Sara E. Thomas
When I teach students how to analyze artwork I use Edmund Feldman's method as a framework for our discussions, they will use this method to analyze the painting of their choice by their artist. It is a process that entails four steps: describing, analyzing interpreting and deciding. (Simpson 123) When students are first presented with this model they are eager to interpret the artwork first and foremost. I encourage them to record these initial feelings towards the artwork they are viewing, however I also model for them a new more in depth way of viewing a piece of artwork. First, I ask students to describe the artwork. In order to try to teach the students not to interpret I encourage them to describe only things that are obvious in the artwork. I stress this by having them only list objects, if they cannot recognize any objects, then they should begin to describe shapes and colors instead of assuming what subject they artist was trying to express I often start the discussion using this question: If you wanted your friend to go to the art museum and find this specific piece of artwork, how would you describe it for him/her? Initially, we complete this process as a class. I am at the front of the class recording all of the students' suggestions on the white board, or sometimes I will choose a student recorder. If students do not compile a detailed enough description I will read them the description they have recorded so far, and explain to them another piece of artwork that could fit that description. This prompts them to continue describing. If a work is very large and detailed I may also break it down into four quarters, which we will discuss one at a time, so that the students have a more specific area to focus on to be sure they create a complete description. It is important for students to create a detailed description because they pick up on details that they might have missed upon first glance. The first few times we participate in this analysis it is difficult for students to refrain from interpreting the artwork, but as I model the process and they become familiar with it they become very adept at describing the artwork.
Next, students analyze the artwork using the elements and principles of design. Students discuss composition, use of color, and which particular techniques the artist has used in the artwork. Because students come to me with a very limited vocabulary, they become exponentially better at this process as the class continues, because they begin to learn more about the elements and principles of design. They have a better understanding of identifying and applying these principles. Here I will expect them to focus on the basic shapes and shading techniques we have learned in the previous unit.
The third step asks students to interpret the artwork. After describing the artwork in detail they have a full arsenal of details to use to formulate an interpretation. I will ask students to hypothesize what the artist was thinking about when s/he created the piece of art, and why they think this -- this is where supporting evidence becomes important. The first few times we use Feldman's method we do it out loud as a class so that students gain an understanding of how the process works. For these specific images the idea of technology and what the artist is celebrating through futurism will be an important part of the interpretation.
The last step of Feldman's method is for students to decide whether or not they like the piece of artwork and to defend their decision. I will skip this step during this particular unit, to save time so they have enough time to work on the studio portion of the unit. I usually use this step when the artwork is more controversial, or I know there will be a strong reaction to it so we can engage in an interesting dialogue.