Artistic criticism is one of those subjects most artists would like to avoid. It is also a tremendously complex subject that is made up of a number of aspects, which include philosophical, psychological, interpersonal, doctrinal, physical, and formal contexts. For some of us, one of the hardest things to do is to meaningfully criticize our own work, the key word being “meaningfully”. I stopped short of saying “objectively” because when it comes to self-criticism of work, there is no objectivity. However there can be a substantial amount of discovery, realization, and artistic growth.
|© 2014 Don Arday.
A Critique Of Criticism
I want to stop here and make an important word substitu-tion, which is to substitute the word “analysis” in
place of “criticism”. For the word criticism has a dual meaning. One meaning is “disapproval”, which is finite, negative, and destructive. Another meaning is “assessment”, which is unrestricted, positive, and constructive. However, the disapproval interpretation of criticism has become well established when it comes to “criticizing” creative work. Just substituting any of the following words suggest not only that there will be ben-eficial results, but that a very different process will be taking place, one that is far less opinionated. Try assessing, evaluating, appraising, considering, reviewing, studying, examining, or analyzing, your work instead of criticizing it.
This concept should extend to art schools where Art Educators could replace the word “critique”, and its associations, with one of these other more contemporary terms. Perhaps they already have.
Not often used within an art context, the term analyze suggests the application of a structured, methodical process to assess the conceptual and formal merits of a work of art, as opposed to an unstructured, reactionary approach to critique. Although both approaches may involve a certain amount of intuition, with a structured approach it is easier to stay on task and apply a consistent methodology to an inquiry about a single or multiple works.
Fine Art/Self-Expressive Art
Again terminology is the cause of problems when it comes to describing what “fine art” is. It could be called “studio art,” “personal art,” “self-expressive art,” etc., which might be more fitting. However, fine art is the established colloquialism in the pubic domain, although fine art is no more “fine” than any other form of art.
One way fine art or self-expressive art can be distinguished from other forms of art is by the nature and content of its criticism. Being non-commercial, fine art, in general, is purposeful for its creator and its patrons, but may be purposeless with regard to function. Therefore, self-expressive art enjoys the advantage of non-conclusive, freethinking observations as a result of an analysis, so forming a foundation for assessment can be somewhat problematic. Essentially, it’s the artist who governs the standards that apply to his or her own art.
Creating a methodology for analyzing illustration is far simpler than trying to ascertaining one for self-expressive art. Illustration by its very nature has a purpose, which is to accomplish a certain task, which serves to communicate a specific idea. In opposition to the self-guided process of self-expressive art, the circumstances for an illustration are defined by someone other than the illustrator themselves, namely a client. As such, there are decisive benchmarks that influence the direction and outcome of an illustration. And these benchmarks provide a unambiguous foundation on which to base an analysis of an illustrated work.
Artistic Analysis Categories
In making a work, an artist’s attention focuses on a particular task, is kinetic, and “in the moment”. This process analysis deals with a single aspect or portion of an image, or an individual phase of a multi-stage project. Essentially an artist is on the inside of the art while it is in progress. This kind of self-critique can be deliberate or it can be so quick, automatic, and intuitive that it almost seems to be sub-conscious. Another way to look at Process Analysis is that of the artist “having a personal dialog with his or her art” while it is in the process of being created. The dialog self-informs and influences the artist’s gradual decision making.
While process analysis takes place while a work is being produced, other forms of assessment generally occur after artwork is completed. Beyond process, analyzing the formal aspects of a work involves a focused attention that is beyond a creative moment progressing to an overall evaluation. A form analysis is a review of the style, physical traits, and appearance of an artwork. This would include color scheme, composition, proportioning, scale, rendering effects, material application, and perspective.
Along with the other types of analysis, the content of a work is another aspect of an artwork that should be analyzed. It can occur before the beginning of an artwork as an analysis of the artist or artwork’s intention, or it can take place after the artwork is completed. Content analysis is the assessment of the elements that are used in a work of art. Content can be in many shapes and forms, both narrative, non-narrative, or abstract; including setting, objects, figures, expressions, actions, etc. It also includes a review of any narrative or other form of message
the art conveys.
Context focuses on the outside purposes, influences, and sponsorships that provide a framework for the creation of a work of art. Reviewing the context for, and use of, an artwork provides a benchmark with which to assess it. Context analysis involves an assessment of the need that required the art to be produced, the problem the art was created to solve, the environment(s) the art will be seen in, and the usage involving the art. The most effective context analysis takes place after the artwork is completed and it has been shown on site, in the environment for which it was envisioned.