How to interpret visual art: from early medieval art to Rothko, Banksy and Nevelson


Why and how should we interpret visual art?

With a vast historical sweep – from early medieval art on the walls inside the Basilica of San Vitale to Banksy’s 2015 stencils of shipwrecked refugees on walls in Calais,  by way of Caravaggio, Nevelson and Rothko – author, artist and film maker  Gillian McIver looks at various theories of art criticism and helps us understand how to approach visual art.

This lecture was part of series on Thinking put on by the IF Project, the free university in London.  IF is an innovative project offering free humanities courses to young people who have been priced out of today’s higher education market.[We have another podcast from the IF lecture series, looking at the relevance of studying history: here.]

Gillian McIver starts from the premise that

“The most important mechanism  for interpreting visual art is your own eyes and your ability to really see and to really look…..Go, stand in front of the work of art, literally, physically,  look at it. Walk around it, look at its texture, look at its colour…”

She goes on to explore how different approaches in art criticism can inform what and how we look.  She considers traditional ways of looking at art (eg the historical approach, looking at historical periods)  looking at influences and techniques, artistic movements, looking at the artist, and looking at the times in which the artist lived, the cultural and social environment in which the artwork operates.

Artworks considered are:

Banksy: We're not all in the same boat. Calais.

Banksy: We’re not all in the same boat. Calais.

Ericault: Raft of the Medusa (Louvre)

Ericault: Raft of the Medusa (Louvre)



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