Contemporary Art Essay

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Select one of the featured in ART 21 to learn about. Get to know the artist and his or her work by what is available on Art 21. You will be able to read about the artist, watch a short film, view the works of art on the site. Then, locate one other online source, a museum or gallery that has their work and learn more. Be sure to cite the second source and discuss at least one-three of the works of art available at that source.

From the two sources, write a 3-4 page paper about what you discovered about the artist you selected; their background and their art. DO NOT copy and paste information from either site. I want your own thoughts about the artist and the work. You may choose to select one work in particular as a reference for the type of art they make, or you might just give an overview of their work.

Please also include images, and/or videos of the artist’s work, along with title and date cited on each PP slide.

Consider the following, but these are not necessarily recommended to follow exactly. Some works of art may not include several of the below elements or principles so use accordingly.


There are four levels of formal analysis that you can use to discuss a work of art:

1. Description = pure description of the object without value judgments, analysis, or interpretation.

– It answers the question, “What do you see?”

The various elements that constitute a description include:

a. Form of art whether architecture, sculpture, painting or one of the minor arts

b. Medium of work whether clay, stone, steel, paint, etc., and technique (tools used)

c. Size and scale of work (relationship to you, the viewer and/or context)

d. Elements or general shapes within the composition

e. Description of balance, symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, axis whether vertical, diagonal, horizontal, etc.

f. Description of line, including contour as soft, planar, jagged, etc.

g. Description of how line describes shape and space (volume); distinguish between lines

of objects and lines of composition, e.g., thick, thin, variable, irregular, intermittent, indistinct, etc.

h. Relationships between shapes, e.g., large and small, overlapping, etc.

i. Description of color and color scheme = palette

j. Texture of surface or other comments about execution of work

k. The context of the object: original location and date

2. Analysis = determining what the features suggest and deciding why the artist used such features to convey specific ideas.

– It answers the question, “How did the artist do it?”

The various elements that constitute analysis include:

a. Determination of the subject matter through symbolic elements, e.g., historical event, allegory, mythology, etc.

b. Selection of most distinctive features or characteristics whether line, shape, color, texture, etc.

c. Analysis of the principles of design or composition, e.g., stable, repetitious, rhythmic, unified, symmetrical, harmonious, geometric, varied, chaotic, horizontal or vertically oriented, etc.

d. Discussion of how elements or structural system contribute to appearance of image or function

e. Analysis of use of light and role of color, e.g., contrasty, shadowy, illogical, warm, cool, symbolic, etc.

f. The treatment of space and landscape, both real and illusionary (including use of perspective), e.g., compact, deep, shallow, naturalistic, random

g. The portrayal of movement and how it is achieved

h. The effect of the particular medium(s) used

i. Your perceptions of balance, proportion and scale (relationships of each part of the composition to the whole and to each other part) and your emotional response

j. Your overall reaction to the object

3. Interpretation = establishing the broader context for this type of art.

– It answers the question, “Why did the artist create it and what does it mean?”

The various elements that constitute interpretation include:

a. Main idea, overall meaning of the work.

b. Interpretive Statement: Can I express what I think the artwork is about in one sentence?

c. Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork supports my interpretation?

4. Judgment = Judging a piece of work means giving it rank in relation to other works and of course considering a very important aspect of the visual arts; its originality.

– It answers the question, “Is it a good work of art?” (Well what does that mean?)

a. Criteria: What criteria do I think are most appropriate for judging the artwork?

b. Evidence: What evidence inside or outside the artwork relates to each criterion?

c. Judgment: Based on the criteria and evidence, what is my judgment about the quality of the artwork?

Consider Barrett’s Principles of Interpretation

1. Artworks have “aboutness” and demand interpretation.

2. Interpretations are persuasive arguments.

3. Some interpretations are better than others.

4. Good interpretations of art tell more about the artwork than they tell about the critic.

5. Feelings are guides to interpretations.

6. There can be different, competing, and contradictory interpretations of the same artwork.

7. Interpretations are often based on a worldview.

8. Interpretations are not so much absolutely right, but more or less reasonable, convincing, enlightening, and informative.

9. Interpretations can be judged by coherence, correspondence, and inclusiveness.

10. An artwork is not necessarily about what the artist wanted it to be about.

11. A critic ought not to be the spokesperson for the artist.

12. Interpretations ought to present the work in its best rather than its weakest light.

13. The objects of interpretation are artworks, not artists.

14. All art is in part about the world in which it emerged.

15. All art is in part about other art.

16. No single interpretation is exhaustive of the meaning of an artwork.

17. The meanings of an artwork may be different from its significance to the viewer. Interpretation is ultimately a communal endeavor, and the community is ultimately self- corrective

18. Good interpretations invite us to see for ourselves and to continue on our own.

Formal analysis guidelines from:

Barrett, Terry. (1994) Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company.

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