Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Critique Etiquette

So you've decided to jump into the critique vehicle for a short trip. You have a structure to use to help you look at a piece of work, but is that enough? Exactly how should you make those comments without sending the other person into a state of depression for a week? It is important to find ways to engage in a discussion about an artwork that provides the artist with objective and helpful feedback. It is always easier when critiques occur when the artist is present because it allows for questions and clarification. Both the viewer and the artist have roles to play in the critique process.

The Viewer/Responder
Consider the artist's level of experience
The approach taken to critique and the depth of analysis carried out should be balanced with where an artist is in terms of his/her career. Emerging artists might need a little more TLC than artists settled into their career.

Separate the artist from the work
When a work is critiqued, the focus should be on the work not the person who created the work. The best way to place attention on the work is to avoid the use of “You” statements. E.g., You didn’t …., You used… You can’t… “You” statements put the artist on the defensive, causing that to become the focus rather than what is being said about the work

Involve the artist in the discussion
In face to face situations when it is a struggle to find positive in a work, or the work is confusing, ask questions to draw the artist out. This will provide more information about the work that will enable the responder to move the discussion of the work along.

Highlight areas of concern; don't boss
While the responder wants to help the artist, it isn't his/her role to tell an artist what to do and how to do it. Remember the artist has a personal style, a reason for creating the work, ways of handling materials, etc. that is unique to his/her creative process. It is better to provide comments that highlight any concern or issue with the work rather than telling the artist how to fix an identified problem.

Encourage the artist to problem solve
If the artist responds to a comment with a question, try sending the question back to the artist by asking a more general question like “Have you had this problem in the past?, What did you do then?” or “Do you have any thoughts about it? “

Provide suggestions if the artist asks
Sometimes an artist is truly stuck and would like to have suggestions to ponder. You can help by brainstorming ideas and discussing possible solutions with the artist.

The Artist

Be Willing to Grow
No one is perfect all the time. Even if an artist has reached dizzying career heights , there is always room to grow.

Feel free to ask questions
If the artist isn’t clear about a comment made during critique, questions should be posed that will help the responder elaborate on the comments.

Don't take it personally
Remember the critique is about the work you created- a product, not about you –the person. It is important to separate your own emotions from your art.

Take notes for future reference:
It is helpful to record comments from a group critique so the artist can decide in the comfort of his studio what might be acted on or ignored.

References that informed this post:
How to Give an Art Critique and How to Handle Art Criticism -Empty Easel.
You Suck, the (not so) gentle art of critique.


Miki Willa said...

Very well said. If only all would be critiquers and artists would take your words to heart. It has taken me a very long time to seperate myself from my work. I think it has to do with maturity as an artist. I know I am finally at a place where I would like to have someone critique my work using your guidelines. I am encouraged by this and I am empowered by your posts. Thank you.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Margaret, I've been going to an independent study painting class these past few years. We have an excellent teacher, although that is really the wrong word, because we learn mostly by doing our own art and viewing and critiquing. It's been a real inspiration to see this situation handled very well, where it almost always feels positive and affirming for everyone.

I enjoyed your pointers and they all ring true! It's such a delicate balance to keep, between saying what's constructive and what hurts and destroys.

Anonymous said...

Don't do it in public! That's a humiliation rather than a critique.

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