Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pursuing art critique

The term art critique can have negative connotations, especially for artists who endured demeaning experiences as part of their post secondary art training. I would argue that critique is an invaluable part of creation, and that its success depends on the knowledge of the viewer and the viewer's ability to present feedback in an objective and supportive manner.

In this post, I am referring to any situation artists initiate to gain feedback about their work, not what happens when your work is complete and presented for public consumption. I guess you could refer to it as " in process" critique. Art blogs are a wonderful vehicle for in process critique, but interestingly enough, most of the comments readers give are very positive and supportive. While that makes us feel good, it does not move us along in our thinking about what we create. I think most people don't get into the discussion because of fear of offending the artist, or because they don't quite know how best to express what they truly think about an art work. There are other opportunities for "in process"critique that artists can pursue:
  • posting your work on an online critique site,
  • organizing a studio visit with a curator, gallery owner or visiting artist;
  • joining a critique group;
  • calling upon a trusted artist friend to discuss your work.
Sometimes we are blind to aspects of our work and it takes a conversation with someone else to bring forward things we never thought about. There are certain points to remember if you are going to actively pursue critique of your work and not be crushed by the process. Remember that:
  • Artists put themselves in a strong position when they engage in self critique of their work before bringing it to a more public forum for discussion.
  • Viewers look at art from their life experiences, education, likes and dislikes, emotional state and personal tastes.
  • All responses to an artwork are the l opinions of the viewer and should not be taken as a personal criticism of the artist. (that's the most difficult to remember)
  • There can be great disparity in interpretation between the views of the artist and the intended audience.
  • Artists do not have to act on or agree with the information gained from a critique.
Over the years as a teacher, curriculum specialist and workshop leader, I've had reason to research formats for art criticism. While there are different formats in use, I was interested in one that allows the viewer time to develop an informed opinion that can be supported with specific references to an art work. One very established method was put forward in 1972 by Edmund Feldman in Varieties of Visual Experiences. This is a much used format for art critique in education today. In my next post I will explore the four elements of this process - Description, Analysis, Interpretation and Judgment and how we can use the sequence to lead to more informed discussion of art work.


self taught artist said...

interesting...i dont think i've ever seen a blog about this (that wasn't full of pomp and circumstance) look forward to the next segment!

Blue Sky Dreaming said...

I too look forward to the next segment. I did read someone's anonymous opinion which I happened to agree with but it was not well received, a common problem here in blogland. We all want to encourage but sometimes it is the elephant in the room. The artist did not seek a critique so the opinion seemed to enter from left field. I would be interested in an online critique site.

Margaret Ryall said...

Hopefully I won't be full of pomp and circumstance. I have the second installment already written, so I better read it to make sure. I find critique invaluable, and because of this I want to explore it on my blog. I already had a lot of information on the topic that I've been cherry picking from. Needless to say, I won't be putting anything down that isn't believable, practical and well thought out.

Blue Sky Dreaming
I have a hard and fast rule. If the artist asks for response, then I feel they are being truthful in their desire to engage in a conversation about the work. I take my role seriously in this process, but I always give my response to the work in a thoughtful, but honest way. There are many ways to engage in a critique without attacking the work and certainly not the artist. I plan to address this in upcoming posts which I'm working on now. There are presently many online critique sites. Perhaps that's another post.

Miki Willa said...

I enjoyed this post very much. I would like to learn more about giving and recieving valuable critiques that are aimed at the work and not the artist. I would also like to know how to invite discussions of my work that are honest and informed. I look forward to more posts on this subject.

jennifer woodburn said...

Excellent subject Margaret, and something that doesn't get covered often enough. I look forward to hearing more from you on the subject, and perhaps some guidance towards online critique options. It is always great to read your blog.