29 Why It Matters

Recognize essential concepts in methods of visual analysis (course level learning objective)


Contexts are the circumstances and background that form the setting for any kind of communication, including art, and the interpretation of its meaning(s). All artworks exist in multiple contexts. Considering different contexts can form analytical lenses through which to view and interpret an artwork.

An example of the first and most basic level of context is the time and place an artwork was created. A less discussed, but equally important, context is how or where we encounter an artwork, and how that affects our interpretation. This is part of the viewer context. Consider this photograph taken during the Spanish Civil War, The Falling Soldier, by highly regarded documentary photographer Robert Capa.

From its first release it was provocative, because it was assumed to be the first photograph of someone being shot at the moment of the bullet’s impact and possibly the moment of death. Its authenticity continues to be hotly debated. When the photo was first seen in the European magazine Vu in 1936, it was accompanied by other photographs depicting the suffering of people during the Spanish Civil War. However, when LIFE magazine reprinted it in 1937 for an American audience, it was part of a two-page magazine spread adjacent to an ad for Vitalis, a men’s hair product. How might this odd juxtaposition have affected the way American audiences interpreted the photo’s meaning compared with their European counterparts?

In this module you’ll learn more about context and perspective and their role in the interpretation of art.

Module Learning Outcomes

  • Define 3 basic types of perspective and how they impact interpretations of an artwork
  • Recognize different types of context and how contextual information can broaden our understanding of art
  • Recognize and describe six different critical modalities that art critics use to analyze and interpret artwork
  • Analyze and discuss artwork in relation to two different cultures; explain how those two cultures are linked from a wider, global perspective
  • Recognize what a symbol is and differentiate how semiotics and iconography are used to decipher symbols in artwork and other types of visual culture

How to Study for the Performance Assessment (PA)

The PA for this module involves answering short essay questions that are designed to test your understanding of the Learning Outcomes for this module. Read through the performance assessment for this module BEFORE you begin the module content. I suggest printing it out, or making notes on the keywords/concepts in each PA question. A concept example is: contextual information. In the first PA question, you need to be able to discern what contextual information is to successfully answer the question. Use what you noted on the PA as a study guide. As you read through the module content, take notes on the subjects or anything that you find relevant to the PA questions. Be sure to document the page or place in the content where you found each note, in case you need to return to that content, or need to ask me a specific question citing module content. Once you are ready to complete the PA, you will have these notes to help you answer the questions thoughtfully.

OK, let’s get started!


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