Art Criticism: How to write a powerful critique

Phindie reviewers soberly deliberate a performance.
Phindie reviewers soberly deliberate a performance.

We all love art because it gets in touch with emotions and experiences we didn’t know we had, and allows us to see something different every time we look at it. Whether you’re someone who heads to the galleries and exhibits every weekend, or you’re enamored with the work of modern artists such as Banksy on social media, art has a way of speaking to us all.

To give yourself a greater appreciation of all things art, take a look at this simple 5 minutes read and learn how to write your own critiques. It’s a great way to really immerse yourself in a new piece of work, or an entirely new genre that you’ve just discovered.

Why would you want to critique art?

This is a question that many people ask, and with good reason. Being an art critic is all about interpreting and reviewing a piece of art so that you can get to the core of what the artist is trying to say. It’s a subtle and highly nuanced skill and one that will give you a greater appreciation of what you see before you.

Can anyone critique art?

The beauty of art is that everyone has an opinion, and everyone is entitled to have their say. Writing a critique is something that’s open to everyone, and it allows your voice to be heard. Even if you never have any aspirations to publish your thoughts, you still get to immerse yourself in a new piece, in a completely new way.

Introducing the Feldman Method

When you want to know how to write an art critique, one of the most powerful tools you need to familiarize yourself with is the Feldman Method. The beauty of it lies in its simplicity, namely that it is split into 4 core components:

  • The Description where you set the scene for the reader
  • The Analysis where you evaluate the aesthetic principles of the piece
  • The Interpretation where you justify what the piece means to you
  • The Evaluation where you provide an intelligent summation of your thoughts and opinions

Let’s take a look at each of them in turn, and talk you through how you can apply the Feldman Method to your next art critique.

The description: the importance of starting strong

The opening sentence of the description is the first thing the reader will see, so make sure it stands out. It needs to be factual, but not simply a biography of the work, and it needs to introduce the artist themselves by sprinkling in a little of their background.

Introduce the materials, title, and date of the piece, and set the scene for the reader so they get a sense of when, where, and why it will have been created. But you don’t want to simply list facts, you need to make it clear there will be a strong and insightful critique to follow…

Answer questions to give the reader an idea of what the piece is all about

Ask any of the top writing services how they work, and they’ll tell you that they reflect on the subject matter before putting pen to paper; and that’s exactly what you need to do.

Ask yourself about your first impressions, the objects and structures you can see, and your thoughts on the textures, line shapes, and use of space. This isn’t the part of the critique where you relay opinions, but it will help you describe the piece in a way that makes it feel as if it were directly in front of the eyes of the reader. Work through these types of questions in your head prior to writing, and it will give your description a readable and balanced style.

Analyze the work by focusing on elements and aesthetic principles

Now that you’ve set the scene, you can start to dissect the work and break it down into its core parts. Ask yourself what draws your eye in to take a closer look, and then relay this sensation to the reader.

Talk about how commonalities are created between the various different design elements you’ve already touched upon in your description. And talk about the overall structure of the piece. Proportion, balance, and variety are 3 keywords that you need to think about at this juncture. But don’t feel like you need to cover every base purely for the sake of it.

If a piece of art is clearly not designed to tackle a particular issue or concept, don’t spend too long talking about it. Your analysis should be powerful and succinct so that you communicate your ideas in as few words as possible.

The interpretation is all about making it personal to you

Every critic’s opinions are shaped by a sense of the world around them, and how it has touched who they are. Art is designed to speak to people, so tell the reader how the piece speaks to you.

Talk about the emotions and feelings it evokes in you, and give your opinion on whether or not this was the artist’s intention. Is there a discernible purpose to it, and a message underneath the aesthetics? Tell the reader what you think, and justify it wherever you can. That way you provide a jumping off point for their own reflections.

Evaluate the overall piece using these key questions

Finally, you come to the evaluation where you conclude your critique and summarize your thoughts in a way that gives your writing authority and clarity. These are the key questions you should weave into your evaluation:

  • Did your first impressions of the piece change?
  • Do you think that it has achieved what the artist set out to do?
  • Are there other works like it, or is it truly unique?
  • Does the work accurately showcase the technical skills of the artist?
  • Does the nature of the elements helps or hinder the understanding of the subject matter?
  • What can other artists take from it and apply to their own work?

If you can justify your answers to each of the above, you’ll be able to round off your critique with an authoritative voice that will make the reader sit up and take notice.

The importance of practicing

Art critique is something that requires a great deal of practice to get right, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you find it difficult at first. Enjoy the process of really getting to know a piece you’re passionate about, and continually look for ways to improve.

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