How to Survive an Art Critique
Do you love art but stress about the feedback your classmates or teacher might give you? Well… get over it. If you’re going to be an artist you have to be prepared for feedback (unless you plan on hanging your work in a dark closet and never showing anyone). But, don’t worry, I’m here to tell you everything you need to know to get through feedback (or art critiques/crits) with, like, the absolute minimum amount of tears possible. As someone who went through plenty of art crits in middle school, high school and art school, I have all the tips to help you hang in there.
Basically, it all boils down to this:
… What? You want more? Fine. I guess I could elaborate.
Critiques really can be a little scary. For most of us, our art is very personal. It’s safe when it’s hidden away in your room or between the covers of your sketch book. Putting your art up on a wall to literally be judged can be downright terrifying.
But guess what, the feedback and insights of your teachers and peers will force you to mature artistically. Your auntie might unconditionally love everything you do. But your teacher? They’ve seen it all before. And your peers? They’re all struggling with the same problems you are right now. They’ll see through your excuses and short cuts. But they’ll also find real beauty in your art where you never saw it before and give you real suggestions for helping your art improve over time.
How should you conduct yourself to get the most out of your crit? I’m glad you asked. And it just so happens I’ve made this nifty little infographic to explain it to you! Aren’t you so lucky?
Try to stay towards the middle of those two spectrums. Defend your art but be open and thankful for the criticism you’re offered. Comment on your classmates work while not presuming to be the final arbiter of good taste - and remember they’re in the same boat as you. Keep your comments on point and don’t make it personal. Be mindful of how your own comment would make you feel. “Man that sucks” isn’t as helpful as something like “I like what you did with the shadows there but it looks like the perspective is a little bit off…maybe you could fix that?” And the absolute worst thing you can say about someone’s art is, “I don’t know, I like it.” It might sound polite in your head, but everyone else hears, “I don’t care enough about this piece to have any opinion at all.”.
Aaaand, that’s pretty much it. Remembering to be balanced student is the most important element to totally owning a crit. But, if you want some specific tips, here are a few you might find helpful.
Get proper rest ahead of time, but if not…
Learn how to yawn with your mouth closed. Crits can be long. Freshman year, my crits could be as long as nine hours. There’s simply not enough coffee in the world. You will get tired. you will yawn. But, if you don’t want to get caught, yawn with your mouth closed.
Come prepared, but if not…
Just be honest. You can pin your dirty blue jeans up on the wall and claim that it’s a deep conceptual project. But your classmates aren’t going to fall for it and your teacher certainly isn’t going to fall for it. Just fess up and don’t insult their intelligence and waste their time.
Have a snack ahead of time…
Did you know judges assign harsher punishments right before lunch and at the end of the day than they do first thing in the morning or after lunch? Crazy, right? Hangry might be a silly word (if it’s even a word) but it’s a real thing. Have a snack ahead of time so you don’t get grumpy and say something you’ll regret later (and so that criticism is a little easier to hear).
Share that snack…
This might seem like a cheap trick. And it is! A delicious, cheap, trick. People like you if you give them food. This is also a trick you will use anytime you have a show at a gallery. Art patrons might say they’re there for the culture, but really, they just want to eat their weight in free food.
Take notes or…
Better yet, take notes for a friend during their crit and have them take notes during yours. A critique can be overwhelming when you’re trying to take it all in and maintain your composure. Afterwards, you might find you don’t remember a single thing anyone said. But, if you have notes, you’re all set. Just, make sure your friend has better handwriting than I do.
Put your phone down.
Sit on it, throw it in your backpack. rip the battery out with your teeth. I don’t care. Just don’t check it during crit. Your teacher will see you (you’re not as good at hiding it as you think) and your classmates will feel free to check theirs during your crit.
Have something to say about the work you’re presenting.
It doesn’t have to be much. Just a few thoughts about each of your pieces. If people don’t immediately have comments on your work this will get the ball rolling.
Defend your art, but…
Don’t be a jerk. Stand by your choices, but remember, you’re going to be wrong some of the time. Not going to lie, finding that balance between confidence and defensiveness is tough. If things are getting too heated just ask yourself, is this the battle I want to die winning? If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, then it’s probably best to back off.
Play it cool when things get weird…
You never know what your art is going to evoke in other people. You might think the meaning is obvious, ironclad, and above interpretation. Nope. Someone in your class is going to have something wacky to say about it. It’s going to come out of nowhere. Remember, art (even your art) evokes different emotions in different viewers, so don’t tell someone they’re wrong, be happy that your art is reaching them on a level you hadn’t imagined, accept it and move on.
Your critique doesn’t end with the class. Under the best of circumstances getting your friends’ unfiltered feedback after class will spawn new insights and cement the lessons from the day. Under the worst circumstances, sometimes you just need to vent.
Oh, and you might be tempted to use the word “juxtaposed.” Don’t. The word you’re looking for is contrast.
**All artwork contained in this article is published courtesy of the artist, Jesse Smolover. Please contact the artist to inquire about redistribution of his original artwork.