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Like our artwork, getting better at critique takes practice! First let’s look at the definitions of a critique:

A detailed analysis and assessment of something, esp. a literary, philosophical, or political theory. –Google Dictionary
A method of disciplined, systematic analysis of a written or oral discourse. - Wikipedia
A careful judgment in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something (such as a piece of writing or a work of art) – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

So, in layman’s terms, a critique is a careful assessment, a detailed observation, an objective analysis. Sounds really egg heady doesn’t it? Well, it doesn’t have to be! The simplest way to start off learning how to critique is by conducting a formal analysis. Sounds uber smancy huh? A formal analysis is a careful and thorough observation of an artwork. A formal analysis is totally objective, it considers the formal properties of the artwork. The formal art elements are as follows:             

    ·      Line    
    ·      Shape and form                   
    ·      Space             
    ·      Color
    ·      Texture

When conducting a formal analysis, think of each of those things. Here are some examples of different images that I’ve analyzed:
     

     

 The Head of Acheloos (Etruscan), 6th Century, B.C.E 

 The head which is the main piece of this pendant is anthropomorphic, meaning that it has human features as well as animal parts; in this case bull horns and ears. There is fine detail in the curls of the hair and the beard. Although the beard and hair are very detailed they are also very unrealistic, or stylized. Since the hair is so stylized, we can tell that this pendant is definitely a face. Perhaps all of this detail is put into the pendant because it is only meant to be seen from the frontal view. The face is stylized as well, not revealing any individuality about this person. Considering that this is a jewelry piece, and that it is made of gold, it could be likely that it depicts, and, or was owned by a ruler. 

Justinian and His Attendants (Early Byzantine). Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy 547
This piece is a mosaic from the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Justinian attempted to unite the Western and Eastern Empires of the Roman Empire, and he also established the “Corpus Juris Civilis” or “Body of Civil Law” which is still used today. Justinian is shown holding a loaf of bread that is part of Communion. The bread is a symbol of Christ’s body that was broken for the sins of the world. All of the figures portrayed are at level height with Justianian and are also symbolically representing Christ and the 12 Apostles. There is some individuality displayed in the faces of the clergy and the military attendants with the use of facial hair or the lack thereof. Justinian is clothed in a purple toga. Purple and royal Blue are colors used to symbolize royalty or authority. Although there is unity in the height of the figures, Justinian who is placed at the center, is the focal point. The horizontal lines created by the sameness in height make this piece easy to interpret. The goal of this work was to represent Justinian as a role model for the people he reigned over (essentially a propaganda image).
Saint Sernin (Romanesque) Toulouse, France 1070-1120
The Church of Saint Sernin is often called a basilica although it does not follow the plan of basilica churches. The plan of this church was also used in the building of cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a famous pilgrimage church in Spain. The central nave of the church is barrel vaulted and is supported by buttresses on the outside. The ceilings are vaulted and it makes use of radiating chapels as well to display relics. Saint Sernin gained a lot of its recognition after Charlemagne donated numerous relics to the church which made the church a “pilgrimage site”. In addition to the various relics held within, many saints were buried within the crypt of the church as well.

               

George Lepape, Les choses de Paul Poiret V (Fashion Illustration), 1911
All of the forms, including the figures, have been simplified into basic recognizable shapes and filled with flat color and contained with an outline. These two facts are indicative of the influence of Asian art (particularly Japanese woodblock prints) during the late 19th century.
The color palette also deviates from a natural scheme and appears to be Japanese inspired as well. However, there is a sense of depth in the floor tiles of the patio as well as the darkened background against the night sky. Since the background is a deep indigo, the figures easily pop forward though they are not situated in the center of the picture plane. The figures are not facing the viewer, so even more attention is drawn to their clothing.
Altogether, the color scheme, simplified rendering of figures and objects, and lack of direct narrative tell us that this is a very “modern” image. The avant-garde aspect of this image is apparent in its simplicity (compared to other “traditional” western artwork of the day) but mainly in the clothing of the women. The dress of the women is relaxed, lacking hoopskirts, or the addition of a bustle. There are small accents of embellishment in printed pattern rather than beading or other sewn elements. The women appear to be excitedly viewing fireworks, and though there is a hint of “nightlife” there is no vast city or architecture in the background. There is a sense of the sublime calm of nature rather than the congested energy of the city.

On average, a person will spend four seconds looking at a piece of art in a gallery. Formal analysis will not only help you become a better observer of artwork, it will help you get better at looking at artwork critically too. Also, describing an artwork through detailed observation will help you become more objective and less subjective about critiquing artwork. Often times the idea of critique is that it is a personal opinion of a piece of art (and we’ll very often see personal tastes expressed in articles represented as “critiques” in the mass media these days). Learning to see rather than look is also a useful skill for a visual artist, and you’ll be able to pick up more about an artwork.

 :heart:Xadrea


If you're looking for ways to up your critique game, consider trying out formal analysis!
Add a Comment:
 
:iconangelicdirt:
AngelicDirt Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Heh... and I was always afraid to post critiques because I thought I was thinking too critically. But this kinda proves my wrong about my own brain. :B

Another excellent tut'. :3
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:iconxadrea:
Xadrea Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Never be afraid to be critical, you're just being helpful :D honesty is the best policy ^ ^
Reply
:iconangelicdirt:
AngelicDirt Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
*me wrong... :B :B
Reply
:iconametystical:
Ametystical Featured By Owner Mar 13, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I guess my problem is not the critique itself but to find a way to write it properly. Verbalize my thoughts had always been a problem for me, especially in English :no:
Reply
:iconxadrea:
Xadrea Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Practice makes perfect! Your English seems pretty good to me :D
Reply
:iconametystical:
Ametystical Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Yeah, you're right. Thanks ^^
Reply
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