Artistic Criticism – How to Critique Art

Describe, Analyze, Interpretation, Judgement

A quick reference to help understand, appreciate and analyze art. How to look at and critique art using the four components of artistic criticism.

Describe: Tell what you see (the visual facts).

  • What is the name of the artist who created the artwork?
  • What kind of artwork is it, what medium is it?
  • What is the name of the artwork?
  • When was the artwork created?
  • Name some other major events in history that occurred at the same time this artwork was 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 has 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?

  • What was the artist’s statement in this work?
  • What do you think it means?
  • What does it mean to 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 things in the artwork that represent other things/symbols?
  • 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?

Judgment:After careful observation, analysis, and interpretation of an artwork, you are ready to make your own judgment. This is your personal evaluation based on the understandings of the work(s). Here are questions you might consider:

  • Why do you think this work has intrinsic value or worth? What is the value you find in the work(s)? (For example, is it a beautiful work of art, does it convey an important social message, affects the way that I see the world, makes insightful connections, reaffirms 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?
  • Could the reason you find the work lacking come from a poor use of the elements of art? Explain.
  • Is the subject matter unappealing, unimaginative, or repulsive? How?
  • What kind of an effect do you think the work could have for others?
  • 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? The work lacks 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.
Reformatted by permission from: “Four Steps to Artistic Criticism” by the  Janice Mason Art Museum, who also has a nice set of lesson plans based on their museums exhibits.


How to Critique Art Vol. 2, no. 3, ©March 2011 Author Janice Mason Art Museum, Published by Diversified ART™  ISSN 2166-3661

About Diversified ART

Community-based visual artists guild, international artist registry, and digital gallery with activities and programs in the visual arts. Our organization focuses on the visual arts and social and environmental consciousness.
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4 Responses to Artistic Criticism – How to Critique Art

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you these are very helpful prompts for secondary school teaching 🙂

  2. Dave Dayz says:

    your a live saver bruh!

  3. suzls83 says:

    Thank you, I have to critique some photography for a college assignment and have been struggling with where to start. This has been most helpful. Thank you again 🙂

  4. Suzanna Fedezko says:

    Excellent post! We will be linking to this on our site. Keep up the great writing.


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