250.040 – Critique Primer

Revised: August 2017

The Faculty of Maine Media College view critique as a learning and teaching tool, not a forum for evaluation or generalized assessment. The purpose of critiques is to support through engaged dialogue the development of each student’s creative vision, process and product. Faculty model discourse specific to each medium; promote awareness of technical, interpretive and stylistic areas of current and ongoing growth; identify artists, theory, or other sources relevant to the student’s work; and support students in addressing challenges or questions in the evolution of each student’s work. Critique is a dynamic process that requires active engagement from all the faulty, the student whose work is being critiqued and his or her peers. This primer addresses the role of each participant and identifies postures conducive to productive critiques.

For Students
It is helpful to view the Retreat as a time to reflect on the direction of your artistic process and development of your creative vision. The Critique itself and your individual meetings will be more generative if approached as times in which to constructively engage multiple perspectives in dialogue around what you’re doing, where you’d like to go and how to get there. Critiques are not final exhibitions, they are part of the learning process and as such framing is discouraged.

Preparing for your Critique:
Try to view the critique as a think tank focused on your work during which you remain open minded to suggestions and feedback. It is important to remember that it is the working being critiqued not you as an artist. Remind yourself that the faculty is supportive of who you are as an artist and what you are trying to say. In doing this, students avoid the most important pitfalls of a critique: defensiveness and reactive listening.

In preparation for your critique, reflect on your core concerns, achievements and challenges during the semester, taking into account the stated objectives in the project proposal, and ask yourself how the critique might best advance your work in moving forward. Using these reflections to shape the way you approach and introduce your critique helps focus your critique on what in most useful and important to your ongoing process and concerns.

It should take no longer than five minutes to introduce the work in a way that will benefit you most. You might want to ask specific questions or you might prefer a more global approach to the work as a whole. Introducing the work with a general description of the process might generate a more global critique while introducing it with a description of particular challenges or concerns directs the discussion toward specifics. Allow your audience a chance to interpret the work and give yourself the benefit of their direct response by limiting explanations of the work itself.

During the critique listen carefully and critically, weigh responses against your goals, identify specific comments or concerns to clarify or probe further. Approaching the critique as a discussion and allowing for a give and take results in rich feedback. 

Make sure you understand what is being referred to and described by asking for clarifications. Assess how well your work was understood in your own terms and use this feedback to become a critical connoisseur of your own work. Is your work being perceived and interpreted in the ways you want? If not, those are areas to further probe. This might point out areas of wisdom to be gained from the work itself: is your work doing something different than what you think your work is doing?

Participating in another student’s Critique:
Critique discussions model medium-specific discourse and are essential learning opportunities for students who are not being critiqued. What is being said about another student’s work will benefit both your own work and your understanding of the field. Listen carefully and critically. Students are encouraged to participate in critiques across all media by sharing comments supportive of the ongoing progress of the work being critiqued. Focus your comments on the work, not the artist. It is often very help to the student being critique if you pose your comment as a question. For example, “Have you looked at X in relationship to what you’re doing with your print statement?” Thoughtful questions are often the most generative form of critique.

Critique Notes:
Students are required to provide notes on each student critique. The goal in providing these notes is for each student to provide feedback on the work of each of their peers. They also serve to remind the student of issue you found salient during the critique. If there are things you were unable to contribute during the student’s critique, please include them in the critique notes.

Your interpretive view of the work should be geared toward supporting the student’s ongoing process and situated in the context of that student’s objectives. Your responses are extremely valuable but should at all times attend to what you feel would best serve the student and the work. Direct judgments, whether positive or negative, rarely advance the work. For example, if a student is exploring memory through landscape imagery, it is unhelpful to write evaluative comments, such as ‘the connection established between landscape and memory is nebulous’ or ‘this connection has been frequently explored by other artists and what you’re doing is stale.’ However, it would be appropriate and useful to suggest other artists, theorist, and authors with whom you are familiar who have explored the connection between memory and landscape.

For Faculty
The overarching goal of critique is to support the ongoing progress of each student’s work. Faculty is asked to approach each critique with the intention of providing supportive reflections, constructive criticism and interpretations informed by media-specific knowledge. It is quite common for Faculty members to have different opinions. Allowing students to hear dialogue around multiple perspectives and between Faculty members is one of the benefits of group critique and is encouraged at all times.