Description and Interpretation

In last Tuesday’s class we talked about description and interpretation in art and their importance in informing us about a work. We discussed how description is an important way to identify the features in a work of art. It serves as a way to analyze something for what is being directly presented to the viewer through the elements of design. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the choices that artist made in order to communicate something. Joseph Mallard’s essay over Turner’s Slave Ship was a excellent example how language can be used to convey the tone of a painting as well as its appearance. We also discussed the role of interpretation in a critique, and how the voice of the author can play a part in our understanding of a work. While not necessarily based in fact, drawing conclusions can help lead us to a deeper appreciation of a work of art. Such as in Allan Sekulas writing on a photographic triptych in which he infers the intentions of the artists choices in the photographs in order to try and gain and greater understanding of the work. In class we talked about how criticism can can be used as a way to retrieve information that is hidden from plain view. Interpretation allows us to fill in the blanks in order to form an opinion of a work of art that goes beyond an appreciation of beauty or craftsmanship. Together description and interpretation is the basis for a formal critique, both are necessary in order to describe a work and convey what its purpose is.


Matthew Draper



  1. I like how you characterized interpretation– first saying that it gives us an opportunity to reflect on the choices the artist made in order to communicate something, then later saying that it allows us to fill in the blanks and form an opinion of the work that goes beyond appreciation of beauty. This reminds me of how Barthes talked about needing context to be able to judge something yet also judging as one names. It’s interesting how interpreting and meditating on a work can lead to a deeper appreciation of it, but can totally move beyond just an aesthetic appreciation even though that’s probably what pulled you in in the first place.

    -Hannah Jurgens


  2. I agree that the conclusions we make about art that can amplify or suppress our appreciation for a work do not have to be rooted in truth. Barthes’ idea of punctum affirms that point by emphasizing that a viewer’s personal reading of a work can be just as worthy as the craftsmanship that went into the work. This is especially true when examining Turner’s Slave Ship since the subject matter is so sensitive in nature. The same element could attract or deter different viewers from the work due to their own personal interpretation.



  3. It’s true that we need both description and interpretation to fully critique a work. When I read Joseph Mallard’s essay over the slave ship for the first time I felt like I was in another world. I was thinking, how is this guy describing this painting in this tone? Where is the mention of the bodies? How can one brush over that and describe everything else so beautifully? I was put off by it. So when I got to class and Professor Duganne went over the painting with us and further discussed the difference between Description and Interpretation, I was able to breathe again. I understand what Joseph Mallard was able to do now, and what I’m expected to do through description. Personally, I’m glad that pure objectivity does not exist, I think it makes us more mindful towards works. It forces us to balance our own interpretations with description.

    -Kaytlin Esparza


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