The Rapidian

How to Look at Art, Part 4

This is the last in a four part series on how to look at art, using the DRIO process: Description, Relationships, Interpretation and Opinion. I discuss the "opinion" step in today's article.
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DRIO Series

This is the third of four steps that will be published in four installments this week.

How to Look at Art: Part 1

How to Look at Art: Part 2

How to Look at Art: Part 3




For a single page version you can print out the full four steps here.


This is the fourth of a four-step process that can be remembered using the acronym DRIO.

DRIO is:

Description - What is there?

Relationships - How do the parts work together?

Interpretation - What is it trying to say?

Opinion - 1) Do you like it? 2) Is it successful?


Opinion step in a nutshell: 

1) Decide whether you like or dislike the work. Then use what you have discovered in steps 1-3 to decide why you like or dislike the work.

2) You can also try to decide whether the work is successful. Does it have artistic merit? Remember, you can dislike something and still feel it has artistic merit.

Like and dislike are one part of your opinion, and artistic success is another part. They can overlap of course, but they are different.

Like and dislike often come from your gut and need no explaining. It is perfectly fine to just say you dislike something and move on. However, If you have used the DRIO steps you will have clues as to why you dislike it. Does it make you uncomfortable? Is the subject matter too happy? Not a fan of the color red? Try to give some reasons for your response.

Now, on to judging success.

If what follows starts to make you eyes glaze over, feel free to stop here. There is nothing wrong with stopping with the like/dislike part of DRIO and moving on to the next artwork!

To judge success it is important to have a sense of what the artist was trying to accomplish. To do this it can be helpful to understand some of the broad approaches to art that you will regularly encounter. They require some explaining, but I think you will find a basic understanding of these approaches will be useful.

• Formalism This is commonly known as “art for art’s sake.” Contemplation and aesthetic response are of great importance. A work of art should be visually well organized and skillfully made. Pleasure comes from the sensation of the colors, forms, textures and other visual qualities. Subject matter is unimportant.

• Expressivism This approach emphasizes the intensity and depth of the experience with an artwork. An artwork should elicit strong emotion in a viewer and/or communicate important ideas. The intensity of the experience should come from the work. It is not important whether the artist actually or genuinely experienced what is being expressed.

• Instrumentalism Art is an instrument for a moral, social, political or religious point of view. The goal of art should be to influence the behavior of the viewer. For example, political art should cause support for a government or party and religious art should inspire faith.

• Imitationism Art should portray a subject as realistically as possible. Another word for this is representational.

• Conceptual The idea or concept  behind the work is of the greatest importance. Traditional aesthetic concerns and skillful technique are of less importance.

There are some who believe that art must follow only one of these approaches to be valid. Instead, I suggest trying to find which of the five approaches fits the intent of the artist. Many times more than one will fit. Then, look at the work from the standpoint of that approach to judge the success. This avoids the unfairness of judging an expressive abstract work with the expectations of realist painting.

It should be apparent that with judging success it is necessary to know a bit about art and art theory. Think of a wine tasting. You can easily decide if you like or dislike a wine, but to fairly judge it requires knowledge of grapes, regions, color, aroma, etc. But don't let a lack of art theory prevent you from looking at art, and never let a work of art or museum intimidate you.

Because truly, you don't need to know much about art to know what you like.

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