Criticizing Art

To criticize does not necessarily imply “to find fault”, but the word is often taken to mean the simple expression of an objection against prejudice, or a disapproval. Often criticism involves active disagreement, but it may only mean “taking sides”. It could just be an exploration of the different sides of an issue

First Love by Jax

Usually Art critics criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty. Everyone is a critic! People are taught from an early age that it is ok to like or dislike a work of art.  I exhibit my work at Art markets and there are often streams of children running around. Very often a little one has dropped down on their knees in front of a painting and has had something to say. They love paintings of children and animals and often they make comments about them. A little girl even planted a kiss between the mouths of the children in my painting ‘First Love’.

Our goal as an artist and a critic is the pursuit of a rational basis for art appreciation.

Because we as the human race are emotional, visual beings, we tend to attach an emotion to art we see. Like or dislike is an emotion too. The reason for the emotion usually stems from our own personal life experiences. We experience the same emotion as we do when we hear a song from long ago that sparks a memory of some sort. Sometimes the memory is lingering in your sub-conscience somewhere and the mage or sound you hear stirs up the emotion associated to that memory. Therefore, in all fairness, Art should not really be judged on this alone.

Unless you are in the position to know the Artist and the details of the painting or there is some written commentary from the Artist themselves, accept and understand that the interpretation of the painting remains the Artists own. Many, many paintings have been interpreted incorrectly.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give YOUR interpretation of it. It is as important as the artist’s interpretation because you are the viewer.

Sweeties by Jax

II painted this painting “Sweeties” and decided to ask people on social media to name the painting. People who know Africa made light of it and came up with some comical names; however, people from other countries either had a very sad interpretation or political interpretation for the painting.

I decided to go with my original name simply because I see a plump healthy little boy playing outside on a hot day in Africa asking for another sweet. I hate the political idea that this child is having a tough life or being impoverished. This is just so far from the feeling I had when I painted him. Is it really such a stretch to believe that this child is happy without shoes or a flatscreen TV or an expensive bicycle and Toblerone instead of a sucker? I think not. Life is what it is and happiness is what we make of it. We create our own happiness. Happiness is a handful of toffee suckers!

Although the interpretations were so far from “the Artist’s truth” I never corrected any of the comments because I realised that the interpretation comes from a place deep inside each individual. This is their truth and so be it.

William Adolphe Bouguereau (French academic painter, 1825-1905) Holy Family

Critics of the past were often ridiculed for favouring the academic painters of the 19th century – these were the paintings based on the idealistic clichés and representing mythical and legendary motives while contemporary social concerns were being ignored. The surfaces of these paintings were smooth and slick and showed no real texture. The paintings that they dismissed at this time are now venerated.

Some of the art movements of the time were named despairingly by critics with a name that the Artists later adopted as a badge of honour by the artists. (Impressionism and Cubism) The original negative meanings for these names were eventually forgotten.

Artist is a very broad term used for many creative talents Using the 5 senses, we can determine what these talents are:






The common thread that runs through all is emotion, passion, dedication, commitment, perseverance.

Many people resort to painting as a hobby. They get a few enthusiastic comments from their friends and family and suddenly they are artists. They do little or no research and are then devastated when their work is not accepted into galleries or sold to the public. Like with any true artist, this takes work.

If you do not taste hundreds of dishes and try out different recipes, do you think you could ever become a Master Chef? In the same way, if you do not make the effort to look at other artists artwork, to study their styles, and practice, practice, practice, you will never become a true artist. Picasso also said


How else will you STEAL (with your eyes) if you do not look. To have no interest in other artist work or to judge harshly anything that is remotely different to yours is just plain ignorant. We need to get excited about beautiful art!

At my Art markets, I always like to have my work displayed near a really great artist! This way, I get seen too. We as Artists should feed off each other’s strengths and produce great artwork! The more (good) choice there is out there, the better it is for you as an artist. Have you ever noticed how many restaurants there are in a mall? Not one or two. Sometimes 20! And guess what! They are all busy!

Imagine if the mall had just one restaurant. Do you think everyone would eat there? There are other malls you know…

At the request of my students, I have included some links to Artists on the internet that I find truly inspiring. If you like, please go check out some of these links.

Eric Wallis

Jack Vettriano

Fabian Perez

Frida Kahlo

Tamara Lempicka

Egon Schiele

Gustav Klimt


You can find many more by signing up with Stumble Upon and listing Art as your interest. Fine Art America and South African Artists are huge websites where you can look at tons of Art. Not to mention Saatchi Art Gallery or South African based galleries like Goodman Gallery and the Everard Read Gallery. There are so many many more. A good Google search can put you in touch with many more.

Rational interpretation of a work of art requires 4 basic steps

STEP 1 When looking at a piece of art, the first thing we do is describe it. What is it about? Identify it by its title and the Artists name. Also the period in which it was painted. Why? The period will give you a guide in the interpretation of the work. Do not interpret it yet, just have the facts.

STEP 2 Analysis – How has the Artist used the Elements of design? You can read more about this in my painting blogs PRINCIPLES IN ART and BREAKING THE RULES – Lines- real and implied, curved and straight, direction of movement – Shapes, Space, Forms- Are the shapes geometric or free-form? Where is the horizon? Where is your point of view as the viewer? (Above, below, in the work, or outside) – Colors- Warm, cool, bright, dull, soft, bold, etc. – Value- light: reflecting much light; dark: absorbing much light. – Texture-Both the medium and the objects portrayed: rough, smooth, shiny, dull

Look at The Principles of Design – Rhythm- Are there repeats of elements or images? – Movement- Is there an illusion of action? How does the eye move around the work? – Balance- Formal or Symmetrical, informal or asymmetrical – Proportion- The size relationships between one part to the whole or one part to another part – Variety- Visual difference and contrast within the work – Emphasis- What part is dominant, and what part is subordinate? – Unity- Does the work hold together?

STEP 3 Interpretation- What is happening? This is more than storytelling. As in literature, you need to interpret and generalize from data given. You need to find the metaphor or allegory in the work. What is the artist trying to communicate? Use your intelligence, imagination and courage to explain and tell the meaning of the work. This is based on the facts you have observed and your own life experiences. You can express your feelings, but they must be backed up by the observations you have made about the work.

STEP 4 Judgment- What do I think of the work? Does the work hold together visually? Does it communicate with the viewer? Judge whether the work succeeds or fails. You give your opinion backed by the three steps above. To make a judgment, you need to be honest with yourself. You need to know why you feel the way you do.

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