List of Descriptive Words to Critique Art

, Staff Writer
Updated January 19, 2021
boy learns to critique art in museum
    boy learns to critique art in museum
    U.Ozel.Images / E+ / Getty Images

Have you ever been to an art museum and wished someone had given you a list of descriptive terms you could use to critique the works of art on display? Do not despair; you are not the only one who feels this way. Many people wish they knew more about art. Here are some words to help you be more art savvy the next time you spend the day at the art museum.

75 Words to Describe Art Elements and Principles

Many words can help you be more descriptive when it comes to critiquing art. In fact, there are words to comment on every single aspect of art. The line, tone, movement, texture, and shape are just a few ways in which art can be critiqued. Discover many different words you can use to critique various elements and principles of art.

10 Words to Critique Line

In art, a line can be described in several ways. The words used to describe line in artwork are not fancy terms that require formal education in art. They are ordinary terms often used in everyday conversation.

  • flowing
  • delicate
  • simple
  • bold
  • thick
  • thin
  • fine
  • vertical
  • horizontal
  • flowing

10 Words to Critique Tone

When it comes to tone in art, a number of words can help you describe and critique a piece. None of the words are complex, though they may not all be used in your everyday conversations with friends.

  • subtle
  • contrasting
  • muted
  • flat
  • light
  • dark
  • mid (between light and dark)
  • dramatic
  • depth
  • shadowy

10 Words to Critique Texture

Texture is a very common art element. It is often used when referring to clothing, furniture, or hair. If you have ever painted a wall in your home you are most likely familiar with the many of the descriptive words for texture.

  • rough
  • fine
  • smooth
  • coarse
  • prickly
  • scaly
  • uneven
  • embossed
  • silky
  • shiny
people critiquing art in gallery
    people critiquing art in gallery
    Jupiterimages / Stockbyte / Getty Images

10 Words to Critique Shape

Art comes in various shapes. This is true whether a work of art is a painting or a sculpture. Choosing the right word to describe the form of a piece of art is very important.

  • organic
  • curvaceous
  • circular
  • geometric
  • angular
  • cylinder
  • triangular
  • cone
  • elongated
  • irregular

10 Words to Critique Movement

Movement is seen in every piece of art. Movement helps to create or define a piece of art.

  • swirling
  • flowing
  • gentle
  • rippling
  • sudden
  • stillness
  • rhythm
  • dynamic
  • placement
  • sensory

10 Words to Critique Scale

Scale is basically the size of the art, considered in relation to other objects. The words used to critique scale are fairly common terms that you have probably used or read in a book.

  • large
  • life-size
  • small
  • intimate
  • microscopic
  • miniature
  • monumental
  • massive
  • grand
  • vast
women critique and view art in museum
    women critique and view art in museum
    Mint Images / Mint Images RF / Getty Images

Ten Words to Critique Color

In art, color is very important. This is what helps each piece of art stand out. The color, no matter what type of artwork helps define the piece and the artist. The creator of a lot of artwork can be identified just by looking at the colors, because certain artists use specific colours in every piece of their work.

  • bold
  • vibrant
  • vivid
  • cool
  • warm
  • subtle
  • pale
  • earthy
  • naturalistic
  • graduated

5 Words to Critique Contrast

While there aren’t as many ways to describe contrast as there are for the other elements and principles of art, it can be important to mention contrast when critiquing a work of art.

  • dramatic
  • strong
  • subtle
  • minimal
  • tonal

More Ways to Appreciate Art in Words

The lists above don’t include every possible descriptive word that can be used to critique art. Not all critical comments about art directly relate to a specific art element or principle. Other descriptive terms that can be helpful when trying to describe art are listed below.

  • saturation- refers to the brightness of color
  • geometric - refers to the shapes such as circles, triangles, squares, etc.
  • organic - free flowing or rounded
  • symmetry - meaning it is equal on both sides
  • asymmetrical - unequal proportioned elements
  • flat tones - no tonal effect in the color
  • negative space - the space around the actual form of art
  • depth - the illusion of space
  • broken color - dabs or small amounts of color
  • focal point - the spot that stands out in the artwork
  • distorted - a shape that is changed and no longer looks proportioned

Apply Your Descriptive Art Vocabulary

Now that you have a list of descriptive words to critique art, you’re ready to talk about art in a knowledgeable way. It’s the perfect time to take another trip to the art museum. Look at the same pieces you saw before and try to critique it using descriptive terms to convey what you are seeing. The artwork will now have new meaning and more significance now that you can describe it rather than just looking at it. If you have enjoyed learning new ways to describe art, it’s a great time to learn how to increase your vocabulary even more. You might also want to begin exploring famous artists, like Frida Kahlo.