The skills associated with making informed responses to visual stimuli are also related to other aspects of being art educated. In order to engage responsibly in the production of art, one must continually assess the nature of what is being created; i.e., the artist must serve as his or her own critic. This is accomplished intuitively (without conscious thought) and/or by engaging in the objective analysis of what is created. As was alluded to previously, making relative and comparative judgments requires that one possess a background of information that relates to what is being evaluated, therefore, the need for studying art history.
Relating philosophical issues (aesthetics) to art criticism consists of inquiring into and speculating about not only the possible values of art criticism but also its methodology. For example, speculating about the criteria that should be utilized to make judgments about the value of art forms. Or, discussing (talking or writing about) whether it is sufficient that a work of art involves us in aesthetic experience or must it possess other attributes in order to be judged truly exceptional: what about the level of the work’s innovation? concern for important social values? Reflection of significant historical events?
Reasonable expectations for what can be accomplished include asking ourselves to engage in identifying and discussing the visual qualities (sensory properties) in works of art, as well as in one’s own works. As one attains greater sophistication, he or she should be expected to also begin to analyze how works are organized and to speculate about their possible meanings. When discussing works with others, agreed upon criteria should be employed for assessing the extent to which works have been successful in meeting these criteria. The wrong question to ask is “do you like it?” Much better questions are concerned with directing perceptual and analytical activity. What do you see? How is it organized? What ideas or feelings are being expressed? These are the types of more directive open-ended questions that provoke thought and discussion.
One of the best strategies is to actually study examples of art criticism, which are easily available in local and national newspapers. However, journalistic criticism is usually superficial compared to the more scholarly criticism that is found in books and journals; e.g., the quote about Modigliani.
When we carefully examine works of art, we are sharpening our perceptual tools; we are both building and utilizing our storehouse of the images required for making sense out of experience. When we make objective judgments about what works of art do for us emotionally and intellectually, we are engaging in analytical and critical thinking. Specifically, art criticism leads to a greater understanding and appreciation of works of art, ranging from recognized masterpieces to the monuments of our built environment to forms that make-up our popular culture.