Methodology of Critique

Four Steps of Critique:

  1. Description
  2. Analysis
  3. Interpretation
  4. Judgement


When writing about a work of art, step one requires us to fully describe its form and content.

  1. What is the name of the artist who created the artwork?
  2. What kind of an artwork is it?
  3. What is the name of the artwork?
  4. When was the artwork created?
  5. Name some other major events in history that occurred at the same time this artwork was created.
  6. List the literal objects in the painting (trees, people, animals, mountains, rivers, etc.).
  7. What do you notice first when you look at the work(s)? Why?
  8. What kinds of colors do you see? How would you describe them?
  9. What shapes can we see? What kind of edges do the shapes have? 10. Are there lines in the work(s)? If so, what kinds of lines are they?
  10. What sort of textures do you see? How would you describe them/
  11. What time of day/night is it? How can we tell?
  12. What is the overall visual effect or mood of the work(s)?

Analysis (technical) :

Consider all the different levels on which you can critically evaluate the work.  Think about materials, technique, craftsmanship, concept, formal design, and utility.  Has the artist used materials and techniques effectively with good craftsmanship, appropriate to formal and narrative aspects of the piece?  Has the artist used color, value, and texture effectively.  Are formal design aesthetics key to the success of the work, and if so, does the overall design work visually?  Does the overall design seem unified or disconnected?

Mentally separate the parts or elements, thinking in terms of textures, shapes/forms, light/dark or bright/dull colors, types of lines, and sensory qualities. In this step consider the most significant art principles that were used in the artwork. Describe how the artist used them to organize the elements. Suggested questions to help with analysis:

  1. How has the artist used colors in the work(s)?
  2. What sort of effect do the colors have on the artwork?
  3. How as the artist used shapes within the work of art?
  4. How have lines been used in the work(s)? Has the artist used them as an important or dominant part of the work, or do they play a different roll?
  5. What role does texture play in the work(s)? Has the artist used the illusion of texture or has the artist used actual texture? How has texture been used within the work(s).
  6. How has the artist used light in the work(s)? Is there the illusion of a scene with lights and shadows, or does the artist use light and dark values in a more abstracted way?
  7. How has the overall visual effect or mood of the work(s)? been achieved by the use of elements of art and principles of design.
  8. How were the artists design tools used to achieve a particular look or focus?

Interpretation (communication) :

Try to come to some understanding of how you feel about the work and why. What is your personal interpretation of the work? What is your experiential response? In other words, how does the work make you feel? Do you have some sense of what the work is trying to accomplish or communicate? A key factor in any critical appraisal of artwork in the academic setting is the determination of whether the artist successfully implemented her/his concept and intent. This is especially important in contemporary art, and the artist should be able to define the concepts and intent behind the work. Sometimes you will clearly perceive concept and intent in the work, and if so, you should comment on it. If you cannot get a sense of this, then ask the artist. In response, she/he should be able to discuss concept and intent, and it is often the case that such discussion during critique will help the artist to clarify these issues.
An interpretation seeks to explain the meaning of the work based on what you have learned so far about the artwork, what do you think the artist was trying to say?

  1. What was the artist’s statement in this work?
  2. What do you think it means?
  3. What does it mean to you?
  4. How does this relate to you and your life?
  5. What feelings do you have when looking at this artwork?
  6. Do you think there are things in the artwork that represent other things-symbols?
  7. Why do you think that the artist chose to work in this manner and made these kinds of artistic decisions?
  8. Why did the artist create this artwork?

Judgement (effectiveness) :

After careful observation, analysis, and interpretation of an artwork, you are ready to make your own judgment. This is your personal evaluation based on the understandings of the work(s). Here are questions you might consider:

  1. Why do you think that this work has intrinsic value or worth? What is the value that you find in the work(s)? (For example, it is a beautiful work of art, conveys an important social message, affects the way that I see the world, makes insightful connections, reaffirms a religious belief, etc.)
  2. Do you think that the work(s) has a benefit for others? Do you find that the work communicates an idea, feeling or principle that would have value for others?
  3. What kind of an effect do you think the work could have for others?
  4. Does the work lack value or worth? Why do you think this is so? Could the reason you find the work lacking come from a poor use of the elements of art? Could the subject matter by unappealing, unimaginative, or repulsive?
  5. Rather than seeing the work as being very effective or without total value, does the work fall somewhere in-between? Do you think that the work is just o.k.? What do you base this opinion on? The use of elements of art? Lack of personal expression? The work lacks a major focus? Explore your criticism of the work (s) as much as you would any positive perceptions. Realize that your own tastes and prejudices may enter into your criticism. Give your positive and negative perceptions.

Based on what the artist has to say about concept and intent, offer opinions about whether you think the work is successful, and discuss the reasons why.

When you make critical comments about someone’s work, be sure to offer useful information.  Give the person somewhere to go with your comments – some positive direction.  It does no good to say “This piece is very interesting,” or “I like this piece,” or “This piece doesn’t work,” unless you can explain why you feel that way.  Be specific about what has been accomplished.  What makes the piece work?  What are its strengths?  What are its weaknesses?  For every criticism, make suggestions about what might be done to improve the work.  It’s appropriate to say that some part of a piece or a whole piece doesn’t work for you, but you need to explain the reasons for your criticism and offer suggestions.

The strengths of a work are often best emphasized in comparison to its weaknesses, and almost every piece has strengths and weaknesses.  This is one of the most important strategies for effective critique of artwork.  Search for both the strong and weak aspects of the piece, and offer criticism that compares and contrasts the two.

When your own work is being critiqued, if useful information is not forthcoming, ask questions of those critiquing your work. Don’t be hesitant about this. You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. Remember that the critique is one of the most important learning dynamics in studio art, and you have to be proactively involved to make the most of it.

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