Painter, Weaver, Textiles Artist
Art Prof & Partner
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The advice I would give in regards to not getting defensive in critique is to ask yourself, before you respond to someone’s criticism, whether you’re trying to simply rebuke their opinion, or rather give context to generate further discussion.
I think it’s easy to confuse these impulses, so first and foremost your main goal should be to listen to what your peer has to say – particularly to their first reading or reaction to the piece – and to let them finish their point before butting in. It’s also great to ask questions – even if you think you disagree with someone’s interpretation of your work, try to get as detailed a sense of that interpretation as possible, because the entire purpose of critique is to get an outside opinion! One that isn’t tainted by the over-familiarity you have from hours of work, and which you can easily pass on to a viewer by over-explaining.
This should be required viewing at every art school! Even in the intense environment of the classroom, its rare for professors to give a “how to” before critique. I can’t stress getting distance from your work enough – whether its a really personal piece or just a project you’re proud of and have put a lot of time in. The second you get defensive in a critique is when you stop learning!
To put it another way, always have in the back of your mind that your work can improve. Nothing is perfect, so be ready to hear ways you can take it further!
I love the part you guys mentioned about the fine line between advocating for yourself and being defensive. I’ve spent a lot of time observing the social dynamics of group critiques, and one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes the tone and content of the first person’s comment sets the tone and content for the entire critique. Sometimes this is just fine and super valuable, but other times it can feel like the critique has gotten away from you, and this is where I see artists panic and start to go on the defensive.
What I’ve found really helps is to come in prepared with several questions you have for your audience about the work and how they’re responding. This can gently steer the conversation back to areas that are useful to you, or act as an ice breaker if you’ve got a silent audience.
This is so true, I’ve seen in a lot of classes that people are quick to piggy back on someone else’s comment, and the danger there is you don’t end up getting diverse opinions. That’s where I think it’s super important for the teacher to help balance things out; even when a student is getting nothing but immense praise from the other students, I think there is always something to improve on.
That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important to also have one-on-one critiques in addition to group critiques. The dynamic of a group critique is much more public, and I’ve found one-on-one critiques really useful because students can talk to me about aspects of their work that they would feel uncomfortable talking about in a group situation.
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