Monday, December 7, 2015

Surviving the Final Critique

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With the semester winding down and critiques heating up, I've been thinking about how to advise students on handling a final critique. One of my recent mentees recently went through her Post-Bac thesis critique, (with flying colors!) but beforehand, I realized I needed to put something together to teach students to prepare for the actual event so as to get the most out of it. After putting the question out to several artists and educators, I've gathered the following. Some readers may find parts of this advice contradictory - there wasn't a consensus on how much a student should speak about the work. From which I'd conclude: it depends on you as the person being critiqued. Do you have a lot to say about the work that you feel is a necessary component of understanding the work? Do you feel the work stands on its own? Consider your specific questions regarding your work and find ways to ask them during the crit.

In addition to all the advice below, I'd add two things. First, if the crits are open, and time permits, take the opportunity to watch others. You will learn much more about art making and also gain some insight into your critics. And secondly, try to avoid being the person critiqued right before lunch.

Ellen Owens
I'd ask them to try to look at their work using the perspectives of 3 other, actual people - maybe one is an art professor, one is a person that knows nothing about what they are doing (an aunt?), and one that's part of an audience that would connect with the topic. What questions would each person have? How would you explain the work differently to each one? And what are their perceived strengths and weaknesses about the work? If they can answer these, then they should be well-prepped.
Also, I'd tell them to bring tissues.

Marie Elcin
Don't be a victim of bad critique! If you just stand there and let people say things it hurts. Take charge of the critique. Be able to explain your intentions and have specific questions of things you want to have help on. Like I was trying to say this but I'm not sure that's how it comes across to the viewer? Or I've been struggling with this technique. What could I do differently? Or I'm not sure if I have the best resources for working out this concept, where should I look next? For notes have someone else take them and record what you say and what others say. Especially since your adrenaline gets worked up, you won't remember anything.

Jenifer Wofford
Yes, own it. If you (the general "you") go in with the understanding that the purpose of critique is to help work grow, it can be easier to be proactive in soliciting and recording feedback that will help you do this. This will make even the harder comments a bit easier to take, and will prevent you from feeling victimized. Also, have a trusted friend grill you first. As far as talking about the work yourself, have a grab bag of active, specific words that really matter to you when you think about your work. You can't (and shouldn't) memorize a monologue to define your work, but you CAN have key words that you can anchor and organize your thoughts around.

Jillian Contreni Sosko
My advice to students is to try to identify what they want from the crit, and to know their work and process well enough to direct the experience and get what they need. I always ask my upper level students to write about their work anytime they make a serious investment of time in the studio (after every session of work)- and to read those notes consistently+ try to distill information prior to having a review with other folks.

Lucy Childs
If you're really nervous, it helps to know the audience's eyes are on what you're presenting and not on you. So, if a student can direct the group to look at the art as they talk that will help them relax. Also to anticipate what questions may be asked, write down the answers to think of pertinent details, and then rehearse the answers to prevent becoming tongue-tied. [Students ahould] think about [their] feet -- this helps to feel grounded, literally. And lastly, find something in the room that is soothing to look at (the view out the window, a picture on the wall, etc.) to look at when feeling stressed. PS. It's one experience in [their lives], not a defining one.

Melissa Jay Craig
Figure out what you really want / need feedback on, and ask for it. Run the meeting: you are chair. (Hopefully by now - a final critique - you have also read and are familiar with The Critique Handbook.)

Emily Bicht
I actually think it best to keep your comments to yourself unless asked directly - you may find yourself in the terrible position of defending something you have said and not talking about the work. It happens all the time. Don't enter the critique with verbal information. You've given them the work and probably a statement - that should be enough. Let the audience lead the conversation and if you don't like the direction ask questions. But be wary of making declarative statements of the conversation stops referencing the work - which ideally speaks for itself.

Shelley Thorstensen
Control the crit if it starts to go south. Two specific things: if you don't like the way conversation is going between the people critting and a certain work, jump in and ask them about a different work. Maybe someone else will have something to say about something else. Some people just like to hear themselves speak. Second, if you are talking and you feel uncomfortable or whatever, maybe you feel you are not making sense, stop. You can stop even in mid-sentence. Usually people won't even know you did it. Just continue on with something else. A lot of times, especially if it is a large group, they are more busy thinking of their next thing to say.

Louise Philips Richborn
[Remember] you are never a victim, you want something from these people- you are a sales person! Sell them, and you can only sell by being positive, receptive and accepting of different opinions, remember everyone comes from a different up bringing and culture. If someone tells you that your work is a piece of shit- ask them why? How? Never be negative- and have a big bottle of wine or bowl of ice cream waiting for you at home.

Kara Petraglia
Have a friend/colleague take notes if at all possible, otherwise try to record the conversation. I agree with Shelley in trying to control the conversation - if it's moving in a useless direction, try ask questions to clarify points or to move the conversation along. Others are providing the feedback, but it's ok to move things along that aren't helpful or have been beaten into the ground. Come in with specific questions about how things work or read to help prompt the others to provide helpful feedback.

Meg Escude
Never apologize. Never talk about what you were gonna do...the direction it didn't take. Just commit to what it is.

Miriam Schear
Listen, try not to be reactive and remember-this is a conversation. So-also have questions YOU have for your audience that you would like feedback on. Don't talk about work you are going to make: that is what I call an 'air crit'. Definitely record the session-use your phone if necessary and have someone take notes if possible. Sometimes things that sound harsh or super critical in the moment are just simply questions. Consider it a barometer about how people are perceiving your work.

More Advice:
How To Survive a Critique: A Guide to Giving and Receiving Feedback
How to Survive an Art Critique
Fine Art Views: How To Survive an Art Critique

Also, for educators, critics, or visiting artists, on giving criticism, I recommend:
Dealing With Unhelpful and Unsolicited Critiques of Creative Work
Liz Lerman Critical Response Process

For other artists' advice in this series, visit here.

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