Saturday, October 17, 2009

Art Criticism: A crash course

Last week, we practiced some basic art criticism. Here are the key points to keep in mind when looking at any photograph. Think of these techniques as similar to those we apply to literary texts, and also similar to what we will use to analyse film.

We are now definitely moving beyond the realm of summarisation and getting into analysis -- pictorial art is even more strongly about what the image makes you feel. It is a way of putting into words the emotion that you get from the bend of a hand or the position of the figure -- our job is to put visual metaphors into words.

Art criticism, like with literary criticism, is a four-step process:

1. Describe the subject matter and the art elements, lines, shapes, colours, patterns and textures—

2. Analyse arrangement, colour harmony, and technique—

3. Interpret its symbols and meaning—

4. Judge its value—

INTERPRETATION is the process of understanding or making meaning. This process involves several aspects: emotions, symbols, modern and historical importance, and reinterpretation.

What could be a new title for this piece?

What symbols do you see? For example, a lion is often used as a symbol of strength.

What do the colours symbolise? For example, blue might mean loyalty or calmness like the sea. What do the colours express—make you feel? Do they create a happy or sad mood—Can we come up with a sense of the tone of the picture based on colours, brushwork, and any other elements described earlier?

What theme, big idea, is this about? Is it, for instance, about nature, politics, religion, childhood, other?

What does this work mean for people today, for you?

And finally, here are the images I handed around in class today. Take a look at them in colour!

Edvard Munch, The Scream (lithograph) (1893):

Egon Schiele, The Fighter (1913):

Ernst Ludvig Kirchner, Five Women on the Street (c. 1920):

[not one of the original printouts I gave; see how you like this one]

Movie poster -- The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920):

Kathe Kollwitz, The Widow (
c. 1922):

Movie still from Sin City, by Frank Miller (2005):

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