Critical analysis and interpretation of artwork
Art Appreciation 103
“Art is a powerful force in this world, it is the visual representation of what we think and what we feel, and how
we think and how we feel.” – Audrey Flack
The twentieth century saw many movements and new styles in the art world. One of these new painting
styles was Photorealism, or the style of painting that resembles a photograph, based on pop art. Audrey Flack
was a pioneer in this new genre and destined to become one of the most influential artists of the twentieth
Flack was born in 1931 in New York and developed a strong relationship with art at an early age.
According to Flack’s official website, AudreyFlack.com, her education started with The Music and Art High
School in New York City where she received The St. Gauden’s medal. Flack then attended The Cooper Union
where she obtained a graduate degree and a honorary doctorate, followed by Yale University where she
received her BFA in 1952, and finally enrolled in New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts where she
studied the history of art in 1953.
Even with all of these prestigious achievements she never felt that she was taken seriously. According to
JewishVirtualLibrary.org Flack “found herself having to be one of the boys” in order to fit in. Flack says that
she was not treated differently as a woman as a student, but many artists, students and visitors could relate to
her only as a woman. They treated her as a sex object, and her goal of becoming a professional artist was not
taken seriously.” This also helped to form her strong theme of women empowerment.
As described in her biography on JewishVirtualLibrary.com, Flack studied at Yale under Josef Albers
and “Albers encouraged her to use realism instead of abstract expressionism to express her political messages.”
This was where she made the transition into Photorealism but took it a step farther and incorporated heavy
symbolism into her work and quirky juxtapositions of Jewish foods, commonplace items, and photos of movie
stars, which had sometimes apparent, sometimes underlying themes. She was quoted on RichEast.org stating, “I
always wanted to draw realistically. For me art is a continuous discovery into reality, an exploration of visual
data, which has been going on for centuries, each artist contributing to the next generation’s advancement. I
wanted to go a step further and extend the boundaries. I also believe people have a deep need to understand
their world and that art clarifies reality for them. “Flack became an influence in the genre and was the first
photorealism artist to have work purchased by the Museum of Modern Art. (AudreyFlack.com)
Flack does not limit herself to painting alone, she is also an acclaimed sculptor, author of two
books, and keeps up with her blog regularly and is the lead singer and banjo player in self titled band Audrey
Flack and the History of Art, where she composes feminist ballads about her education and ‘womanizing’ artists
such as Pablo Picasso. She lives and works in New York City and Long Island and she gave up photorealism
and painting in 1980 when she committed to sculpting. Her sculptures are also widely praised and mostly depict
strong female figures and are meant to enforce the powerfulness of a woman. She remains a Jewish and
Feminist icon to this day and is still creating art.
Wheel of Fortune (Vanitas) by Audrey Flack (American)
1977-8 | acrylic and oil on canvas | 96 x 96 inches
The bright and amusing yet cryptic painting Wheel of Fortune
(Vanitas) by Audrey Flack is a cornucopia of common and not so
common (though recognizable) objects. Painted in Flack’s newly
invented photorealistic style, Wheel of Fortune has all the elements of
a classic vanitas piece with a feeling of impending doom yet with a
colorful, vibrant even, palette. The artist has created a conceptual (and
successful) contrast by combining recognizable, though mysterious in
idea and effect, objects with a deeply saturated palette. This piece has a tremendous amount of detail, contrast,
symbolism, color, movement, and wonderful photo-like realism that Flack is famous for.
Assessing the visual elements, we see that the lines in the painting are defined, simply edges and look
realistic. The implied lines create visual movement throughout the work, not only in the clock-wise motion as
noted above, but from object to object – Flack has created direct conversations between each and every object
that allows our eyes to continually move through the work. The shapes are both organic and geometric given the
objects presented and many shapes overlap with their distinct, hard edges. The light is natural with a broad
range to create the depiction of this arrangement in the daytime and indoors, but certainly used advantageously
to depict a realistic scene.
As for color, this is where things get broader and very intense. There is high value in all of the primary,
and tertiary colors shown here. In the primary colors, blue (the curtain on the bottom right of the image) the
value is intense with a deep saturation and it has a cool feel to it, where as the red grapes, violin, candle base,
and lipstick warm the picture with rich crimson hues. The central yellow of the burning candle and accents
throughout the image create a glowing ambiance and set the light source for the surrounding objects. As for the
tertiary colors, most are dark and intense, work complimentary in the scene to create vivid imagery and variety.
Overall the image is warm due to the saturated reds and yellows and the central light from the quickly melting
Analyzing space and texture, we are well aware that these images are true to life. The space is small, I
imagine the scene is set on a small table, but with a true sense of depth created through overlapping the
numerous and varied objects on the table. The actual texture is the same as the real tactile quality of the objects
painted, as is the task of photo-realism.
Moving on to the principles of design we see that the image is chaotic and occult balanced because the
skull on the right is balanced by the mirror image of the skulls face, the wheel of fortune messaging card and
also the face of the young girl in the upper left hand of the image. This balance is created through the gravity of
the two vertical scenes. The image contains symmetry through the balance of the objects on each side –
counteracted by a reflection of the same item or something equal in scale, color, or shape; though there is no
rhythm or pattern. There is contrast in the shapes, the many colors (especially the red and blue) and the themes
(by contrast) as these vary from darker symbolism to everyday items we all recognize.
The major principle of design in effect in this work is movement. The first thing that draws the eye’s
attention, a point of emphasis, is the large skull on the right side of the painting, offset in its symmetry and in
contrast to the bright and colorful surroundings with its pale yellowish color. This stark contrast forces the eye
to begin here in the painting, yet Flack’s adept skill at creating visual movement in both line and color forces
the eye to continue in a clock-wise motion from the blue silk, to the hand-held mirror, to the mirror with the
reflection of the skull in the mirror on the lower left side. She skillfully maneuvers our gaze upward past the
tarot card, through the arrow, and into the tomatoes to come back full circle to the skull where we began.
Overall the most impressive part of this painting is the symbolism, the factor that also leads us
conceptually through the work to develop our subjective responses. The title does it’s duty explaining but it’s
the objects that make the message fall into place here. The tarot card sets the mood, the candle is burning to it’s
end, the sand slipping though the hourglass, and the calendar placed at the bottom of the mirror looking death in
the face tell a story of a quickly diminishing life. It is easy to place ourselves, the viewer, into the piece – we
become the young woman in the photograph who directly correlates to the opposing skull opposite on the
picture plane. We realize that life is a gamble, as suggested by the single die and a card suggesting fortune, and
we contemplate is the jump worth the risk. Overall, this painting is rich in color, symbolism, and a fantastic
example of photorealism in the Vanitas tradition.
ART 103 Instructions for Writing Assignment | Critical Analysis – WA/Interpretations and
Writing Assignment-Interpretations and Meanings essay
Review and Read Chapter 1-5 and 13, Exploring Art, A Global, Thematic Approach.
This critical analysis | writing assignment-Meanings and Interpretations essay will
demonstrate your ability to analyze a work of art from an artist of your choosing based on the
formal elements, principles of composition, and to form an opinion about the selected work.
Students will indicate insight to the intent of the artist; as well as expand writing skills and
Students first writing assignment consists of multiple parts: a biographical sketch of an artist
of your choosing, plus a critical analysis of a work of art by an artist resonates with you but
You cannot use an image of an artwork that we have already studied, ALWAYS CHOOSE
new works of art); and finally, a Work Cited page documenting your source materials.
See example attached to give you an idea of what I’m looking for – do not use this work or
artist as your own submission.
1. Biographical sketch – This portion of the writing assignment should be comprised of
biographical information on an artist of your choice.
* Length: At least 3 complete paragraphs but no less than 400 words
* Suggestions for material: Name, date and place of birth and death, family information,
lifetime accomplishments, famous art pieces, effects or impact on society, historical
significance. Only include biographical information that gives insight to the intent of the artist.
Remember to put all of this information into your own words!
2. Provide a bibliographical reference in the correct MLA style with at least 3 sources.
Online sources are ok, but do not forget to use your textbook. If you fail to provide a Work
Cited page – you will receive an automatic deduction of points. Do not forget to include this!
3. Critical Analysis – This portion of the writing assignment needs to be the student’s opinion
of a work of art by the same artist you chose for the biographical sketch. Write an essay
clarifying and accounting your responses, your interest, excitement or frustrations that relate
to your selected work of art. Be creative in your descriptions, be thoughtful in your views, be
respectful in your responses and take your time. This portion of the assignment is your
interpretation of the meaning of the work.
*You must base, at least, your description on the principles of design and the elements of art,
as well as, a combination or selection of meaningful materials, context, societal impact and
historical “importance” – using this specific vocabulary throughout. Do not simply describe
the work or state whether or not you “like” the work.
* Length: At least 4 complete paragraphs but no less than 500 words
When selecting a work of art to write an interpretation, ask yourself:
Why was I compelled to write about the work? Explain.
What understandings, of the artwork, do I already possess? Explain.
How will I convert my responses into words, in order for the reader to share my insight?
Provide the artist full name, title and date. Does the title give you any clues or expand your
understanding of the art work?
What is the medium/media? How does the medium inform your interpretation?
Give a description of the work. Make direct comparisons between what you are “looking” at
and what you are thinking and feeling.
What is the artist process? What did the artist have to know or do to produce this work of
art? Does the process inform the meaning of the work of art?
Putting your interpretation on paper requires that we take a second or third look at what is in
front of us.
Write for yourself to clarify your ideas. Review and rewrite for your audience.
Your audience for this essay is/are your classmates.
Tell them: What they need to know, in an orderly way and in a language that they will
This class is about how you connect to the Visual Arts. Respond in your essay with
conviction as if you art the expert.