Essay On Art Appreciation

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.

Clearly Art was not invented over night. Just imagine the reaction of the average caveman if one of his number declared one day that he had created "Art".

"Can you eat it ?"


"Can you wear it ?"


"Can you kill something with it ?"


"Well, what does it do then ?"

"It communicates to others the intensity of my emotions; the originality of my thoughts and the aesthetic values that may be found in self expression."

He would have been slung out of the cave faster than you can say " Saber tooth tiger."

Undoubtedly one of the first abstract concepts must have been the assertion of the existence of a supreme being. Art evolved from the creation of religious artifacts and the decoration of every day items. Over the course of the next several thousand years the artist successfully made the transition from craftsman to courtier. He established himself as a respected socialite, pandering to the glorification of his benefactors, both royal and religious. He recorded their wealth, their splendor, and illustrated their favorite classical, or biblical, stories. Works of art became status symbols which only the rich could afford. It must have seamed to the artist that he had found the perfect niche. Clearly he was destined to exploit the vanity of the wealthy and would exist forever in a state of unassailable good fortune. What could possibly go wrong ?

In 1843 something unimaginable happened. Something as radical and disruptive to the artist as the invention of the locomotive was to the stage coach driver. The camera was invented.

The world of science was unfolding and swept aside anything that stood in its path. The camera sparked off a revolution in art thinking. It raised questions about the very nature of art and the value of reproducing every day objects by such old fashioned means. Incredible advances in mechanization produced inexpensive DECORATIVE ART and for the first time the artist was released from his duties as a recorder of events. This enabled him to focus entirely upon the importance of composition, color theory, intellectual stimulus and interpretation........... the principles of fine art.

It was in the light of this dramatic turn of events that the IMPRESSIONISTSemerged in the 1870's. Their works were unlike anything that had gone before and within a few years they changed forever the general public's concept of the artist. They were frowned upon by classicists, ridiculed and destined to live their lives as impoverished intellectuals discussing radical theories that were, to a large extent, beyond the grasp of the general public. Most of them lacked private incomes. Since their work was not popular they often went hungry, or crazy, and occasionally died of anti-social diseases. They created, in the minds of the public, the image of the artist that prevails today. Someone who has to suffer, be misunderstood and die, before his work is accepted. It is extraordinary that their impact was so intense that they could demolish the artist reputation that had prevailed for centuries (that of a respected socialite) in a few decades. By 1884 avant-garde art theory had absorbed them and moved on to new things but they had given birth to an infant that would come of age with the turn of the century and came to be known as Modern Art.

During the 20th Century art evolved, comparatively speaking, as rapidly as did technology. It's course changed every few years. However, the concepts became so intellectually involved that they alienated many members of the public who, not understanding the images they saw, felt they were being bamboozled. It's not that there was so much to consider, more a case of poor communication with the masses, who didn't have access the principles involved. The intellectualization of art led to its subdivision into FINE ART,DECORATIVE ART , GRAPHIC ART, etc. and left the man in the street seriously confused.

So it was that art appreciation became an art in its own right, the subject of numerous University degrees, a visual art which could not be appreciated on a purely visual level. Today, of course, society has changed beyond recognition. The average man is far less average than he used to be. He's more prosperous and intellectually developed than ever before. For the first time he can afford an interest in luxuries such as art and, as his awareness of aesthetic issues grows, the appreciation of fine art is well within his capabilities. Unfortunately in this age of mass communication it is much easier to watch adventure stories on the TV. than it is to expand our intellects. The fine arts will only truly flourish when they communicate with the average man in a language he understands, (although there may be something about being misunderstood that appeals to the average modern artist!)

I hope the information contained within this site will, in some small way, help the reader see with new eyes.

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