This week I participated in final critiques for the MFA programs at the Hoffberger School of Painting and Brooklyn College. I had a terrific time with Joan Waltemath, Raphael Rubinstein (who has a new article about abstract painting underway), Jennifer McCoy, Archie Rand and so many other interesting artists. Overall, the student work was excellent, but I remember how traumatic crtis were when I was in grad school (I was the worst kind of student--both arrogant and insecure), so here are some suggestions for students about the critique process that I wish someone had told me.
1. Critiques are collaborations, not debates or competitions. Most faculty aren’t out to skewer you, they simply want you to think about your work from all possible angles. Faculty are invested in seeing you succeed: if you make good work, everyone looks good.
2. Don’t approach critiques from a defensive stance. Crits are about helping you make your work better—which doesn’t mean it’s not already good. If a friend told you you had bad breath or your fly was down, would you argue that he or she was wrong?
3. Listen to what the professors and critics have to say. We might say something that gets you to think about your work in a new way. If you’re too busy defending the work in your head, you may miss important points. Faculty are simply throwing out ideas—not demanding changes—and many of our suggestions and comments don’t require individual responses. Think of the crit as a conversation, not an interrogation.
4. Introduce your work before the critiques gets started. As you make work, be thoughtful about your intentions. Take notes in the studio so you can use them later as you prepare a statement about the work. Writing a statement is difficult because you may not know exactly what the work is about, but try to articulate your intent or talk about your process. Beware of art jargon that’s seductive, but doesn’t mean anything. Even if it seems unfashionable, err on the side of simple language that everyone can understand--unless you are using a more creative approach like poetry or fictive narrative.
5.Take your time answering faculty questions, and remember there’s no right or wrong answer--just an honest answer. Faculty can spot bullshit a mile away even if you can’t, and that can be very helpful.
6. When faculty suggest artists you should look at, we aren’t saying your work is derivative. We are saying that you share a common language with another artist—go have a look.
7. If you have made the work in earnest, be confident. Remember the conversation isn’t about you, it’s about your work, and the crit will help make it stronger.
9. If your crit is after lunch, bring cookies!
8. And finally, be humble. You may be the top student in your program, but remember that making art is a lifelong process. I hate to be negative, but early success doesn’t necessarily indicate, well, anything. It's about the long haul.
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"In 1981, Canadian Heavy Metal band Anvil released their first album, Hard 'n' Heavy. Years later, the likes of Metallica and Slayer would cite Anvil as a key influence, but lead vocalist Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner struggled to keep the band alive. Documentary filmmaker Sacha Gervasi follows Kudlow and Reiner as they struggle to keep their ambitions alive despite 35 years of missing the brass ring in Anvil! The True Story of Anvil, which paints a sympathetic but warts-and-all portrait of the unexpected consequences of the rock & roll dream. " (Thanks Mario Naves for this great suggestion. Here's a post abut the film on his blog.)
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