17 Apr 2007


When a work of art and the consumer meet, a two-way process sets in motion. The painting, for example “speaks” its own message which can be coded, complex and concealed. At other times it can be very understandable. This is one side of the picture; the other is contained in how the observer interprets that message.

We all make judgments of works of art all the time by our looks, gestures, attendance at art exhibitions or refusal to attend, by the things we read or don’t read, magazines we subscribe to, and so on. Art infiltrates every phase of life; we often choose wallpaper, cars, interior and exterior house colors, carpeting, and all other fixtures and furnishings which play a part in our domestic environment. Our choice is generally made on the basis of whatever feeling we have for the principles of design. We simply cannot help making some sort of judgment in the world of the arts. The question then is,  “How shall we judge, and on what basis?”

Despite all the sets of standards, outlines, check sheets, or rules for making critical judgment, the process remains a subjective, personal one; we respond with thoughts, feelings, and actions to what we see. Nobody can make a meaningful judgment for you--- you must work that out for yourself.


The following questions are a guide in helping you to make a judgment in any painting you might be interested in finding meaning in, and interpreting.


1.     What is the first thing you notice in this artwork?

2.     Without making any judgment or any reaction, can you name the things you see in this work?

3.     Does the artist use color as a predominant feature?

4.     Would the work lose interest greatly in a black and white version?

5.     What does the work remind you of?

6.     Does the work trigger any memories, experiences, stories, or songs?

7.     What is the artist trying to say in his work?

8.     What does the work tell us about the age in which it was made?

9.     Was the work made as a record, remembrance, likeness?

10.  Are there strong contrasts in values? Are these used to bring out important features of the work?

11.  Does the work make use of perspective? Is it geometrically accurate? If not, why not?

12.  What emotions do you feel as you respond to this work? What do you see that makes you feel this way? How does your emotional response affect your judgment of this work?

13. What do you think the artist wants viewers to learn or understand from this work?

14.  Do you like or dislike the work, after having considered all of these questions? What are your reasons?