How to Write an Art Critique? Secrets of Expert Art Criticism

“Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best – ” the note that Oscar Wilde saw in the dancing saloon in the Rocky Mountains. When he wrote about his impressions later, he said it was “the only rational method of art criticism.”

Indeed, the meaning of critique seems limited. People often focus on the drawbacks and flaws. But art critique is much more than highlighting just the negative sides of the work.

In this article, our team looked into the rules of art critique, spotted the most spread mistakes, and picked some excellent examples.

πŸ”‘ What is an Art Critique?

An art critique is the analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of an art product. It is one of the fundamental parts of art studies. Art critics usually review artworks from the point of aesthetics or the theory of beauty. So, art critique aims to provide the rational ground for art perception and admiration.

πŸ† Art Critique Challenges

Let’s start to learn this backward! We suggest you get to know the main challenges of the art review. A conventional image of critique is a process of describing weak aspects of an artwork. It’s essential to understand the critique is analysis, not naming things you don’t like.

Here are the five biggest challenges to overcome for an excellent art review:

  • Don’t critique the style of the author.
  • Don’t fill up your review with negative impressions only.
  • Don’t be too subjective. Rely upon art history.
  • Don’t demand from an artist to follow your recommendations.
  • Don’t retell/describe the object. Add your comments and analysis.

#1 MYTH: Art Criticism Is Usually Negative

Performing the critique isn’t only about looking for failures. Though you can get confused by the semantic ambiguity of this word. For example, Mariam-Webster Dictionary offers the following definitions of ‘criticism’:

  • The act of criticizing, usually unfavorably.
  • The art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature; also: writings expressing such evaluation or analysis.

So, the latter definition proves that criticism doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation.

Writing a Critique β‰  Listing What You Don’t Like

That’s great if you get a strong impression of an artwork. But for a good analysis, it’s not sufficient just to spot the points you find unsatisfactory. It’s essential to go deeper in reviewing. The point here is to set up a firm ground for the analysis based on objective analytical arguments.

For example, you can use art history facts to justify your opinion about a particular piece.

Critiquing Artwork β‰  Critiquing the Style

When you analyze an art product, it’s tempting to go off course and start criticizing the style. It’s one of the major challenges but you should stay solid. The author’s style is the basis for authenticity and self-expression. It’s a chosen path, not a mistake, remember that! However, if the author claims they work in a particular style, but the artwork doesn’t express that, it changes everything. In this case, you can compare the characteristics of the declared style and the features of the particular work.

Art Critique β‰  Just a Description

An art critique is also much broader than retelling and describing what you see, read or hear. Let’s say you are writing an essay or a review on Kerouac’s novel. You don’t have to retell the plot in detail. It’s not the point of the analysis.

Not more than 5% of your text can be dedicated to retelling.

The same rule is relevant for any other piece of art. Don’t say that The Venus of Milo lacks arms. Elaborate on reasons why it happened, conduct some comparative work.

πŸŽ“4 Steps of Art Criticism & 20 Questions to Answer

Alright, let’s dig deeper now! To compose a well-structured critique, you should consider the necessary constituents:

  • Description.
  • Analysis.
  • Interpretation.
  • Evaluation.

The section below contains more than twenty helpful questions to build a fine art critique piece!

1. Writing a Critique Description

First, you should define and describe what is in front of you. Take a look, put down what you see, note some general details and facts.

We’ve prepared two examples to show better how to write an art critique step-by-step. Example 1 – David of Michelangelo, example 2 – Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

Questions to AnswerExample 1Example 2
The artwork’s title, and what/who is represented?David (marble statue of Biblical David).Girl With a Pearl Earring (a young girl of the medieval Netherlands).
Who is the artist?The statue was constructed by the Italian artist Michelangelo.The famous Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer created this picture.
What are the time and circumstances of the artwork’s appearance?Michelangelo worked on ‘David’ for over 3 years: from 1501 to 1504.Art historians say Vermeer finished this work in 1665-66.
Where is the piece now?Art lovers can see David in the Galleria dell’Accademia located in Florence, Italy.The art museum Mauritshuis, in The Hague, Netherlands, owns this painting currently.
What is the general outlook of the work?A magnificent marble statue of a well-built young man with curly hair and a decisive look.A pale young girl with a pearl earring showing up from under her headscarf.

2. Writing a Critique Analysis

Questions to AnswerExample 1Example 2
What is the first thing to attract the viewer’s attention?The first thing we notice is a noble, proud head with a powerful neck and frame of thick curls. Then our eyes gradually slide across the chest and torso to David’s expression of manhood.At once, our eyes meet the eyes of the girl in the painting. When we get this look, we gaze at the details of her appearance.
How is the work constructed? What is the specification of lines, layout, shape, and light?The marble statue utterly delivers the human athletic shape. The light exposes the most prominent parts, highlighting the chest where the vivid heart seems to beat.The lines and shape are smooth and delicate. The drop of light falls on the girl’s face and head, drawing our attention to her expression.
An earring is exposed in a specific light as an essential detail.
How do all the components play together?The outer look is in complete harmony with that strength. We get the impression of the balance of outside and inside beauty.All the details together deliver the character’s softness, purity, and tenderness.
How is space organized? What is in the background and the foreground?The marble body fits into space as naturally as it can be. We are involved in the construction, but the area around it is also present.The girl occupies the foreground. She’s like appearing from the darkness of the space behind her.
What colors prevail in this work? What pattern and texture does it have?The Statue of David is a smooth marble artwork of the most excellent ivory shade.The dominant color is brown-black in the background. The girl is depicted with tender colors as pale rosy, blue, yellow, and white.

3. Writing a Critique Interpretation

Questions to AnswerExample 1Example 2
What emotions and inner state of mind does the artwork evoke?Admiration and respect immediately come together with awe and wonder at seeing David’s statue in all its magnificence.The heart and soul are filled with tenderness, and gentle affection to the girl depicted.
What thoughts come to your mind while looking at the work?This powerful marble body calls forth a notion of perfection of the past days. How could people be so solid and consistent in their body and spirit centuries ago?You are getting eager to know what she wants to say. The stream of consciousness creates possible variants of that unveiled secret.
How else would you call the art piece under consideration?“The power of the body and the spirit.”“The unrevealed secret of a girl in the blue headscarf.”
What associations with other works of art do you perceive?The statue reminds me of all the famous marble figures like the Venus of Milo.The work reminds me of The Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci.
How does this work relate to other pieces?There are also two versions of David created by Donatello, bronze statues by Verrochio and Bartolomeo Bellano.The painting has a tremendous cultural impact. For example, it appears in Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel and the 2007 film St Trinian’s.

4. Writing a Critique Evaluation

Questions to AnswerExample 1Example 2
What features make it a precious piece of art?The circumstances in which the sculpture was created make it so precious. The Biblical character was carved from a whole piece of marble.Three constituents make the painting so appealing: young beauty, mystery, and the sense of familiarity.
Is there anything you would like to add to the work?Interestingly, there’s a particular marble leaf for the statue’s genitals in the Victoria and Albert Museum.I prefer more enriched paintings in terms of color and details. But the “Girl” is absolute perfection right in her plainness.
What especially attracted your attention?The impression of David’s being about to move captivates my attention. Also, the proportions of David are not the same as of other Michelangelo’s works.That specific look is glistening in her eyes as if she is about to say something.
What were/are the functions of the work?Initially, the statue was to be just part of the roof decoration of Florence Cathedral, but soon it became a symbol of liberty of Florence.No pun intended, but this painting is one of the pearls of Flemish visual art. The most famous Vermeer’s work proves him to be a masterful artist.
Can it be compared to any other art pieces?There are several reproductions: a bronze David is located in the Piazzale Michelangelo, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a plaster version of the statue.The nickname of the painting is “Mona Lisa of the North.” That gives us a hint that it is often compared to da Vinci’s work.

🎨 How to Critique Art: Different Forms of Artwork

The variety of art forms is wide: sculpture, painting, cinematography, literature, music, and many others. Each of them has peculiarities in terms of critique evaluation.

We offer you to learn how to critique different art forms: sculpture, painting, movies, and architectural objects.

Sculpture Critique

The initial point is to define the basic facts:

  • Who made the sculpture?
  • The name or the title of the work.
  • When was it carved?
  • What is the place where it appeared.

With this information, you are ready to proceed with revealing broader information:

  • Technical characteristics of a sculpture: its size and height, materials used, current state, its relation to other pieces.
  • Study the sculpture’s subject(s): who or what is represented, the identity, and anatomic features. For example, you can consider posture and pose, face expression, and constitution.
  • Reflect on how the sculpture fits the space around and what axis and lines are typical.
  • Pay attention to colors and light and shadow balance.
  • Carefully explore the details of execution: what technique is used? Did the artist polish the sculpture, or is it a roughly made historical artifact?
  • What ideas and message does the work carry and deliver? Does it symbolize or embody anything?

Painting Critique

First, get the essential information:

  • Who is the artist?
  • What is the name of the painting?
  • When did they create the artwork?
  • Where were they working on it?

Keep on exploring the details asking the right questions:

  • Who or what is depicted? If it’s a portrait, analyze the significance of age, gender, pose, clothes, accessories.
  • Focus on the composition: how are objects arranged? What is in the background and the foreground?
  • What style did the artist paint in? What are the techniques and means he used? Does the frame fit the painting?
  • The colors, shades, and lights are significant in painting. Try to figure out what their role is.
  • What is your emotional impression of the work? What feelings and thoughts appear when you’re looking at it?

A helpful tip: take a closer look at the image. Now try to step away to get the overall picture!

Film Critique

A helpful tip: don’t read other reviews and watch trailers before watching the movie. Why? It will allow you to preserve the purity of perception, and your experience will be unbiased.

Let’s see what has to be done for the sake of a good review:

  • While watching the movie, don’t get distracted. Try to get absorbed with what is happening on the screen. Let your mind observe while emotions and thoughts flow naturally.
  • You can take a couple of good notes to get back to the particular scene.

Once you’ve finished watching, you should reflect on the following details:

  • Is the plot grasping, consistent? Does it make sense at all?
  • Try to define the director’s message. What is the main idea of the film?
  • How good was the cast? Are the characters deep and vivid enough? Are the dialogues believable and sensible?
  • How was the movie shot and edited? Elaborate on the meaning of colors, soundtrack, visual effects, camerawork.
  • What is your impression of the picture? Did it make you reflect and think?

Architecture Critique

To criticize architecture, one should have background knowledge of design and architecture itself. It is a bit less complex thing in terms of critique. The architecture critique will be arranged around the most fundamental and general criteria: the functionality of the building.

The analysis can be separated into different directions:

  • Define the primary goal of the building. What was it constructed for? Is it a block of flats? Or a modern gallery? Does the construction serve its purposes?
  • What is it made of? Explore the materials: wood, marble, concrete, glass. Try to figure out what role the particular material plays.
  • Reflect on the forms and shapes: are they classical or modern?
  • Does the building harmonically fit in the surrounding area? How balanced is this union?
  • Does the building allow a person to move freely and easily in it? Does it have a transparent navigation system?
  • How the natural light interacts with the construction? Is it lit enough?

🎨 What Is a Good Art Critique Example?

In the section below, you’ll see critique examples of different art products. We’ve prepared a movie review, a painting analysis, architecture, and a sculpture critique.

Study these illustrative critique samples to understand the critiquing art mechanism better.

Sculpture Critique Example

Ancient Indian and Greek Sculptures Comparison | Free Paper Examples
This critique sample focuses on the comparison of ancient Indian and Greek sculptures. The subject of analysis is the difference between the style of depicting gods and humans in a statue. The identity of both cultures serves as a comparison base in the text. According to it, Ancient Indian sculpture reflects collectivism, while Greek sculpture displays individualism.

Painting Analysis Example

Portrait of Ginevra De’Benci by Leonardo da Vinci | Free Paper Examples
This painting critique elaborates on features that make the image of Ginevra de Benci by da Vinci so remarkable. It studies painting techniques, setting details, and the sitter’s appearance. The analysis concludes that da Vinci created the portrait under the Flemish painting style influence. This peculiarity defines the portrait’s novelty.

Architecture Critique Example

Sydney Opera House Construction Project | Free Paper Examples
The following text provides a broad critique of the Sydney Opera House. It touches upon why this construction is a failure in project management. The main issue is the budget overrun that occurred during the construction. At the same time, the analysis also shows the significance of the Sydney Opera House for Australia that cannot be denied.

Film Analysis Example

‘Glory’ – the Drama Movie by Edward Zwick | Free Paper Examples
This movie review highlights the importance of Edward Zwick’s “Glory” as a historical drama. The critique explores its reasons, focusing on the movie’s credibility in historical facts. According to the text, this film contributed significantly to people’s awareness of black American soldiers’ role in the Civil War.

βœ… How to Write an Art Critique: Checklist

Do you already feel like you can run a critique column in a famous art magazine?

Even if your plans are not that big, it’s good to revise everything we’ve found out today:

Well done, mate!
Your essay meets all the most important requirements. Our editors can give it a final check to help you submit with confidence.
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  1. How to Write an Art Review – What You Need to Know
  2. Critique vs. Criticism | Daily Writing Tips
  3. 7 Ways to Voice Criticism Without Being Negative |
  4. How to analyze an artwork: a step-by-step guide for students
  5. Guidelines for Analysis of Art – Art and Design
  6. How to Analyze a Movie: A Step-by-Step Guide
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