Beginning Art Criticism: Brian Sewell

Brian Sewell is a legendary English art critic – in 7 minutes, he gives useful starting points for looking at art, whether for professional work or personal enjoyment:


  1.  Go into a large gallery and find one picture which makes you pause.  Spend time with that one.
  2. Compare the same theme done by different artists – what comes across of the individual artist’s viewpoint on the same theme?
  3. Look closely at a painting to see the variety of brush strokes – was a small or large brush used?  Thick paint?  Thin paint?  This introduces you to the gesture used to make the strokes.
  4. Look at the texture details in a picture – how do you think they were made?  Then compare the same object painted by a different artist (he suggests carpet)

From repeatedly doing this kind of looking, you begin to appreciate the variety of artists’ approaches.  You begin to get a sense of a picture and which time periods and countries it would have been painted in.

After a while, Brian believes you can then go into a gallery, see a painting – and although you can’t identify the painter, you may be able to say with confidence “that’s Italian, 16th century” – and then have the fun of going over and reading the label and finding you are correct.

After viewing a couple of hundred paintings this way, when you go back to the first paintings, Brian says you will see them with entirely different eyes.

“I’m nearly 77 and I’m constantly surprised at how much I still learn – and that’s the great joy of looking at pictures”



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