What Is Descriptive Criticism?

Descriptive criticism provides a factual analysis, evaluation or judgement of the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit or dramatic production. Conversely, a prescriptive critic describes what is observed and suggests what the artist should have done or may have intended.

Descriptive critics focus on the art work form, describing important aspects of that form in order to improve our understanding of the characters, settings, structures, details or interrelationships present within the work or among the aspects depicted. An untrained person can easily miss things that are observed by a critic when viewing works of art. Good descriptive critics call attention to what might otherwise be missed in an artistic form.

Unlike a reviewer, whose intent is to provide his opinion on a work of art, a descriptive critic analyzes the work in greater detail, targeting an audience of those most knowledgeable in the particular art form being critiqued. While a reviewer can be anyone with an opinion, a critic is expected to have a deeper knowledge of the history, content or design of the work being critiqued. Unlike reviews that are created for public consumption, descriptive critiques are often featured in academic journals and highly regarded artistic publications.