As David Perkins says, it is all too easy to stand in front of a work of art and miss much of what the work has to show. This basic fact is the invisibility of art. Works of modern art, in particular, are often pure abstraction. They are what Perkins calls “idea-based” art. Such works tease rather than tell, conceal rather than reveal, and pose a mystery rather than present a message. We have to use systematic ways of looking at art, to render it more visible than it would otherwise be.
Perkins introduces two models on looking at art in an organized way. The first is Edmund Burke Feldman’s “critical performance”. The four-phase process is as follows:
- Description – Taking inventory of what is in the work.
- Formal analysis – Looking at the way the elements of the work are organized and seeking out the “logic” of their organization.
- Interpretation – Analyzing the meaning of the work.
- Judgment – Appraising the aesthetic merit of a work relative to other comparable works.
The other is a process described by Harry S. Broudy and R. Silverman, called “aesthetic scanning”:
- First, look for sensory properties, formal properties, expressive properties and technical properties.
- Then, give judgment.