I've belonged to a critique group for three years. There are five artist members, working in different media with different levels of experience. Sometimes a member invites a guest along. All members are conscious of being fair and constructive in their responses. The location rotates each time. We usually bring 2 or 3 pieces of work and meet for two hours. Other times, an artist may request a special gathering of the group to discuss work for a show or some other special event. Our procedures have evolved over time, and we continue to change to meet our needs.
From this experience and other experiences in workshop situations, I make the following suggestions for effective group critiques that happen face to face.
- You need comfortable seating for the group and a location that permits everyone an unimpeded view.
- A sturdy easel and good light are essential (as are a cup of tea or coffee and a snack).
- Decide who will go first. Some groups are very organized and keep track of this from meeting to meeting; we just decide at the meeting.
- Limit the viewing to one work at a time unless an artist has a series that needs viewing together. Once everyone has had a turn, begin again. It might be necessary to use a timer to control the amount of time spent on any one piece.
- Set at least one minute to quietly look at the work before anyone speaks. This helps control the "blurters".
- Sometimes the response can be to a specific question about the work, other times the artist just presents the work without any comment. There are certainly times that an artist might want to set up the viewing experience by providing background information.
- If a member of the group is getting bogged down in minute details about the work, try to raise the level of discussion by making a more general comment or asking how these details affect the success of the overall artwork.
- Sometimes the discussion never gets past the analysis level which is very limiting. It is a good idea to keep a copy of the critique process questions handy to prompt higher order questions/comments about the work.
- Have a notebook handy to jot down all the words of wisdom for future consideration.
- Try different response structures for variety.
I love "What's the first work that pops into your head? This is a rapid brainstorming technique where group members keep providing descriptive words for the work until everyone's ideas have been exhausted. The artist records the words so the members can see them and then the work is discussed based on the words that have come up. I love the spontaneity of this process and the range of words that come up. Some of the most insightful discussion about my work have come from this approach.
Another simple but effective approach is Two stars and a wish. I know, it sound hokey, but it works well. I've actually used this in primary grades to get children looking and responding to work in group settings. The two stars are two strengths of the work. The wish is something your would like the artist to think about in reference to the work. It works best if group members jot down their responses before beginning the discussion.
Then there's If this was my painting... This is a quick and dirty response activity whereby the responder steps into the artist's role and suggests one thing they would do differently and why. Remember the artist doesn't have to accept any of the suggestions, but they provide lots of ideas for consideration.