The worst critiques...
"In the early-70s in art school, critiques were slash and burn sessions of
what's wrong with your work. I had one instructor who went through work
saying 'Yes,' 'No,' 'Yes,' 'No,' about which pieces were good and bad
without offering explanations. I had another teacher who used to walk by
and put a line through your figure drawing if he didn't like it."
"In a production pottery course I took, we had a critique about once a
month. The professor would walk through, break everything he disliked,
then what was left, we critiqued."
"During the 50s and 60s, art departments were huge. MFAs left grad school
and immediately got teaching jobs. Just being a white male artist with an
MFA (and a testosterone-driven attitude) was about all you needed to get a
tenure track teaching gig. I wouldn't be surprised to hear about anything
that happened to a student back then."
"In 1972 in a pottery class at a university in Louisiana, we had to have a
certain number of pots to make an A, a B, and so on. During critiques, the
professor would break the pots he didn't want to fire. There was no
discussion and the pots that survived looked an awfully lot like his."
"When I was attending university in the late-70s and early-80s, there was
one painting professor who, during critiques, always steered the discussion
of imagery around to the sexual. Unfortunately, we, as young women
students, didn't know back then that there was a name for this--'sexual
harassment'--and were scared and powerless to demand change."
"I attended university art school in the 80s. The critiques I experienced
and observed were ruthless attacks and merciless criticisms. The
professors and instructors, mostly male, seemed to perceive critiques as
some sort of rite of passage that a senior or a graduate in an MFA program
needed to go through. The gender issue here is important, I think. A
sizable percentage and sometimes a majority of the students were women.
The instructors were men in overwhelming numbers."
"The worst critique I had was in 1985 in a printmaking class in an arts
school. The teacher called my piece 'trite' without even discussing my
objectives. I had completed the piece as a response to a very distressing
event in my life--a death. I put the print up for critique because I
thought it was powerful. My teacher's comments were totally opinion based
with no effort to even discuss how the work could be improved. I have
since been told by others that the print has value. I still feel
personally stung by this person's opinion voiced in a public setting in
front of fifteen students with him being very much the authority."
"The critique I remember most from college was when the teacher made a girl
cry by telling her in front of the class that her work was awful and that
she should drop out of art and become a business major."
"At the age of eighteen, my confidence was not at the level it should have
been. During critiques I tried to blend into the walls whenever possible."
"When I was a sophomore (1987) and when we were putting up our work, the
professor told me and two other females to stand at the rail and he began
to talk about beauty and the different forms it came in and he began to
describe us physically. I was too young to stop it and I was stunned and
embarrassed and felt there was no boundary of safety between me and the
professor. I realized he could do anything in a crit."
"My first semester in college (1991) I had a 2-D art class. The first
assignment was to rough sketch works by Renoir, Degas, etc. During the
critique my work was totally, completely, and utterly trashed by my
professor in front of everyone in the class. I was humiliated and dropped
the course, never to take another university art class. I am now happily
at art history and aesthetics major."
The best critiques...
"The best critiques I had were in the mid- to late-60s from a painting
professor when I was an undergraduate. He met individually with each of us
weekly. The student began the critique with an explanation of what he was
trying to communicate and why it was worth communicating, and how we were
attempting to communicate it vis-=E0-vis formalist principles and the histor=
of art. The professor actually took notes that he used in subsequent
critiques throughout the quarter, and we were required to keep a written
journal of our critiques and responses to his queries and suggestions."
"After everyone displayed their works as best they could in a studio
situation (about 1995), the instructor assigned students to critique another
student's work. Critiques were conducted over two class
periods. You critiqued in one class, and were critiqued in another. The
instructor was very hard on the one critiquing. He really forced you to
think, analyze, and interpret what you saw. He didn't allow any
generalizations or cop-outs. He also didn't allow for cruelty or lavish
praise. He had us start with strengths and weaknesses. He wanted us to
really understand what was before us."
"The best studio critiques I have encountered were at the end of an
intensive two week, eight hour a day, post-graduate water color course.
We put all our works up and the instructor, though he was kind, was
extremely frank about pointing out specific weaknesses and possibilities
for improvements in the work. He also pointed out the strengths which
carried through each person's body of work. Mostly he talked and we
listened, but it was done masterfully and each student learned from
everyone else's review as well as his or her own."
"Some of my best critiques was as a junior in college (1988). We put our
work prints on the wall. The instructor opened the discussion by asking
how we felt about our photographs, and we would have to talk about the
feelings they provoked, and then other members of the class would join in,
but the instructor never said another word. This made me feel ultimately
responsible for my prints. This structure encouraged me to produce huge
amounts of work and develop a style that I am comfortable with to this day."
"The best critiques have always been when two things have been pointed out:
1) How the work is successful in meeting either classroom objectives or
the student's objectives after having the student talk about their
objectives; and 2) How the work could be improved."
"One professor used what we called the '2" x 2" approach.' If you brought
something awful in, then he'd find some 2" x 2" section that 'had some
really interesting things going on it it' and he'd suggest that you work
more in that vein. If you brought in something amazing, he'd find a 2" x
2" section where 'it wasn't working as well.' It was an interesting way to
keep morale up and egos in check."
"Learning to direct my own art apart from an art school assignment is
something I'm only beginning to understand after my BFA. My favorite
professor understood that we needed to follow our own artistic paths, not
one predetermined by the instructor."
"The teacher I have (1996) knows my work well enough to know what I am
trying to accomplish and he quickly points out where it's not working and
what I need to do to correct it. He compares weak areas to strong areas in
order to show me the difference. He gives me lists of artists' works to
study. I now know how to express what I want to on the canvas and how to
apply the paint and to get the effect that I'm looking for."
Professor, Art Education
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH 43210