The Artist’s Critique…a How to Guide
by Sue Dion

Wow!  A critiquing forum for artists…what a wonderful thing!  What’s that you say, you are not worthy to critique the work of another artist?  Not true!  Every artist has something to share with another, be it previous experience or knowledge, encouragement, advice or just a fresh perspective.  “But I don’t know what to say or how to say it”, you exclaim!  Have no fear, below are some thoughts and suggestions on what makes up a good critique.  You’ll even find a listing of words that you can use when creating a critique.

What IS a critique?  For our purposes, a critique is a review and critical evaluation or analysis of another artists painting.  The thing to remember is that the critique is all about the art, and only the art.  It is not about the person who created the art.  (This is especially important to remember when you are reading critiques of your own paintings!)  All artwork has similar “building blocks” which were used in its’ creation.  If something about one of these design principles jumps out at you this would be a great place to start and to speak about.

How to write an effective critique:

The “Sandwich” Approach:

·        Find something positive to say about the work.

·        Define the specific aspects of the work you are critiquing.  Don’t just say, “I love it” or “good job”.  What do you love about it?  What speaks to you or caused you to want to comment on the painting?

Provide constructive suggestions for improvements:

·        Address the technical and aesthetic aspects related to the painting.  What works and what doesn’t.  If you are able to, site examples of known works to demonstrate the principal you are discussing.

·        Place your comments in the first person, such as, “I think this area could use…” rather than, “You should change this because…”  This helps to keep your comments from crossing the line between a critique and an attack!

·        If you are having trouble figuring out what language to use, refer to the word lists below.

Close the critique by pointing out something positive again and note improvements in progress over time if you are aware of them.

·        Use encouraging words, such as, “This was successful because…” or “You achieved a composition that clearly communicates (fill in the blank).”

·        If someone is clearly struggling, be mindful of his/her confidence and be extra careful with your suggestions.

·        Over time, you will see improvement in your fellow artists work.  Be sure to let them know!

Other things to remember:

·        Trust your instincts and eyes when communicating your ideas – you probably know more than you think you do.

·        The better you can verbalize what you think about other students’ work, the better you will be able to correct your own.

·        Use the vocabulary and concepts listed below.

·        Always be respectful, courteous, and supportive.

The Word List:

Words to Critique Line:  Flowing, Delicate, Simple, Bold, Thick, Thin, Blurred, Broken, Controlled, Curved, Diagonal, Interrupted, Meandering, Ruled, Short...

Words to Describe Tone:  Subtle, Contrasting, Muted (subdued, dull), Dramatic (tense, moving)

Words to Describe Texture:  Rough, Fine, Smooth, Coarse, Uneven

Words to Describe Shape: Organic, Curvaceous, Geometric, Angular, Elongated

Words to Describe Movement: Swirling, Flowing, Dramatic

Words to Describe Scale:  Large, Small, Intimate, Miniature, Monumental

Words to Describe Contrast:  Dramatic, Subtle, Strong

Words to Describe Color:  Bold, Vibrant, Subtle, Pale, Earthy, Naturalistic

Other Descriptive Words used to Critique Art:

    Saturation – refers to the amount of pure hue in a color

    Geometric – refers to the shapes such as circles, triangles, squares, etc.

    Organic – free flowing or rounded

    Symmetry – meaning it is equal on both sides

    Asymmetrical – unequal proportioned elements

    Flat tones – no tonal effect in the color

    Negative space – the space around the actual form of art

    Depth – the illusion of space

    Broken color – dabs or small amounts of color

    Focal point – the spot that stands out in the artwork

    Distorted – a shape that is changed and no longer looks proportioned

If you’re still feeling stumped, check out The Essential Vermeer Glossary ( or pick up a copy of the book, “The Critique Handbook” by K. Buster and P. Crawford