Part of our formation as artists consists on breaking down the procedure of making and critiquing art. Regarding critique, building a strong sense of opinion either if we are analysing sculpture, painting or pottery is imperative for developing a sharp eye, which later on will guide us to make a solid interpretation of what we look, describe and analyse.
But first, let’s talk about two main concepts that have a direct influence in how we perceive and interpret a work of art:
Form in visual arts is the group of characteristics that define the final look of a work of art. It’s related to the basic elements that can be perceived by observation, such as shapes, line, design, space, use of color and color palette, technique, materials, etc. These attributes are easily describable by the viewer, giving birth to art.
Content refers to the idea, meaning and personal statement of the artist, which are influenced by multiple aspects such as society, moral, age, time period, religion, ideals of beauty, aesthetics. I believe that the content of a work of art lives in multiple interpretations: first in the artist’s intention, and second, in the viewers analysis of the art piece, who may or may not have the knowledge or background history in which the art piece was originally made. Content relies on our perception and interpretation of visual messages.
In art, form and content cannot be conceived as separate concepts. They interact cohesively as a whole.
The method we are practicing in class really breaks down the process to study a work of art. It’s interesting how we have been using these criteria given by Ryan Finnerty, because we focus on each concept one step at a time, making critique and observation more organised, narrowing visual concepts until we get to the final judging of the art piece. This method consists in 5 steps:
1. Look. It’s the basic visual information you gather from the observation of the art work.
2. Describe. Brings down the characteristics into a spoken or written statement in terms of shapes, color, composition, etc.
3. Analyse. Consists in understanding what has been described and how this elements relate to each other, finding meaning within the visual language of the artwork.
4. Interpret. Create a strong statement about what the art work means to you, connecting your interpretation with the actual facts of the time period, history and overall content of the culture you are studying.
5. Judge. Do you like it or not? Why?
Having this list of steps listed, we should try lying down the steps on the Orozco mural shown above:
1. Looking. The mural clearly shows Miguel Hidalgo, an heroic icon in the war of Mexico’s independence, as the primary subject in the painting holding a torch and calling the townsfolk to be up at arms. We must know that this is not the whole painting, but only looking at the central section of it. We can also see a group of people just below him at the base of the mural.
2. Describe. Hidalgo’s figure is clearly in a battle calling stance. His closed hand holding the torch is an important focal point. The people below him are depicted in a very crude way, portraying sorrow and suffering. Between Hidalgo and the people (rebels) we have a group of red flags as an element of transition between subjects.
Analyse. The primary object (Hidalgo) is ready for battle. His closed hand defines strength and imposition, while his expression and facial gestures (open mouth and focusing his view forward) are harsh and dramatic. If we think about the content and what was really going on before Mexican independence war, Miguel Hidalgo was a catholic priest with no battle knowledge whatsoever. The outcome of the first battle in the fortress named Alhóndiga de Granaditas (which he leaded) resulted in a terrible loss and slaughter of townsfolk and peasants who fought actual trained soldiers, but nevertheless, took the building for the rebel movement. Orozco has represented this terrible event in this part of the mural, which I suppose was mostly omitted in mid-20th century text books. Looking the painting from another perspective, maybe Orozco thought of Hidalgo leading the people to their doom, which in part is true.