How to look at and evaluate a work of art:
I. Describe What You See: What are the elements of the image?
- Start simple.
- What are the building blocks that make up the image?
- Take your time and absorb the experience of the work.
II. Analyze What You See: How do the various elements work together?
- Speculate about why the artist made certain choices.
- What are the areas of emphasis?
- In what tradition is the artist working?
- Is there an overall plan? What is the overall effect of the individual elements?
III. Interpret: What is the significance of what you see?
- Examine and explain the cause of your response to the work.
- Use adjectives and analogies to describe the sensory experience of the work.
- Think of a theme that could explain the response prompted by the work.
- The meaning of a work of art should be tied to elements previously analyzed.
- Be imaginative, let your mind roam for possibilities beyond the obvious.
IV. Judge: Give thoughtful and fair judgment.
- Start by defining the criteria/standards used in evaluating this particular work.
- Do your normal criteria adequately match the style of the work before you?
- Has the artist told the truth in the best way possible according to their worldview?
- Have all the artist’s choices worked together to create a cohesive whole?
As an art teacher I hear these phrases all the time: “I just don’t have a talent for art.” “Is so and so really talented?” “Well they just have artistic talent and I don’t.” The most common stereotype of the “talented” student is that of the artsy teenage girl who can make any project look amazing. I have several of those in my class and they’re great. However, a big part of their “talent” is that they actually care and take their time which puts them above the majority of students. Everyone is jealous of their gift, though it’s interesting to note that they struggle just as much, if not more so, than the worst student in the class. They don’t feel talented or special and they see the disparity between their vision for the project and their ability to make it just as keenly as anyone else. Perhaps some art teachers spend all their time with these clearly gifted students, letting the others just play with paint and hope they stay out of trouble. However, if they do they miss out on the opportunity to see hints of talent in surprising places. My favorite students are the ones who don’t make stunning projects every time, but who do understand the process of making. These students fail because they tried something too ambitious or were overwhelmed by the possibilities they saw before them. When I watch them work I can tell that if they were given the right direction and help they could easily move into the category of people we label “talented.” So many of these promising students break the artsy teenage girl stereotype. I’ve got the athlete who’s never drawn before but discovers he’s really good at it and can become totally absorbed in the details of a project. I have the goofball whose drawings show that he can see the world, he only needs to be taught how to control his hand to capture his vision. I have girl who just loves art and knows how to explain all the techniques, she just needs to become confident enough to let go and trust the process she’s read about. All this makes me think temperament and talent are incidental to each other and as Nicholaides says, “nature is lavish with talent just as it is with acorns—but not all acorns become oaks. Talent is something that develops, or appears, as you work.” Talent shows itself in many ways, through virtuosity, through keen intelligence, and most often through mulish hard work. Asking if a student has talent is a loaded question. The students I’ve seen who have the most promise are the ones who are interested, hard working, and are willing to struggle through difficulty to achieve their goals.
Where are some surprising places you’ve found talent?