Four Tips to Assess the Art You Appreciate

There is an abundance of incredible art available to view and so many lessons to learn from each painting. I believe as artists, it is our duty to constantly push ourselves and continue to learn from each other. In a way, pursuing art is like committing to an unending personal journey of discovery; constantly interpreting the visual world and distilling it onto canvas. One way to learn from the artists who you admire is to systematically deconstruct their paintings. Apply some artistic analysis using foundational principles to your favorite paintings and prepare to learn!

Golden Hour Along Stream 18x24"

How can art enthusiasts and artists alike efficiently “deconstruct” paintings?

Evaluate the Composition

First, I would suggest evaluating the composition. You may ask yourself the following questions.

· What makes the composition unique in any way? For instance, what is the perspective or emotion of the subject?

· What is the compositional stem of the painting (See Edgar Payne’s book on composition for clarification).

· Is there a focal point and if so, where is it located?

· How does your eye move through the painting? How does the focal point direct your eye throughout the painting (if at all?) You’ll start to “feel” the journey your eye takes from one part of the piece to another.

· What artistic devices does the artist use to highlight the focal point? (e.g. light, other subject matter, direction of shadow, etc.)

Look at the Value Structure

One of the best ways to understand the underlying structure of the painting is to understand the value structure. The value structure refers to the lightness or darkness of tones or colors. White is the lightest value; black is the darkest. The value halfway between these extremes is middle gray.

For example, Joaquin Sorolla, the “master of light” painted in the intense sunlight of Spain. His paintings tend to superbly convey light and shadow with intense warm colors in the sunlit areas.

Ask yourself, how does the artist group the values into a cohesive design? I have found that the strongest compositions tend to have dynamic, integrated value shapes that create an interesting pattern within the painting.

Identify the Color Scheme

You may also want to evaluate the color scheme. Color is an element of art made up of three properties: hue, value, and intensity.

To identify the color scheme, ask yourself these questions.

· Is there evidence of color theory? Is the artist using a common scheme such as complementary colors or a triad?

· Are the colors bold and intense like a Walt Gonske painting or subdued and greyed typical of many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings?

· What is the most common color in the painting? Which color is the most intense?

· And probably most importantly, do the colors describe well the intensity and quality of the light source?

Evaluate Transitions

Lastly, I would evaluate the transitions or edges.

· Where are the edges hard and crisp?

· Where have the edges been lost by juxtaposing two equal values?

· Is there a rhythm or gradation of the edges throughout the painting?

· Does the artist blend edges mechanically with a tool like a scraper or are the transitions created by a series of discrete shapes in order to create a ‘softer’ edge?

I hope this inspires some who have not systematically evaluated paintings in the past to begin this process. As an artist, you may have very particular interests and thus the evaluation would include some of your own specific objectives. The number of questions you may ask yourself to evaluate paintings is almost limitless. It’s just important to keep asking the questions.

Good luck!

About the Author

Drew Sarka, a family doctor at Aurora Family Practice Group, creates representational oil paintings that capture his life experiences and showcase the beauty of what Colorado has to offer. From majestic mountainscapes to delicate florals to playful children twirling on a tire swing, Sarka is known for translating genuine, honest experiences onto the canvas. His intentional choice of color and placement of light, shadow and form bring out his signature textural composition. Drew’s work has appeared in more than 35 art galleries and shows across the U.S. For more information, connect with him on Facebook, Instagram and at