What is Critique?

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Senior Member
Apr 27, 2004
東京 Tokyo
here's a 'work in progess' article on critique. will update now and then when i have
new information. feel free to pm me to add/change things or discuss the content.

What is a Critique?

From http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/critique

cri·tique/krɪˈtik/[kriteek] verb, -tiqued, -ti·quing.


1. an article or essay criticizing a literary or other work; detailed evaluation; review.
2. a criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc.
3.the art or practice of criticism.
4. to review or analyse critically.


From here, we know that a critique is one that goes beyond single word comments
like 'good,' 'bad,' 'nice,' 'ugly,' 'sucks' etc.

Why is Critique important?

A Critique puts a piece of work to test. It's the most direct way to solicit responses
to the work, reflecting the effectiveness of the work (and competency of the artist.)
Critiques can involve theoretical debates, which may or may not lead to new point of
views, and/or widen the horizon of participants' thinking.

How to Critique?

In order for a Critique to take place, participants in a Critique need to know how a
piece of work is appreciated. The following are the fundamental information about a
piece of work that are used in the appreciation of the work

1. Time of production

A piece of work can be appreciated for it's symbolism or effect when juxtaposed against
works of similar nature produced around the same time and/or similar or related works
from earlier time. A Critique can only take place when the critic is given a point of
reference to measure the work against. A piece of artwork is considered to be critiqued
at the macro level when that point of reference refers to the effects the art has on
prevailing theory, practices and/or social phenomena. Such critique often applies to
reactionary art.

2. Artist's Intention (Content)

At the micro level, a piece of work has to be judged against the desired outcome intended
by the artist. In textual form, intention is understood via work's title, caption/writing that
accompanies the work, and /or artist's verbal explanation. All art has intention, not matter
how vague it may be. A piece of work can be created without intention (e.g. naturally
formed objects) but cannot be presented without an intention. To show a piece of work
for the sake of showing it is itself an intention (to show off.) To show a piece of work to
stimulate freedom in imagination is also an intention. The act of the artist displaying the
piece of work itself must have an intention. Intentions are not always apparent, some
subconscious intentions are also interpreted only through intensive self/public critique.
However, critique can be overdone when the critic starts to make random interpretation
to fulfill private agendas.

3. The Title

The title of a piece of work represents the work in words. It is a direct, summarized
translation of the work into a immediately understandable term to those who use the
language. A title can be use to

a. name the object of the work
b. guide the viewer into a desired thought (feeling, memory etc.)
c. describe a situation depicted in the work (action, behaviour, event etc.)
d. inform the condition of the work (time, place etc.)

When a piece of work cannot be adequately represented in words, artists often use
'untitled' as a textual representation of the work in writing.

4. Captions/Attached Writing

Captions and additional writings accompany a work often because the work itself
contains local information essential to the understanding of the work.

Global information are information known to most people without the need to elaborate
in words. For example colours (except to people with colour blindness,) nature (tree,
flower, animal) etc. Works containing predominantly global information (e.g. a sunset
scene, waves of the sea, a smiling face) usually do not require additional writings to tell
the viewer the full information in the works.

Local information are cultural information known only to a specific group of people. For
example meaning in colours, meaning in actions, cultural objects etc. Works containing
predominantly local information (e.g. an essential object found in a minority's wedding,
a religious symbol used only in a specific town) often need captions and writings to aid
the artist in describing the work to people who are ignorant of the meaning behind these

5. Composition

Composition is the structure of a piece of work. It is the way the work is presented in
its physical form. A good composition is one that organizes the elements used in the work
such that the intention of the work is put across effectively. A bad composition is one
that confuses the viewer from the artist's intention. Difference in perspective of view (point
of view) effectively alters composition and thus can be considered as part of composition
itself. Some basic compositional strategies are

a. lines

use of elements as visual/sensual leads toward the intention/focus of the work

b. relationship between main element and secondary elements

placement of elements in a visually comfortable formation, proportioning (visual or physical)
of elements with respect to intention/focus of work, juxtaposition of shapes/colours etc.

c. visual comfort and/or tensions

creating intensities through congestions, providing breathing spaces through compositional
breaks etc.

6. Elements of Photography

There are 4 major visible components a photograph can be broken down into.

A. Shape

Shape refers to the abstract form formed by the subject(s) in the frame. Shapes are
important as visual guides, as when we try to visualise the world on a piece of sketch,
we always breakdown relationships into shapes. It helps us understand the boundaries of
the subject(s) in the frame.

B. Texture

Texture refers to the sense of touch triggered by vision, as one looks at the photograph.
Adjectives such as 'fluffy,' 'rough,' 'splintered,' 'thorny' etc. comes to mind. Texture is
capable of suggesting degree of intimacy the viewer is allowed to have with the subjects

C. Lighting

Photography needs light (or the lack of) in order to be realised. Light renders objects
visible to our eyes. Photography is created when light causes a chemical reaction on the
film or when it is digitally mapped on a digital sensor. Photography is presented when light
is reflected off a print, or filtered through the slide, or emitted on the computer screen.

D. Colour

Colour information in a piece of photograph adds dimension to the picture, the lack of
colour (monochrome) results in a photograph that concentrates on shape, texture and
lighting. Colours also carry cultural information, and thus affect the way a piece of
photograph can be appreciated according to the cultural background and upbringing of
the maker and/or viewer.

7. Medium

A piece of work can be appreciated for use of appropriate medium that either enhances
the visual enjoyment of the work or enhances the expression of the artist's intention.
Quality of prints, colours, tones, materials used, place in which artwork is presented etc.
can be judged with or without meaningful implications.

8. Method/Technique

A piece of work can be appreciated for the artist's skill in execution. Detailing, processing
(darkroom/digital etc.,) format (frame size, proportion etc.,) performance etc.

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