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Reflections on critique:

I’m not going to lie, I love looking at drawings I have been lucky enough to witness in the making. There’s an undeniable accomplishment up on the wall that is simply waiting for affirmation—like the makers and I both see the effort represented in these pictures, and it simply awaits a benediction. I guess that’s how I see critique these days–as the explicit sanctioning and recognition of the practice of creative process. The sincerity of the marks in this situation seem to never be “wrong”. Each picture has its own humble offering, and in critique we can make it real—like in the story of The Velveteen Rabbit…each artist comes in with a well-loved, worn and threadbare stuffed animal that wishes it could hop, and as we acknowledge each drawing its little heart starts to beat, and ultimately it skips off into the woods into its life as a real live bunny, with the magic generative ability to BE (hopefully it reproduces like a rabbit). Through the act of sitting together looking at the drawings we find distinctions and mutual understandings that make the drawings come to life. This discussion is an essential ingredient to the studio community—an ability to make meaning of the process through looking at a map of the work. Ironically, the end product (the map) always carries value. Even though I ask the artist to completely forget the end product, to make a mess of the page, to simply concentrate on getting the lines right—there is always a fascinating vitality to the page. Likely the interest of the image is because of the artist’s attention to making an authentic accurate line, and liberating herself from the burden of a perfect end-product. Little real moments are always more interesting than perfection to me, and add endless life to the line itself and to the classroom.

One of the most difficult tasks of the artist is to put her work on the wall, weather it’s pinned to the clumsy cobbled together ten-year-old wall of a working classroom studio space, or framed on the wall of The Museum of Modern Art, to SHOW our work is to show ourselves undefended. Super scary! And yet, it is the work of the artist to do so, indeed it is why we work: some inner drive to seek, to show and to make ourselves known. The task then, is to show our work and receive its critique without getting hit with the information as if it were some bullet into our soul, but rather receiving the words to increase the meaning and efficacy of the work itself. When we can remove ourselves from the work, and see the imagery as separate from us, we gain a great deal from the insights of others. It is in our capacity to gain understanding that the horizons of the whole venture expand. In my view it is essential that the wall we pin our work to, and the people who surround the work be trustworthy, valued and valuable. We need to know that they will be direct and honest and speak in the best interest of the work. Of course we can’t always be sure that this will be the case, and can only build trust through the experience of risk—in sticking our necks out we become strong. In trying, we grow. I am grateful when the circle of influence generated by the effort of a class works this way. The environment of a critique may be influenced by me, but it is realized through the honest effort of the community of the class. I am exhilarated to walk into a room and see the risk on the walls, and the attentive engaged energy of the artists in the room. In the critique space we realize our effort at building a relationship with each other, with language and with our work. I am heartened to see that strong sense of trust reflected in the words of my students. The quotes in this passage are linked directly to the students own writing.

“I came back to the studio at night to take some photos I’d missed. I found the circle of chairs at night strangely comforting. This was a helpful critique focused on growing, and I value that.”

For some reason I felt really comfortable talking and sharing. It was definitely more than the small class size and the fact that other people had similar issues as me, it’s that I feel like the class is a no judgment zone. Other classes I have taken were supposed to be judgment free or just really free in discussion, but I find that this is the first class I’ve taken that really felt that way and it is great.”

Part of what can be scary is the lingering notion that perhaps you don’t really belong in an art class, because your work can’t hang (pun) with the other “artists” work. This is a common and pervasive insecurity, probably linked to us being human. In an introductory art course, seeing your work in proximity to other work is reassuring–you can see that your work reflects your effort, and that your effort is just fine. Another place where you can make a direct observation and SEE what is really there — draw conclusions from what you see and not what you know. Critique then becomes another opportunity to move away from the limiting categories of Mr. Bossy Controlling Static Brain, and open into the possibilities that the fluid responsive present might present. (as a present). ; )

“My chair looked alive and in no way inferior to the rest.”…It took time and effort to draw the second drawing. I learned that progress is possible. I learned that talent has nothing to do with the skill level of an artist. The professor stated that “you can all draw. Like anything worht something, it’s going to take time”… If you take it seriously and commit yourself to the project, the results will reflect that attitude.”

Critique provides space to reflect on the drawing experience, to see what you learned and in many ways to detach from the work so you can “hear” it.

“I had a firm picture of what the chair should look like. However, the drawing spoke to me. In many ways, the drawing drew itself. The critique was nothing like a public stoning. It was more like a time for us to discuss  where we have been and where we will go.”

&

“I really enjoyed [critique], expressing my struggles with the projects and hearing how other people had trouble even if it was not the same as my own. It was especially relieving to hear that the people who hard art experience still struggled with the projects and that it wasn’t just the rest of us. …

&

“Over all the critique wasn’t as bad as I thought. We were not critiquing people’s work and saying if it was good or not. We were discussing how we went about with the assignments and how we felt during the process. It was interesting to hear that I wasn’t the only one that was lost or confused at the beginning and also it was good to hear that for almost all of us we found it difficult to at some point during the process.”

&

“Throughout the sketching process, I was concerned that my lines were thick and dark, while most other students’ lines were much thinner, lighter, and straighter. I thought I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t manage to draw thin, light, straight lines, so I continued with my dark lines. Looking at the drawings during the critique confirmed that some people indeed drew their chairs with much thinner lines than mine, making their chair appear less dark on the page. However, that doesn’t make my chair inferior.”

Carolines “mess”: In class exercise 1

The point of my request for you to make a mess on this drawing is to deflect you from trying to create a precious and perfect artwork. The truth is, there is work and mess that goes into art. The particulars of the mess are what makes the drawing interesting! Like when you tell me gossip, I want to hear all the details, not just the end facts. The precious and perfect part comes at the very end in the PRESENTation the work. If you don’t divorce these two categories: making and presenting, you bind yourself with judging a work that hasn’t had a chance to develop. My intention is to free you from the constraints of preconceptions about how to make a “good” picture. (Never “should” on yourself, as my brother’s acting teacher said) In fact, remove the idea of having to be “good”  altogether. It doesn’t help you take the risks you need to take to learn, and it will ensure bad (or at least dull) work. I was interested that instructions to “make a mess” made some of you happy and comfortable and others  very uncomfortable! Which side do you fall on? Caroline made a beautiful drawing (above), but she doesn’t recognize it, and doesn’t want to own it! The line work and power of how authentically and accurately she engaged the act of observation brings the marks on this page to life. The integrity of the marks make this rewarding for me to look at. In her reflection

my perfectionism got the best of me and I was unable to complete half of the assignment. (from Caroline’s blog)

In my mind, this is a finished work, and very much a complete assignment! The “unfinished”-ness of the object cause me to focus on the mark-making (and not the chair) as the central “figure”  of the drawing. The marks do not disappoint–rigorous, and self confident, they stand on the page as a mysterious pointer that begs questions of the viewer instead of giving an answer.

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