Steps for analyzing, critiquing and writing about a work of art.
Learning to appreciate and understand art will enhance your life. It will bring another dimension to understanding culture, art movements, society and history. You will recognize trends and visual commentary that may give you insight into the political, social, religious and cultural paradigms of the artist’s world in which he lived or lives. Art is communication, decoration, commentary and visual argument. You may or may not like a certain work or you may not value it but to understand it may assist you in making those judgments. Understanding the creative process is also a good step to exploring careers in creative and design fields.
Who What When and Where
Determine the bare facts about the art that you are viewing. Who did it, what is the name of the artist? When and where did the artist live?
Methods and Material
What is it made of and how was it accomplished? Is it carved wood, welded steel, cast bronze, chiseled stone? Is it made of multiple materials that are glued, nailed and screwed together? Is it a painting? Is it on canvas, paper, fabric, wood or some other material?
Be sure to check the label because sometimes the material is not what it appears to be. Deborah Butterfield, for example, is a well known sculptor of horses. Her assemblages look like the horses are made from driftwood and sticks but they are actually cast bronze.
Definition Essay: Art Appreciation
Abraham Maslow, a famous psychologist of the humanistic perspective of psychology, presented a model for the hierarchy of human needs during his academic career. He described that the basic needs that a person has to fulfill are: (i) Biological, (e.g.: food, sleep) (ii) Security, (e.g.: house, wealth) and (iii) Social (e.g.: friends, arts) in nature. According to his model, the need for humans to acquire, or even appreciate art can only come after they have satisfied their primary needs. Forthright then, it can be very easy for us to argue that we have fulfilled our basic needs, (we, as belonging to a stable class of citizens) but in all reality it is very hard to convince the poor of the fact that art is an important part of his or her life. A closer look at our history would also contend that art has been the domain of the extremely rich. It were the rich who built most of the ancient art forms that have been found around the world; the sphinx in Egypt and the sculptors of Buddha. By 'rich' it is meant 'those in power'. The pharaohs of Egypt ordered the erection of the city and the priests of Burma made monuments and temples to Buddha. Art has always been a whim of the 'rich' to enhance their own worth, and the artists who made them have mostly been drowned in obscurity.
In Europe, most of the art and artists had been neglected for centuries before the Enlightenment revolution in the 18th century. It was only after this period that artists and their art began to be recognized by the common man. Michelangelo Lodovico Buonarroti and Leonardo da Vinci, two of the most famous artists of the previous centuries, were poor men working to create the beautiful pieces of art for their noblemen and their priests. Although many of the commons then had started realizing the beauty of art, most of them still put it away as a waste of time. These artists would spend most of their time in trying to create art that was required by the ones higher in power and they would work hours just to fulfill their own satisfaction, even if their contentment did not mean a half-cent to their employers. The art for the artist was of utmost value but the person who needed it only desired it and lusted after it for its extrinsic value. It is this exact extrinsic value that we, at least most of us, yearn for today.
That value being the appreciation of art for its worth; a value that is believed only befitting for the eccentrics. Everyone can appreciate beauty, but not everyone can find the art beautiful. The nuances that are presented in a portrait or a piece of ensemble, an orchestration, are normally led to waste because a majority of the observers fail to notice them. Only those who have an eye (or a couple of ears) for art can truly appreciate the presentations. Many people actually have to be trained for years before they can begin to understand the concepts of art and start enjoying them. But most of the 'rich' people, today or then, are either pretentious enough or socially inclined enough to accept and cater to the art as not them, but their peers, seem deem fit. Many might argue that this has been the case for previous centuries, but then if that is so then we are also doomed just like those who went and lived before us.
Of course, this is not to discount the fact that there are many people present in this world who have not been trained in the art forms and yet they can find something beautiful in them. The argument is that they would miss out on the finer details of the art if they do not know about them. If you were to look at this from an artist's perspective: imagine the amount of work that he or she puts in to create a piece of what you would like to call 'art'. We, being observers, could only guess the effort, sweat, blood (if you may) that has been put in to it. The rest is lost to the mind of the artist who thought of and created the lines that we see or the notes that we hear. To appreciate all that, we need to be 'educated' in order for us to understand and realize what the artist is trying to say. Then, for a layman to become an art connoisseur, one needs extensive training and schooling to be able to understand what the artist is really trying to convey. This need for training makes art exclusive for its patron in the sense that art requires its appreciators to truly be aware of its value.
To exemplify: ask a poor man anywhere in the world if he would rather have a painting by Van Gogh, or a three course dinner, (assuming that the painting shown to him is unmarked and the poor man is unaware of its value, while he can see the dinner sitting in front of him). Chances are that the man would eat the chicken. True, in our current world model, one would feel that a fine looking painting in one's house would elevate his or her status in the eyes of his or her peers, but the point here is that social status, according to Maslow mentioned afore, comes after the biological needs have been fulfilled. Even if the man was not so poor and not so hungry, and was an averagely unappreciative person, he would hardly go for the painting because chances are that he would not be aware of the value of the painting, most definitely not of the underlying beauty in the painting. Such a person would then disregard it as being unimportant to his/her needs. Only the people who are satisfied about their basic needs in life and those who have time to think and learn more about the nature of art (that is, luxurious enough) would be able to actually appreciate the paintings worth and opt for it.
Many people would argue that art has a place in our history and our culture and that it plays a very important role in defining a nation or a group of people. This is all true and there is no disputing that. However, the question is, what good is all that art to the people if they do not have any idea of its value? It is only in the more developed countries that we find people who care about their national art treasures and treat them with reverence. In most of the developing countries, people do not care much about the art. When they found the ancient tombs inside the pyramids of Egypt, many archaeologists were killed by their Egyptian guides so that the local people may steal all the treasure. This was because the locals were poor and they saw an opportunity to steal and sell the gold, which the local goldsmiths probably melted to make other things. This just shows that these people did not care about the true worth of these artifacts, which was that they were thousands of years old and all they cared about was its value to them.
This analysis of art in the context of its worth to the different classes of people is of course based on my natural observation of this world. Life, its fine distinctions, and its intricacies mean different meanings to all of our unique selves. Art is what means to us, what it wants to mean to us, what it can mean to us, what it is today, what it could have become and surely, what it can become for each of us. But we can only base our interpretation of art on what it brings to us and our world. And, art only brings with it the despair of the artist at the hand of the mostly false appreciation of the luxuriant. How can art not be a luxury if it employs the poor to work off the whims of the rich? It is then of my opinion that art is a luxury for those who desire it and who want to acquire it, and a source of austerity for those who design it, because only the artist can truly appreciate his or her own art to the fullest. The rest may praise him as much as they want, they would never be able to satisfy the craving of the perfect artist; the artist is hardly ever able to satisfy his or her own whims. Art is a passion for the artist, and a lust for the 'rich.'