Criticism Of Artwork

meaning of criticism

The Criticism Of Artwork definition identifies the work of art critics, who critique works of art in exhibition reviews. A common assumption is that all criticism is bad, due to the negative connotation of the word ”criticism”. While art criticism does involve evaluation (judgment of work as more or less effective), art criticism aims to gather information about an artwork, analyze it, and interpret its meaning. The validity of an evaluation depends on a solid interpretation of the artwork based on facts and evidence, and therefore, art criticism is not based on opinion. Art criticism is an informed discussion aimed at improving understanding and appreciation of art. Art criticism can be either written or spoken.

Why Criticism Of Artwork?

Every culture produces artwork in forms such as imagery, objects, music, writing, drama, and dance. As art forms evolve, cultures identify certain qualities that contribute to the beauty, expression, effectiveness, or usefulness of art. Critics understand and evaluate artworks based on such qualities.
In the 5th century A.D., a Chinese artist and critic named Xie. He wrote a piece of art criticism in which he applied six different principles of art to a selection of paintings from over two hundred years of Chinese art history. The ”six laws” provided a systematic way to evaluate art.

Art Criticism

Critics use art criticism to share interpretations and evaluations of artworks. Art critics and academics use art criticism to engage with the artwork and to gain insight into its meaning and significance. Art criticism involves closely observing an artwork, and then considering facts about art history and art theory. By thinking critically about this information, the critic may interpret and evaluate the artwork.
For centuries, the wealthy patrons who commissioned artworks judged the works based merely on whether they were personally pleased. Historians have traced the roots of art criticism as it functions today back to 17th-century discourse about the works of art exhibited in the official French salons. As social and political changes transformed Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries, the role of the art critic in the Western world emerged as a guide to increase our understanding and appreciation of art.
One critic famously derided an exhibition of works rejected from the official salon, including Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise. At that moment, the critic coined the term ”Impressionism” for a whole new movement.

How to Do Criticism

An art critic provides a map for investigating artworks and the criteria for evaluating them. One piece of art criticism does not provide the final word on any artwork. More than a century after the French critic made his famous remark, prestigious collections all over the world exhibit Monet’s Impressionistic paintings. The critic who condemned Impression Sunrise based his criticism on the tenets of painting contemporary to his time, for example, that paintings should closely imitate what subjects look like in the natural world. Since Modernism, the tenets of Western art have changed. To participate in art criticism is to join the ongoing discourse about art by sharing ideas and insights.

a wall of gallery

the first step in critiquing artwork

What is the first step in critiquing art? The first step of art criticism is describing. Describing focuses on the physical, perceivable features of the artwork. To begin, the critic should collect obvious information such as the title of the artwork, the name of the artist who created it, the date of its completion, and the medium of the artwork if such information is available. The medium of the artwork is the material that the artist has used, for example, paint, clay, or photographic paper.

the visual elements

The step of description also requires the critic to observe the visual elements of art, such as shape, texture, or palette. The term ”palette” refers to the specific selection of colors that the artist has used. If an artwork is representational, the critic identifies and describes the subject (the ”who” or the ”what” that the artwork is about). The most informative descriptions use concrete language to provide an image in the mind’s eye. The description is an objective report of perceivable features.

providing facts

To describe an artwork is to provide facts, not opinions, for example:
Thomas Cole painted The Voyage of Life, Youth in 1840. The artist used a naturalistic palette of oil paint to realistically render the scene, portrayed in a wide view with a sense of depth. A young man standing in an active position is sailing a small boat down a long river. A lush, green landscape fills the riverbanks. Further down the river, a rough patch of rocks awaits the youth, but the young man cannot see the obstacle from his position. An angel on the right bank reaches out to the youth. In the background of the painting, a semi-transparent castle shimmers in the sky.

a weird woman

The second step of Criticzing Of Artwork

The second step in art criticism is analyzing. To analyze an artwork, the critic explains how all the parts and features work together as a whole. The step of analysis requires the critic to discuss how the elements of the artwork work together in terms of the principles of art, for example, balance, contrast, emphasis, or movement. An analysis does not interpret or evaluate the work. However, a thoughtful analysis will lay the groundwork for interpreting and evaluating.


The step of analysis in the art critique example of Thomas Cole’s painting highlights different elements that contrast each other. The high-intensity colors of the foreground contrast with the low-intensity colors of the background, creating the effect of depth in the painting. The difference between the perspective of the viewer of the painting and the perspective of the youth in the boat creates tension. The difference in scale between the size of the youth in the boat and the vast landscape sharply contrast each other, making the figure of the youth appear small and the world surrounding him appear huge.

a path to the sea

The third step of

The third step in art criticism is interpreting. Interpreting an artwork is to state a plausible meaning for it. Deciding on an interpretation does not mean guessing what the artwork means, or stating an opinion. The meaning of an artwork might be, for example, the communication of an idea, an expression of emotion, a particular representation of a person, place, or thing, or a critique of a social or political situation. An interpretation in art criticism is a well-reasoned position based on facts, the visual qualities of the artwork, and the tendencies of the art movement or style.


Knowledge of other artworks helps form interpretations. When a critic is interpreting a single artwork, they often investigate other artworks by the same artist, or other artworks from the same tradition, style, or art movement, all of which provide valuable insight into the aims of the artwork under study.

the style

Thomas Cole painted in the style (visual language) and movement (tradition) of Romanticism, which emphasized the subjective experience of the individual. The Romantics placed a high value on imagination and emotion, and they painted in a naturalistic style to represent subjects realistically, even if the subjects were imaginary.


Cole expressed the cycle of life through four paintings that make up the series titled The Voyage of Life. In The Voyage of Life, Youth represents the stage of life after childhood but before full adulthood. The lush, green landscape indicates the season of spring and the youthful stage of life. Leaning forward in his little boat, the youthful man exudes the energy and enthusiasm associated with his adolescent point of view. Dreams and aspirations characterize youth, and the castle shining in the sky represents the future that the youth is imagining for himself. The winding river in the painting cuts the path of life and conceals the hardships that lie ahead. The angel represents a spiritual presence guiding the life of the individual.


The fourth step in art criticism is evaluating. Evaluating is judging the effectiveness of an artwork according to specific criteria that are determined by the tendencies of its style and movement. A good evaluation is not based on personal taste or opinion, but on facts. An enlightening evaluation of artwork points to concrete reasons for the judgment. An evaluation should rely on the interpretation, analysis, and description for support.

time & clock

Art criticism

Art criticism has many and often numerous subjective viewpoints which are nearly as varied as people are practicing it. It is difficult to come up with a more stable definition than the activity being related to the discussion and interpretation of art and its value. Depending on who is writing on the subject, “art criticism” itself may be obviated as a direct goal or it may include art history within its framework. Regardless of definitional problems, art criticism can refer to the history of the craft in its essays, and art history itself may use critical methods implicitly. According to art historian R. Siva Kumar, “The borders between art history and art criticism… are no more as firmly drawn as they once used to be. It perhaps began with art historians taking interest in modern art.”

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