So what is this critique thing all about?
The aim of this group is to enable artists to move forward with their work by offering constructive criticism in a supportive and encouraging environment. Constructive criticism can help artists see things in their work that they might not be able to see on their own.
To help the group understand a little bit about each artist’s sensibility and what the work means to him or her, it is important for each artist to discuss his or her piece before critiquing begins. This kind of give and take forum, in which the artists first introduce their works and then invite feedback, pushes them to come to terms with their intentions and take responsibility for what is actually there.
Criticism is not a guessing game. It is an informed, multi-faceted way to communicate verbally what one sees as successful or unsuccessful in a given work of art. And it should be noted that not everyone will agree on the criticism of the same work. It is up to the artist being criticized to take away from a critique session the ideas, questions, concerns and comments that resonate within him.
The art of critiquing
How a critique works – what to expect
Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (It is an act of faith and courage to put one’s work out for criticism. Being able to trust the goodwill and kindness of those doing the critique is essential to openness and growth).
When you present your work to the group, be prepared to speak about your intent and to pose any questions you have about the work. Be brief and concise; the less you talk, the more time you will have to hear others’ responses.
When you respond to others’ work, be clear, concise, honest, and direct, without being mean.
Be specific about your criticisms, suggestions, and observations. Vague or abstract conversation is not useful to the art-maker.
Stay focused on the work, and avoid extraneous or competing conversations.
Remember, you are commenting on the work, not on the artist. Refrain from making personal references by avoiding the word “you.” Instead, talk about “it,” the artwork.
Consider the work in several contexts:
1. The artist’s intent (most important)
2. Other work being done by comparable artists
3. Other current work in the greater world
4. Historical artifacts or exemplars.
Avoid using vague or meaningless words like “nice,” “I like,” “good,” or “bad,” unless you can follow them with specific and convincing supporting statements or explanations.
Be constructive. Give the kind of information you would value receiving on your own work, i.e., commentary that helps the artist see the work in a new light, provides specific ways to improve it, and contributes to creative growth.
Questions for Consideration
Approach each work with respect and enthusiasm for the artist’s efforts. Some questions to consider are listed below:
Is the artwork complete? If not, what changes can still occur?
What is the artist’s intent: What was the idea?
How does the complete artwork compare to the artist’s stated goal?
In what specific ways does it meet or fall short of the goal?
How thorough was the process of generating alternative ideas before choosing one to refine and develop? Before beginning, did the artist push ideas past the first solution that came to mind? (Consider sketches, writings, background research, samples, and studies to test materials and techniques).
Do the materials and techniques seem appropriate to the idea?
List specific strengths of the work. These might be conceptual, technical, material, formal, or the interaction of any of these.
List specific weaknesses of the work, things that could be improved to make the work stronger or more powerful. Again, these might be conceptual, technical, material, formal, or the interaction of any of these.
What is the emotional or psychological impact of the work? As a viewer, how does it make you feel?
Is the composition strong? Consider the work in comparison to a checklist of fundamental compositional design elements and principles. Do these all support and strengthen the idea or intent?
Line, Value, Space
Principles of design
Balance /proportion – relationship of one element to another
Harmony/unity – is the work a whole rather than separate sections?
Variety – of shapes, line, textures, light, etc.
Emphasis – focal point
Rhythm & movement – how does your eye move about the piece?
Has the work been carefully finished? This question refers to the details that make the work’s presentation seem professional and might include the following: armatures, contexts, frames, joins, mountings, stands, or supporting devices, among other items specific to the work itself.
Has there been careful attention to detail?
Is the work well crafted, especially in relation to the type of image and idea?
Does the work meet the standard of excellence to which the artist aspires? Does it compare favorably to other work being done in the medium by others at the level with which the artist would identify him or herself?
After the critique
Using the feedback effectively
Only after reflection about the responses to your work – or perhaps after further experimentation – can you begin to decide for yourself what is useful and what you can discard. Ultimately, the work is yours, and the decisions about its direction are yours. The critique is a device to help you see new possibilities and to help you divorce your ego from the process of art making and see the work more objectively.
The notes you take about your work may lead you to ask follow-up questions of one or more group-members. Don’t hesitate to ask them. The clarification works best when the thoughts are fresh. If you feel confused, touch base with members between meetings to clarify or continue conversations. If you try a suggestion and it works, contact the person who made it to express thanks or continue the discussion. Some pieces take longer to resolve, so you may bring them back to the meetings more than once. Jot down your follow-up questions to bring back to the group next time. Bring the completed piece for last words.
Use the critique group to improve your own skills in self-criticism. As you listen to what others say in response to your own work, compare their comments to your own evaluations to see how you can gain better insight into your process and creative problem-solving skills.