Aesthetics & Art Criticism

What makes something a work of art?

Content: the message artwork sends to the viewer

  • emotionally expressive (message contains emotions of artist or subject matter)
  • mechanically precise (shows control and order, lifelike representation)
  • formally organized (demonstrates the elements and principles of art)

Aesthetics: the "philosophy" of art, sometimes called "the art of the beautiful"

3 different ways to judge aesthetics

1. imitationalism (focuses on realistic representation or literal qualities)

Art should imitate life.


literal qualities (the realistic qualities that appear in the subject of the work)


2. formalism (place emphasis on the design qualities)

Art should focus on the elements and principles of art.


design qualities (the arrangement of the element of art using the principles of design)


3. emotionalism (requires that a work of art arouse a response of feelings, moods, or emotions in the viewer or its expressive qualities)

Art should always make us feel emotion.


expressive qualities (those qualities that convey ideas and moods)

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Art Criticism

Can something ugly be art?

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Leonardo da Vinci, Five Grotesque Heads

Is this art?

Is it realistic?

Would you say that these lines are well drawn? Even beautifully drawn?

How would you describe da Vinci's subjects?

What do you think da Vinci was trying to say with this drawing?
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Otto Dix, Wounded Soilder (WWI)

Is this art?

Is it realistic?

Would you say these lines are carefully and beautifully drawn?

How would you describe this subject?

What do you think Otto Dix was trying to say with this drawing? What was he trying to capture?

Both express emotions & both communicate. So they're art? And they're ugly?

There are 4 steps to art criticism...

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Your turn!

In your groups, choose a piece of artwork and work through the handout on art criticism.

Also answer,
  • Who created this work of art?
  • When was it created?
  • What is it? What medium did they use?

Remember to include Stylistic Periods of Aesthetics

  1. Realism: Artist represented real subjects that remind us of the natural world.
  2. Abstraction/formalism: Artist shows visual organization of elements and principles of art that may or may not show objects or recognizable images.
  3. Expressionism/emotionalism: Artist show vivid communication of mood, feeling, message; often accomplished by unrealistic colors and distortion.
  4. Fantasy/surrealism: Artist communicates dreams, subconscious, fantasy, imagination. Images are often quite real but are seen in unusual and startling relationships.