ART CRITICISM

 

Learn about
Different between Art critics and Art criticism
Theory of immitationalism
Theory of formalism
Theory of institutionalism
Theory of Emotionalism

Art criticism

Let me say emphatically that “theories of art criticism “are not the same thing as “theories of art”. Both are related in some ways, because they refer to same concepts and postulations in theories of art. Theories of art criticism differ essentially from theories of art because the fundamental bases of art criticism depend on theories of art such as those of Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and Betrand Russel to justify their position, which seek to define the meaning, nature and relevance of art to man and society. Theories of art are frameworks or bases from which critics launch their “attack” on artworks and artists or support them.

The similarities between theories of art and art criticism are that both are concerned with art and aesthetics (philosophy of art). That is, they are concerned with the value of art, its process of creation, taste, beauty and general aesthetics. It must also be noted that art criticism is not limited to the visual arts but concerns the performing arts as well as the literary arts (poetry, prose, plays etc).

  1. Theory of immitationalism: This theory has to do with the contention of some art critics that what is essential about an artwork is how real or natural the images depicted in them resemble their models. This theory reveals artworks which border on naturalism and realism like the works of the ancient Greeks depicting their gods and those of High Renaissance artists as good artworks. The latter is exemplified by the works of Leornardo da Vinci’s “Monalisa”and Michelangelo’s “Dying slave”. This view echoes the position of Plato’s first theory of art in which he derogatively described art as a mere copy of a copy. Examples of some Nigerian artists who subscribe to this school of thought are Aina Onabolu, Abayomi Barber and Josy Ajiboye. However, art critics such as E.H. Gombrich considers immitationalism as being nearly illusionistic and may, therefore, not necessarily appreciate the values inherent in other artworks that are not necessarily naturalistic but have expressive qualities. Immitationalism as a theory will negate the artistic qualities in all the artworks created before modern artworks like those of Post-impressionalism and Abstractionalism. This implies that the late 19th century modern artworks and those of post-modernist of the 20th century will not conform conceptually to the immitationalist theory.

Indeed, the appearance of some African artworks, like those looted in Benin following the British punitive                 Expedition of 1987, in the western world opened a new vista in the perception and practice of art in Europe as Europeans artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henry Matisse and George Braque found the expressive qualities of Africans artworks efficacious. They were supported in this thinking by the likes of Roger Elliot fry (1866-1934) an English painter, critic and a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

Prior to this time, apologist of the theory of immitationalism have contended that Africans typified by Nigerians have low IQ and have less intellect. Consequently they could not create works of realistic and naturalistic qualities like those executed by Westerners. This is in spite of the fact that they knew that some ancient Egyptians   artworks possess these features.They argued that Egyptians were not Africans and that the exquisite and splendid life bronze and terracotta artworks, which were made by the Yoruba about the same time that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created works of similar standard in Italy, Europe in the 15th century A.D, were made by foreigners and not the Yoruba. One of this skeptics is Leo Frobenius, a German ethnologist who toured Africa and saw specimen of Ife bronze and terracotta sculptures during the first decade of the 20th century.

It was this type of derogatory views expressed by African artists that prompted early Nigerian artists like Aina onabolu and Akiola Lasekan to advocate strongly for the style of realism to be practiced by Nigerians in their artistic creations rather than the African-oriented art style of abstractionism.

In the light of the above, art skeptics and popular art critics whose knowledge of art is shallow are likely to question the rationale in spending money on artworks considered by them as unrealistic object which are merely creation that resemble an original model. “Why must one spend N200,000 on a pencil drawing of him when in actual fact that drawing executed on a framed paper is not really him as a person?” Will it not be reasonable to spend such money on something else the person needs? Maybe on furnitures and beddings to make his life comfortable? Such a thinking, which is characteristics of popular art criticism account for the low patronage of artworks by majority Nigerian in art exhibitions. It is a reaction to this phenomenon that some scholarly art critics like Babatunde Lawal and Rod Emi queried the high cost of Nigerian artworks which are not affordable by low and middle class Nigerians.

Emi in an article titled “is Art that Expensive” supports Babatunde Lawal and Bruce Onabrakpeya opinion that Nigeria artists, especially the upcoming ones; appear not to be mindful of the state of the inflation in Nigeria economy when putting price tags on their artworks for local exhibitions. Finally, in all these, critics who apply this art theory seem to be unaware of plato’s view in his first theory of art that although art is a copy of a copy, it has implication for societal progress and development.

  1. Theory of formalism: Formalist art critics uphold the view that the value of an artwork is inherent in its form and style of creation. The form in this sense connotes all the work’s perceivable elements, that is; colour, line, shape and texture as influenced by the principles with which they are created. This theory unlike immitationalism appreciates modern and post-modern artworks as it does not recognize mimesis as a valuable quality artworks. The theory became more prominent in the second half of the 19th century during the impressionalist era, when the view was expressed that the beauty of a painting can be felt in the application of colours, line, shape and texture, and not necessarily in its theme/subject. It is in this context that abstract artworks like paintings of Piet Mondrian and sculptures of Bracussi could be said to be desirable. In the case of Mondrian, his paintings characterized by flatly rendered and coloured assorted lines, rectangular and square shapes, which has the qualities of check pattern seen on textile designs, appear simple but unleash aesthetic pleasure in their beholders. Of equal significance in this respect are the print of Gani Odutokun, Mufu Onifade and the stylized painting of Yusuf Grillo. Thus, the task before the artist who earns the admiration of formalist critics is that of using media to depict the images/motifs of their works in a manner that renders them usually appealing and meaningful within the context of representational and non-representational art.              Whereas, formalism may limit the notion of beauty to external appearance of artworks, and by extension, to objects or thing within the environment, most African scholarly critics see beauty beyond this. For instance, Kunle Filani one of the founders of Ona  Group of Artist postulates that Onanism pertains to Yoruba aesthetics, which apart from recognizing the beauty in artworks and craft like traditional wood carving, embroidery and beadworks, deems the patience and dexterity with which the artists creates their intricate motifs as manifestation of beauty. Abiodun Rowland also supports this view and stresses that good manner or behavior that is expected of a good person, “omo oluwabi” also constitutes the quality of beauty in Yoruba aesthetics. Uche Okeke and Rod Emi corroborate the dimension of African aesthetics exemplified by the Yoruba notion of beauty, while commenting on Igbo aesthetics. This is because the Igbo also extend their idea of beauty beyond the formal qualities of people, especially about women of whom beauty is often expected and discussed.

Indeed, Emi in an article “can Beauty be Ugly” emphasized the ethical dimension of aesthetics when he recalled the dethronement of a Nigerian Beauty Queen who had emerged in a beauty pageant in the early 1980s because she was  later found guilty in a case of certificate/admission scam at the University of Lagos. The question to be asked in this regard is “how did a criminal act which borders on ethics affect her acclaimed beauty –an aesthetic quality”?

  1. Theory of institutionalism: institutionalism as an art criticism theory posits that artwork is only regarded as an artwork if it is certified to be created by an artist. Therefore, any work of art created by a person who has not undergone any art training is considered a fake and is believe not to have any place in the art world, unless it is approved by an artist or an art institution. Such an artwork considered to be done by a novice is deemed as having a questionable societal function and cultural basis. Its place in art history is also vague. The process of validating the work of a novice requires its critical appraisal by a qualified artist who is considered an expert and who is capable of analyzing and interpreting its visual elements including the principles applied in creation. Such a (qualified) artist can also consider the appropriateness or otherwise of the media, technique and style used by the creator of the artwork.

However, in this contemporary world where the creation of artworks with computer application software like corel Draw, photoshop is now possible, virtually anybody who is not a trained studio artist, but owns a  computer and could devote some time for learning computer design, can create artwork which may be acceptable as graphic artwork without the need for (institutional) authentically, Today we are bombarded with a lot of graphic artworks in the form of handbills, banners, logos and posters which are created by persons who had never studied art either formally or informally and as such could not be regarded as an artist. This category of artwork creators are naturally familiar with colours, shapes, lines and texture and have unbridled access to assorted font (type faces)most of which they abysmally abuse typographically.

Art novice may not be able to place their work within the context of art history due to their lack of art historical knowledge. Notwithstanding the foregoing, some school of thoughts on art teaching methods such as those which supports the discipline based art education (DBAE) that de-emphasizes the conventional/traditional art teaching method which places importance on the knowledge of the elements and principles of design as a condition for being proficient in studio art creation, may not subscribe to the institutionalist theory. This is because the application of knowledge of elements and principles of design in the creation of artwork has always constituted a criterion for determining the qualification of a western-type formally trained artist. Can one ague, in light of this that traditional Yoruba artist such as Arowoogun, Oshamuko and Olowe of Ise-Ekiti, the latter who has been locally and traditionally acclaimed as renowned wood carver for kings and very important persons in the late 19th century, should not be referred to as an artist. The institutionalist theorist’s answer to this will be that these traditional artworks are valid because their creation passed through the art apprenticeship education system, which as institutions granted them the status of artist.

  1. Theory of Emotionalism: The theory of emotionalism pertains to essentially to expressionistic artworks created in styles like surrealism, Dadaism and fauvism beginning from the early 20th century which evokes feelings such as anger, anguish, fear, pain, sorrow, love, hatred, pity and joy evoked on by artworks on their perceivers. Examples of these types of artworks are Edward Munch’s “The Stream”, Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, all Western paintings of Jesus Christ on the cross, Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” and Eugene Delacrolx’s “Liberty leading the people to freedom”. Nigerian examples are the statue of St. Sebastian in St. Sebastian catholic cathedral in ijebu-ode executed by Samkay Adekoya and Rod Adoh Emi and Ben Enwonwu’s sango which was used by the defunct National Electrical Power Authority (NEPA) as its logo. As a fact most newspaper cartoons which elicit assorted feelings like laughter/anger and sorrow fall within the category of artworks covered by the theory of emotionalism in art criticism. The works in this category have the capacity to affect the psyche of their perceiver in when they trigger psychic reaction. This takes effect through a physiological cum psychological process that engenders neuro-muscular and skeletal reaction in people that eventually results in catharsis.

It is in bad to ensure that their artworks elicit certain physic effect that some artists abuse mentally stimulating substances like cocaine, marijuana (India hemp) and alcohol before and while creating their artworks. While Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Bob Marley exemplify artistes who have done this in the field of music art, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock are two out of the several visual artists that have been criticized at sometime in the past for indulging in the use of drugs in other to boost the emotional effect of their artworks.

However, emotional-oriented art is vital for the progress and development of man and society. This is in spite of the opposition of the theory of emotionalism in art typified by the fear expressed by philosophers like Plato and Betrand Russell, the former of who recommended that its teaching and usage in ancient Greece be censored. For instance, this type of art is applied therapeutically in medicine to treat the sick, especially those suffering from depression. Generally, it relieves its perceivers of stress and tension through the humour often created in artworks like newspaper cartoons.

Moreover, it could change society from bad to good by satirizing or lampooning bad political leadership, and may trigger socio-political revolution with implication for national socio-political order. Emotional art has also been deployed as instrument for mass mobilization in socio-political and economic campaigns where their sublime qualities are used in reinforcing desired messages expressed in banners, posters, handbills as well as in other art media.

 

CONCLUSION                                 

It will be realized from this article that theories of art criticism differ in some respects from the theories of art. The theories of art, analogically, are like a big building with room spaces in which theories of art criticism have attempted to live. Art critics often refer to art theories whenever they are faced with the challenge of justifying their opinions of artists and artworks.

In conducting art criticism, one, two or more theories of art criticism mat be appealed to by art critics if the styles, themes, media and techniques of the artist and his or her works transcends the limit of what could be considered as the criteria of a particular theory of art criticism. This for instance can happen in situations where a work of art which appearance conforms to the theories of immitationalism and formalism, and yet possess also the power of arousing feelings that is considered as a desirable quality of emotionalism by art critics who uphold the theory of emotionalism in art criticism.

The implication of what I have been saying as a conclusion to this lecture is that artists do not limit themselves to a single style in their professional practices. An artist can produce different works of art that could fit the different criteria of yardsticks applied by art critics as theories to rationalize their criticism.

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