Critiques of artwork can come from a variety of ideologies and purposes, one interpretation being: Artists, viewers and mediators coming together to generate a conversation.
Rather than coming from a place of judgement, critiques can be used for educating viewers on an artist’s practice, understanding the intent of a body of work, or providing comments that strengthen an artist’s creative endeavors. These three primary roles are the key players in providing those concepts. Here are some guidelines for artists, viewers, and mediators and their individual roles in organizing a meaningful critique.
Artist, Mediator, and Viewer Responsibilities
Be prepared to be receptive
As the subject of a critique, it’s important for artists to be open-minded on being critiqued and be prepared to answer questions about their work or practice.
See critiques as a component of refining your practice. Whether the work you show is finished or unfinished, you can gain new insights into your work versus when you’re developing it on your own. Critiques can be a way to progress your artistry into new and undiscovered directions.
It can be nerve-racking to have your work be seen in an open, public environment, but know you are the expert on your own work and have the skills and resources to represent your practice in the best way possible. Try to get a sense of what your art practice is before a critique so you talk about your work with ease in a group setting.
Approach critiques as constructive, not judgmental
Don’t take all comments personally, some comments may be just value judgements. There can be some negative comments made, which isn’t always the most encouraging feeling. Overall, you have ultimate control over how you make and understand your work. Critiques can just be guidelines on how to express your ideas in different ways that don’t necessarily have to be the only way to progress your practice.
Feel free to ask questions at the beginning or end (after you’ve received some comments) to engage more with your viewers. You can also start off the critique by opening up about your work and asking any questions you have about your own work so viewers can frame their comments within the context of your practice. You can reveal as much as your practice you’re comfortable with sharing. Although, if you would prefer to sit back and listen to the viewers’ interpretations first, you can also do that too. Keep note of whether or not others’ interpretations match up with your intentions.
Spend a couple minutes of observation
As a viewer in a critique, start off by spending some time with the work. Look at it more than once, then look at it again and again. If you’re critiquing a piece of music, take the time to listen to a song more than once or focus into a certain aspect of the song, like a melody or chord progression. It’s okay if you don’t immediately grasp every theme an artwork has to offer. Begin your critique by identifying and commenting on a few themes, then guide it from there. Initial comments can be helpful in providing immediate, unfiltered feedback, but you can change your thoughts or understanding of the work with more than one viewing.
Find something you can relate to with the work, from artist recommendations to personal comments
If you’re having a hard time finding what to say, you can talk about how the work makes you feel. Does it remind you of a personal story or of a certain artist? Although, you should try to extend beyond artist comparisons so there can be more room to discuss the artist’s own practice.
Ask questions relating to the artist’s philosophy/creative process
Try asking some non-opinionated questions, like “How was the work was made? Why was this material used”? Ask questions that can help you better understand the artist’s practice rather than comments on how you think the work should have been made.
Point to ways the artist can better express their ideas through their work
How can you help the artist further express their themes and ideas in their practice? Think of the process of a critique as discussing ways to help the artist express their ideas in a successful way, rather than recommending how you would change a work of art. Although what makes a piece “successful” can be very subjective, try to understand what themes the artist is working with and if the way they are expressing it connects with you. Rather than finding mistakes in the work, discuss ways to elevate the work.
Take the time to understand the artist’s goals and intentions
As the mediator, or facilitator, of a critique you want to make sure you understand the artist’s point of view, and guide discussions toward topics that seem relevant to the artist’s practice. For example, if an artist presents a short film on the topic of family and identity, you can put emphasis on why those themes are important in the context of art/film history.
Scheduling a meeting or having a conversation before a critique can also be beneficial in directly discussing an artist’s creative practice.
Guide the critique to progress through different topics
A critique has the potential to go off-topic if the viewers get stuck on one aspect of the work, causing a standstill in the critique. Don’t let the discussion be fixated on one thing. Open up some new topics, or ask some more critical questions to guide the critique into a more meaningful discussion.
Initiate the critique by making descriptive comments
Opening with questions like “What kind of techniques were used to produce that work? Are there recurring visuals/motifs in the work?” can be good introductions in breaking down a piece. In the instance that you’re critiquing a dance performance, try asking about why certain dance genres were utilized over others or making note of where the performance took place.
Putting it all together
Any critique can be a unique, learning opportunity. Each person involved will have their own insight into an artist’s practice, which can lead to an endless amount of new concepts to handy techniques that will help educate everyone involved. At the end of a critique, you should be left feeling inspired to dig even deeper into your creative practice. Whether it’s fine art or creative technology, use critiques to improve your work with purpose, direction, and self-reflection.
Collecting insight from peer reviews is a significant part of creative development. Develop your art practice by enrolling in some of our free courses below:
Visual Development: Envisioning a Narrative for Film and Video Games
Ringling College of Art and Design
Programming Max: Structuring Interactive Software for Digital Arts
Designing Synthesizer Sounds
Berklee College of Music
Critiques of artwork can serve various purposes and come from different perspectives. They can be used to educate viewers about an artist's practice, understand the intent behind a body of work, or provide feedback that strengthens an artist's creative endeavors. In the context of critiques, there are three primary roles: the artist, the viewer, and the mediator. Each of these roles has specific responsibilities and approaches to contribute to a meaningful critique.
- Be prepared to be receptive: Artists should be open-minded and prepared to answer questions about their work or practice during a critique. They should see critiques as an opportunity to gain new insights and refine their artistry .
- Approach critiques as constructive, not judgmental: Artists should not take all comments personally and should view critiques as guidelines for expressing their ideas in different ways. They have ultimate control over their work and can choose how to progress their practice.
- Feel free to ask questions: Artists can engage more with viewers by asking questions about their own work or opening up about their practice. They can reveal as much as they are comfortable with sharing and note whether others' interpretations align with their intentions.
- Spend time observing: Viewers should spend time with the artwork, looking at it multiple times to grasp its themes and elements. They can provide immediate, unfiltered feedback but should also be open to changing their thoughts or understanding with further observation.
- Find relatable aspects: If viewers are having difficulty finding what to say, they can talk about how the artwork makes them feel or if it reminds them of personal experiences or other artists. They should try to extend beyond artist comparisons to discuss the artist's own practice.
- Ask questions about the artist's philosophy/creative process: Viewers can ask non-opinionated questions that help them better understand the artist's practice. Questions about the materials used or the process behind creating the artwork can contribute to a meaningful critique.
- Point to ways the artist can better express their ideas: Viewers can suggest ways for the artist to further express their themes and ideas in their practice. They should focus on discussing ways to elevate the work rather than finding mistakes or recommending personal changes.
- Understand the artist's goals and intentions: As the mediator or facilitator of a critique, it is important to understand the artist's point of view and guide discussions toward topics relevant to their practice. This can be achieved through conversations or meetings before the critique.
- Guide the critique to progress through different topics: Mediators should ensure that the critique does not get fixated on one aspect of the work. They can introduce new topics or ask critical questions to guide the discussion into a more meaningful direction.
- Initiate the critique with descriptive comments: Mediators can start the critique by making descriptive comments about the artwork, such as asking about the techniques used or noting recurring visuals/motifs. This helps break down the piece and encourages further discussion.
In summary, critiques provide a unique learning opportunity for artists, viewers, and mediators. Each person involved brings their own insights, leading to a diverse range of concepts and techniques that can help educate everyone involved. Critiques should inspire individuals to delve deeper into their creative practice, using feedback and self-reflection to improve their work with purpose and direction .