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Re: [teacherartexchange] Critique ?


From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri May 09 2008 - 18:46:55 PDT

Linda in Oregon wrote:
>For the past couple of years one of our school goals is around creating a culture of reflection and critique. Last year we had a "gallery" of work that showed student work from question through process to product in all disciplines.
>This year we want kids to respond to the works. While there are some content based questions that will be used, we would like some "generic" critique questions to pose. Of course I have some ideas but I am looking for some suggestions. You all are the best and I am sure I am overlooking something :-) Thanks for any help!

This is a very good topic. I find that many art teachers avoid using critiques because of unpleasant experiences and lack of ideas on how to conduct critiques well. When critique is well done (when we take the psychological effects into account) it can be a very helpful way to for art students to learn. Without good critiques, I believe that half of the potential learning is lost.

I watched Terry Barrett conduct a critique with our students. He started by asking, "What do you see?"
Then he affirmed the observation and asked for elaboration.

A standard thinking mode follow-up question used by many teachers is, "Why do you say that?" or "Why you think so?"

I attended a critique workshop in about 1975 with Douglas Stuart. I no longer have a copy of his list of questions. But his questions went something like this:
What do you notice first?
Why do you notice it?
What is the second thing you notice?
What feelings do you get from the work?
What do you think were the intentions of the artist?
Were the intentions obvious or obscure?

I once discussed critique methods with Dr. J. Daniel Hess, a colleague and a writing teacher. He had just written a book on critique. We talked about the sandwich method where a teacher starts with a compliment, then makes suggestions about correcting a mistake, and ends the conversation with another compliment. Dan pointed out that the student only remembers the meat (the critical part), It does not leave a good feeling. Inspiration is lost. Motivation is dampened.

Dan said that the teacher or peer doing the critique should to do it with questions -- not suggestions -- not corrections. The person doing the critique owns the perceived problems and is asking for clarification of the creator's intentions without naming the problem directly. The creator gets to become aware of the issue herself instead of being told that there is a problem. Sometimes I have found that as a teacher I was misconstruing the student's intentions. Had I started with a suggestion instead of a question, I would have been totally off base.

Therefore, instead of using questions to be answered by the person doing the critique, what if the person doing the critique is instructed to phrase the kind of questions that would help the artist become aware of the ways their own work is being seen or misconceived by the viewer?

For your purposes, maybe the critique questions need to be something on this order:

What questions would you ask the artist to encourage the artist to become even more creative?
What questions would you ask the artist to help you understand the work better?
What questions would you ask the artist to help the artist see the work more like you see it?

Best wishes.


Marvin Bartel, Ed.D., Professor of Art Emeritus
Adjunct in Art Education
Goshen College, 1700 South Main, Goshen IN 46526
studio phone: 574-533-0171
"Art is me when I am myself." ... a kindergarten girl when asked, "What is art?"
"You can't never know how to do it before you never did it before." ... a kindergarten boy working with clay for the first time.

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