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Heading For Critique Critical Mass

The second year of this program has been rather densely populated with crits for me so far. More so than last year by far, and I'd guess this is probably true for many of us. I suppose that makes sense in the second year of a three year program. It's a lynchpin year in a way and it's important to get as much feedback as possible before settling on thesis material. Still, I find myself dealing with a little burnout and looking forward to a month off. Such is life. Of course the good thing is that it's a perfect time to set for ourselves a personal way to approach critiques. Not that this won't change over time, but for now, here are some of my conclusions on what a studio critique should be.

Philosophy of the Practice of the Studio Critique:

Foremost, I think studio critiques should be with people you trust to be professional and thoughtful. This has nothing to do with whether or not they are inclined to like your work. Obviously, we want affirmation to be part of the process, but I don't think these should always be with people you already know are or would be in your corner. Most crits should be with people that you know would understand your aesthetics and dialectics, but I think it's healthy, if maybe unpleasant, to have a few with people who don't speak the same language as you (figuratively) (and maybe literally).

I believe that the artist's primary role in the crit is to be an editor of input. This is what we do as artists everyday with the world at large and it should be the same when someone is talking to you about your work. It is important to listen carefully but equally important to freely disregard things you don't agree with if you are confident in certain choices you've made. Often, if they are in your studio, they are seeing unfinished work and it is not always possible to clearly communicate your vision for what something will be. Also, people bring all kinds of their own baggage to studio critiques and not all of it has to be carefully considered. Although I try, I know I'm not always saying the most constructive things to others in crits of their work, but I have to trust that they can filter that and have some grace for me. I know we mentioned in class that often a crit turns into people telling you what they would do with your project and some people saw this as a bad thing. Personally, I'm fine with hearing those impulses. If something isn't me, I won't do it, but I don't see anything wrong with liking someone else's idea and adapting it.

Obviously, when something is repeated about your work by multiple people, you need to address it. The first thing is to figure out whether or not it's a bad thing that some aspect keeps coming up. Then you can either diminish that aspect or push it farther. If you hear something in multiple critiques and you're still deciding how to deal with it but you want to discuss other aspects of the work, I think it's perfectly appropriate to pre-emptively ask at the beginning that other things be discussed.

As far as structure goes, I find I lead the conversation too much if I give a spiel to start. I think there's merit in letting someone spend time with your work and sort things out by themselves for a little while before you provide information, but I wouldn't be strict about that either. When I save all my talking till the end, I still sometimes give too many random thoughts that may or may not be apparent in the work and soon the conversation is going in a direction that I don't want and the crit ends on kind of a note of confusion. For this reason, I like the to answer questions as they come up organically and only share my more outlying thoughts or research if there's a natural place in the conversation to do so.

I'm not really sure if this qualifies as a "reference to a view that informs your own", but a piece of advise that I have taken to heart came from Chris Larson last year. This sort of applies more to the studio visit/critique when a curator is interested in your work, but I usually end up doing it for nearly every critique. He suggested that if we know someone is coming to our studio, we should bust our butts to make something new before that visit specifically. That way, along with everything else or maybe just by itself, they have something totally fresh to look at and talk about. Also, this is a way of challenging yourself both in making a new piece and having a chance to talk about it right away. More specifically, he was observing that this is something that midwesterners are less likely to do while it's common practice for many professionals elsewhere. Personally, I thought it was good advise.

Guide to the Practice of the Studio Critique

1. I think it is important to do a little self editing in the studio before someone arrives. Sometimes things up on your walls and reference images strewn about can be helpful and sometimes not. Control the conversation a bit right from the start by removing things you don't want drawn into the conversation. I usually prefer not to even have the critique in my studio.

2. Decide how your work should be presented. I like having a combination of actual objects and slideshows of the larger body of work or of related work for context.

3. Set everything up including yummy treats and tea for your visitor and yourself (tip from Andrea Stanislav).

4. Let the visitor take in your work for a little while.

5. Answer questions as they are asked, unless you want to see if they will work something out themselves. In that case, respectfully decline to answer. Let the conversation be give-and-take as far as who controls the direction it goes. The point of this is communication, so listen as well as direct. Be gracious and consider what is being said, but don't be afraid to ask them questions to see if what they are saying has weight to it. Let them test you, but test them a little back.

6. Go out for beers afterwards. Tell stories and laugh with a big open mouth. (optional)