Author James Elkins on Art Critiques

In the book “Why Art Cannot be Taught” James Elkins describes different types of critique orientations based on an account by M.H. Abrams:

Mimetic: how closely does the work imitate nature/represents something in the world? This type of crit focuses on skill.

Pragmatic: designed to help the student please, delight, move, or instruct. how well are you communicating? entertaining? (is that even the goal?)

Expressive: does the work express the artist’s impulse or feeling (internal)? (this type of critique no longer relies on the audience or external world).

Objective: an attempt to focus the critique on the object itself, independent from the outside world (note: this is impossible).

Usually, most art critiques focus on all four of these orientations simultaneously.

3 stages to a critique:

1. Recognition Stage: 5-10 minutes at the beginning. time to see and “take-in” the work, to find the right angle for viewing, to feel and hear it.

2. First-Impression Stage: where the obvious is stated and initial impressions are voiced by the group.

3. Analysis Stage: where more difficult questions/criticisms are brought to light. Sometimes answered by the artist, sometimes not.

A format for the constructive participation in a critique of someone else’s work:

Judgement: A statement made by you about your opinion of a classmate’s artwork
Reason: A justification for your judgement.
Assumption: The (usually) unexamined or unrecognized principle behind the judgement
Axiom: The general truth that supports the assumption.

Dialogue Example: Unexamined Assumptions

A. “I think this film has too much playfulness about it, it’s goofy”

 B. “Why is that bad?”

A. “Well, because it starts out seriously, then ends up careless.”

 B. “Why is it bad for a work to start out serious and end up silly?”

A. “I think the work promises to take itself seriously in the beginning and then ends up flippant”

 Teacher: “So does that make you distrust the artist’s intentions?”

A. Yes, I suppose so.
The unexamined assumption in this exchange “A film like this should not be devious.” It could also be any combination of:

– Any film should not be devious
– Any work of art should not be devious
– This one film should not be devious (in this way)
– Any work of art should not be devious (in this way)

Or other underlying assumption could be, “A work of art should not hide it’s intentions.” or (a more personal version) “A work of art like this is bad if it succeeds in tricking me”

Statement Example: Axiom (a difficult to argue “truth” that can be used to justify assumptions)

“Sculpture should deal with space.”


Attn 3D: Where to buy wire for crochet online?


Invisible/Visible (Sculpture 2/3: Project 1)

For this project we will think about what it means to blend, be invisible, camouflaged. The solution to this assignment could involve making the “visible – invisible” OR making something “invisible – visible.”

Definition of invisible in English: From the Oxford English Dictionary
1. Unable to be seen; not visible to the eye:
“this invisible gas is present to some extent in every home”

Example Sentences:
1.1Concealed from sight; hidden:
he lounged in a doorway, invisible in the dark
1.2Treated as if unable to be seen; ignored or not taken into consideration:
before 1971, women artists were pretty well invisible

Definition of Camouflage:
a : the disguising especially of military equipment or installations with paint, nets, or foliage; also : the disguise so applied
a : concealment by means of disguise
b : behavior or artifice designed to deceive or hide