Art appreciation is the ability to look at a work of art and understand how the artist used the elements of art and principles of design. The elements of art are the building blocks used to create the work and the principles of design are the ways the building blocks are used. To write about art appreciation, it is important to know the vocabulary, or language, of art. It will help you structure your essay and effectively express your ideas, opinions and feelings to your reader.
Find the work of art you want to write about. Museums, galleries, government buildings and churches are some places to look for works of art.
Learn the elements of art and the principles of design before you examine the work of art. Printable glossaries are available on the Getty Museum website. “Washington Crossing the Delaware” on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website is a good example of how the vocabulary of art is put to use in a painting.
Look at the work of art. Stand directly in front of it. Look at it from about 6 feet away, then about 2 feet away. If possible, move around it and look at it from all angles. What are your immediate feelings and opinions about the work of art?
Gather information about the artist, title, where and when the work was made, present location of the work (e.g., gallery, museum). What are the dimensions of the work of art? What is the medium (e.g., oil paint, acrylic, watercolor, marble)? If it’s a painting, what is the support (e.g., canvas, wood panel, paper)? Museums, galleries and government buildings will provide this information on labels near the work of art.
Take notes on the information you gather, your feelings and your opinions. Well-ordered notes will help you organize your essay later.
Examine the work of art slowly and methodically.
List what you see in the work of art. If shown, describe the people, objects, place, time of day and weather. Name any people you recognize. Does the work of art tell a story? Is it about a concept or idea, such as color, shape or space? The title may help you answer these questions.
Describe how the artist uses the elements of art: line, shape, form, space, color and texture. For example, the artist can use line to direct where you look. Color can be used to evoke an emotional response.
Describe how the artist uses the principles of design: balance, emphasis, movement, pattern, repetition, proportion, variety and unity. For example, equal distribution of objects throughout the work will give you a feeling of stability, while uneven distribution will give you a feeling of movement.
Make a generalized sketch of the work of art. This will give you a better understanding of how the elements and principles are used, and help you when it’s time to write your essay.
Reconsider your opinions and feelings about the work of art. Have they changed? Why, or why not?
Make an outline for your essay, using your notes. Your outline should include an introduction, sections describing the work of art, and a conclusion.
Write your essay. Make sure to use the vocabulary of art. Begin with an introduction that includes the artist, title, when and where the work was created and its present location, as well as your initial feelings and opinions. Each paragraph should focus on a single idea, and make sure you write complete sentences. The conclusion should summarize your journey of discovery, from your preliminary response to the work of art, to how and why your response transformed after a close examination of it.
Although it’s not always possible, the only way to truly appreciate a work of art is to stand in front of the real thing.
- “A Short Guide to Writing About Art,” Sylvan Barnet, 2010
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