Art criticism involves analyzing works of art inline with their structures, meanings, and problems; comparing them with other works, and evaluating the works using the characteristics, theories or other valuable information for proper understanding their relevance to the society. As an art historian I have confronted several issues in trying to speak judgmentally on certain art works produced by contemporary Nigerian artists. For example, an art work without a title offers the art critic an elusive stand point not only to begin his/her judgment but also for establishing some essential points that will help the public (audience) in understanding the meaning as well as circumstances surround the creation of such an art piece. It is important to know however, that the judgment of an art work is similar to the judgment that takes place in a court of law. In a law court, the presiding judge will make use of the available facts which are usually presented in form of evidence, to pass judgment on contending cases involving individuals or groups. If the evidences are not strong enough to back up a claim or vice versa, they are either discarded or sustained. The implication of the either cases is that, such individual or group will or will not lose the case in favour of the opponent as the case may be.
In the criticism of visual art especially like painting and sculpture also, there are varying factors which the critic used as stand points for judging a work of art. For example, the title of the work (what is the title of the art work?); the artist that creates the work (who made this art work?); the environment where the artist creates the work (where does the artist lives); the nature of the artist’s environment (what are the cultural, religious or socio-political conditions of the artist’s environment?). The answers to all these questions formed the essentials of what it takes to understand the contextual meaning of the art work. This is very important as it explains the circumstances under which the art work is created and by so doing ingrain or integrate the thoughts of the viewers into that of the artist. When this happens, communication take place in a manner that will trigger a reaction (which could be either negative or positive) on the part of the viewer. If the communication takes place in the direction of a positive change desired by the artist, then the purpose of the artist is achieved. In most cases, an art critic only helps the audience to see other sides of the work which a viewer would ordinarily not think of. For example, a work of art which has traditional African motifs and features on its body, but has a title pointing to European culture and also created by a European artist would require varying approaches in viewing it. The critic therefore, presents different view points which may help audience in understanding the nature, meaning, as well as the circumstances surrounding the creation of the work.
However, all these are far different from factors used in knowing whether or not an artist is good in applying the elements (line, colour, texture, form etc) or principles (balance, unity, rhythm, composition etc) of art (design). The principles and elements are only used in judging physical components of the work which help to improve the artist’s skills in the creation of art work. The factors that relate with principles and elements are used by the critic to judge the aesthetics features of an art work while other ones like title are used by the critic in interpreting the contextual meaning of the work.
It is common to find artists presenting beautiful pieces (artworks) in an exhibition without titles. The rationale behind their ignorance is that: “An art work speaks for itself.” However, they (such artists) forget that certain conditions warrant the art work to speak in a clear tone that would make the audience to understand the language it is speaking. If one of the conditions necessary for the understanding of the audience is either missing or not properly presented, the tone of the language in which the art work is speaking will definitely loose shape. At worst, the art work might lost its essence and would practically not fulfill its full purpose of being created.
This means that, title of an art work is very important as it provides a first step to reading other aspects of the work. Hence, title of the work, artist that create the work, place where the artist lives, or other information that formed the artist’s background etc, are all factors which jointly armed the critic with the basic knowledge necessary for explaining the contextual meaning of an art work for the better understanding of the audience.
This is most likely to be the reason why many art terminologies have been coined by art critic in order to explain their relevance as well as sustain the concreteness in the changes that have occurred in the history of world art. For example “Fauvism” was a term used by a critic in describing works of artists in an exhibition in Paris (1905); “Impressionism” on the other hand was a term that was first used in 1874 by a journalist to ridicule a landscape (Impression-Sunrise) by Monet which was latter accepted and used by critics in describing works of artists of that time. Art terminologies like Dadaism, Cubism, etc were all coined by critics /individuals to explain the changes in styles or trends noticed in the art practice of a particular locality or region. If there were no names given to these art styles or trends, it would be difficult to either define the art periods or explaining the changes that have occurred in the history/practice of art.
On the whole, if an artist is able to occupy his/her mind with different creative forces (ideas, thoughts, beliefs etc) which are paramount for shaping the out come of the art work into a beautiful art piece, he/she should be able to find a suitable title for the work. This will not, in any way, stop the critic or the art work from being judged in line with other creative forces which the artist harnessed in producing the work. It will rather provide a footing on which the judgment will be carried out by the critic.