Preliminary Assignment for Critiques
Being prepared for a critique is not just having your work ready to present, but also requires that you are ready to explain your work and ask your peers for constructive criticism and feedback on your work.
You are required to have a statement and a minimum of two questions written up for each critique. These will need to be photocopied or printed up from a computer. You will need to bring a copy for each student in the class and one for me.
1. Your statement will need to have a list of at least three goals you had at the start of the piece or pieces. These goals can be an ongoing and evolving list for the entire semester and should relate somewhat to your artist statement. The remainder of your statement needs to address the outcome of these goals and objectives, both in a positive ands negative manner. Basically what you think worked visually, formally, and technically and what you think did not work and what you need to do to make the next body of work more successful.
2. Your questions for the class and myself are to be well worded and thought-out.
a. Your first question needs to address technical issues related to hand building or throwing skills, surface treatments such as slips, glazes or room temperature patination, and firing issues.
b. Your second question needs to address either formal considerations, conceptual concerns or esthetic decisions.
Five areas to consider that may help when analyzing your own work or others work
1. Immediate Response
What are your immediate responses? These are what stand out first and are your instant gut reactions to the work. These responses to the work are not always the conceptual objective of the maker. This instant reaction to the work can be a visual hook or devise the maker uses to draw in his or her audience.
2. Objective Description
Objectively describe what is in front of you as if you were telling someone about it who cannot see the object.
3. Formal Matters
Formal critical feedback and compliments related to the presentation, material choice, composition, craftsmanship, line quality, color choice, surface texture, command of space, use of negative and positive space, size, weight (physical and visual), shape, scale, tactile qualities, and so on.
4. Allegory (the story it tells)
What is the meaning of the work? Does it tell a story? What is the title? What associations or connotations does the piece evoke? Try naming the piece with one word and then try naming the piece with a sentence or a paragraph.
5. The Piece in Reference to History and Contemporary Use of the Media
How does the work reflect or relate to the world in general? How does the work connect to other works within and outside of the media in the contemporary sense and historical sense?
Understanding the Word Critique and its Etymology
The words critique, critic, criticism, critical, and criterion all come to us from the Greek language. They refer to judging, analyzing, distinguishing and selecting. A professor sees a critique as a place for assessment and constructive evaluation. The assessment portion of the critique quite often is relative to criterion or parameters of an assignment or set goals by the artists themselves. Those parameters and goals are where critical analysis can start. What is it that the work was to express and how well did the artist get across his or her audience that said content? Constructive evaluation can be the remainder of the critique and can stem out of the successes and more importantly failures in the artist to get their point across about the esthetics, content, or formal concerns that their own individual goals or the parameters of the assignment were demanding of the piece along with reflections by the audience that may be not relative to what the makers intent.
One of the professors jobs is to break down the basic elements of the piece and give useful criticism that will offer the student possible solutions to possible deficiencies. These perceived problems in the work could relate to formal considerations and content. The professor’s job is also to bring an informed conglomeration of viewpoints that are coming from an educated and mature practitioner of the media and a well informed professional in the discipline of art. These viewpoints and type of feedback the student may obtain from the professor may or may not be the professor’s actual opinion and quite often are not opinions at all but informed observations of the world in which contemporary art operates. Some of this should also be the job of his or hers peers that are attending the critique.
There are many jobs that are the student’s responsibility, past the fact that they need to have the work ready for critique. The most important job of the student who is being critiqued and the students who are a part of the judging of the work is that they stay as objective as possible. To stay detached to some degree helps the student in the hot seat actually stay focused on either a defense of their work or be open to the possibilities of growth for their work. The last part of this statement is maybe the most important part of the student’s responsibility and that is to be open to the possibilities of growth and insight on the outcome and direction of their work. One job of the student is to realize that their peers and professors giving them feedback are there to help the student grow and not to hold them back from growth. With this the student must remember the professor holds a terminal degree in the subject they are teaching and has generally a broader sense of worldviews then most students do. Therefore the student may be challenge to think outside of their preconceived ideas on their work and their worldviews; this is one major area where growth occurs. Another job of the student is the necessity to take notes during this process. These notes will help with future reflection on the feedback given to them long after the critique session is over. Sometimes an issue the student being critiqued on is combative with their initial observations because they are in too much of a defensive posture, but some times something that a student is threatened by may later be an issue the student will embrace or agree with. This almost polar opposite change can only occur when they have notes to reflect on that are coming from an objective form of note taking. Detaching oneself from his or her own work is a difficulty that the individual must overcome. Putting yourself in the shoes of the audience is an important way to see the successes and failures of your work.
The critique itself needs to be looked at as one very small hurdle that is a constant in the student’s career. This hurdle is one way to move forward with your work, if you use it as an effective tool for growth and not look at it as a goal that your work is directed at. The critique is an ongoing process that will occur in a variety of ways outside of academia. But there is seldom an opportunity for an actual critique by your peers that has the same dynamics outside of your academic career. The initial judgments outside of academia will lie in competitive situations like gallery representation, job placement in the artists chosen field and juried shows (which should also be experienced over the course of the last few years of an undergraduates career and during the entire course of a students graduate studies). Critical feedback and judgment on the work may also be found in reviews of shows, articles on the artists work and other peer reviewed publications. Local newspaper articles are of course good as publicity artifacts but are not within the context of scholarly or a critical venue for feedback on the artists work. The level of review in a local newspaper is generally not relevant comparatively to a review by an art critic from the New York Times or News Week, or an article in Ceramics Monthly, American Craft, Sculpture Magazine or other reputable publications.
Monetary feedback is certainly an area where tangible representation of appreciation of an artists work can be seen. But monetary feedback is not necessarily a validation or critical evaluation of quality within the context of art. Nor is it relative within the context of critical thinking and evaluation of one’s work. It may be solely that the artist has created a product that is desirable to public and the content or even quality of craft in the work are not aspects that the artist’s audience is concerned about. This happens often in the fine art media and craft media.