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How to Critique Art - the Gentle Way

Subjectivity grounds every individual unique in their own right and shapes each of them differently. Art and design are disciplines that are subjective to public’s scrutiny, and infrequently objective. Certainly, there is hardly a time when one does not formulate personal opinions on a piece of artwork or exhibition. These critics are not simply based upon emotions but proper knowledge and skills in criticizing art. You don’t have to be an art expert religiously trained in the field like Robert Hughes, nor an artist like Pablo Picasso. What you simply need are 10 steps to dissecting an art piece. Here goes!


Study the title and description accompanying the artwork

How has the title guided your interpretation? Would you have interpreted differently with another title? Do you agree with the statement of the piece? Bear in mind, the viewer usually deciphers differently from the artist intents.



Scan the painting for a few minutes. Take note of the size, shape, subject matter, symbols represented, medium, colors, texture and composition of elements that constructs the painting. A piece would normally evoke emotions first before critical analysis can be applied. Thus, emotional response should be left to the end.

Size and Shape

Try to visualize the actual size of the painting should you view it on the computer screen. Does the shape of the canvas suit the subject matter? For example, a rectangular canvas can add to the focus of portraiture.  

Subject Matter

What is the painting of? It varies from a person to a natural object. Is it unusual, controversial or intriguing?



Are there symbols used in the painting? For example, the red rose represents love and passion, and Virgin Mary in Catholicism while the white rose represents virginity and purity. Another example would be color. Black represents death and formality while purple represents spirituality and cruelty.



What was used to create the painting? It could range from watercolor to acrylic, graphite to pastel chalk and stone to cement. How has the artist manipulated the possibilities presented from their chosen medium?



Has the color been used to convey emotion or to depict reality? Are they warm (yellows, oranges, browns, yellowish greens and orange reds) or cool (blues, greens, pinks, purples, blue-greens, magentas, and blue-based reds)? Do they suit the subject? Has a particular palette been used? Have complementary colors been used as shadows and are there reflected colors between elements.



How has texture been created from the chosen medium? Is it rough, smooth, shiny, or a mixture? Consider how the texture influences your interpretation of the piece.

Composition of Elements

How are the elements of the painting placed? Is there a visual flow across the whole painting or does one element dominate? Is the focal point of the piece in the centre of the piece or on the side of the canvas? What draws your eye into or across the painting? Has thought been put into the elements used or copied from a photograph or reality?

Emotional response

Finally, has any emotions been evoked from the artwork? What is the overall ambience and mood of the piece? Is it appropriate for the subject matter? Has the piece reflected upon the artist as in individual in any way?


At the end of these 10 steps, you are well equipped with the ability to effectively and meaningfully criticize an artwork not just based on your emotions but also relevant knowledge applied to understand artworks better. An art critique can vary from a phrase like “transported back in time” to a sentence like “the differing weight of lines used added character to the lady’s age.”


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Shannon Lim

Press contact Co-founder Business Development 96855952 Artyii

Ng Cai Lin

Press contact Co-founder Business Development +65 94559944 Artyii