How to Critique a Work of Art-Part II

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How to Critique a Work of Art

Part II

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you already know a little bit about how to critique a work of art. On to Part II of Art Critiquing 101! Last post we talked about subject, line, shape, form and space. ‘Member? You ‘member…No? Read the previous post here if you don’t. In this lesson we’ll talk about color, texture and value. Let’s use Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, 1889 as our example.


Ahhh, my favorite! Color is not only about seeing red, blue, purple or green but also the varying shades of those colors and their relationships. Here we see not just blue, but navy, sky and turquoise shades. There’s also olive, sienna and emerald. We can look at complementary colors (colors opposite each other on the color wheel, for example: orange and blue), analogous color (colors that are right next to each other like blue-green, blue and blue-violet) or triad colors (colors that can be connected by a triangle on the color wheel).

If you want to see how all of these work plus a few I didn’t cover, check out this fun tool from Adobe. I could go on and on, there are so many possibilities. But let’s go further and think about how color contributes to the “feel” of a piece. When we think of red for example, we might think of fire, passion, anger or even danger. How does that compare with this piece? Blue might give us feelings of stability, tranquility or even sadness. Color can also be a “thermometer” by the use of warm colors or cool colors. This painting looks cold, don’t you think?


Rough, bumpy, smooth, glass-like, grooved or grainy-texture is the character of the surface that can be experienced by touch, or it looks like you could. First there’s the actual texture- the surface, the paint, or maybe something is added to the paint like sand. This is all stuff you can actually touch and feel. Another type of texture is called simulated texture, where the surface looks real, but alas is not. There’s also abstract texture, which might resemble a certain texture but has been modified in some way, perhaps by emphasizing pattern instead. Our Van Gogh painting uses this idea. It may also have actual texture, we just can’t see it on our computer screens!


Value is the amount of light or dark that we see in a work of art. If we were to turn this image into black and white, we would be talking about the darkest black, to gray and lighter shades of gray to the purest white. This also happens with color. If you squint while viewing this piece, it makes finding the value in the painting a little easier. The darkest value is near Van Gogh’s head and left side of the jacket and the lightest value is the skin and white shirt. Paintings that use only a middle grey to the lightest values are called high-key while those with only middle grey to very dark values are called low-key. This self portrait is pretty balanced with a broad range of value.

So there you have it. You can now critique a work of art using value, color, texture, subject, line, shape, form and space! But we’re not done yet. Next time we’ll talk about the principals of design. Stay tuned!