Wells

How to Look at Great Art-Tools for 16-18

How to Look at and Understand Great Art - Tools from Lectures 16-18

Lecture 16: Subject Matters (11.02.19)

Notice the subject that the artist has chosen for the work:
⦁ Is the subject of this work a portrait, a historical event, a scene from religion or mythology, a landscape, or a still life?
⦁ Is the work a genre painting - a scene from everyday life?
⦁ What layers of the subject's meaning can you identify beyond the literal?

Ask yourself:
⦁ How does the artist's choice of subject affect the way I see the work?

Lecture 17: Signs - Symbols, Icons, and Indexes in Art (11.02.19)

Notice how the artist uses signs and symbols in a work to suggest meanings:
⦁ Are there any elements in the work that suggest a particular season or time of day?
⦁ In a picture with people in it, what objects are associated with each person? How are the people dressed? What are they doing? What relation do they have to each other and to the viewer?
⦁ What period is the work from? What meanings would the significant objects in the work have had at that time?
⦁ Are there any traditional symbols in the painting?
⦁ Are there any objects that seem like they might be symbolic, but you aren't sure what they mean?
⦁ Are there signs or pointers that link us indirectly to the signified object, person, or concept?
⦁ How do various signifiers - sybols, icons, and indexes - relate to style-based signs such as line, color, light, texture, composition, motion, and so forth? Together, how do they enhance your understanding of the work?

Ask yourself:
⦁ How does the way the artist uses signs and symbols contribute to the meaning of the work?

Lecture 18: How Artists See Others (11.02.19)

When you look at a portrait, notice how the artist presents the person:
⦁ Is this a famous or an unknown person? What do you know (or can you learn) from other sources about this person?
⦁ Is the portrait painted, sculpture in relief, or sculpture in the round?
⦁ Is the portrait formal or informal?
⦁ Was the portrait done in profile, three-quarter, or full face?
⦁ Is the portrait life size, larger, or smaller?
⦁ Is the person in the portrait looking at you, at something in the picture, or off into space?
⦁ How are you looking at the person in the portrait (from above or below, from the point of view of someone in the picture, in a mirror or through a window in the picture)?
⦁ Is the portrait realistic, idealized, distorted, or abstracted?
⦁ What objects are associated with the person in the portrait, and what might they signify about that person?

Ask yourself:
⦁ What does the way an artist portrays a person tell me about that person?