Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rock the Crit

Last week, a respected colleague asked me to read her book.  I was super excited and of course flattered that someone I think so very highly of would ask for my opinion.  I'm an old pro at the critique, both giving and getting, and I was looking forward to getting back in the saddle.

The crit is NOT something that people are good at.  Most people really suck at it actually, which is why I always advise to think long and hard about who you want looking at your work and specifically what kind of feedback you are hoping for.

Art school was a crash course in developing thick skin.  More so than working with psychotic teenagers, which I still find surprising.  You would think a bunch of kids with no verbal filter would do more damage than a bunch of self-obsessed art students.  WRONG.  San Francisco Art Institute crits go like this.  Hang up a piece of work you have poured your heart and soul into, pretend you haven't and brace yourself for mostly nonsensical opinions about your work from fellow students and hopefully a meaningful comment from your instructor.  Maybe.  The instructor sits back the entire time letting your classmates tear into you, only to offer at the end something like, "nice", "pedestrian," or "maybe you shouldn't paint."

One of my all time favorite crits, the one that was of course the absolute worst, but taught me the most, was when a classmate stood up, looked at my minimalist abstract painting and said "I'm so sick of you exposing us to your tormented and abusive childhood."  Yes that is verbatim and I'm still not sure what his comment had to do with my painting or me specifically.  I thought the painting was rather cheerful, and luckily I have no tales of childhood abuse to tell.  It was the one and only time an instructor stepped in.  The student was asked to elaborate or leave.  He left.  What I took from the experience was this.  Crits are mostly random, unless you set the stage.  Here's what you need to know:

  • Know your audience.  Gather specific feedback from the right people.  Ask for visual crits from designers, illustrators, and fine artists.  Writing crits from writers.  Pricing advice from retailers.  You get it.  
  • Give your audience some direction.  Spell out the issues you are having and what you would like help with.  
  • When things go off course, bring them back.  Remind your audience why you asked them for help and what you need help with.  If you determine something to be off limits because it needs more work, or it is a deal breaker, then say so.  That doesn't mean you aren't open to feedback or improving upon your work.  
  • It is after all YOUR work, and even though you want feedback, that doesn't mean you have to open yourself and the work up to random shit slinging.  

Source: via Lisa on Pinterest

When giving a crit, keep this in mind:

  • Your relationship with the artist/maker/writer.  Do they know you through your art, business, writing?  What do they view as your expertise? 
  • Be real.  Be specific. A crit that simply says that some one's work is amazing is useless.  Yes, it feels good, but it is not very helpful.   If there is something that you don't like or needs improvement say so.  Be direct, specific, and constructive.  In other words do the opposite of what my classmate did and you should be fine. 
  • Include errors.  Chances are the artist/maker/writer has input from an editor or graphic specialist, but occasionally little mistakes go unnoticed.  A set of fresh eyes is always appreciated when it comes to errors.
I think crits get a bad rap.  The crit is not the problem.  It's us.  Yeah we stink.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  Given some direction, we can get a lot out of crits. Both the giving and getting.  Let's bring the crit back y'all.  

Happy Critiquing




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