Twenty Questions: How to Critique Art

How to critique art
Mind the four C’s for critiquing art

Technique Time by Miriam Schulman, @schulmanArt

When teaching watercolor classes I notice that over and over again the same problems recur in my students paintings. I thought to help them I would compile a list of questions to ask yourself

The Four C’s

Although there are twenty questions on the list, they basically boil down to the four C’s: content, composition, colors and contrast.


For content, this is something that comes up even though I tend to bring my students reference photos. They need to ask themselves…what are you drawn to? What inspired you? If you are not inspired by the initial subject, chances are your painting will also be uninspired. Moreover, the artist must always keep in mind what is important about the subject and why they chose it. For example, if they chose a duck painting they shouldn’t put endless time and detail into the grass around the ducks.

learn watercolor techniques by schulmanart on
Watercolor tubes….
  • Does it have meaning?
  • Is it interesting?
  • Why did you paint it?
  • Is it in your own style?
  • Is there an element of surprise?
  • Does this painting say something new about the topic?



Composition problems occur when artist fail to see how shapes in the painting connect. For example, instead of painting four separate flowers, a painting is better served painting overlapping flowers. Another common problem is not to use the whole paper and to paint their subject only in the center.

  • Do the shapes work well together?
  • Do the shapes connect?
  • What is the center of interest? (ie does the view know where to look?)
  • Are there competing centers of interest?
  • Are there areas of detail and interest?
  • Are all parts of the paper considered?
  • Is the subject correctly scaled to the size of the paper?


learn watercolor techniques by schulmanart on
watercolor palette…


Colors is an area where rules can most easily be broken. There needs to be a harmony of colors throughout without having large areas of uninterrupted color changes.

  • Is there harmony between foreground colors and background colors?
  • Is there enough color change in large areas?
  • Are there enough neutrals ( grays or mud) to show off colors?



Finally, but perhaps most importantly is consideration of contrast. This area is so important that I will encourage my students to create thumbnail studies to have a plan of lights and darks. Too many paintings get “ruined” when everything is painted with the same mid-toned values and you can’t “see” the subject. Another problem is when there is a high contrast that is not the center of interest that draws the eyes away from the main story.

  • Are the values easy to read?
  • Can shapes be distinguished because values in adjacent shapes vary?
  • Are the light and dark patterns pleasing?
  • Is the greatest area of contrast the center of interest or does it take your eyes elsewhere?

How to Critique Your Own Painting.pdf
You can download and print out the checklist for critiquing you own painting. If you want more painting tips you can check out my tutorials on youtube and also my watercolor classes on the Inspiration Place! Other posts you might like are:

3 thoughts on “Twenty Questions: How to Critique Art”

  1. Miriam, Thank you for the insight when looking at artworks. I am an art teacher and critiques are one of my challenge areas to engage students in the process. I have used this as a guide to write my own questions for small group (4) critiques in the classroom.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this. I have always been a textile artist. It is different from being a painter. I started painting in 2012. I am overwhelmed by all I have to learn. This is extremely helpful. I'm going to keep a copy of it to review every time I do a painting.


Leave a Comment



I’m Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration.

I inspire art-lovers to reconnect with their creativity and profit from their art. Whether you paint simply for the joy of it or you’re serious about selling your work, and you’re ready to stop putting yourself on the back burner...You're in the right place. I've done it and I can inspire YOU how to do it too.

Recent Posts

Search this blog


The Step-by-Step Guide to Making a Sustainable Living from Your Creativity

Free artpreneur chapter