Teacher Resources MMoCA Collects

Looking at Art

Joseph RaffaelLizard, oil on canvas, 1971.

Students and teachers who are unfamiliar with the history or language of art can use basic art elements to appreciate and analyze art objects. The elements of art include the familiar components of color, line, texture, shape, light and space. By taking time to look carefully at the ways an artist employs these components, any observer can achieve increased understanding and enjoyment of an artwork. Knowledge of the subject matter or of the artist's intent may add to this experience but is not essential for knowing how to look at art.

After an initial inventory of immediately observable characteristics, visual analysis of an artwork proceeds by asking and answering a variety of questions, such as: How is color used here? What kinds of lines—straight, curving, jagged, thick—can be noted? In what ways do lines create shapes—either organic or geometric forms? How are textures employed or suggested? How has the artist used light and dark contrasts? How do the colors, lines, shapes and textures fit into the surrounding space and imply depth or movement? In what directions do the colors, lines, textures, light and shapes direct the eye? The viewer can use the art elements to formulate other questions like these, leading to deeper observation and unexpected discoveries.

Observers bring to art their own experiences and interests, which guide the eye and lead to individual understandings and preferences. Certain colors may be particularly appealing. Particular shapes or textures may be reminders of familiar forms. Delineation of space or contrasts in lights and darks may provoke different emotions. Such personal responses are important additions to a straightforward analysis of art elements, leading any art observer toward a fuller experience of an artwork.