Description is the cornerstone of art criticism, it leads directly into all the other steps (in fact it should become fairly difficult to separate them out)
How do you analyse an artwork
We thought about the idea describing art. We discovered that
description is important because it helps us really think about an
artwork and leads naturally to other forms of evaluation. We also
considered different ways of describing art from painting with
words to dancing about art.
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?
This is just a hop forwards from description and simply
involves asking ‘why?’ a lot!
= Everything you see before you, without having to do any
analysis or research:
• Why is that the subject?
• Why does it look like that?
• Why those shapes?
• Why those colours?
• Why those textures?
• Why is it made of that?
Think of how you might describe this artwork,
the possible subject matter, the colours and
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
Now lets consider if the ‘external’ information provides us
with anything that adds to our 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?
Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Title: Weeping Woman
(Femme en pleurs)
Medium Oil paint on canvas
image: 608 x 500 mm
frame: 847 x 739 x 86 mm
Collection: Tate, UK
Why might Picasso, a Spanish artist, paint a weeping woman in
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
That type of analysis requires research, and we will address
that further in weeks 7 & 8. For now, just notice how internal
and external evidence can both be questioned in order to begin
to analyse the artwork.
And be aware that analysis starts to become interpretation
when you start deciding which ideas you discovered during
analysis are most convincing.
To critique art you describe it, ask yourself (or someone else)
questions about what you see, decide which ideas about the
artwork fit best and then you might judge whether it works for
you as an inspiring experience.
Now, read ‘Las Meninas’ by Foucault and notice how an
analysis of an artwork can take some considerable time.
Look at how meticulous he is in describing and questioning
the artwork. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest to
describe and analyse the artwork…
Now watch this video of a quicker discussion of ‘Las
Meninas’ that shows how two people can help each other
analyse an artwork…
Caution: please note that the two people discussing the artwork in this video
know a lot about the painting, they aren’t asking questions so much as
sharing a number of existing analyses of the artwork.
OPTIONAL TASK: GO TO A TALK
BY A REAL, LIVE, ART CRITIC
Speaker: Diedrich Diederichsen
Date: 23rd September, 2014 (Tuesday)
Time: 5:00 pm – 6:30pm
Venue : M6094 Future Cinema Studio (6/F, Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre)
There have been plenty of debates around the question whether there is a difference—and what is the difference—
between Modern Art and Contemporary Art, and when Contemporary Art begins. This debate has often focused on
historical/political events or technological shifts, and has often developed a perspective that contemporary art is also
over and will be replaced by new formats or a new perspective on historical shifts and successions. In this talk I will
propose that we consider the year 1960 (+/- 5 years) as the beginning not so much of new times but of new forms.
To see these new forms one would first have to step back from the usual paradigm according to which formats and their
contents are closely connected to social processes and societal developments and look at them rather from a formalistic
point of view. But then secondly one would have to realize that these forms were only possible due to a major social and
cultural shift: the reconfiguration of the social hierarchies of art and a reformulation of what was once the popular.
New experimental “high art” formats and youth-cultural “popular” formats follow the same aesthetic rules and
decisions and will establish in the 50+ years since then a new vocabulary in almost all art forms (music, moving
images, performative arts etc.).What does this mean for critical concepts like “the cultural industry”?
Speaker Biography: Diedrich Diederichsen (born 1957) is one of Germany’s most renowned intellectual writers at the
crossroads of the arts, politics, and pop culture. He is a prolific writer and contributes frequently to journals like Texte zur
Kunst, Artforum, and Frieze. A main topic of his writing is the tension between subjectivity, identity politics, and culture
industry in Post-Fordist society. He is Professor for Theory, Practice, and Communication of Contemporary Art at the
Institute for Art History & Cultural Studies at the Academy of Fine Art, Vienna.
Animated Art Critics:
Make a short movie analyzing an artwork of you choice using everyday objects as the
‘characters’ in your movie.
1. Read the first part of the essay on ‘Las Meninas’ by Michel Foucault and watch the
video on the same painting.
2. Read these introductory slides for class (posted on course website by Monday
22nd Sept). You’ve done that bit already!
3. Set up a YouTube or Vimeo account (if you don’t already have one)
4. Together with your partner, choose an artwork (either from one of the suggested
websites or from another source) and print it out in colour on an A4 sheet of.
5. Each choose an everyday object to be a ‘character’ in your movie. This could be a
stuffed toy, an action figure, it could even be a pencil, pen or stapler. You just need
to each choose an object that can star in a movie about describing art.
6. Borrow a video camera from SCM (have your smartphone ready).
7. Create a film set by sticking up you're A4 artwork as a backdrop and placing your
two objects in front of it.
8. Together with your partner, make a short movie where your chosen
objects appear as two characters discussing the work of art. You
are welcome to hold and move your characters, or leave them
sitting still in front of the artwork, but you must both provide their
voices and take turns in describing and asking questions about the
9. The key to this task is to ask ‘why’ a LOT! Try to describe and then
ANALYSE the artwork by asking why this colour, shape or idea. And
as this is a dialogue, try to answer each other’s questions and see
what type of conversation you have.
10. The video should be no shorter than 6 minutes and as long as you
like. If it doesn’t work out the first time, start again until you get the
conversation about the artwork flowing.
11. When the video is complete, upload it to YouTube or Vimeo (if you
prefer, keeping it hidden from anyone who doesn’t have the link)
and email me the link (firstname.lastname@example.org). It’s due by 9am
Monday 29th September.
Things to remember:
• If you don’t have access to videoing equipment, take a set
of still images and jointly write the discussion
above/below/next to each image as though it is a comic
• Be as creative as you can. What location might be fun to
video in? What personality or voice does your character
• Make your characters ask as many silly or serious
questions about the artwork as you can.
Meet in room M4004 to discuss interpreting art and then go
an art exhibition together.