Extracurricular Lessons: HOW TO CRITIQUE ART


by Chris Gau, age 38.

After every in-depth exploration of a subject that we undertake here at the Fact Up! Podcast we are inundated with letters, tweets and gifts all begging for extra information on that week's topic. This surprises me - after all, we always cover everything on any given theme in its entirety. What could be left to know? But sometimes, because of an oversight (primarily due to Ian's mental dullness), some facts do go by without being explored fully. 

In my wisdom and charity I have decided to add some additional extracurricular lessons for our listeners. This was prompted, in part, by the receipt of several gifts from dutiful listeners who truly understand what it is to be a good listener (gifts) and what the proper dynamic between student and pupil is (gifts).

 The important document you are now reading can be seen as an accompaniment to episode #17 of Fact Up! - ART. A study aid if you will. A studcompaidment. 


Where to start? Well, one listener @sunildpatel begged us to post pictures of the artwork I brought in for our guest, CØat, to appraise. I was merely doing this as a pleasantry as I already knew that they are the best three paintings there are. I didn't need some no-gift bringing German mechanic to tell me what ART IS. WHO DOES HE THINK HE IS!? I'M THE ONE WITH THE A IN GCSE ART. THINKS HE'S BETTER THAN ME?

So I will now present you with those paintings, and usher you through their complexities. Art criticism is a very hard vocation, and one that I excel at and you don't, so I will first guide you through the key stages that must happen when looking at a painting. This is so that you get the most art out of it.

Textures - does the painting display a variety of textures both visually and physically?
Harmony & Symmetry - like a fine wine or gift, an art should have balance. And be pleasing to the eye. 
Symbolism - strangely, not all art looks like stuff you see with your eyes. If it doesn't look like something you've seen out and about... It might represent something you might have seen. 
Dogs - the best art has a dog, or dogs, in it. Extra art points* are awarded to the artist if the dogs are doing human stuff like smoking, or playing poker.

 * "Art Points" will be explained in a more advanced module... But the top of the leader board is Picasso with 84.

Now we will apply what you've just learnt to the artwork below. By the end of this article you will have critiqued three arts successfully. And you will know 100% of art
(except the advanced module stuff)

 So now please go to time 34:20 on your podcast.

 1) Four Dogs at a Poker Table  - Artist Unknown

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What do we see here? Let's refer to our checklist: Textures? Tick. There's fur and smoke. Is there harmony or symmetry? Tick. There's two dogs on the right and do you see... On the left? You guessed it... two more dogs. Excellent symmetry. Next up: Symbolism... Is it just four dogs at a poker table or is there some hidden meaning? Yes there is, well spotted! (Well I spotted it because I'm an expert, I'll have to trust your word on this) These smoking dogs represent smoking dogs playing poker. Tick! Finally are there any dogs in the painting? Yes. There are four. That makes it REALLY good art. Four times better than a normal art.

So is this an art? Yes

Next up: 35:37

2) Magic Eye of a Ship - Timothy Ecke

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This is one of my favourites pieces from one of my favourite artists, Timothy Ecke. Be sure to check out his other works: Dinosaur and Interlocking Rings.

 So let's critique it by running through the checklist. There's texture (it looks like a carpet), there's symmetry (it looks like a carpet), there's symbolism (the ship represents a dog... Why? That's in the advanced module) and finally is there a dog? Yes (see above).

Is this an art? Yes. And a good one.

 Finally let's go to: 36:44 

3) Daffodils by Vincent Van Gogh

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Unfortunately my copy of Van Gogh's Sunflowers was destroyed during the recording of the podcast so we've had to use Shaun's print of Van Gogh's famous painting The Daffodils. Unfortunately Shaun is not an art expert like I am and his taste is rather gauche. I also have more cones in my eyes than him (or Ian) so therefore automatically better at looking at colours and arts than both of them. Just because Shaun has a primitive taste in art it doesn't mean we can't critique it. One fact that most people don't know is you don't just have to critique excellent arts, (see pictures 1 & 2) you can also criticise monstrosities like this. You can also do it to photos. Photos are like arts but better because they look EXACTLY like what they're supposed to be. Photos of dogs or gifts are generally considered the best.

Let's apply the checklist to Shaun's print. Texture? None - it's just a bit yellow. Symmetry? None. This artist couldn't even be bothered to put these daffodils in the vase properly. Symbolism? None. These daffodils look exactly like daffodils. You really have to wonder what this painter was thinking. And finally, as we can see, absolutely no dogs. This is not an art. In fact I would go as far to say that this belongs in the bin - Where all arts that Shaun or Ian pick should go. They haven't got the breadth of art knowledge that it takes to be a critic like me. But now that you have my handy checklist... you do! So go out there and critique some arts. 

Unfortunately I've already picked the best arts so your choices won't be as good as mine, but don't let your puny eye cones put you off. A half understood art is better than one not understood at all. 

 Please feel free to send your favourites, and gifts, into @factuppod on Twitter or Facebook