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Gallery Tour Step 2: Just the FACTS Ma'am

Has art been getting your attention? That's fantastic! Just NOTICING art and simply describing what you see in it helps you to become more artistically literate! Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror”* noticed herself back in 1932…I am sure you noticed her here too! SO let's use her for a quick example: STOP and really look hard at it. Hold off, just for the time being, on saying “I hate that! “I love that!” or “I could do that!” Instead, OBSERVE and ask yourself “What got my attention? How would I describe this without making a judgment or labeling it and getting caught up with emotions, opinion and jumping to conclusion. . . I need you to at FIRST, approach it in a "just-the-facts-ma'am-kind-of-way."


Note in my example, the memories of a grade 5 descriptive paragraph and the lack of opinion:


Here are some of my own observations of "Girl Before a Mirror", in no particular order. . .In this portrait shaped painting, there are 8-10 various sized circles (not including the tiny ones), geometric shapes including diamonds, a large oval (etc.). The flow and the placement of the circles creates a suggestion of a woman's body (circles for breasts and belly, curved purple rectangles with five loops on the ends suggest arms and hands (etc.). There are thick black lines, thinner lines, outlines, straight and curvy ones. There are contrasting greens to reds. Of course I notice the bright colours (red, light and mid-greens, white, yellow, mauve, purple, orange, black, sky blue, navy etc.) but I also now see that some of the colours are not actually as bright as I first thought but that the contrasts and lack of grey tones (no shading) and the outlines make them appear so and leave us with flat looking images. The smaller squares and dots create a pattern and suggests that the woman is inside a room with wallpaper and the two faces facing one another with the oval around one figure along with the parallel lines on each side makes it look like a standing mirror on the right half. The painting looks almost symmetrical with the woman standing on the left and her reflection on the right.


So to recap, if you witnessed a robbery, you would try to memorize the thief’s face in order to describe it to the police later (unless you are cowering for your life, of course). It matters not how you feel about the perp or if you think he was ugly or frightening. At later steps in this process (7 in all) one begins analyzing and judging the technique, the intent and finally, its success and value.


SO. Consider and describe in detail the "Elements" of art used and WHAT you specifically see in the piece (items, setting, etc), holding back opinion or judgement.

  • LINES (thick, thin, zig zag, long etc.) and SHAPES (2D stuff like circles, organic or geometric, small, several etc.)

  • COLOURS (including intensity) and VALUE (lightness/darkness, not the price tag!)

  • 3D stuff like TEXTURE & FORM/SPACE (drawn spheres, implied distance and fur to real sculptures and bumpy paint)

A handy little mnemonic might help you remember the Elements of Art:


Let Visual Sharpening Come To Serendipitous Fruition!


Find the other Gallery Tour steps here.



*“Girl Before a Mirror” 1932 by Pablo Picasso, photo unknown.

Fair Use, for educational purposes.

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Lorenda Harder Studio

Niagara Region, Canada