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Art Appreciation: How to Look at Art

The Language of Art

Elements of Art -- The components that make up a piece of art. The building blocks of art.

  • Color
  • Line
  • Shape
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Value
  • Space

Genre -- 1. The category of art, relating to the type of work. Ex. portraiture, landscape, still lifes.  2. Art depicting every day life is called genre.

Medium -- Materials (or media) used to create art. Ex. paint, marble, wood, ink.

Movement (see Genre) -- Art that adheres to the same philosophy and/or style, usually during a certain time period. Ex. Cubism, Art Nouveau, Baroque, Surrealism, Black Arts

Principles of Art -- How the Elements are used or distributed throughout the work.

  • Balance
  • Emphasis
  • Movement
  • Pattern
  • Repetition
  • Proportion
  • Rhythm
  • Variety
  • Unity

 

 

Looking at Art

Let's study a work of art. The bold-faced words are some of the keywords used to talk about art. The italicized questions are examples of things to consider when viewing art.

Title: Portrait of a Cardinal in his Study (c.1519)

Artist: Italian portrait painter Lorenzo Costa, c.1459-March 5, 1535

  • Who was Lorenzo Costa?
  • What is his personal story?
  • Who or what influenced his political views?
  • His religious influences?

Subject: A portrait of a 16th-century cardinal and the 4th-century Biblical scholar, St. Jerome, seen through the window.

  • Is this cardinal a real-life person? If so, who was he? What is his story? If not, what does history say about cardinals of this era?
  • Who is St. Jerome, and what is he doing?
  • What is the symbolism of placing this cardinal and St. Jerome together?

Material/Technique: Oil and tempera painting on a poplar panel

  • Is there a reason why the artist chose these materials and this technique?

Style/Period: Renaissance or 16th Century

  • What was happening politically and socially during this time that might have influenced the artist?

Genre/Movement: Portraiture/Humanist or Humanism. Costa was a painter of the School of Ferrara-Bologna. These artists were called Ferrarese.

  • What is the philosophy of the Humanist Movement?
  • How does it manifest itself in this work of art?
  • What differentiates Ferrarese artists from other artists?

Image Source: The Minneapolis Institute of Art

Subject Guide

Michele Nicole Johnson's picture
Michele Nicole Johnson
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Did you know?

On April 26, 2016, The New York Times ran an article about how police officers, medical students and business executives are taking special art courses to learn how to look. When you study art, you learn how to look for details and to imagine various narratives for the subjects of the art. Studying art requires the same skills needed by professionals who must be expert observers.