Critiquing Art: Look for What is Alive
Courbet, The Painter’s Studio, 1855, oil on canvas, 12 x 20 feet
Representational art students are taught to be critical. During critiques, the stress is on the work’s problems. It is not uncommon to see students turning red with embarrassment or anger. Sometimes one will cry. Aside from a bully or two, most of them will accept the critiques as a necessary evil. “Grow a tough skin” is said to oneself and others. The idea is that in the art world only the tough survive.
Alone and long after college artists agonize over their work, aggressively tearing down their work, holding on to an idea of perfection. But is this the way to go? No. This activity serves little purpose other than to crush their spirit. The process doesn’t answer one key question: what makes an artwork alive? Telling us what is wrong is not a substitute for what is vibrant and living.
I think artists might better forgo negative critiques and focus on such things as successful color harmonies, beautiful forms, depth, and light. The harder critique of the two, is analyzing those special elements, and figuring out how they are created.
Focusing on what is alive will vitalize the critique process, open doors for great discoveries, and fortify artists creativity.
Santa Monica, January ’12