How to Critique

by Valerie Jaudon

Everyone see phenomena differently, based on their patterns of perception and their individual biographies. There is no one right way, and no complete way, to describe a complex work of art. Description depends to a certain extent on interpretation, and interpretation of description. Getting several descriptions from several individual viewers about the same work of art can be an enriching experience. If several viewers contribute their individual descriptions in their own words, they can expand the group's perception of the work. If the artist listens carefully to the several descriptions of their work, they can gain insight into what they have done and how others perceive it. 

-Terry Burrett Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary

The following are helpful aspects of a critical approach to art works to keep in mind during a
class critique. Once you are comfortable with description, analysis becomes easier with your
own work and that of other artists. Interpretation and judgement of art works are more difficult,
but your skill in both of these will be particularly appreciated by other artists during group

1. DESCRIPTION: List all of the literal qualities in the work. Do this as if you are talking to
someone on the telephone. They cannot see the work, and you are describing it to them.
Describe the line quality, colors, shapes, kind of textures, background, foreground, objects and

2.ANALYSIS: Determine relationships among different qualities found in the work of art...Line,
Shape, Space, Color, Texture, and Balance. What is the Awork@ of the painting, how is it
working? Where is the emphasis? What does the painting ask you to look at first? What is
dominant? Does your eye get stuck in one place, or does it move around the painting? What
kind of balance is used, symmetrical, asymmetrical, etc.? Is the space flat, shallow, deep,
illusionistic, etc?

3. INTERPRETATION: Focus attention on the general ideas, feelings or moods conveyed by
the artwork. What is the artist most interested in telling us through the work? Is a title necessary
or helpful? What words would you use to describe the meaning or larger concept of the

4. JUDGEMENT: Come to some conclusion about the work based on the stages listed above.
As a viewer, it makes you aware of........ It makes you think about........Why do you respond to
the painting the way you do? Try to be specific.


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