Making sense of art history
Making sense of art history

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Making sense of art history

5.7 Comparing art works

One of the most important ways that an art historian can discover more about the relationship between effects, techniques, context and meanings in an art work is to compare it with another art work. For example, a comparison of two works depicting the same subject matter but in different ways might better highlight the effects of the techniques that have been used. This can also reveal much about the way each artist has attempted to convey a possible meaning through their use of form.

Activity 9: Comparing the use of colour in No Woman No Cry and Life

You should allow about 30 minutes

Look at Plates 3 and 7 below and make notes on the differences and similarities in the way that colour is used in each art work.

Plate 3

Chris Ofili, No Woman No Cry, 1998, acrylic paint, oil paint, resin, pencil, paper collage, Letraset, glitter, map pins and elephant dung on linen with two dung supports, 244 × 183 × 5 cm. (© Chris Ofili. Courtesy of Chris Ofili – Afroco and Victoria Miro Gallery. Tate Photography.)

Plate 7

Gilbert and George, Life from Death Hope Life Fear, 1984, handcoloured photographs, framed on paper, unique. (Courtesy of Gilbert and George. © Tate, London, 2005.)

Use the questions in Table 5 (below) to help you with your answer. Don't forget to consider the relationship between techniques and effects in each art work in terms of:

  • a.the mood conveyed by the colour in the work

  • b.the possible use of colour to control the way that you read the work.

Your response to this activity will provide further evidence that you can use when planning an interpretation of No Woman No Cry later. You could consider trying either a table or a mind map to structure your notes. A possible table format is provided below.

Table 5: Comparing the use of colour in two art works

Technique: No Woman No Cry Effect: No Woman No Cry Technique: Life Effect: Life
Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used?
Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other?
Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa?
Would you describe the colours as being bright or dull? Are there more bright colours than dull colours (or vice versa)?
Has colour value been used?

Discussion

How did you get on? To give you an idea of the way in which both mind maps and tables might be used to make comparisons of two art works, I've presented my own, brief, conclusions in both these formats.

Table 6: Notes in table format relating to the comparison of the use of colour in Life and No Woman No Cry

Technique: No Woman No Cry Effect: No Woman No Cry Technique: Life Effect: Life
Has a wide or narrow palette of colours been used? Quite a restricted palette Gives a natural feel to the art work. Keeps the spectator focused on the central figure Fairly restricted palette of more ‘expressive’ colours. Dominance of primary colours Gives art work a cartoon-like feel and emphasises its artificiality
Have contrasting colours been placed next to each other? Contrast between the blue eye and yellow background Gives the painting depth and moves the spectator's eye around the composition Contrasting blue, yellow, red and green hues Add to the immediate impact of the art work and to its apparent artificiality
Are there more warm colours than cool colours or vice versa? Mainly warm colours are used. The red and yellow around the woman's neck looks particularly warm, even hot This gives a comforting, positive feel to the work A combination of warm and cool colours has been used This gives the art work a balanced feel that is neither warm nor cool overall
Would you describe the colours as being bright or dull? Are there more bright colours than dull colours or vice versa? The colours used are quite bright, especially the yellows, reds and oranges This gives the art work a positive and warm feel. The bright red on the woman's chest and red lips are focal points to which the spectator's eyes are drawn Quite bright colours Adds to the simplistic feel
Has colour value been used? Subtle colour value shading is used depicting the woman's head, neck and body This helps to model figure, giving it solidity and making it look realistic and natural Not much colour shading. Value contrast is widespread This gives the art work quite a flat feel. The value contrast gives the work a cartoon-like feel
Figure 2: Mind map comparing the use of colour in Life and No Woman No Cry
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