There are many philosophies on how to analyse and interpret Art. Fortunately, Edmund Feldman created a simple 4 step structure of the criticism of art consisting of description, analysis, interpretation and judgment.
Descriptive words about an artwork are like pointers; they draw attention to something worth seeing – so remember that the words that you use must be NEUTRAL. Focus on the factual information, such as smooth, bright, round, a lake, a shape, etc. This is important so that you don’t jump to conclusions before going though all the steps.
Do not make or state any judgments at this stage. Do not form or state any opinions at this time. Ask yourself questions like the ones below.
- What is the Artist’s name?
- Title of the work?
- Date of the work?
- Medium or materials used?
- What do you see in the picture? (DESCRIBE EXACTLY WHAT YOU SEE: colours, lines, trees, sky, animals, etc.)
- What kind of subject matter is in the picture? (eg, rural farm scene, landscape,industrial imagery.
- Is the picture a landscape or a portrait shaped ‘canvas’.
Write about the elements and principles of design and the relationships between the subjects that you mentioned in the description. Below are some of the questions that you may need to ask. There are very likely other similar questions that you need to ask.
- What is in the foreground, mid-ground, background?
- What COLOURS are used and how have they been arranged?
- What SHAPES are there and how have they been arranged?
- Is there TEXTURE? Where?
- Are there any leading LINES and if so, where is your eye lead?
- Has the artist created 2D or 3D FORMS?
- Has the artist used VALUE? Where?
- Is there any use of CONTRAST? If so, where?
- Is there any use of PATTERN? If so, where?
- Is there a sense of SPACE or perspective?
- Has the artist tried to create EMPHASIS? How?
- Is the picture BALANCED? How? Radially? Symmetrically? Asymmetrically?
- Does the work show MOVEMENT? Or RHYTHM? How?
- Is there UNITY within the picture? How?
Interpretation attempts to get at the meaning of the art work. Use the information learned from the above two paragraphs in order to try and interpret what the artist was attempting to achieve with this art work.
- What do you think is the relationship of the title to the picture or meaning? Why?
- What areas do you notice first? Do you think there is a relationship between what you notice first and what you notice later? If so, what is that relationship?
- How did the artist use the ELEMENTS OF ART and PRINCIPLES OF DESIGN to convey meaning? Why do you think those choices were made?
- What story do you think is being told? Why do you think that?
- Are there other possible stories that are deeper than the obvious one? What makes you think that?
- How does it make you feel when you look at this picture? Why?
Evaluation is where you use all the information you have discussed in the first three steps to create an informed opinion.
- What did you like this art work? Why?
- What did you dislike about this art work? Why?
- Do you think this artwork is successful? How? Why?
- What would you change to make it more successful? Why?
For more information, google ‘Feldman’s Art Analysis’. Of course there are many other different methods of art analysis. Do you have another one that you use? Share your ideas with me!
Conceptual frameworks, such as the model proposed by June King McFee (1978) can be useful in helping students unpack information about the cultural contexts and the impact that they have on both the way an audience perceives a work of art, and how they influence the artist in their art-making.