Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bits About Critique

I've been thinking about critique a bit lately. In my experience, a really meaty, helpful, insightful, honest critique is rare. There are lots of reasons why critiques are not always as productive as they could be. That's mostly ok. It's a complicated thing. What's most important is that an artist learns to critique her own work and her own process and learns and grows with each new work.

Kristin wrote about critique on the 8 That Create blog. She has lots of good thoughts.

I also LOVE this video from The Art Assignment video series on You Tube. (I've written about The Art Assignment before.)

I have just two small things to share that I've learned to use in critiques over the years.

One is something I say if I'm viewing/critiquing a piece of art. If there is an element of the work that I find perplexing, I say "Tell me about ______." For instance, if the artist has included a red shape with sharp edges that doesn't seem to fit with the other shapes or lines within the piece, I might say "Tell me about the red shape here." Her response may explain why it doesn't seem to fit. Maybe it wasn't supposed to fit. Or her response might indicate that she didn't have a real plan or sense for how it fit with everything else. Ideally her response helps her -- and everyone else listening -- determine if it's an area that could be improved. Or it simply gets everyone to look at the work slightly differently and we learn from that new persepctive.

The second thing is something I ask if I'm having my work critiqued. Often when discussing art with like-minded, caring friends, they don't want to say anything critical. So, I say "Tell me one thing that seems out of place or misguided in this piece." Then they are forced to think of something they might wish I'd done differently. It doesn't feel critical. They've already told me they love the piece. (I may also love it.) But, even the smallest suggestion that the blue rectangle is too big or a particular fabric looks old fashioned -- or whatever -- helps me see the piece differently and consider how I might improve the design process the next time around. Or if I lovelovelove the same thing someone else says they are confused by, I can learn to verbalize and explain why I chose to design it the way I did.

Here's my piece, Neighborhood, which some of my friends suggest has a blue rectangle that is too big. They may be right.


Deborah C. Stearns said...

Thanks for sharing your approaches to critique. I like the idea of asking the artist to elaborate about certain areas of the work. You've also come up with a good strategy to encourage thoughtful critique in groups that may be unwilling to offer any criticism. I've been in groups that have been *very* critical, as well, and that can be hard to manage, both to ensure that the feedback is useful (rather than "I don't like it") and that the space continues to feel safe for presenting one's work.

One of the approaches I have liked has been to focus on responses to the work. Basically, the questions are "What do you see?" and "What effect does the piece have on you? How does it make you feel or what do you think about when you see the piece?" I think that can be helpful in providing feedback to the artist about how the piece comes across to viewers, and then the artist can decide if that fits with their vision. So if people say "I notice the green square -- that is the first thing that grabs my attention. It seems big, maybe out of proportion to the rest of the piece. It gives me a feeling of being grounded or weighted down, which contrasts with the lighter feeling of the upper part of the piece.", then the artist can decide if that is the effect you wanted with the piece.

Elena Stokes said...

Then again, they may be wrong. I think the blue adds weight where it's needed. I could make a suggestion but first I'd ask "So, tell me about the big blue rectangle at the bottom."

Great post with a good approach to critiques that, when you think about it, could be applied to other life situations. Thanks!

Sarah Ann Smith said...

I agree that the blue adds necessary weight to the bottom, but the very vertical edges and corners are grabbing me...what if the edges were ragged/torn like the green line? What do what the blue to be? What does it mean to you? Typed your friend!

cauchy09 said...

I absolutely appreciate critiques that begin neutral rather than projecting the critic's opinions at the outset.

And I love that blue rectangle there, btw.