Art Critiques

Interpretation; the broader context

Sunday: Developing an Artistic Eye and How-to Critiques

The third piece of art critiques and criticism is the Interpretation. This truly is the broader context of the piece.

You are trying to answer the question, “why did the artist create it and what does it mean?”

The elements that make up interpretation are:

  • Main idea; overall meaning of the work
  • What is the theme or subject of the artwork?
  • What is the artist’s statement in this work?
  • Why did the artist make these artistic decisions?
  • Why did this artist create this work?
  • What do you think the artist’s world view is?
  • What does it mean to you? How does it relate to you and your life?
  • What does the artwork remind you of?
  • Emotions; what feelings do you have when viewing the artwork?
  • Did the artist use symbols or things in the artwork to represent other things?
  • Interpretive statement: Can I express what I think the artwork is about in one sentence?
  • Evidence or clues: What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my interpretation?

Sample piece to discuss:

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell in 1964

A young black child being escorted by four US marshals to her first day at school at an all-white school in New Orleans. This picture is an iconic image of the civil rights movement in the United States. Norman Rockwell created this illustration for the January 14, 1964 issue of “Look” magazine. Rockwell was a long-time supporter of equality and tolerance.

Desegregation was a highly contested issue in the civil rights movement.

Look a the interesting use of color throughout this painting. The young girl’s dress is white (contrasting her black skin as the focal point). Also the red splatter created by thrown tomato and the yellow badges and armbands worn by the marshal’s. Also note the marshal’s are face-less figures.

  • Main idea; overall meaning of the work 
  • What is the theme or subject of the artwork? Civil rights movement or desegregation.
  • What is the artist’s statement in this work? Rockwell aims to protect the child from the hatred by having four marshal’s protect her on her way to school.
  • Why did the artist make these artistic decisions? His artistic decisions to create an interesting use of color. The background is very neutral which allows the focal point (the young child) to stand out. He creates contrast between her skin tone and clothing choices. He also uses the tomato splatter to showcase hatred and anger.
  • Why did this artist create this work? Rockwell was well-known and very vocal about his feelings about civil and social right movements and the importance of supporting the underdog.
  • What do you think the artist’s world view is? Norman is a supporter of the civil rights movement and equality.
  • What does it mean to you? How does it relate to you and your life? The civil rights movement was very important to the development not just of the United States but also Canada and our civil rights and freedoms. We are taught not to treat others differently based on the color of our skin.
  • What does the artwork remind you of? There are other works of art by Norman Rockwell that are about the civil rights movement. Here are two examples:
  • Emotions; what feelings do you have when viewing the artwork? Sadness, anger, and frustration.
  • Did the artist use symbols or things in the artwork to represent other things?  The thrown tomato and the splatter it creates looks like blood. It represents the blood spilled by racism and intolerance. The racial slur “nigger” and  acronym “KKK” are written on the wall behind the girl.
  • Interpretive statement: Can I express what I think the artwork is about in one sentence? A young child must be protected while she tries to attend an all-white school in the United States.
  • Evidence or clues: What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my interpretation? This painting is based on the walk taken by six-year-old Ruby Bridges (unnamed by the media at the time for her protection) on November 14, 1960 in New Orleans).

Sources:

Art Criticism and Formal Analysis

Artistic Criticism

Art Criticism Process

Four Step Art Critique

Norman Rockwell

The Problem We all Live With

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