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OLLI Photo Club – WIFT, Critiquing Abstracts

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WIFT – Critiquing Abstracts, a Few Notes on

Assuming that one goal of art is to communicate, criticism of abstract art must first determine what the piece communicates to the viewer.  Unlike representational art, the communication may most often exist at an unconscious level or at a level difficult to express in words or actions, for example, abstract art may be trying to communicate what the color “red” is.  Nevertheless, some criteria for judging representational art can be applied to abstract art.

It is my hope that the following definitions and critique approaches will help us critique abstract photos in the WIC (Weekly Image Critique) gallery.  The information below was gleaned from information publicly available on the web and includes, for the most part, information that seems to be consistently understood across recognized authorities, qualified discussion groups and specific artists.


Definition of Abstract Art

“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward, you can remove all traces of reality.” –  Pablo Picasso

“Non-representational works of art that do not depict scenes or objects in the world or have discernable subject matter.”  (from MOMA)

“Remove [a work of abstract art] from its art world context and it loses its meaning entirely.” (From David Carrier in Aesthetic Theory, Abstract Art, and Lawrence Carrol, read first full paragraph through following page.)

The “art world context” of WIC photos includes three elements: the artist (photographer), the exhibition (WIC gallery), and the critique (provided by an OPC member).  Remove any one of these elements and the art ceases to exist.

“Abstract photography, sometimes called non-objective, experimental, conceptual or concrete photography, is a means of depicting a visual image that does not have an immediate association with the object world and that has been created through the use of photographic equipment, processes or materials.”  (from Wikipedia)


Definition of Creativity

“To bring into existence something new … through imaginative skill.”  — Merriam-Webster

“…real creativity is independent of the creator.”  — Harq al-Ada, on Leto II’s recognition of his role, Children of Dune, by Frank Herbert


Some Approaches to the Critique of Abstract Art

Fundamental Criteria for Evaluating Abstract Art, from a discussion at ResearchGate:

  • “…abstractions [are] not about the typical aesthetics, such as color, composition, perspective, etc. However, it’s about the innovation.
  • “…a high degree of craft can be indicative of great abstract art – obviously not a popular point of view in a world dominated by conceptual art.”
  • “…abstraction in any work of art is devoid of standard rules of objective judgement.”

Judging Guidelines from the Naples Camera Club: Focus point should be sharp and clear, unless the work is abstract.  Color should be believable, unless the work is abstract.

What makes a good abstract, from artist Jane Trotter: Simplicity, Composition, Lighting, Angle of View, Harmony and Cohesion, Mystery and Accessibility.

Judging Abstract Art, from the Emerald Photography Society: “…use your response to an image, concentrate on the big elements & use the sandwich method.”

“The Sandwich.  What that means is start off with a positive, then discuss the weaknesses, and finish off with what worked well.”  See How to Give and Take a Critique.

Judging Quality of Abstract Painting, from Artwork Archive: Recognize the intention, find conscious composition, notice meaningful use of color, spot deliberate textures, understand history and significance.



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