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1.2.2: Introduction to Evaluating Art

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    Don't judge a book by its cover.


    I had an ex-con student in my art class. How did he fit in?


    He turned out to be one of my best students! He engaged with insight and intelligent questions. He also put in the time outside of the classroom to prepare for each class, while also helping others by counseling addicts. Do not judge a book by its cover. In the years since that first experience with the ex-con, I've taught art to many incarcerated fellow artists through the CA Arts in Corrections Program.

    We need to apply the same idea when viewing art. Do not judge the art by it’s outward appearance without first studying the context behind the art. The more you know about the artist, the time period, and the culture, the better prepared you’ll be to evaluate the artwork.

    Be careful not to look at the art through your own personal lens. Place yourself in the time and place of the artwork.

    Yes, do not judge a book by its cover, and do not judge art without understanding the context of the work. You can evaluate art based on an understanding of art elements and principles of design, but you will not understand the Ws of art evaluation. The Ws are as follows: When was the art created? Who created the art? Why did he or she create the art? Where was the art created? What other research will shed light on the art?


    A good example of that lesson are the sculptures in the above image. When these Sumerian figures with huge round eyes were discovered, the archeologists looked through the lens of Christianity and interpreted the eyes as features emphasizing the concept of eyes being the windows to the soul. That Christian concept was likely not the consideration for the large eyes. Upon learning more about the Sumerian culture, beliefs, and traditions, the best interpretation is likely that the eyes show the awe and possibly fear the Sumerians had for their gods and goddesses.



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    When it was exhibited at the Art Institute in 1930, the painting became an instant sensation, its ambiguity prompting viewers to speculate about the figures and their story. Many understood the work to be a satirical comment on Midwesterners out of step with a modernizing world. Yet Wood intended it to convey a positive image of rural American values, offering a vision of reassurance at the beginning of the Great Depression.


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    1.2.2: Introduction to Evaluating Art is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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