Critique Steps

Being able to critique art by utilizing the art elements, principles of design, and correct terminology is very important. These critique steps are designed toward that end. These four steps, each accompanied by a set of questions, form a comprehensive method of critique that can be applied to any piece of art. These steps have been adopted from Four Steps in Art Criticism from the Janice Mason Art Museum. 

For Studio Art Classes
In your journal have either a copy of these critique steps or a version of them in your own words. Feel free to personalize these steps by adding, deleting, or modifying over time. 

It is important to understand why art work is critiqued in this class. It is not a test. It is not an occasion to explain or defend your work. It is not an occasion to show off how much you know. It is definitely not an occasion to tell the class how to think or feel about your own artwork. It is about being told what other people see in your work. The point is to help you improve your work through hearing and understanding what other people see in it. In each class there are a wide variety of people with a wide range of viewpoints and experience. They will react to your work and understand it differently than you might have thought. It is important to take their views into consideration as you move forward.

For each critique you will spend a few minutes applying this set of critique steps to make a written critique of the work of one or more of your classmates. Be as honest, sensitive, and constructive as possible. You will describe the work in terms of these steps for the class followed by any additional comments you would like to add. After your additional comments, the class will discuss the work and you will act as a note taker on that discussion for your classmate. You will give your classmate this written critique at the end of the critique session.

For Art Appreciation Classes
You're going to spend a lot of time with these critique steps. Take them as a tool to help you develop an understanding and appreciation of art. In the beginning many students struggle with them as there are many ideas here that are completely new. Students also begin with pretty superficial answers to most of these questions. That's o.k. in the beginning. But be aware that you are expected to work on these, think about them and develop a deeper understanding of them. As the semester progresses your writing should reflect that.  

There are some things to rule out before you start. It seems that these are common ways of thinking about artworks, but they tend to prevent a deeper understanding.

- The idea that the artist or the artwork is showing something. That's not exactly what's going on. Think about a work of art as you would any other object in the world. You wouldn't say that a chair shows an object for sitting on, right? A chair is an object to sit on. Artworks should be thought of the same way, as actual things in the world. For example, a portrait shouldn't be thought of as showing a person, it is a stand-in for that person. It makes you feel and think essentially the same things you would in that person's presence.

- By extension artists shouldn't be thought of as wanting to show something. It's true that sometimes that is what they're doing. But most of the time they are making things and what they're trying to do is to make something. There is a profound difference here that I'm not sure I can fully explain. Try to put yourself in the artist's position. Try to imagine what it would be like to make the work they've made. Why would a person want spend time making that? Why would they want to make it in that particular way? Key terms to think about here are Empathy and Catharsis.

- The idea that the artist did a good job. "The artist did a good job with the values and textures." Sure, maybe they did. But this is such a vague statement. It essentially only tells us that you approve of the way the work looks. Let's assume that all artist are capable of doing a good job at everything. Assuming that, it would be true that some artists choose to do a good job and others choose not to. There must be reasons for these choices. What we really need to know is why you think the artist did what they did in that particular way and what effect that has both within the work and on you as a viewer.

Describe: Tell what you see (the visual facts).
- What is the name of the artist?
- What kind of an artwork is it?
- What is the name of the artwork?
- Where and when was the artwork created?
- List the literal objects in the painting (trees, people, animals, mountains, rivers, etc.).
- What do you notice first when you look at the work(s)? Why?
- What kinds of colors do you see? How would you describe them?
- What shapes can we see? What kind of edges do the shapes have?
- Are there lines in the work(s)? If so, what kinds of lines are they?
- What sort of textures do you see? How would you describe them/
- What time of day/night is it? How can we tell?
- What is the overall visual effect or mood of the work(s)?

Analyze: 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:
- How has the artist used colors in the work(s)?
- What sort of effect do the colors have on the artwork?
- How as the artist used shapes within the work of art?
- 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?
- 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).
- 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?
- 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.
- How were the artists design tools used to achieve a particular look or focus?

Interpretation: 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?
- Name some major events in history that relate to this artwork.
- Name some events in the life of the artist that relate to this work.
- What was the artist’s statement in this work?
- What has the artist actually said about this work?
- What do you think it means?
- What does it mean to you? 
- Would it have different meaning for people different from you?
- How does this relate to you and your life?
- What feelings do you have when looking at this artwork?
- Do you think there are symbolic or metaphorical elements in the artwork that represent something else?
- Why do you think that the artist chose to work in this manner and made these kinds of artistic decisions?
- Why did the artist create this artwork? What were they probably thinking?
- What do you think it must have been like to spend time making this work?
- How do you think the artist feels about the subject?

Evaluation: After careful observation, analysis, and interpretation of an artwork, you are ready to make your personal evaluation based on the understandings of the work(s). Here are questions you might consider:
- Do you think that this work has intrinsic value or worth?  That is, value in and of itself as an artwork.
- What is the value that you find in the work(s)? (For example, it is a beautiful work of art?  Does it convey an important social message, affect the way that one sees the world, make insightful connections, reaffirm a religious belief, etc.) 
- 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?
- What kind of an effect do you think the work could have on others?
- 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?
- 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? Does the work lack 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.

Additional Observations:
- What other comments or ideas come to mind?  
- Are there things that these steps didn't cover?
- If this is a studio class, what advice do you have for the artist?