This past week I have been thinking a lot about the importance of the critique process for artists, both at the high school level and college. I read an excerpt from Talking about Student Art by Terry Barrett, which discussed the difference between what a critique looks like for elementary, middle, and high school level versus college critique processes/practices. The author mentioned how anyone who has taken college-level art courses has been affected by their studio critiques in one way or another, including both positive and negative experiences.
I certainly remember being very afraid of the critique process when I began college. I had done critiques before in my high school AP Studio Art course, but it was usually done on paper versus a verbal critique. In high school we would have our work displayed on tables so that we could walk freely through the room and provide guided feedback for each individual. It was not anonymous, but it was a bit easier to provide honest feedback behind a pencil. However, I felt I had not learned enough about visual literacy and really giving useful feedback yet. There was a lot of, "I like this...I like that" discussion happening across the board. Perhaps a, "Consider cleaning up this line, or change this color" would be thrown in here and there, but overall the feedback was pretty positive.
When I sat down in a semicircle in front of our pinned projects in college, it took a long time for people to get comfortable. I did not know any of these people--which in the end helped me critique their work from a less bias stand. So in the end I suppose that aspect was good, but in high school it is really hard not to be bias--one way or another because you have known those people for so long. But because we did not know one another, our critiques began the same as I had experienced in high school.
It was very frustrating to me in my introductory courses anytime I had a teacher that wasn't harsh. I felt like there was no growth or opportunity to grow when I knew she would just "always like it". The worst was expecting my teacher to be less vocal in critique, and then receiving a docked score! Feedback is so incredibly vital in being a successful artist. I remember in my first three-dimensional study course I had the most specific, hard-pushing professor. Some projects it brought me to tears, as I did not know how to improve what he wanted me to. But as I have continued through college those experiences have strengthened my understanding of visual communication and how important it is to have a purpose behind what you create. I had another professor who prohibited us from using the sentence-starter, "I like..." because using that statement is usually pretty subjective to begin with. You can always back it up with a reason, and that gives it more purpose. But knowing the proper ways to discuss artwork, in the most useful and professional way is something really important to me.
All in all, I have realized that the critique process is something that gets brushed under the rug quite often. Even in college there are art students who do not contribute, do not share, do not critique, or even criticize! It is one of my biggest pet peeves, and many of my colleagues share the same, when you cannot get one ounce of useful feedback about your work. Critique is how we grow and how we as creators know we have communicated our message. Nothing is more rewarding to me than sparking a conversation with my work--but I would have never achieved that kind of satisfaction had I not been through those tough critiques and been forced to think about the big W-H-Y.
From my past experiences in high school, to current experiences in college, and future visions for my classroom surrounding critique I have begun to compile a list of standards, goals, etc. Shifting my perspective from "professor mode" to "high school teacher" is something I have already discovered I will have to work on. The age group is more tender, and the discussion process shifts in ways, but the end goal remains the same--help students improve their art making abilities.
Here is the list I have begun of ways I would like to structure my future classroom in regards to artwork critique:
1. Use appropriate language
Be aware of your tone, the way you phrase suggestions, and the usefulness of your comments.
2. Get up close to the work
Analyze the work the way it would be viewed in a gallery setting; sitting far away provides less information and is unrealistic to the legitimate art world.
3. Avoid using "I like..."
Explore the work more deeply & consider details the artist could improve, what their message is, why the details you like appeal to you, etc. It is most vital to always back up your feedback with proper reasoning and explanation.
4. Know when to separate your personal interpretations and when to include them
The artwork may spark a memory or experience for you personally, and if that information might contribute to the artists' meaning...share it! Or if your personal connection was part of the artists' intention to evoke something in their audience...share it! But using statements like: "This piece really reminds me of jumping on my trampoline as a kid. That was a fun time." strive to give more information; why does it evoke this memory? Why does the piece exude a sense of "fun"?
And in conclusion...
5. Strive to think deeper
For my artwork this week I chose to reflect on my interpretations of visual language in high school versus what I believe it is now/growing towards the future. I have discovered ways to make my work more interesting, giving it more purpose, meaning, and depth. These images represent an exercise of sorts to see how the artist or designer can grow from critique and improve their work.
The first image is very blatant, forward, less intriguing in my opinion. The eyes are clearly distinguishable and hold the audience for much less time than the second drawing. The message is written out, as to make sure the audience doesn't miss it. It is a "one and done" kind of viewing experience.
The second piece however requires more exploring to receive the message. The subject matter is less distinguishable until you back up. When the viewer gets closer to the work it can be discovered that the image is "drawn" using text, "Open your eyes" it says. More information is gained from the extension of attention and exploration of detail.
I strive in the future to push my students to put more "easter eggs" in their work. Add details for the audience to explore, question, discover, unlock, etc. Your work can become much more complex just by simple details that present your concept in a different light.
For more details + documentation of my artworks created to accompany these blog posts, visit my instagram!