Why We're Here Wednesday: Stop Critiquing Poorly

I think one of the most nerve wracking things about school is critiques, but they’re really important. Critiques are the culmination of your art making process, where you and your peers can reflect on how you got to this piece, what was successful and what wasn’t as successful. Critiques also allow you to see what others have done and analyze what was successful for them which can be incredibly helpful in reflecting on your own process. I’ve sat through a lot of critiques across multiple disciplines and there have been really good and really bad experiences. I don’t mean that my work was praised or my work was trashed, I mean that some critiques have been insightful and an excellent learning tools and some have been absolute wastes of time. There are certain things that are very engaging and helpful in critiques and there are some things that just don’t need to be said, so today I’m going to lay out another “do’s and don’ts list” for you all on critiques. As usual with this lovely Wednesday segment, this list will grow and evolve as we talk about these subjects with our artists and with all of you!

Do:

1. Be Critical: This one seems super obvious but you’d be shocked at how many crits seem to just turn into a compliment festival and that’s not helping anyone. Don’t be afraid to let people know what they faltered on in their process, it’s not a personal attack and it will ultimately help the person grow as an artist. It’s called a critique after all, be critical, no one’s gotten better as an artist after everyone just sat around and complemented each other.

2. Write Down the Reactions You Get: A lot of information is going to get thrown around over the time it takes to critique a whole group’s work so make sure while your work is being discussed to write down the important things that you hear. Good and bad, remind yourself what you heard that you think will help you or that made you feel good about your work.

3. Speak Up: I’ve seen a lot of people who are talented and smart artists but they don’t speak during critiques… ever. Don’t be silent one, speak up and let people know what you’re thinking about their work, even if it’s something simple, you’d be surprised how much it may help the person whose work you’re talking about.

So I think that the “do’s” for a critique are pretty simple and self explanatory. Basically just don’t be scared to speak or be critical of a work and take in everything that people say about your work. Not that hard. The “don’ts” are, in my opinion, the more crucial part of this list because doing these things can really halt the critique process and no one gains anything out of doing these silly things.

Don’ts:

1. Say “I Like…”: The hardest I can physically roll my eyes is when a professor asks someone what they think of a piece and their response is, “I like it.” This does nothing for anyone, explain yourself. Why do you like it? What aspects of this work stood out to you for you to form the opinion of “like”? People are looking to you for help on understanding what is good and/or bad about their work so just hitting them with a lame blanket statement like this is insulting.

2. Say What You Would Do: This one is more of a phrasing issue and it’s pretty easy. Just don’t tell the person what you would do to make their work better. It’s not your work and it gives off a condescending tone like you’re saying, “I’m better than you, so here’s what I would change to make this piece better.” Now, I’m not saying don’t say what you’re thinking, but phrase it in a way of an idea, something that allows the artist to ponder the thought and not just hear that if you had made this, it would go this way.

3. Get Offended/Try to Defend Yourself: I said this in the Do portion but let me reiterate because people always seem to struggle with this but, a critique isn’t a personal attack! This is a moment for people to look at your work and let you know what is going well and what isn’t, so getting offended by people pointing out things that aren’t working in your piece is just a waste of time. You’re not going to get better as an artist if people just praise every piece that you make and even though it might not be exciting to hear people lay into your work a little, hold it together, it will help. I promise. Take in the critiques and if they don’t work for you, they don’t work, and if they do then awesome, you gained something from the experience!

So that’s the opening for my “Do’s and Don’ts of Critiques,” and I hope you all like it! Let me know what you guys think or things that excite or bother you in critiques. Let’s build this list and help make the critiquing experience even better for students!