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How do you analyse an artwork


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How do you analyse an artwork

  2. 2. LAST WEEK 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.
  3. 3. 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. ANALYSIS This is just a hop forwards from description and simply involves asking ‘why?’ a lot!
  5. 5. INTERNAL EVIDENCE = 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?
  6. 6. 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!
  7. 7. Now lets consider if the ‘external’ information provides us with anything that adds to our analysis…
  8. 8. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE = 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?
  9. 9. 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
  10. 10. 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.
  11. 11. 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.
  12. 12. 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…
  13. 13. 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.
  14. 14. 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) Talk Abstract: 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.
  15. 15. TASK Animated Art Critics: Make a short movie analyzing an artwork of you choice using everyday objects as the ‘characters’ in your movie. Preparation: 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. paper. 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.
  16. 16. 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 artwork. 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 ( It’s due by 9am Monday 29th September.
  17. 17. 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 strip. • Be as creative as you can. What location might be fun to video in? What personality or voice does your character have? • Make your characters ask as many silly or serious questions about the artwork as you can.
  18. 18. NEXT WEEK Meet in room M4004 to discuss interpreting art and then go an art exhibition together.