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Chapter 2 Summary—English

Art Criticism and Aesthetic Judgment

Lesson 1: Art Criticism: Learning from a Work of Art
Art critics use different criteria, or standards of judgment, to assess works of art. By using some of these same criteria, you can learn to interpret works of art. The process of interpretation will improve your aesthetic experience, or your personal interaction with a work of art. Aesthetics is the philosophy or study of the nature and value of art. Art criticism is an organized approach for studying a work of art. It is made up of four steps that must be taken in order. (1) Description: Ask yourself, what do I see? Make a list of all the things you see in the work, including the work’s subject and the elements of art that are used. Include information from the credit line about the size of the work and its medium. (2) Analysis: Ask, how is the work organized? Look at how the principles of art are used to organize the art elements of line, space, color, form, and texture. (3) Interpretation: Ask, what is the artist trying to communicate? Try to explain the meaning or mood of the work, based on your clues from the first two steps. You can make guesses about the artwork as long as they are supported by what you see in the work. (4) Judgment: Now ask, is this a successful work of art? You determine the degree of artistic merit. You can decide whether you like or dislike the work and whether the work is successful aesthetically.

Lesson 2: Aesthetics: Thinking About a Work of Art
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and value of art. Once concerned with judging the physical beauty of artworks, aesthetics is now used to determine whether a work of art is successful. Thus aesthetics can be used in Step 4 of art criticism. Aestheticians, who are specialists in aesthetics, look at the literal qualities, the design qualities, and the expressive qualities of works of art. When looking at literal qualities, they judge the realistic qualities that appear in the subject of the work. When looking at formal qualities, they study how well a work is organized. To judge expressive qualities, critics consider those qualities that convey ideas and moods. The theories that rate these different qualities most highly are called Imitationalism, Formalism, and Emotionalism. Imitationalism focuses on realistic representation; Formalism places emphasis on the design qualities; and Emotionalism requires that a work arouse a response of feelings, moods, or emotions in the viewer. You can use all three theories to judge how successful a work of art is. You can also use the four steps of art criticism to judge functional objects, but in your interpretation, you should consider the purpose of the object as its meaning. Then to judge whether the object is successful, you can ask whether it works correctly in addition to being beautiful. You can also use the steps of art criticism to judge your own works of art. It will help you decide whether your work needs improvement or is a success.

Lesson 3: Art History: Learning About a Work of Art
To further appreciate a work of art, you can gather information about the artist and time period in which the work was created. There are four steps to gathering information which are called the art history operations. The names of the steps are the same as those for art criticism, but the questions are different. (1) Description: Ask, when, where, and by whom was the work created. You can get the basic information from the credit line, but you would need to do further research to learn about the artist. (2) Analysis: Ask, what is the style of the work? Can the work be associated with an art movement? To analyze an artist’s individual style, look at how the artist uses the elements and principles of art to express personal feelings and ideas, and compare several works by the same artist. (3) Interpretation: Ask, how did time and place affect the artist’s style in terms of subject matter, composition, and content? Find out about the artist’s life and surroundings and which other artists influenced him or her. (4) Judgment: Now, ask whether this work is significant in the history of art. For clues, you can read what art historians say about the artist and make your own assessment.


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