How Art Critics Evaluate Art

Art is an activity whose goal is to create visual images. These images may depict any subject that appeals to the artist, such as landscapes, animals, people, places, and even ideas. In addition, art has been used to communicate a wide range of emotions and moods, such as anger, sadness, or happiness. It can also serve a political purpose, such as to inspire or uphold moral values, to educate or to change society.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, philosophers and critics focused on analyzing aesthetic qualities in art, especially painting, sculpture, and architecture. These so-called fine arts were thought to embody a beauty that transcended time, so determining their virtues was considered central to art history.

However, in the 20th century, artists used art as a means to promote change, often aiming for social or political reform. These movements were collectively called the avant-garde arts. This shifted the focus from evaluating an artwork’s aesthetic qualities to assessing its ability to affect the viewer and bring about change.

The first step in evaluating an artwork is to look at the work closely. It’s important to notice the lines, shapes, color, and textures of a piece. Then, compare it to other works of the same era or period to see how it fits into the context of art history. This helps to understand the meaning of a particular work and its significance in the development of art styles.

When an art historian writes about a piece of art, she typically describes how the work was created, what it depicts, and the techniques used to produce it. She then analyzes the work, looking for a specific message or emotion that the work conveys. Finally, she explains the meaning of the piece, its value, and its historical importance.

For example, when examining a painting, a critic might note that the painter accurately portrayed the subject and was able to express its mood or personality. A critic might also evaluate the composition of the painting, analyzing its balance, rhythm, and pacing. Similarly, when discussing a sculpture, a critic might examine the proportions of its parts and how they relate to one another.

Ultimately, a genuine art critic needs to have a sensible soul that freely resonates with the works of art and uses reasoning to assess the techniques and forms of those works. He must have a firm grasp of the artistic conceptions that are presently prevalent and thoroughly understand those from bygone eras.

Some critics argue that an enumerative definition of art is not helpful because it fails to capture the unity that exists in the actual class of artworks. Others, such as Stephen Davies, advocate a cladistic definition of art that is bottom-up and anthropocentric. According to this view, all artworks occupy a line of descent from prehistoric art ancestors and grow into artworlds. This is a good idea, because it helps to organize the enormous diversity of art that is available.