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Kentucky Educational Television
Lesson Plan
Abstraction—Critique of Art

Activity: Critique of Art
Video: Looking at Painting, Program 3: “Abstraction”
Segment: Open and Origins
In-cue: Start at the beginning of the video.
Out-cue: Stop at the title “Ideas/Processes” (approx. time 18:46)
Segment Length: about 19 minutes
Length of Lesson: 4 class periods

Questions To Guide Your Instruction
Ask these questions of your students at the beginning of the first class period:

  1. Could a painting in which only shapes, colors, textures, lines, and values are used be considered art? Why or why not?
  2. Why might an artist paint a picture without having a recognizable subject matter? What message might the artist be trying to convey?

Students will observe and make personal decisions about abstract artworks using a four-step critique process.

Kentucky Core Content for Assessment:
AH-H-4.1.31, AH-H-4.1.34, AH-H-4.2.39

Critical Vocabulary:
Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism

Instructional Strategies and Activities
Begin the lesson by discussing the Questions To Guide Your Instruction. Then show the first 19 minutes of video #103. Ask students the same questions and see whether their responses are different now.

Visit the Abstraction wing of the Looking at Painting web site gallery to see other abstract artworks. Supplement with slides, transparencies, or prints. Include works by some or all of the following artists:

  • Franz Kline
  • Morris Louis
  • Frank Stella
  • Willem de Kooning
  • Helen Frankenthaler
  • Lucas Samaras (transparency 27 in Arttalk, Fine Art Transparencies and Instructor’s Guide.)
  • Arshile Gorky
  • Wassily Kandinsky
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Mark Rothko
  • Ellsworth Kelly
  • Robert Motherwell
  • Jean Dubuffet
  • Jasper Johns
  • Paul Klee
  • Piet Mondrian
  • Victor Vasarely

Select one example that shows plenty of detail and that can be seen by the whole class. Practice critiquing the artwork; involve the whole class in this practice critique. As the steps, which must be taken in order, are followed, have a student record notes on the board.

Critique Instructions
Students must follow these four steps in sequence:

Step One: Description
Have the students make a list of all the things they see in the work without making any kind of judgment about the work. If they make only superficial observations, have the students sketch the artwork. Then have them list things they noticed only after sketching. Point out the importance of careful, non-judgmental observation. Have students include the size of the work and the medium used.

Step Two: Analysis
Have the students pay close attention to which art elements the artist used. Have them look for ways those elements were used to organize the composition using rhythm, balance, movement, proportion, variety, emphasis, and unity.

Step Three: Interpretation
Have the students explain or tell the meaning or mood of the work. Encourage them to think creatively and imaginatively at this stage. However, have them base this interpretation on what they’ve concluded in the first two steps.

Step Four: Judgment
Have students decide whether the work is successful or has merit. They may base their judgment on one of the aesthetic theories of art: literal qualities, design qualities, expressive qualities. (See a step-by-step approach to art criticism with accompanying exercises in Arttalk, pages 27-35.)

After the class as a whole does a practice art critique, have students select a different art print or example from an art book and do individual critiques. Have them select artists from the list provided.

If possible, post art prints with student critiques beside them.


Books, video, and web site used in this lesson:

  • Clark, Gilbert and Enid Zimmerman. ART/design: Communicating Visually. Blauvelt, NY: Art Education, Inc., 1978.
  • Ragans, Rosalind. Arttalk, Teacher’s Wraparound Edition. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 1995.
  • Looking at Painting, Program 3: “Abstraction”
  • Looking at Painting web site gallery, Abstraction wing
  • Arttalk, Fine Art Transparencies and Instructor’s Guide. New York: Glencoe Macmillan/McGraw Hill, 1995.

Save these writings for possible development as a writing portfolio piece.

Assessment and Scoring Guide
Distinguished: Student makes positive, insightful contributions to discussion. Student successfully follows the four steps in critiquing art.
Proficient: Student makes good contributions to discussion. Student follows the four steps used to critique artwork.
Apprentice: Student makes little contribution to the class discussion and practice critique. Student tries to make a judgment about the work too soon before following the previous steps.
Novice: Student does not contribute to the class discussion and practice critique or makes inappropriate statements. Student makes only judgmental statements without trying to analyze and interpret the work first.

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