discover that message.
In order to “discover” the message, there are four steps for you to follow in order :
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge. 1892/1895. Oil on canvas. 123 x 141 cm (48 7/16 x 55 1/2 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection
This step is meant to slow your pace of looking at the art. Instead of giving it a quick glance and saying, “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, this step slows you down to look at the art and really see it.
Don’t use emotional words at all in describing the work of art. Instead of “I see a sad woman”, you would say “I see a woman”.
Don’t make assumptions in your description. Instead of “I see a mother and child”, you would say “I see a woman and a child”
Mary Cassatt, Baby Reaching for an Apple. 1893. Oil on canvas. 100.3 x 65.4 cm (39 ½ x 25 ¼ in). Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA.
In step 2, you discover how the work is organized – how are the elements of art and the principles of design used in this art work?
How has the artist used line , shape and form , space , color , value , and texture in his art?
How has the artist created and/or used rhythm , movement , balance , proportion , variety , emphasis , harmony , and unity in her art?
Another way to look at this step is to describe how the artist has directed your eye to the most important part, the next item in importance, and so on, through the use of the elements and principles.
Sir Jacob Epstein, The Visitation. 1926. Bronze. 165.3 x 53.1 x 49.9 cm (65 1/3 x 20 ¼ x 18 ¼ in). Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsoinian Inatitution, Washington, D.C.
What is the artist saying to me? This is the step where you explain or tell the meaning or mood of the work.
Interpretation is when you use emotional words like sad, happy, glad, carefree, calm, relaxed, etc.
Interpretation is the most difficult step because this is what the art means to you, and that may be very different from what others might think.
Your interpretation is still based on what you observed in the description and analysis steps.
Rene Magritte, Golconde . 1953. Oil on canvas. 81 × 100 cm, 31.9 × 39.37 in. The Menil Collection, Houston, TX.
You determine the degree of artistic merit.
You decide whether you like it or not.
Is this a successful work of art?
In judging a work of art, you need to look at your reaction to it. Sometimes you can dislike a work of art and still think it is successful. Artists sometimes deliberately try to evoke a negative reaction.
Again, there is no right answer!
Pablo Picasso, Guernica. 1937. Oil on canvas. 349 × 776 cm, 137.4 × 305.5 in. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.