How to Write an Art Exhibition Review

Опубликовал Admin
24-10-2016, 19:50
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You may have to write an art exhibition review for your job as a writer, or for a school assignment. Reflecting on and writing about art can be a creative experience, and reviews are very important for spreading awareness about new exhibitions and giving artists feedback. A well-written review should incorporate your viewing experience into an informed and critical analysis.

Experiencing and Describing the Exhibition

  1. Of course it's a good idea to have a general idea of what kind of artwork and/or exhibition you are going to see before your initial visit, but before you do extensive background research, it is advisable to visit the exhibition without too many preconceived ideas. Absolutely read any material that the gallery or museum offers, and you may do a little more research after your visit, especially if the exhibition left you with questions about the artist or about the artwork. It is always important to give your reader information that will help them understand the art and your ideas about the exhibition. Do not include a full-blown biography of the artist. The life of the artist is only important if it has a direct effect on the art that you are examining, or if it affects the viewer's experience of the work. For example, you do not need to include where the artist was born unless the art work is about this place and it will help the reader understand the work better. Useful information can include the period in which the artist worked, major influences on the artist that can be seen in the exhibited work, and any personal information that helps to explain the style or subject matter of the art. Similarly, you'll want to include any information that is relevant (and significant) to specific art in the exhibition.
    • Art is never created in a vacuum. It is important to understand the historical, cultural and social circumstances behind the creation and creator. This will help you better understand the intentions of the artist.
  2. Walk through the entire physical space to appreciate the exhibition as a whole, and get a sense of how it matches the curatorial goals.
    • After your initial walk-through, select a few works in the exhibition was primary examples to write about, and look at them very carefully. Pay attention to the larger composition and organization of each individual work, as well as the little details the become apparent upon close examination.
  3. Chronicle your viewing experience with notes. Although you will not want to include personal musings and notes in the review itself, when you visit the exhibition it's a great idea to write down notes of your impressions and experiences. Jot down all that you think and feel when viewing the work or works, and use your notes when you write your analysis later. Think about the goals of the exhibition. It can be helpful to ask the following questions:
    • Why are the works of art ordered or arranged this way?
    • Does a particular work stand out from the rest?
    • Is there a theme or a subtext to the exhibition?
    • Does the theme or thesis become obvious as I walk through the space?
    • How is this exhibition different from others I've seen?
  4. Write a description of the exhibition (a visual inventory). What did you see? What is there? How did it look? You will want to save your interpretations for later in the review. Write a clear description of the significant formal elements (elements of the form) of each work of art that you discuss (for example, colors, shapes, line, use of light and dark, space, etc.), and then describe the subject matter. Your goal is to help the reader imagine what the exhibition looks like. This sort of straight forward description can be useful for your own references as you reflect on your own experience. Write about distinctive features of the exhibition. Analyze the use of shading, colors, line, the medium, etc. Then look for iconographic and symbolic elements in the work. Answer the question "What do you see?" in a way that goes beyond just physical description.

Analyzing and Critiquing the Exhibition

  1. Identify important themes. Art historical scholarship can contribute. For example, if the exhibition features a Baroque artist, you should reference historical Baroque styles and content, and use appropriate terminology.
  2. Critique the exhibition. "Criticism" does not mean finding fault with your subject. Critical writing involves examining the evidence (visual or other) to make informed evaluations and conclusions. Your opinion is valid, but do not offer simple opinions before you have established evidence from your observations ad your analysis. Evaluate how effectively the artwork and the curatorial decisions (placement, viewing conditions, accompanying literature, etc.) communicate the thesis, or theme, of the exhibition. Consider subject matter and the artist's rendering of the subject matter. Engage the context of the works, and evaluate the exhibition in a nuanced way that highlights important themes.
    • It is not enough to simply say you like or dislike a work; you should be able to say why. It is fine to mention that a particular piece evokes a certain feeling as long as you are specific (what aspect of the work triggers that particular emotion?) At this point you can also consider how the display, lighting, and the arrangement, as well as the choice of work, contributes to the effectiveness of the exhibition.
    • Consider this as a persuasive argument and use evidence and research to back up your interpretation(s).

Checking and Editing Your Work

  1. Make sure the format of your review is correct. You will generally want to include an introduction paragraph with a thesis, sections about specific artworks in the exhibition, (including description(s), analysis, and then interpretation(s)), consideration of the space it is displayed in, and your own evaluations based on your analyses and interpretations. You will also want to include a concluding paragraph that wraps up major points and summarizes the review.
    • If your teacher or professor gave a grading rubric for the assignment, make sure your work adheres to these standards including citation style, length, and subject requirements.
  2. Know the genre you're writing within.The language should be appropriate. Include meaningful adjectives and descriptions of the work. General adjectives like "beautiful" or vernacular expressions that relate to your personal reaction do not help the reader understand what is significant to your thesis. For example, unless you can properly and clearly explicate why it is beautiful, and what is significance about its beauty, the information is no useful to your reader (who may not agree, anyway!). Show that you took the time to understand and analyze the exhibition by choosing your words carefully. If this is a school assignment, most likely your teacher wants to learn more than whether it looked good to you or not.
    • Understand the connotations of your words. Remember that you are writing about art and terms like "classic" can have time-period connotations and should be used carefully and appropriately.
  3. Know your audience. This is also important in the language that you use. If you are writing for an art history professor, chances are that they will not be impressed by jargon-laden, convoluted sentences. Rather, clear and precise language using appropriate terminology is generally what an art historian would want to read. However, if it is for a mainstream publication read by people without an extensive art history background, you will want to avoid jargon, and explain any discipline-specific terminology(that the public might not understand) within the text.
  4. Make sure to cite your research properly. Although reviews are not usually the same as academic essays, you will not want to steal the words of another reviewer or background information without proper credit. Your publication may have certain requirements, but generally footnotes are avoided and you should simply find an in-text way to make reference to where you are getting your information.
  5. Finish early and let the work sit. This can be hard if you are on a strict deadline, but planning accordingly can help your writing immensely. Generally it is a good idea to write your review and then set it aside for at least 24 hours before re-visting it.
    • This will help your writing and editorial process but can also help your evaluations. Perhaps you re-read a work after 24 hours and have come to a different analysis and conclusion about the exhibition. By making your writing a process, rather than a one-time sit down affair, you can get the best out of your work.


  • Don't overuse superlatives. If you fall into the trap of calling every artwork you see "breathtaking," "magnificent" or "flawless," you'll soon come off as a shallow, uninformed critic. Likewise, calling everything you dislike "appalling," "disgusting," or "terrible" will give you a bad reputation and probably earn you a few enemies.
  • Always have materials ready for taking notes or recording conversations.
  • Be polite to your interview subjects.
  • Stay informed of current trends and ideas in the art scene. Subscribe to newspapers, magazines, blogs, and Twitter accounts that report the latest art news.
  • Do your research. Experts will quickly write you off if you don't know the basics of art history and the contemporary art scene.
  • Keep an open mind. Don't go into any exhibit expecting to hate it. Always be open to the idea of new methods and concepts.
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