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7 how do you interpret an artwork

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7 how do you interpret an artwork

  1. 1. ART CRITICISM SM2273 CHARLOTTE FROST
  2. 2. LAST WEEK Over the last couple of weeks we learned how to research artists and artworks in order to put their work in a broader perspective. This type of art historical research helps us to think about aspects of the artwork that we cannot see just by looking at the artwork. Again this could be understood as the difference between internal and external evidence – researching the context of an artwork contributes to the external evidence we can gather and analyse. And can help us think about what else is significant about the artwork.
  3. 3. INTERPRETATION In 1970 a professor of art at Georgia University, Edmund Feldman, came up with a 4 step technique for looking at art which is used again and again to teach art criticism. It looks like this: 1. DESCRIPTION: What can be seen in the artwork? 2. ANALYSIS: What relationships exist with what is seen? 3. INTERPRETATION: What is the content or meaning, based on steps 1 and 2? 4. JUDGEMENT: What is your evaluation of the work, based on steps1, 2, 3?
  4. 4. Interpretation is how we uncover we what think an artwork might mean. It is really important to recognise that there are no definitive answers to this question. Even if we uncover some of the artist’s intentions through researching the background of the artwork, artworks always exist to provoke thought and reflection and as a result, can mean a range of things to a range of people in a range of different places. Confused?
  5. 5. First of all we described the artwork and in doing that, we already began analysing and interpreting it. Remember that analysis is means just digging a little deeper than a basic description. It is where we start to openly question why something might have been made the way it has. Just like analysis, as soon as you talk about an artwork you begin to interpret it in your own way. You are filtering it through your own magic lens. Remember when we tried to describe artworks to blindfolded partners? As soon as you chose the ways you would describe it you were starting to interpret the artwork through your magic lens – your own way of seeing it. You might have described the colours or shapes in a manner that is totally specific to you. Art critic Jerry Saltz describes art criticism as ‘seeing out loud’. This is an excellent way of putting it because each stage in our set of 4 + 1 steps (description, analysis, contextualisation, interpretation and judgement) can be done just by saying what you see and how you see it.
  6. 6. Art criticism is simply stating WHAT you see and HOW you see it.
  7. 7. Let’s remind ourselves of how we might do that…
  8. 8. DESCRIPTION = Everything you see before you, without having to do any analysis or research (internal evidence): • What does it look like? • What shapes can you see? • What colours are used? • What textures are present? • What is the subject? • What is it made of?
  9. 9. MORE DESCRIPTION = Other pieces of information you can gather specifically relating to the physical presence of the artwork (external evidence): • What is it called? • Who is it by? • Where is it/how is it installed in the space? • How was it made?
  10. 10. ANALYSIS = Everything you see before you, without having to do any analysis or research: • Why might it look like that? • Why those shapes? • Why those colours? • Why those textures? • Why might that be the subject? • Why might it be made of that?
  11. 11. Think of how you might describe this artwork, the possible subject matter, the colours and shapes… Now notice what happens when you start to ask why Picasso painted this subject, in these colours, with these shapes… You start to consider whether the style of the painting conveys an idea, theme or emotion… For example look at that pale patch we thought might be something like a transparent handkerchief -- what does being able to see through it tell us? Is Picasso showing us different dimensions of pain, or giving us better insight into his subject’s sorrow? Guess what, those questions I just asked, that’s analysis!
  12. 12. MORE ANALYSIS = Other pieces of information you can gather specifically relating to the physical presence of the artwork: • Why is it called that? • Why is it installed in the gallery like this? • Why was it made like this?
  13. 13. Artwork details: Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) Title: Weeping Woman (Femme en pleurs) Date: 1937 Medium Oil paint on canvas Dimensions: image: 608 x 500 mm frame: 847 x 739 x 86 mm Collection: Tate, UK
  14. 14. THIS IS NOT ANALYSIS!!!
  15. 15. Researching what other people have said about an artwork provides you with contextual information, that you can use to help you form ideas. Learning that the painting is of someone Picasso was intimately involved with might change the way you see the artwork. It is fine to state that, but analysis is not saying what other people have said, it is a method you use to think harder about the artwork you are looking at.
  16. 16. Analysis happens like this, you ask yourself: Why might Picasso, a Spanish artist, paint a weeping woman in 1937? Maybe because in 1937 civil war broke out in Spain. Are there any reasons he might have chosen to depict war with the image of a woman crying? Maybe because during war, women often watch their husbands and sons go off and fight. Maybe because in Catholic countries like Spain, the image of the crying Virgin Mary is a common religious icon.
  17. 17. OK so you might not know about the Spanish Civil War or Catholic religious symbols. You might come up with other ideas when you ask: Why might Picasso have painted a weeping woman?
  18. 18. INTERPRETATION Interpretation happens when you gather all your evidence (through description, analysis, background research) and you ask: What on earth might all these things mean?
  19. 19. Ways of thinking about ‘interpetation’ You are a translator. Think of the artwork as something written in visual language and you have to translate it into words. What do you think the artist might have been trying to say? You are a detective. Think of the artwork as a body of evidence - a crime scene even. What has happened, how has it happened and why? You are an archaeologist. Think of the artwork as layer upon layer of physical information about human life. Dig through the layers and examine them carefully - what do they tell us? You are a scientist. Think of the artwork as an experiment, look at all the materials that have been used and develop a hypothesis on what the artist might have been trying to prove.
  20. 20. ARTIST’S INTENTION WARNING!!! Art critics from the past, such as Diderot and Ruskin believed that when they wrote about an artwork, it was their job to uncover what the artist meant when he/she made it. They saw the artist’s intention as a fixed idea and the artwork as evidence of that fixed idea. These days we recognise that artists seldom have one fixed idea when they create an artwork. And very often they are not making a single statement or answering a question, but opening up a conversation by presenting a set of ideas in a new way. It is up to you whether you think the artist’s intention is present in the artwork or even if it is as important as your own views about the work - after all, if it is in a gallery or a public place they made it so that it would provoke YOUR ideas! You might decided the artwork says one thing and later discover that the artist was inspired by something else. But if you didn’t recognise that inspiration in the work, was the work any good? Again, it’s up to you to decide. There are no fixed answers.
  21. 21. The ways people interpret artworks (the magic lenses they use) might correspond to theories or ideas they have about culture and politics. To put this another way, rather than simply saying what they see, some art critics focus on particular types of evidence to support the ideas they have or the political agenda they want to push. For example, someone who believes in psychoanalysis will look for information that shows the artist’s psychological condition. Or a feminist art critic will examine an artwork for information about gender inequality. But even within these schools of thought there is no consensus on how to ‘read’ an artwork and each interpreter will approach it in their own way.
  22. 22. TASK Writing an art critique as a group. Part A: Split class into two. Each half sit in a circle around an allocated artwork. You will each be given ten sticky notes. I will reveal a set of questions one by one and you’ll have up to 5 minutes to answer the question on the sticky note. Make sure you number each question from 1-10!
  23. 23. QUESTIONS 1. What shape is it?
  24. 24. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features?
  25. 25. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of?
  26. 26. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be?
  27. 27. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be? 5. How might it have been made?
  28. 28. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be? 5. How might it have been made? 6. Why might it look like this?
  29. 29. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be? 5. How might it have been made? 6. Why might it look like this? 7. What does all this make you think about?
  30. 30. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be? 5. How might it have been made? 6. Why might it look like this? 7. What does all this make you think about? 8. Do any other themes or ideas spring to mind?
  31. 31. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be? 5. How might it have been made? 6. Why might it look like this? 7. What does all this make you think about? 8. Do any other themes or ideas spring to mind? 9. What might you name this artwork based on all these ideas?
  32. 32. 1. What shape is it? 2. What are its visible features? 3. What might it be made of? 4. What could it be? 5. How might it have been made? 6. Why might it look like this? 7. What does all this make you think about? 8. Do any other themes or ideas spring to mind? 9. What might you name this artwork based on all these ideas? 10. Have you enjoyed thinking about it?
  33. 33. Writing an art critique as a group. Part B: Each group will be allocated a wall to stick all the notes to. Stick them vertically from 1-10 and each person add their own notes (horizontally) to the relevant sections. You will now have a wall covered in art criticism.
  34. 34. Writing an art critique as a group. Part C: Vote for your favourite answers to the 10 questions by sticking the smaller blue/green notes to the ones you like best.
  35. 35. Description: What shape is it? What are its visible features? What might it be made of? What could it be? Analysis: How might it have been made? Why might it look like this? Interpretation: What does all this make you think about? Do any other themes or ideas spring to mind? What might you name this artwork based on all these ideas? Judgement: Have you enjoyed thinking about it?
  36. 36. HOMEWORK For home work you’re going to produce your first work of art criticism and you’re going to be assessed on it. This project counts for 20% of your final mark. You’re going to do it on Twitter (and then Storify) and you’re not going to care too much about spelling or grammar, you’re just going to focus on describing, analysing, interpreting and judging an art show (of your own choosing).
  37. 37. TASK Set up a Twitter account Set up a Storify account Choose an art gallery to visit next Monday at 4.30. Option 1. At a time of your choosing, go to an art gallery and live tweet your response to the art on show. Hashtag every tweet #arttwitticism. Remember to describe, analyse, interpret and judge the work on show. Option 2. At a time of your choosing, go to one of the protest sites and live tweet your response to the art on show. Hashtag every tweet #arttwitticism. Remember to describe, analyse, interpret and judge the work on show.
  38. 38. For a reminder: Description: say what you can see Analysis: ask yourself questions about what you see and forumlate some logical answers Interpretation: share the ideas you’re starting to have about the work Judgement: decide if you think its any good or not Warning! Context is not important here. This assessment is about YOUR ideas. Whatever art is on show, you do not need to tweet anything about who the artist was. Just focus on seeing out loud! I’m looking for YOUR reaction to the art - whatever reaction that might be, good or bad or indifferent. You could think of it like a computer game, the more you move around the space and say interesting things, the more points you’ll score. In other words, the more original your statements about the artwork, the better your grade will be.
  39. 39. When you have said everything you can possibly say about the art on show you can stop. Before next week’s class gather your tweets together in a Storify. Include a link to the show you visited and where possible, an image of at least one artwork on show. Send the link to clfrost@cityu.edu.hk by 9.00am on Monday 27th October.
  40. 40. HOW TO STORIFY YOUR TWEETS You can search for your tweets on Storify by your Twitter handle and the hashtag (#arttwitticism). You can either select all your tweets in chronological order, or if you prefer to edit what you said, gather the best ones and put them in a logical order. Think of the Storify as an essay you wrote live and in the moment, there will be mistakes and you won’t be judged on those, I’m just looking for whether you’ve described, analysed, interpreted and judged the art work IN YOUR OWN WAY! Here’s a good example of a Storify I did from a discussion on Twitter
  41. 41. I will be watching you online all week via the hashtag. I will know who is where and what you are looking at and I will share the best tweets with art critics around the world. They, like me, will want to hear you say things in your own way and we’ll all be hoping you say new, interesting and unexpected things about the art you’re looking at – not repeating the same types of things that are always said. And remember that Hong Kong’s artists aren’t well known in the rest of the world, so it’s up to you to tell the world about what they make.
  42. 42. Here’s a list of galleries to choose from Here is a list of places you can read art reviews REMEMBER TO CHECK GALLERY OPENING DAYS/TIMES AND DON’T PICK SOMEWHERE THAT WILL BE CLOSED WHEN YOU WANT TO VISIT!!! REMEMBER TO USE THE HASHTAG #arttwitticism OR YOUR TWEETS (NO MATTER HOW GREAT) WON’T COUNT!!!

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