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How to Understand and Critique Paintings

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If you're an absolute beginner when it comes to understanding and critiquing paintings, or want to learn how to read paintings, you've come to the right place.
  1. Learn How to Critique Paintings
  2. Understanding Art and Painting Terms
  3. Understanding Abstract Art
  4. Famous Paintings
  1. Photos of Paintings
  2. Art Symbols
  3. Try It Yourself: Paint In the Style Of...
  4. Painting Reference Books

Learn How to Critique Paintings

Waterlily painting by Monet

You don't need to be a professional art critic or have a degree in art history in order to critique a painting. We all have opinions, and that's the starting point for learning how to critique a painting. Looking critically at other artists' work also helps you assess your own paintings more objectively and thoroughly.

Understanding Art and Painting Terms

Vincent van Gogh letter signature

There's a lot of jargon and terminology used in art. Here are some resources to help you understand it.

Understanding Abstract Art

Rothko colorfield painting Photo © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

If a painting isn't of something real, just colors and shapes, how do we understand and interpret it? What might the artist be trying to say, if anything at all?

Famous Paintings

How to Understand Paintings

Looking at famous paintings isn't so much about liking or disliking the painting, but learning about why it's considered great. Such paintings can teach you many things, including composition, color, and mark-making with paint.

Photos of Paintings

Self-Portrait with Easel Painting by Vincent van Gogh

Even if you can't get to an exhibition, it's worth looking at photos of the paintings selected for an exhibition both individually and as a group. Seeing multiple paintings by an artist helps you learn about their style, and development as an artist.

Art Symbols

Using signs and symbols in a painting is a way to add extra and/or hidden meaning, which a viewer may or may not understand or even notice.

Try It Yourself: Paint In the Style Of...

Creating your own version of a famous painting teaches you a lot about an artist and their style because it makes you look long and hard at the painting.

Painting Reference Books

Books on painting and art

These books are all ones I consult regularly and can't imagine being without. I may not be able to find other things in my studio immediately, but I always know where these are.

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