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Lesson Plans

Re: Critiques

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Mark Alexander (Alexander)mamjam)
Thu, 26 Sep 1996 22:38:31 -0500

In the early 70's I went to a small, very loose, art school north of
Boston, called Montserrat College of Visual Art. There were no actual
grades (back then there were no credits either, but now there are).
Instead we had frequent one-on-one and whole-class critiques. 'Crits' is
what we called them. Some were helpful, some less so, but the key was to
be receptive. Some teachers had huge egos, but so did I. In retrospect, I
guess I was pretty full of myself. I usually felt the criticisms were
accurate and necessary.

Anyway, at the end of each year we each had a whole-school crit. We signed
up for half hour time slots, then selected the best examples of our work
from each class. Some of the first year classes had lists of work from
specific assignments which was required to be shown at the final crit.
Presentation was always very important, so we matted most works on paper,
stretched all those rolled up canvases, etc. then we set up a
representative show of our years work. When it was time, the faculty and
other intertested students filed into the studio and sat in bleacher style
seats. The student being critiqued stood - or at least I did. Each
teacher was invited to make comments about any progress the student made in
his or her class, comments about specific pieces from the class, then
comments about the rest of the work from other classes or independent work.
Most of these comments were based loosly in the PRAISE, QUESTION, PROPOSE
format, but it wasn't called that then. Students were then invited to make
comments, too. Lastly, the student who was being critiqued was able to
make final comments or rebut any comments. The school secretary took short
hand notes and wrote a summary of all the comments which became the

My first year-end critique was terrible. They summed up: "No artist can
succeed on potential alone, as Mark seems to have succeeded in the past. It
is time for Mark to decide if he is going to apply himself or not. His
career as an artist is at stake." I guess I was surprised, to say the
least. But in the end the harsh critique did me some good. I took a year
off, then went back and worked much harder, learned much more, and began to
approach my life and art more seriously. I know some who had similar crits
back then just left and never went back.

This May I finally earned my BS in art education from Central Connecticut
State University, in New Britain. The studio crits there were a mixed bag.
Some of the less helpful crits merely forced me to depend on my own
self-evaluation. As a mature student/artist going back to school I found
myself frequently on an even footing with most professors. I tended to eat
my meals and drink my coffee with faculty more often than with fellow
students. I found their comments about my work in this less formal
setting to be more helpful.

While certainly the good teachers at Central way out numbered the bad ones
in all departments, there were a few teachers who seemed to lack basic
teaching skills. In the education department, in the art education
department (seperate-go figure!), but especially in the art department,
sometimes the professors taught us to do as we were told, but not as the
professor did. In many cases the professors didn't model good teaching for

As far as critiques are concerned, I don't think there is any one good
criticism method. It depends so much on the student, the teacher, the art
work being discussed. Often there's lots of hidden baggage around artists
- perhaps like landmines in Iran. It is imperative that the teacher and
student feel the sand, so to speak, to develop a good rapport and trust
first. Surprises like my first year-end critique described above should be
avoided. But in my case I probably was just not seeing or I was ignoring
the writing on the wall. I was not being sentient, as an artist must be -
potential or not!


Mark Alexander
1-8 art teacher
Lee H. Kellogg School
Falls Village, CT 06031