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  • Writer's pictureLorenda

Gallery Tour Step 5: But What Does it MEAN?

Updated: Nov 23, 2020


NOW it's time to analyze the meaning to determine if the method is in keeping with what appears to be the artist's intended message. Although our opinion enters into the analysis, we must back it up with evidence. We ask "What message was the artist trying to convey and how was it accomplished?" Then we ask "Was the artist successful or not in his or her intent --- and how so?"

Again, I will use "Girl Before the Mirror" to illustrate. Sometimes artists write about their intent but to SOME extent, the art ought to be able to stand on its own without the creator's explanation. For this example, I also have chosen to NOT draw on my knowledge of Picasso or Cubism (the style of this piece which has detailed philosophies behind it) in order to prove to you that YOU can evaluate any piece, even without a boatload of art knowledge. So I will simple give my opinion on what I think the artist is expressing and how:

  • It is obvious to me that there is a girl studying herself in her reflection while adjusting a standing mirror in a wall papered room. The artist accomplished this using simple symbolic shapes, patterns and childlike use of symbols (circle, two eyes, nose, mouth for a head) and thick lines, colours, patterns and contrasts to differentiate between items.

  • Picasso shows various and opposing perspectives: front and sides of face and body; a reflection; shapeliness (curves) and brokenness (lines/shapes), distortion (not accurate representation of nature) and beauty; suggested nakedness yet with a guarded expression (we can't read the girl's internal thoughts). This suggests that the artist is expressing the complexities of human nature and perhaps that life's different perspectives are worth viewing.

  • The figure's real body is different than its reflection (the lines are even going in different ways for example) and her expression is unclear (pensive, ambivalent). This intentionally prompts us to ask questions like "Is she thinner or thicker in reality? Is she guarded or hiding? Is she proud or does she have dysmorphia? Does she look like a clown to herself? Is that make up, a shadow or a tear on her face?

  • Since the reflection and girl hold equal importance visually (each taking half the canvas), I think this is significant in the artist's intent: that reflection is as important as the real thing and implying that our views carry weight whether or not they are accurate or worthy of our trust.

  • If Picasso wanted us to have a clearer understanding of this girl before the mirror, he could have painted it so. Instead, he intentionally plays with the painting, introducing incongruities and various viewpoints to keep us wondering. I am left with more questions than answers so I think the artist was successful in his intention: Remembering to remain childlike, asking questions.

General Bottom Line in determining intent of any piece: "What message do you think the artist is trying to communicate to the viewer, what convinces you of this and how was it successful or unsuccessful both technically and in its intent?" It was a clear night for impressionist Van Gogh* to paint the stars here over Saint Rémy de Provence just as I hope "how to evaluate art" is becoming a bit clearer for you!

Van Gogh "The Starry Night"

Now a note about OPINIONS in Step 6.

*Public Domain. Educational purposes.

Note: These writings are loosely based on writings by art critique philosophers, Ernst Feldman and Hans Rookmaaker and my personal experience.


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