Description & Interpretation class discussion

Before last week’s discussion on description and interpretation, the class learned first-hand about description and interpretation while we were writing our short exhibition review first drafts for our peer reviews. We were given the simple instruction of focusing on description and interpretation, and to not dabble in assessment or opinion just yet. Adhering to this guideline was difficult, but keeping the instructions in mind was immensely helpful in getting me to omit my opinion.

During class we discussed and explained the indispensable elements of art criticism and writing — description and interpretation. We learned that description establishes a premise of identifiable features and relevant information (for those who cannot see the work{s}) upon which to base interpretation. Professor Duganne made sure to point out to the class that successful descriptions of works not only mention what is visible and present, but also include that which is missing or unsaid or omitted in a work. A thorough and successful description is one that is achieved by carefully weighing what information to include, what to omit, and the level of importance of that information.

Professor Duganne challenged us to think about whether there was such a thing as “innocent criticism”, and reminded us about what Roland Barthes said in the “Neither-Nor Criticism” reading, which was that “one judges at the same time as one names,” suggesting that a description cannot exist independently from subjective assessment, but I disagree and would counter that one can absolutely give detailed, vision-inducing descriptions that are free from positive or negative undertones.  (sorry for that huge run-on)

We did not discuss whether background information of a particular work or artist should be included in a description, but in “Neither-Nor Criticism” Barthes also said that “One cannot judge Literature without some previous idea of Man and History, or Good, Evil, Society, & cetera” which suggests that perhaps he would have favored including background information in art criticisms and reviews.


Léa Caissie ❤



  1. While I 100% respect Lea’s views on being able to write a descriptive and informative review on art objectively, I do think that it would be especially hard to. I’ve always been of the belief that feelings bring us closer together and allow us to set ourselves apart from other species, not in whether or not other animals can in fact feel, but rather the approach in which they feel. Writing subjectively, while being thought of as perhaps unprofessional at times, allows us to connect through words in ways that cold hard facts does not. In regards to the quote “One cannot judge literature without some previous idea of man and history…”, I think it reiterates the idea that people, being made of organic matter, who regardless of how they express their feelings, can never truly be completely 100% objective.

    Kellye Son


  2. I have to disagree with you a little. I really don’t believe that true objectivity is possible. It’s a nice ideal but I don’t think a human can achieve it. For example, say I go to the store and pick out a lamp to buy. In choosing one, I necessarily omit others. The very act of choosing the lamp is a subjective one and suggests my values. Perhaps I chose the lamp because I like the color or because it is similar to one I saw in a magazine. Taken one step further back, doesn’t deciding to buy the lamp in the first place suggest my subjective values? Why am I even bothering to buy the lamp? Because I value having light at night and want to read at my bedside table. Am I being 100% objective? Couldn’t I decide to just go to bed at night, or perhaps read by candlelight? Similarly, why might a person bother to describe THIS piece of art vs. THAT piece of art? The act of selecting what to write about and what to omit is subjective. The only way it would not be subjective is if I were to write about every piece of art ever. But wait! Which one do I write about first? Another crack for subjectivity to enter in!


  3. I think both sides create good arguments on whether or not one can write objectively. I’m not sure that the act of choosing metaphor fits well with art writing, as someone who decided about to write about the entire VAC rather than just one piece. I was (I hope) able to achieve what Lea was describing in that I was able to focus on creating a descriptive picture of the entire space and did not have to single out any particular artwork or artist. In this way, I gave no opinion other than I chose to visit the VAC, which I don’t think has any subjective undertones to it. The mere act of choosing is a starting point to springboard off of. However, subjectivity can quickly become a part of analysis if one begins to pass judgments about particular elements. My minor is in Technical Writing, where we also learn to write objectively with no subjectively allowed.


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