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Art criticism is not a mystery.  Sometimes we wonder what criteria have been used by professional art critics, because our opinions may not agree at all with theirs.  Most professional art critics follow the four principles of art criticism listed below.  A few critics will let their personal choices influence them to a greater extent than being led only by these analytical principles.  Opinions are always based on a belief system, so, naturally, the opinions of one who knows Christ will likely be opposed to one who is totally "in the world" and submerged in the world system.  Artworks fall into two main categories: successful and unsuccessful.  Some artworks demonstrate a successful use of art elements and principles, but the subject matter is either received or rejected.  Sometimes the subject matter of an artwork will cause a viewer to completely reject the artwork without any consideration of the use of the art elements and principles.  Other artworks are accepted based upon content alone (usually because of sentiment), ignoring whether or not there is the successful use of art elements and principles. Some artworks are neutral in that there is no overt message other than its existence for the sake of using art elements and principles successfully.

There are four basic evaluation principles applied to artwork.  All of these are subjective (even the first one, because of what and how you choose to describe). The four principles are:

1. DESCRIPTION: Describe the subject matter.  If there is no subject, describe the shapes and  colors.  Describe the line quality, spaces, color relationships, etc.

2. ANALYSIS/DESCRIPTION: How are the design elements used and organized? What is the strongest part? How is value used? Is there a range of  values? Is it mostly monochromatic? How has line been used to create movement? Would you take away or add anything to this artwork?  Why or why not?

3. INTERPRETATION: What do you think is the main idea of the artwork? What mood or emotion is portrayed? How does this artwork relate to your experience? Why do you think this artwork exists?

4. EVALUATION: Is the artwork good or not?  Support your opinion with your conclusions from steps 1-3.

Students can be taught how to critique artwork fairly and at the same time do it in a constructive rather than a destructive or judgmental manner. For younger students, simply identifying whether or not the lesson objectives were met and how is enough. Vocal judgment of value is strongly discouraged. Junior high and high school students must think more analytically, and learn to self-critique objectively. Rubrics are given in K-8 and high school curricula to assist the students and the instructor in this process.

STUDY THE FOLLOWING EXAMPLE OF FORMAL ART CRITICISM OF THIS IMAGE:

































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1. DESCRIPTION
a. Describe the subject matter.  If there is no subject, describe the shapes and colors. This is a painting of five doves or pigeons in a close group. One in the lower right foreground is pecking something on the ground. One in the middle left looks like it might be dozing. The left two doves and the bottom dove are facing left; the top two doves are facing right. The shapes of the doves are rounded.
b. Describe the line quality, spaces, color relationships, etc. The line quality varies from thick to thin in places and also can be described as "lost and found" in various places, keeping it from being entirely static. There is not much texture to imply feathers or variation in the ground. There is a balance of space used for the image compared with the amount of background space. The background looks rather like blue clouds.

2. ANALYSIS/DESCRIPTION.
a. How are the design elements used and organized?
The design is in the contemporary category in that some of the dove tails extend beyond the edges of the picture plane. The focal point is lower left of center - the legs, feet and the beak on the ground pecking something. The arrangement of doves is circular.
b. What is the strongest part? I think the strongest part is the over-all feeling of gentleness and peace, probably from the blue color.
c. How is value used? Is there a range of values? Is it mostly monochromatic?  The doves and the background are mostly blue with some contrasting colors in the beaks, eyes, and feet, and in the drawing of the tail feathers. There is minimal contrast in light and dark and just enough range of values so that the shapes of the doves are recognizable. The strongest contrast is in the dark rings on their necks, the beaks, eyes, legs, and feet.
d. How has line been used to create movement? There is the use of “lost and found” line quality that makes the composition almost circular in viewing. Also the birds’ main shapes are round with rounded heads. The over-all feeling is lack of movement and stillness.
e. Would you take away or add anything to this artwork? Why or why not? I would introduce more color, or make this just a painted sketch rather than using white paint to create tones of blue.

3.  INTERPRETATION
a. What do you think is the main idea of the artwork? 
I think the main idea is to express gentleness using round shapes, circular design, and the over-all blue color.
b. What mood or emotion is portrayed? I believe peace and gentleness are the strongest emotions. The doves are not alert. The middle left dove even looks like it might be in a sleeping or resting position.
c. How does this artwork relate to your experience? This painting prompts me to observe and sketch birds.
d. Why do you think this artwork exists? This is probably a practice painting for this student.

4. EVALUATION. Is the artwork good or not? Support your opinion with your conclusions from steps 1-3.  I think this image is more like a study than a finished artwork and would probably not sell unless the artist becomes hugely famous. The brush work is "heavy" and contradicts our feeling about birds being light and delicate. I think this image would be better as a monochromatic sketch using a natural color such as burnt sienna and the white of the canvas for contrast to try to capture a lighter feeling with a little more movement and delicacy.

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