How to Analyze Art Effectively

“Descent from the Cross” by Rogier Van Weyden—Women on the left

You don’t need to be Picasso, or even an artist, to analyze good art. Nor do you need an art history degree to analyze artwork. You can get great joy and insight from gazing at a piece of art and making some simple observations that will let you delve deeper into what simply may look like a giant blob. You can analyze artwork with a few simple tips.

5 Steps to Analyzing Art

1. Figure out what the artwork is. Some artwork is pretty straightforward. A painting of a pond may actually look like a painting of a pond. Other art pieces are a tad more challenging. Use your own imagination to gauge what you see in the piece. For instance, a Picasso could look like a fish-flavored ice cream sundae

2. Take heed of the subject matter. This can say a lot about what is important to the artist or what’s the rage at the time the artwork was created. A modern piece of a downtrodden street may point to the blight of urban poverty. Some historical pieces will give you faces of royalty or scenes depicting revolutions, wars or a farmer plowing a field.

3. Look at shapes, lines, color and overall effect the artwork has to determine its mood. A painting with soft hues and rounded lines may make you feel warm and cozy, giving the piece a gentle and soothing ambiance. Jagged lines, sharp teeth and harsh colors produce a jolting effect.

4. Examine fine details. Here you may be surprised to find a dog hidden behind a table leg, a coiled tongue inside someone’s mouth or a ribbon sculpted into an angel’s head. In the case of the Picasso, perhaps we did not note the orange triangle down the side of the sundae dish.

5. Define the statement you think the artist is making. This is where the real fun comes in. The soothing, rounded, cozy piece, which just happens to depict a mother and child, could be telling you about the miracle of birth and the love of family. The Picasso piece, with the fish-flavored sundae, could be saying Picasso was hungry when he painted this or it is an outrage against horrible flavors of ice cream. Picasso’s orange triange down the side of the ice cream dish could indicate the fish-flavored ice cream is being beaten down by the sun and melting. To take it further, it could be a statement about the ephemeral nature of ice cream and life.
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