Center for Writers - Resources

Four steps can be used when one looks at or write about art: 1) Describe it, 2) Analyze it, 3) Interpret it, 4) Evaluate it.

        Describe art much in the way you would a piece of furniture.

                            Look carefully at the work of art in front of you.
                            What is the first thing you noticed? What else caught your eye?
                            Is it two- or three-dimensional?
                            Is it functional (like a teapot) or nonfunctional?
                            What do you see in it?
                            List the objects, lines, and shapes that you see (for example: "I see an apple."
                                    "I see a triangle.").
                            What is going on in this work of art? (Mention whatever you see happening,
                                    no matter how small.)
                            Does anything you have noticed in this work of art so far (for example:
                                    colors, objects, or events) remind you of something in your own life?
                            What makes this work of art look "real" to you? What makes it look "unreal"?
                            Is it a figurative work, portrait, landscape, still life, or narrative?
                            Or is the subject color, form or shape, or feeling, instead of a specific story?

        To analyze art means looking at the way the artist used the elements of design (color, line,
        shape, form, texture, space) and the principles of design (rhythm, balance, contrast,
        movement, center of interest, repetition, variety).

                            Why did you choose this piece?
                            How did the artist use line? Does line define forms? or are the forms
                                    separated by light and shadow?
                            Is there an all-over composition, or is there a central focus or hierarchy? If
                                    there is a center of interest, how has the artist achieved this?
                            Continue to analyze the composition. Is there a variety of shapes, colors,
                                    and/or lines? If so, what unifies the space? How does your eye travel
                                    across the surface? If it is of one color, how has the artist made it
                                    interesting? Where are shapes or ideas repeated?

        Interpretation is discovering the meaning or the story behind a work of art.

                            Does this work of art express an idea or an emotion? How do the colors,
                                    lines, shapes, and movement help make that happen?
                            What does this piece of art make you think about? Does it remind you of
                                    another object or experience?
                            If this piece is part of a collection or show, is there any information you can
                                    deduce form the whole that contributes to an understanding of the work?
                            Have you taken into account the historical or cultural context?
                            Do you have a sense of how the artist might have felt when he or she made
                                    this work of art?
                            Does it make you feel one way or another?
                            Take a look at the other works displayed around this one. What is similar
                                    about the way they look (for example: objects, events, feelings, or the
                                    way they are made)? What is different?

Evaluation is forming your own opinions and explaining why you have them.

                            Think back on your previous observations. What have you discovered from
                                    looking at this work of art?
                            Have you learned anything about yourself or others?
                            Based on your interpretation, what do you think the artist is trying to
                            Has he or she succeeded?

Thanks to Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art

The University of Oklahoma