PART I: IDENTIFYING A WORK OF ART
“Who – What – When – Where – Why - How”
These are the main points used to identify a work of art. Most exams where you are asked to identify works of art will include these points.
WHO Made the object? The answer might be an individual artist, a small group such as a workshop, a whole tribe or even a nation.
WHAT is it? What kind of an object is it? What is it made of (material)? Does it have a title or specific subject? Which artistic technique was used: sculpture, painting, mosaic, print, etc...?
WHEN was it made? Dates on Ancient Art tend to have a large leeway and as we get closer to our own time more specific.
WHERE was it created? Where was it found? Is the city, site, or country significant? Where is the object now? (On tests you are not expected to know which museum an object is located in... only works that are still in the same place they were made.)
WHY was it made? Does it have a practical, religious, political, funerary, decorative, or aesthetic function? What does the object tell us about the culture that produced it? Was it made for the artist himself?
HOW was it created? In a short period of time? Over a period of years? By one person? By many persons? Many of the above statements and questions also relate to the “HOW” of an object.
PART II: ELEMENTS OF STYLE
STYLE: (From the Latin: Stylus — a writing tool). The artistic character of a work of art;
its general appearance, i.e. how it looks.
Style Periods are historical periods which produced art that seemed characteristically similar, such as Baroque Art, Renaissance Art, Egyptian Art, Classical Greek Art, etc.
“Style”-also relates to the functions of a work of art.
Narrative Art: Tells a story which also can be…..
Religious Art: Tells stories about Gods and Goddesses; Biblical stories.
Mythological Art: Tells stories from myths and folk tales.
Allegorical Art: Uses figures that stand for intangible qualities, Such as
depicting “justice” as a’ woman with a scale or “love” as a nude goddess.
Abstract Art: Moving away from realistic looking art towards art made up of non-representational forms, colors, lines.
Symbolic Art: Has hidden meanings in certain objects such as wine in Christian Art symbolizing Christ’s blood.
STUDY GUIDE: PAGE II
PART III: A SELECTION OF SOME IMPORTANT
VISUAL ELEMENTS AND DESIGN PRINCIPLES;
LINE: Are the forms in a work of art bounded by strong, crisp lines? Are the edges and contours of things distinct or fuzzy? What is the quality of the line? Is it hard-edged, even, or soft and blurred? Is it a nervous line, a calm line, an energetic line? How are lines used within forms? Does the kind of line used give the piece an angular feel or a rounded feel?
COLOR: How are colors used? Are they bright or subdued, solid or shaded? Do they have any emotional content within the work? Are the colors balanced within the work? Does the artist use many different colors or just a few colors in many different intensities and shades? Do the colors seem realistic and natural, or are they exaggerated or even strange? How doe all this affect the work or art?
SHAPE/MASS: What overall shape is the work? What kinds of forms are used within the composition? Are shapes idealized, modified, distorted? Are the shapes simple or complex? Are shapes repeated in pattern? Do the shapes remain 2 dimensional or do they imply 3 dimensional mass?
SPACE: In Painting: Is there any illusion of depth in the painting? Does it seem 3-dimensional? How do figures and objects within the work relate to each other? Is there space behind them, around them, in front of them? Has the artist used a system of Perspective to give the illusion of space? There are a number of Perspective systems, such as: Linear Perspective, Atmospheric Perspective, Overlapping, Stacking, Warm vs. Cool colors, and Size Diminution. Does the painting seem like a window that you look into, or is it flat? One way to tell if a painting has illusionistic space is to imagine yourself jumping into the “space” of the painting. Is there room for you to exist in that space?
In Sculpture: Does the form extend into your space, or does it seem closed and still part of a block of stone? Does it have any openings or holes, or is it solid?
In Architecture: Does the architecture enclose space or does it consist of solids with little space in between?
VALUE/LIGHT: How is the dark and light used in the work? High contrast, low contrast, or a wide
range of values? Is there an obvious source of light shown in the painting? Does, light seem to shine into the painting from outside the frame? Can you tell which direction the light is coming from by how shadows fall on objects or figures? What is the quality of the light: Daylight, artificial light, moonlight, “sacred light?” Is there an overall all pervading light which seem to have no source?
Do solid figures cast shadows? Is light and dark (chiaroscuro) or shading used to give things a sense of volume? Are there reflections shown? How does light behave within the painting?
TEXTURE: How is the surface of the work treated? Does the texture mimic something or is it actual
texture created from the materials? Oil paintings can be very smooth or very lumpy and bumpy. Does the surface painted on affect the texture? Paint on canvas looks different from paint on wood, or burlap or glass. Does the piece seem rough, hard, soft, wet, dry, or sticky? Can you “feel” it with your eyes?
MOVEMENT: Do the forms seem to. move about or be capable of movement or is the work static
and stiff? Is the movement directional? Is there rhythmical scheme? Are elements repeated, such as the lines, shapes/forms, colors, textures, so they imply movement?
SCALE: How do the sizes of things relate to human size? Do people seem to “fit” the buildings
shown? Are some people shown larger to imply their importance? (hierarchical size) Are parts of things in correct proportion to the whole, i.e., is someone’s head too large for his body? Are his eyes too large f or his head, etc.?
STUDY GUIDE - PAGE III
BALANCE: How is the work visually balanced? Does it have symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial
balance? Religious works often have symmetrical balance to focus the viewers’ attention to
the center and, often, the main figure of contemplation – same with radial balance only
within a circular format. Narrative stories of action often have an asymmetrical balance
where visual weight is shifted off-centered to help create a sense of movement or action.
PART III: OVERALL QUALITIES OF ART WHICH AFFECT THE VIEWER
COMPOSITION: What is the general arrangement of the forms within a work of art? Is it balanced, symmetrical, asymmetrical, random, or chaotic? Are certain forms repeated in patterns or is each part unique? Do forms interact harmoniously, or do they imply tension? Is the work arranged in registers, like a comic strip, or is it all one scene?
OVERALL FEELING: What emotions or feelings are implied or projected to the viewer? What is the viewer’s “gut reaction” to the work? Does it calm, agitate, sadden, enrage, confuse, or delight the viewer? Is it emotionally neutral? WHY?
NATURALISM vs. ABSTRACTION: Do forms seem realistic, easily recognized? Do they seem more
idealized than natural? Do forms seem stylized – not realistic or natural but, none-the-less, easy to interpret what they represent? Are the forms purely abstract and not mimicking anything in nature – what we call “non-representational”? Can you read the abstract forms as symbols or as evoking pure emotion like music does?
ICONOGRAPHY: Study of the meaning of images (Icon in Greek means image). Are there images
(objects, figures, shapes) that function as symbols within the work? What meaning did they have when the work was created? What meaning, if any, do they have now?
Above all, keep an open mind when viewing art that you’ve never seen before. Enjoy the emotions, sensations and insights of your first encounter with a work of art. Try to understand the artist’s purpose and goals. Remember, if an image “moves” you, emotionally or intellectually, you have had an aesthetic experience and what you are looking at is “art”.