Analyzing a Work of Art
Art is analyzed in some of the same ways we analyze a written communication. These are both communication vehicles, and some of the same principles apply. However, art is a more complex vehicle than written works, and often more difficult because education and exposure are not as intense and common in today's culture. This is changing as multimedia communication technology rapidly expands in our lives, and we are not prepared for this change.
Primary points in analyzing a work of art:
A Short Analysis of Art for History - Not Art History
I found this little analysis, "Images of the New World," authored by Saul Cornell, Associate Professor, American History, Department of History, Ohio State University. I include it here because it might be useful for a short historical but, not art history analysis.
content - What a work of art is about; its subject matter. Content should not be confused with form (a work's physical characteristics) or context (a work's environment-- time, place, audience, etc.)...
context - The varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and interpreted. There are three arenas to these circumstances, each of them highly complex. The first pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, values, intentions and purposes, education and training, and biography (including psychology). The second is the setting in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work (to adorn, beautify, express, illustrate, mediate, persuade, record, redefine reality, or redefine art), religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, and even climate and geography. Third is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the traditions it is intended to serve, the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic, perceptual, rational, and emotive), and, perhaps most importantly, the color of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized-- i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography, psychological approaches, political criticism, feminism, cultural history, intellectual history, formalism, structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, reception theory, concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging], and other chronological and contextual considerations. Context is much more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone.
media - The plural form of medium. Also, may refer to mass media. Also see mixed-media.
medium - The material or technique used by an artist to produce a work of art. It may also refer to the vehicle or solvent with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint of the proper consistency. The plural form is media.
period - An interval of time characterized by the prevalence of a specified culture, ideology, or technology, or regarded as a distinct phase in the development of the work of an artist, or a style or movement.
style - An artist's characteristic manner of expression. Also, works of art by different artists may have certain features in common. Such works are said to have a group style. Some examples of group styles are Impressionism, Expressionism, and Surrealism.
symbol - A form, image or subject representing a meaning other than the one with which it is usually associated. Jan van Eyck (Dutch, died 1441) included several symbols in his painting of The Arnolfini Marriage (London). Albrecht D¸rer (German, 1471-1528) frequently employed symbols too. His woodcut titled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse contains symbolism concerning the social, political, religious and economic changes brought by the "Black Death" or bubonic plague. Hieronymus Bosch (Flemish, 1450-1516) worked at a time when symbols constituted a basic visual language. Although contemporary scholars don't always agree on interpretations of his paintings, the list below suggests possible meanings for some of the symbols found in such paintings as The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1510-1515, wooden triptych, (206 x 386 cm), Prado Museum, Madrid.
texture - An element of art which refers to the surface quality or "feel" of an object, its smoothness, roughness, softness, etc. Textures may be actual or simulated. Actual textures can be felt with the fingers, while simulated textures are suggested by the way the artist has painted certain areas of a picture. Other resources concerned with texture:
Definitions are from Artlex Dictionary of Visual Art (http://www.artlex.com/)