How to Critique a Work of Art- Part III

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How to Critique a Work of Art

Part III

If you’ve already read Part I & II of How to Critique a Work of Art, you know that we’ve covered the basic elements of art. This included the subject, line, shape, form space, color, texture and value. You’re well on your way to talking about art like a pro! Now we’ll get into some principles of design that will take you even further in your critique. These principles include balance, emphasis, contrast, rhythm, pattern, movement, harmony, proportion and unity. So grab a glass of wine and lets look at the first four!

critiqueFor this critique let’s use Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring as our example.


Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, textures, and space. If the individual objects of the design were put on a scale, the scale should balance and make a work feel stable.

There are different types of balance as well. Symmetrical balance is when the shape of the artwork is symmetrical between objects, almost like seeing a mirror image. The visual weight among objects is the same. Asymmetrical balance happens when elements of the artwork are distributed unevenly in the image, but still work together to produce harmony.

In this painting, balance is achieved in an asymmetrical way. We have only one subject placed slightly off center, however the girl’s left eye is smack in the center. The dark background gives the viewer a place to rest from the figure and takes up an almost equal amount of space.


This is an easy one. Just follow your eye. Where do you return again and again? Artists may use line or dramatic colors to lead you to the area they want to stand out. In this case, we are drawn to the face of the girl.


Contrast is the difference between some of the principles of art like texture, color or value. Need a refresher on those? Click here. For example, with color there is contrast in the relationship between red and green because they are opposite on the color wheel. The same is true for blue and orange or purple and yellow. In Girl with a Pearl Earring, contrast is shown through value. The lighter figure is in contrast with the dark background.


Are there repeating elements in the work? In this piece, not so much. Rhythm is the sense of movement shown through repetition. It can be shown through images, lines, colors or patterns.

Whew! There’s a lot more to critiquing art than meets the eye, huh? Don’t worry, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Check back for the next blog post; we’ll study pattern, movement, harmony, proportion and unity. And THEN, the icing on the cake!