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Category Archives: Musings

Don’t be so critical! Art Criticism + Bonus Art Crit Worksheet

By popular suggestion, I’m attaching the packet I wrote up for the last assignment of the blogging class. It’s an amalgamation of *many* art criticism resources- I first ran into an art criticism packet like this about 8 years ago, but it never fit my needs exactly, and some versions I have seen floating around have sections missing. So I’m attaching my version today.
But wait, there’s more! If you act now, I will throw in my class critique sheet for free! I use that when I would like a gentle way for classmates to critique each others artwork.

Art criticism used to scare me. Maybe it was the intense critiques in one of my studio class where the instructor broke students down to tears. Yikes! That is not really what I would call a reasonable way to critique. Especially since we all knew the student had been logging heavy hours late night in the studio, and had not been lax at all as the professor was insinuating. Bleah. I don’t have time for that negativity!

Or, just as uncomfortable, going to the Walker Art Center  (which is a great, fun museum and not uncomfortable at all!) with my parents, grandma and aunts, and being the designated docent- So, Ingrid… what is going on with this piece here…..? Uh…….

And sometimes being able to give an insightful take on a work, and sometimes….. well, I didn’t feel I “got” the piece, or didn’t even like the work, in fact… sometimes, I got flashbacks to critiques in college where the student didn’t spend any time in the studio, but spent a lot of time in the bars and bohemian house parties near campus… and then smooth-talked their way through a critique, sounding infuriatingly like this, and the rest of us in class would roll our eyes, fume, and remember The Emperor’s New Clothes as we gritted our teeth and watched the instructor vapidly nod their way through a  load of baloney. Or maybe that was just me.

Well, here’s the real deal. (In my opinion.)

It isn’t mysterious. It isn’t full of obfuscation and bulloney. A kindergarten class can do this, scaled down, and stun you with their insight. After all, it was a little child who called out the Emperor when no one else would say what they saw. Kids have a clarity and honesty that adults do have, but adults silence it with a sense of propriety. If you’re talking about the art critic in a business sense, well, they have a much different agenda, influenced by money, context, fashion, even politics and propaganda machines at points in history!

The nitty-gritty though, is this:

  1. Identification: Who is the artist, when was it made, etc. Not absolutely needed, but a nice formal start to the critique.
  2. Description: What do I see? List everything you notice, elements of art and subject matter.
  3. Analysis: Ask how. How is it organized, what principles of art have been employed?
  4. Interpretation: What does it mean? What is the artist trying to say? Understanding the culture and context will help a lot.
  5. Judgement: Do I like it? Did they do a good job? Is it successful?

Before I start a critique with my class, I ask them about their hot dog preferences– a potentially tense subject in Chicago- in some places, asking for ketchup is a heresy that will get you kicked out. (I just wanted the ketchup for my FRIES!!!)

In any case- the class is usually willing to discuss how they like their dog: poppyseed bun, no ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, no peppers. Or plain bun, ketchup and Doritos stuffed in the bun. One person is a vegetarian, one person hates hot dogs and could they describe a burger instead? I ask them “Who is right?” And they say, well, all of us are, it’s a matter of taste!

And then we start the critique.