I think one of the misunderstood and undervalued part of being an art student is critiques. I am not going to say it’s easy to sit through a critique, but the value of critiques should be easy to understand. In art, especially commercial art like graphic design and illustration, progressing as an artist means refining your work so that it communicated to the largest amount of people. I know that’s a broad, kind of beside the point thing to say but stay with me on this one.
Since the art being made is supposed to be seen by the masses, having a small group of other artists pick through it is very mild compared to the thousands of people that might see it if it is printed in an ad or something. Unlike you, other artists as well as other people have not been staring or working at the piece of art for hours and therefor have a pretty fresh view and can point out things you did not have the ability to see. In order to reap the benefits of such a great system, one has to swallow their pride quite a bit and be open to the fact that there is, and always will be improvements that can be made.
If you are or want to become an artist, hopefully you have made peace with this fact and have learned to fall in love with that aspect. I believe that artists strive for perfection, but know that such a thing does not exist. It keeps us going and entertained. There are a few key attitudes and excuses that nobody should have in a critique, both in receiving a critique and giving one.
When giving a critique:
1. “That looks good, I like it”
Although this is a very nice thing to say, it isn’t very constructive. There is a lot of talk about constructive criticisms, but constructive compliments are just as important. Just like it is important to know what to fix, it’s important to know what your strengths are within the piece. An example of a constructive compliment is “I think that the diagonal in the composition brings a lot of action into the piece.” When using generic words and being unspecific, it can come off uncaring.
2. “I don’t like that.”
Just like the first, this is unspecific and ineffective. It can also come off pretty mean and rude, depending on what you say. Being specific is important. An example of a constructive criticism is “I think it gets a bit blurry on the left so maybe sharpen the edge up a bit.” Much like the first, this provides and easy and clear solution for the artist to strengthen their piece. Giving a constructive criticisms shows your respect to an artist more than anything.
When receiving a critique:
1. “I ran out of time”
In art school, most of the time critiques happen when a project is due. Every student has the same amount of time to finish the project, making the playing field somewhat level. I won’t get involved with all of the factors that make people unable to finish, but if you have run into a personal problem and really didn’t have time to finish, it is best just to accept the critique regardless. Instead, it would be best to state that you intend on working on it more in which case the critiques you receive are extra helpful since you won’t have to go back and rework a piece you believed to be finished.
2. Any type of arguing
When receiving a critique, it is important that you respect the fact that your teacher and peers have taken the time to look at your piece closely and try to make it the best that it can be. If somebody points out something, even if you don’t fully agree with the criticism, you can at least quietly respect the fact that the person really looked at your piece and tried to help you. This is applied even more so when speaking to teachers. I cannot tell you how often I have watched students become defensive about a critique a teacher has given by either blaming it on the material or some sort of excuse about the reasons they did not follow the assignment. If you had trouble with materials or an assignment, that is definitely something you should discuss with your teacher before a critique in a respectful way. Even if you had trouble with those things, the points your teacher makes are still valid and should be taken into consideration.
3. Disregarding a critique based on the ability of the person critiquing
A lot of people are stuck on not hearing anything from anyone “beneath” them. This is a very rotten attitude in my opinion. Since most of my classes are commercial art, the art being made should be appealing to those who aren’t artists but simply enjoy art. If somebody who is less experienced has something to say about your work, it must mean that the mistake is rather obvious and should be improved right away. In that way, less experienced critique-rs are extremely valuable in testing out your market. Not to mention that ability doesn’t always have to do with a persons ability to critique. I have met very skilled artists who were terrible at giving constructive criticisms and visa versa.
When receiving a critique, it is not a personal attack. It does not mean you are unliked as a person or that you are a bad artist. In fact, it is a sign that you are respected by your peers. The tools needed to improve and succeed easily available during critiques. During my critique today (it was lovely by the way everybody said constructive things) my teacher said that getting reviewed by peers is a great warm up for the mean, scary mass market that will be judging your work later on.
Sorry for the long rambling post. My main point is, have a good attitude about critiques. They are amazing!