Monday, March 2, 2009

A process for art critique

Where do you start when you are asked to critique someone's artwork? I find it a bit daunting because I don't want to hurt the feelings of the artist who is often a friend. I have to keep reminding myself that I was asked to comment and that a considered response could be very helpful to the artist. It also helps me if I think about it as giving feedback or response rather than critique. I know, it's just semantics, but it helps me. It became a little easier for me when I discovered a process for viewing and responding to an artwork that allows me time to sort through the work and reach a conclusion or judgment about the success or failure of it. Always I try to be considerate of the other person when making comments. I'm currently writing a post on the "Etiquette of Critique" which will be up in several days. Now on to the purpose of this post.

Feldman (1972, 1981) proposed a formal, objective and open structure for viewing an artwork that encourages describing, analyzing and interpreting prior to placing a personal judgment on the work. This sequence of viewing steps ensures that the viewer has gathered information before leaping to like/dislike conclusions. It certainly isn't necessary to answer all the questions listed in each section. They are there to give ideas about what could be considered in each one.


Describe what you see in the work. This is a listing of facts without judgment statements.
  • Note the title and the year created.
  • Describe the materials used
  • What type of work is it? e.g., landscape, still life, etc.
  • What style is it? e.g., photo realistic, abstract, impressionist, etc.
  • What is the subject matter? Describe it.
  • If it is non-objective work, describe the art elements used (line, shape, colour, texture, value etc.)
Focus on the elements and principles and how they are organized. Separate the composition into its parts in order to determine the expressive power of each part and the relationship between the parts and the whole.
  • Has a range of values been used ? Has a value dominance been established?
  • Has colour temperature dominance been established? (warm or cool dominance)
  • Has colour harmony been achieved?
  • Are colours repeated throughout the work?
  • Is there variety in the shapes represented? Have the shapes been grouped together to create a coherent whole?
  • Is there a clearly organized structure to hold the viewer's eyes?
  • If a centre of interest is included, is it effectively established? How?
  • Are active areas balanced with passive areas?
  • Does the design in this work break the rules, and if so, is it successful?
  • What principles of design are used?
What does the artwork mean ? This is the viewer's opinion. Here you try to formulate a specific explanation of meaning that fits with the evidence gathered in the first two steps.
  • How does the artwork make you feel? What does it make you think about?
  • What do you think the artist is trying to say?
  • What is the most memorable aspect of this artwork?
  • Why do you think the artwork was created?
  • How does this work relate to other ideas or events in the world or to other artwork?
Evaluating an artwork means ranking it in relationship to other works in its class; it is a way of deciding on its artistic and aesthetic merits. It moves well beyond I like, I don't like; it is about how well the artist has succeeded .
  • How does this work relate to comparable works? Does it conform to or depart from other works in its class?
  • What is original or compelling about the work?
  • Does the artwork communicate any major feelings or ideas? (What value do you find in the work? ) e.g., beautiful image, conveys important social message, created insightful connections, connects with history etc.
  • Are the ideas /feelings in the work historically or culturally relevant?
  • Does the technique used support or diminish the impact of the artwork?
  • What are the qualities of the work that engage you?
  • Does the artwork come together as a whole?
  • Has the artist created a successful image?
  • How could the piece be improved on?
Who knew there was so much to giving your opinion ?


Miki Willa said...

These are not only wonderful guidelines for preparing a critique, but also for working on a painting. Thank you so much for this post on a subject that is so important for artists.

Kesha Bruce said...

Ditto everything Miki Willa said. Thanks for taking the time to post this.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you saw the usefulness of this process for your own art practice. I keep a copy of the stages in the studio for my own observations. I even set the painting up and do the description part before moving on. I have a chair, good light and a note book I keep jot notes about future actions on the work. The process helps to take me out of my own head.

My pleasure to pass along something I find very useful. Imagine you getting to live in France! I have to prowl through your blog a little more to hopefully find out how that came about. I spent three weeks in France on a painting holiday and loved it. I felt a connection to your artist information. I find it marvelous how artists are attracted to the same themes and then their work can be so different.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

I enjoy reading your thoughtful posts Margaret. I learn something here. I would also suggest considering “does the design in this work break the rules, and if so, is it successful in your opinion?”

Unknown said...

Thanks Leslie. I will add that excellent suggestion on to the post.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

I suggested that of course, because I love to break the rules...Sometimes I'm a little bit

Anonymous said...

one of my friends is a well-known painter's wife, and she has to go to umpteen gallery openings for artists of all genres and degrees of skill. i asked her what she says when she sees something she really didn't like. she said she always says some variation on, "This looks wonderful in the gallery!"