Feldman, E. (1970), Becoming human through art, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Feldman, E. (1985), Varieties of visual experience. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Feldman, E. (1968), Some adventures in art criticism, Art Education : Journal of the National Art Education Association, 22(3), 28-33

Here is some background:

The theories of Stephen Pepper summarized centuries of work in aesthetics. Edmund Feldman’s adaptation of some of Pepper’s theories provided us with a model of art criticism that could be used in a subject (discipline) based art curriculum. The 60’s saw the ‘child centered’ movement in art education face transition and change. Research and application turned to the task of establishing a teaching approach which was more ‘subject oriented’ in its focus. In the summer of 1966, Edmund Feldman, Eugene Kaelin and David Ecker presented a seminar on art criticism at Ohio State University which was to help change art education in this new direction where the “subject” is central to learning, According to Feldman, one of the conclusions of the Ohio State Seminar was that “what an art teacher does – whether in art appreciation or studio instruction – is essentially art criticism. That is, art teachers describe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate works of art during the process of instruction.” (Feldman, 1968, p.24)

Another of the conclusions of the Ohio State Seminar was that education in aesthetics should involve the learner rather then force the traditional student – teacher (audience – expert) relationship in the learning environment. In Feldman’s view, appreciation should have the learners involved in using criticism to inquire into the nature of art ( its craft, its form, its content and the cultural heritage that is contributed by the work). In other words, Feldman had the position that teaching about making art and teaching about the appreciation of art require an active participation of students and the teachers talking together in the process of art criticism Feldman saw learning about creating art and learning about art appreciation as experiences of active criticism moving from description and analysis (interpretation) to hypothesis grounded in the evidence.

Feldman saw three ways to enter the experience of art criticism. He listed these approaches as, Formalism, Expressivism and Instrumentalism.

His “Formalism” was a theory of communication in art where quality is founded in the formal concerns of the work (the relationship or composition of the physical elements). Formalism requires an acceptance of ideal and universal art values. We can think of this theory objective.

When I think of Feldman’s Formalism, I think of the order of Greek classical architecture, Kondo (Golden Hall), (Horyu-ji, Asuka period, Japan), or the traditional interior of a Japanese house, Sung and Koryo ceramics, the architecture of Leon Battista Alberti, the paintings of Cezanne or the structure of some of the Cubist paintings in the early part of this century. .

Speaking of ‘Expressivism’, Feldman said “expressivist criticism sees excellence as the ability of art to communicate ideas and feelings intensely and vividly.” (Feldman, 1985) Quality in expressivist criticism involves an acceptance of subjective concerns as legitimate values in the work.

When we think of Feldman’s Expressivism we might look at Hellenistic Greek sculpture, the paintings Correggio, Pontormo, Matthias Grunewald, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, James Ensor, Edvard Munch, Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo, as well as the architecture of Antonio Gaudi.

Excellence, in Feldman’s ‘Instrumentalist’ criticism, is based upon some quality of psychological, political, social, moral or religious consequences that results from the work.

When thinking of Feldman’s Instrumentalists, I think of Egyptian tombs and temples, Byzantine temples, Islamic masques, Gothic cathedrals, Illuminations from the Book of Lindisfarne, the many images of Buddha, Tea ceremony ware of ancient Japan, Navajo sand paintings, The Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo, the Arnolfini marriage portrait by Jan van Eyck, murals of David Alfaro Siqueros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera.
To apply Feldman’s theories, you can involve your students in the process of talking and thinking critically about art as they are learning to make it and as they are learning to appreciate the works of others. This experience should involve Feldman’s model of description, analysis, interpretation and judgment. Keep in mind that theories such as Feldman’s are human constructions. They are schematized devices for art criticism which may well include the same work of art as formal, expressive and instrumental. As art educators, we must value students’ talking, thinking and the learning that results from the use of Feldman’s tools rather then to require a perfect fit of value and criticism into Feldman’s order.

Description: Students take inventory of what is visible. They can look for expressive lines, colors, shapes, textures, spaces and volumes as well as techniques..

Analysis: Students notice how these visual things relate to one another. They can compare the design relationships of these elements and the principles which help to organize the work.

Interpretation: Students are encouraged to identify themes and ideas in the work to find meanings and emotion. Think of it as description and analysis coming together to create the interpretation (explanation) of the work. Feldman once said, “It is difficult to be right the first try. In fact, being wrong — missing the target — is very helpful in arriving finally at a convincing explanation” ( Feldman, 1970, p. 363). At this stage of the criticism, students can try to examine the work as if it were a product of Formalism, Expressivism and Instrumentalism.

Judgment: Students are encouraged to make decisions on the success, the value or worth of the art object. In this stage, the students can rank the work in relation to other works from the same time period or from other periods in art history.

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