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Interpreting Art Short Course

Interpreting Art Short Course

Central Saint Martins
Taught by
Theo Carnegy Tan


'What does it mean?' - the one question that can be heard in any gallery or museum on a daily basis. Our access to art has become much easier, but in the age of the Turner prize our understanding of it seems like an increasingly arduous task. This intensive course is designed to acquaint the student with a set of interpretative tools that can be applied in a variety of encounters with art - from the museum visit to the critical essay or written review.

We will cover a range of modes commonly used to provide meaning and structure to the visual arts. Some ways of interpreting which we will study include...

  • Semiotic (The study of symbols, signs and their interpretation)
  • Formalist (Purely visual and stylistic analysis)
  • Historical (Interpretation through context)
  • Political (Examining power structures implied or present in the work)

...And a range of other methodologies

Each session works with concrete examples of art taken from across history, where we apply certain methods of interpretation and discuss their applicability. Examples range from groups such as the Surrealists and contemporary conceptual works, all the way back to 19th Century and Renaissance paintings. With this practical element comes a focus on the theoretical foundations of the methods we use, as well as discussions on the issue of interpretation itself.

On this course, there will be occasional visits to galleries; during the weeklong intensive there will be one each day, and every other session for the evening formats.

Topics covered

  • Art analysis
  • Aesthetics
  • Art history
  • Practical skills

Who should take this course?
Suitable for beginners, undergraduate and foundation arts/philosophy/curating students, journalists and critics, people with backgrounds in other humanities or arts areas, arts professionals or administrators.

Entry requirements
No prior knowledge needed, though familiarity with art history will enrich experience. Could be studied alongside Modern Art History.

Level: Beginners


Please note: This course is for students aged 18 and older

Tutor Description

Theo Carnegy-Tan is an arts academic and journalist from London. He graduated with First Class Honours from Westminster in MA Cultural and Critical Theory. He has previously worked at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art and Zaha Hadid Architects.  He currently writes critical articles and reviews for Times Quotidian, Be-Art and Blue Labyrinths.


Please bring the following with you to the first session:

  • Notebook and pen

Available dates