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Lesson Plans

re: basics for criticism

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Marvin P Bartel (marvinpb)
Thu, 24 Sep 1998 16:07:37 -0500

>Original question:
>From: Emily C Onstott <>
>Subject: art criticism advice

>I am looking for ideas on how to introduce some "basics" of art criticism
>to some incredible 6th graders...
>This is in preparation for a field trip to the National Gallery of Art in
>D.C....most of the students have never been to an art museum before.
>My wish list looks something like this-
>I need some type of activity that is going to give the kids a sense of
>confidence that they know how to look at and talk about art objects-- the
>majority of these students either (a) won't participate unless they are
>pretty sure they have a correct answer to offer, or (b) talk constantly,
>but without REALLY thinking beforehand - I would really like something
>that will maybe help them to build on their critical thinking skills in
>Some other factors --
>the activity needs to be structured time-wise and hands or "minds" on!
>Most of the children don't speak english as a first language, or don't
>have families who speak english in the home.

>If anybody out there has had success in this area, I would be so
>appreciative to hear about it! :)

>Thank you!


This can be for oral or written responses. When I work with inexperienced
students I often use this question:
"What do you notice first in the work?
Next I ask either,
"Why do you notice it first?" or
"What do you notice next?" and
"Explain the reasons you notice these parts. Use art terms to explain it."
If students don't know art terms, it helps to post or handout a list of
words to use.
Some of the above ideas come from a critique workshop by Douglas Stewart.
If I know what they will see on the trip, I might show a few examples of
the work as slides, reproductions, or web page examples with some critique
practice in the classroom.

Sometimes I ask for them to speculate (guess) about the meaning or feeling
(interpretation) of the work and then explain the reasons for their guess.

For a non-verbal analysis process, they can make thumbnail diagrams of
artworks. They can do separate thumbnails for only the "the darkest parts",
only the "the lightest parts", only "the parts that recede", only "the
parts that project toward you", etc. This gets them to see overall
structure of composition. For sculpture they can do diagrams of lines of
force drawn as arrows or vectors with each piece requiring a diagram from
at least three points of view. They do not draw the artwork - just the
diagrams and label them with titles and artist's names.

Sometimes I ask them to compare two works using a list of criteria. Laura
Chapman includes a great list of words in her Approaches to Art in
Education, 1978, page 69. She calls them words that refer to sensory
continua. She has 15 categories. In the category of Color she has,
"bright-dull light-dark opaque-transparent pure-mixed warm-cool
advancing-receding. I have them do this in groups of three or four to get
them to discuss and try to reach consensus before writing it down.

I think Terry Barrtett's book, "Criticizing Photographs" has useful ideas.
I also like, "A Veiwer's Guide to Looking at Photographs" by James T.
Brooke, 1977. This is a little 77 page paperback that is probably out of
print, but a library may have it. Books like this have lots of ideas and
approaches to criticism that go beyond photography for me.

* * * Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. * * * *
Art Dept., Goshen College
Goshen IN 46526
office 219-535-7592
fax 219-535-7660
studio 219-533-0171
Goshen College Art Gallery schedule
and images for 1998-99 at

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *