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Crit B: Function & Purpose

What is the assessment criteria looking for?

An informed and appropriate interpretation of the function and purpose of the selected artworks, objects and artifacts within the cultural context in which they were created.


At the highest level of achievement, the work demonstrates a consistently informed by reliable sources and appropriate interpretation of the function and purpose of the selected pieces within the cultural context in which they were created.

What does that mean?

"An image is a sight which has been recreated or reproduced. It is a set of appearances, which has ben detached form the place and time it first made its appearance. .. Every image embodies a way of seeing" 

  -- John Berger "Ways of Seeing"


When an artist creates an artwork there is a connection between the particular moment in time that it came from and what the artist wanted you to understand. It is your job to try and decipher what motivated them to create the artwork in this particular way.

Function activity or purpose natural to or intended for a person or thing. or operate in a proper or particular way.


..the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
..have as one's intention or objective.

So this part of the assessment is asking you to find the reason behind the artwork. What did the artist want to say?  What was the artist trying to help understand? 

Here we have a few ways to think about possible functions and purposes of an artwork. Keep in mind that a single artwork can have more than one function or purpose.



Expressive – expresses the artists’ feelings

Descriptive – records the likeness of a place or person or other subject.

Conceptual – the idea or concept behind the work is more important than the object

Practical – has a practical use, such as clothing, vessels, furniture, a building

Religious – tells a religious story or is an object of devotion.

Historical narrative  – tells a story of an event in history

Commemorative – made to honour someone (like a statue of a famous person)

Political – serves a political purpose, such as propaganda.

Symbolic – symbolizes certain beliefs or ideas without representing them.

Decorative – used to adorn the body, a room, a building etc.

Ritual – used as part of a ritual or ceremony, or has magical powers.

Shock – intended to shock or upset the viewer

Function According to Concerning the Nature of Art:

Keifer-Boyd, K. & Maitland-Gholson, J. (forthcoming) "Expose, Explode, Empower: Visual Culture Explorations in Art Education." Davis Publication.

Instrumentalism: One very important idea about art is that it should serve a purpose.

Imitationalsim: There is a strong belief among many viewers of art that the purpose of art is to imitate life in a way that recreates the experience we would have if encountering the real-life experience being interpreted by the art work.

Expressionism: Another BIG idea about art is that it must express emotion.

Formalism: Viewers, often off-handedly, refer to art as “modern art” or “abstract art.”

Contextualism: There are many other factors beside design that influence our response to visual art and visual experience in general.

7 Psychological Functions of Art According to Alain De Botton and John Armstrong:

"Art As Therapy" Phadion Press.

Remembering:  as a tool to refresh our memory on what has been observed.

Hope:  as a tool to re-direct out energies and provide hope through beautiful depictions of reality. 

Sorrow:  as a tool to re-assure ourselves, helping us realise that we are not alone in out experiences 

Rebalancing:  as a tool to rebalance us by showing us depictions of personal experiences

Self Understanding:  as a tool to re-new self understanding by guiding our attention to aspects of ourselves.

Growth:  as a tool to redevelop and grow by presenting imagery that triggers off putting associations.

Appreciation:  as a tool to revisit the know and familiar images to develop awareness and gratitude for the everyday.


Purpose According to Ben Dutton

"What Makes Art Art?"

Here is a brief summary of Dutton's annotated cluster-criteria definition of art.
Direct pleasure - Art is "a source of immediate experiential pleasure in itself." 
Skill and virtuosity - The making of art requires and demonstrates "specialized" skill 
Style - Objects and performances in all art forms are made in recognizable styles, according to rules of form, composition, or expression."
Novelty & Creativity - These qualities, as well as "the capacity to surprise," are integral to art in Dutton's view.
Criticism - "Wherever artistic forms are found, they exist alongside some kind of critical judgment and appreciation, simple or, more likely, elaborate."
Representation - "Art objects . . . represent or imitate real and imagined experiences of the world." 
Special focus -  All art is "bracketed off from ordinary life, made a separate and dramatic focus of experience" 
Expressive individuality -  A work of art possesses this trait (but so does "[a]ny ordinary activity with a creative component; everyday speech, lecturing, home hospitality" and so on)
Emotional saturation - Art is "shot through with emotion" 
Intellectual challenge -  Art "tends to be designed to utilize the combined variety of human perceptual and intellectual capacities to the full extent." 
Art traditions and institutions - Works of art "gain their identity by the ways they are found in historical traditions, in lines of historical precedents."
Imaginative experience - The chief defining characteristic of art may be that its objects "provide an imaginative experience for both producers and audiences." 

What could that look like?

2-3 Slides: Demonstrate an informed and appropriate interpretation of the function and purpose of the selected artworks, objects and artifacts within the cultural context in which they were created.

Criteria B - Top Descriptor: 
The work demonstrates a consistently informed and appropriate interpretation of the function and purpose of the selected pieces within the cultural context in which they were created.

Below is an example of what one slide could look like for Criteria B.

Here are additional examples of what your investigation of the function and purpose in an artwork could look like.​

               Function and Purpose Evaluation

How can I do that?

Consider the following..

What is the mood and symbolism within the artwork, and how could these be interpreted?  Is the mood, symbolism and interpretation specific to the time it was created? If so, could this interpretation change over time or cultures? Annotated images, symbolic images, impact of color choices and techniques can all influence interpretation. 

You can further build on your the interpretation portion of your Art critique with these questions:

  • Consider these different functions for art: context, personal, intellectual, social, or physical function.

  • Is the piece meant to expressive, political, in protest, to be decorative, to illustrate a historically significant event, or meant to be instructional (lots of biblical paintings served this purpose)? Does the artwork have a narrative (tell a story)? Is it a religious, mythical, historical depiction, a portrait? Is it abstract? Is it realistic? Why?

  • Was it commissioned by a wealthy patron?

  • Was its original intention meant to be art? Was it meant to be used for something other than art (like to eat from, or to hold a saint's organs)?

  • ​What is it about? What does it mean?

  • What choices did the artists make that allowed them to most effectively communicate their statement or message?

  • How have the artists you chose found ways to present the information they want to communicate in their art?

  • What signs, motifs, or symbols have been used and what do they communicate to the audience?

  • Have the artists made any formal statements about these particular artworks or their work, in general, that might further support your analysis?

  • What kinds of statements are found in the work that reflects the culture or context that the work was created?

​Here are additional resources to investigate Criteria B with a focus on Art Theory..

The following documents may help with order and clarity in your investigation:

It is good to note that Criteria B asks you to address the meaning "within the cultural context in which the artwork was created." This begins to overlap with  Criterion C which asks more questions to consider regarding cultural context.

Citing Sources

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