Criticizing Art

When I taught art education my students spent a lot of time looking at their own works, talking about their works, and looking and talking about other students’ artworks. 

Now that I am retired, I am working full-time on my art and have posted artworks on Facebook, Instagram and on my WordPress blog.  I am continually  looking at and talking about art.   On the other hand, I see few artists on Facebook actually understanding the art criticism process.      We do art criticism without knowing that we are doing it.  Friends have seen movies and shared what the movie was about, who the characters were, explained the parts that they liked, and also the sections that they did not like.     We often share our reactions to movies and can talk about a film, but have difficulty talking about art.   Criticizing art is not only responding with “I like a work” or “I do not like it”.  Art criticism is looking at the work and describing what you see in the work, exploring how the artist uses the elements of design, explaining how the artist use the principles of design and then end with a discussion about whether the work is or is not successful based on elements within the artwork.   I have read many articles and books on how to do art criticism and Dr. Terry Barrett, wrote  two books that were extremely helpful “Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary”, and  Why is that Art

In this post, I thought that it would be helpful to choose a painting and then do a critique of the work.  Then, you can see how I use art criticism to evaluate my work.  


The first step is to Describe what I see in the art work.

Describe – I see 5 grey textured horizontal/ diagonal lines behind this interlocking mesh of lines.  Between the  grey lines, I see mottled white and light grey spaces.  The surface of the grey lines have scraped furrow lines that form a relief.  Then, in front of the background I see these woven orange/red straight intersecting woven lines.  They have a variegated look with some lines having thicker surfaces and others lines being narrow.  On the surface of this woven line, one sees a diagonal crimson red lines wrapped around the painting. These are also variegated, some areas are wider and some narrower.  Finally another layer of turquoise blue lines are added onto the surface, also wrapped around the painting.  They form on the right side and the top 1/3rd  of the painting.  The layers of lines create a layering sculptural quality.

Analyze – How do the elements and principles of art come together in the work?

Note:  The elements of design are line, shape, color, texture, value, form and space.  The principles are how the elements organize the picture through perspective, balance, focus, dominance, unity, contrast, rhythm, etc.  So, how do these elements and the principles work together in a composition? 

The background is monochromatic in the choice of colors from greys and tinted whites and then lines going on a diagonal and horizontal plane.  In-between the grey bands of color the paint is scraped down and orange is peaking through.  Then thin lines are added as a woven grid that at times are straight and then diagonal.  The turquoise over the darker orange  and red is  strong and vibrant.  The lines are balanced,  yet the turquoise that is off-cantered disrupts the symmetry and adds a focus in the work.

Interpretation:  What is the artist trying to say through the work or art?  I do see that intersecting lines on the surface is preventing me from moving into the background areas.  The intersecting lines becomes a block and I  want to move those lines so that I can access the background.  The woven mesh looks like a gauze-like covering.  On the left and right side there is more gauze and is even more suffocating.  Something is being buried under that busyness on the surface.

Note:  looking at the artist statement one can actually see if the artist’s intent  is reflected in the artworks.  I still have to work on my statement and connect the works to that statement.  This is a continual process.  

Judgement – Do I think the work is finished?  

The work does have a sense of completion.  I do like the way the background works in relation to the foreground.  The colors are muted in the background and I do like the reds, oranges and the turquoise relationships.  The drips on the strings work as a textural quality.  I like the fact that my eyes move around the painting.  The sculptural quality works and has a great tactile quality.  A suggestion would be to take more lines and build them up densely in a section.  Adding a higher sculptural relief in a section.   I need to experiment and to get rid of the square format and create a textural freeform shape in different surface treatments.  Use actual textile gauze elements and place them in relation to my drawn lines.  Bury the gauze and leave some areas showing.   The work also could be much bigger and then one can dive deeper into its many surfaces.  Have some breathing room to just rest the eyes.  The work appears too busy.  Going larger will help with including this notion of a breathing space.  



Author: Anna

I am a painter and sculptor and have a studio beside a beautiful lake. For the past 40 years, I designed and built puppets, masks and sculptures and had solo exhibitions of these works. In 2013, I went back to painting and started working in encaustic. I am interested in issues of identity in terms of weavings as coverings to protect or to hide. The intersecting lines that I create over landscapes create an internal conversation versus the external between nature vs. nurture. Or how actual or psychological barriers erected in an environment can disrupt a cherished place. My engagement with woven structures speak to complex dialogues between identity and psychological barriers. My second passion is teaching. I try to encompass more than teaching my students art techniques. I encourage students to, not only learn the language of art, but to also engage in critiquing art. Additionally, we continually explore ways to enhance one's voice through art in relation to contemporary and historical issues. Encaustic adventures is a blog where not only processes and techniques are taught, but hopefully this sites will engage in a dialogue about the making of art, notions of voice, identity, themes, and ways to establish a body of work within an historical contexts.

4 thoughts on “Criticizing Art”

  1. Great article. thank you for the self critique as it was very helpful to further my understanding of the process! I hope you post a larger similar piece once completed.

    1. Thanks Kris, I am taking that red work larger to a 24″ X 24″ and hope to use the ideas that I talked about to improve it. Will post as soon as it is finished.

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