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tom anderson's approach to art criticism (see: 1995 Toward a Cross-Cultural
Approach to Art Criticism. Studies in Art Education 36(4), pp. 198-204.)
involves phases of reaction, description, interpretation, and evaluation. a
benefit of the anderson method is the opportunity for initial "gut" reaction
followed by a very holistic look at the artwork and its context.
i am much more comfortable - both personally and with my students - getting
to know an artwork in this way because it allows the artwork to be perceived
"as it is" with no strings attached, so to speak, but also provides for
developing and understanding of the work beyond that as well.
before i knew anything about rothko or minimalism or color field painting, i
had a great experience with one of his paintings just because of the way the
colors and shapes made me feel. my reaction was, "oh, yeah! wow!"
rothko's work became more intriguing to me later when i was able to use
"instruments" (elements and principles, contextual information...) to
analyze both the artwork and possible reasons for my feelings toward it.
while i wholeheartedly support the joy and intensity of standing in front of
an artwork and experiencing it "raw", in my opinion, coming to an
understanding of the work usually means doing some research. reading bios
of rothko, learning about his contemporaries and the culture within which he
existed, hearing the story of the rothko chapel, seeing a demonstration of
or re-enacting his painting techniques...all lead to a richer and fuller
experience of the work. we are incredibly fortunate to now have that type
of information so readily accessible via the internet!
also, it is certainly not only "difficult" contemporary/nonobjective works
that this technique enhances understanding of. representational/"classic"
artwork has just as many layers of meaning to discover and contextual
information to process. think of vanitas still lifes, renaissance
portraits, greek figurative sculpture...
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