From Bleached Bones

John Lee's Illustration Blog
Anonymous asked:
Hi! I had a question about critiques. The program I'm in (fine art) focuses mostly on personal expression & not so much on technique/formal elements. Critiques tend to meander between personal associations ("reminds me of my cat") & questions about idea behind work, instead of analyzing the piece itself. Fellow students aren't very aware of how pictures are constructed or the "why's" of their own decisions. Any tips on getting/giving useful info or rejuvenating critique in these discussions?


It’s funny because I’m now back in the classroom, on the other (student) side of things, and I was thinking about this very topic when we were looking at sketches for one of the first projects last week. The class was fixated on a suggestive pose in one of the sketches, and an argument was breaking out on whether it was appropriate or not.

I chimed in that we hadn’t heard the intent behind that particular piece yet, and that we first had to know that before we could offer opinions on whether or not the sketch (or “blueprint”) supported that intent with its subject matter and formal elements.

Here’s the bottom line: critique will always have a degree of subjectivity to it. It is, as a format, a gathering of people offering their opinions about things.

What you should do is treat crit as a “sounding board” (as Marshall puts it). Have a specific plan for what you want out of critique, and steer the discussions appropriately. In illustration, you are usually trying to pointedly convey your intent using a variety of visual vocabulary tools. Ask first what the intent was, and then break down how the image supports (or disputes) that intent.

For example, when I was teaching, I would try to avoid this:


"So. What do we think about this?"
"I kind of like it."
"Yeah it reminds me of like, cats I would draw when I was a kid."
"Or like, cats on the internet!"
"Totally. Have you seen this cat thing on the internet?"
<30 minutes of conversation about cats on the internet.>

And instead, try for something like this:


"Whose cat is this? This is a funny cat."
"It’s mine!"
"What was your intent for this cat drawing?"
"Well, I was trying to do an elegant Chinese-inspired line drawing of a cat stretching and I haven’t ever used a cintiq, so I was also trying that out."
"OK. Well, the line quality could be more elegant— it’s kind of jittery, it’s uniform throughout, and the drawing, while simple, isn’t as simple as it could be, especially when compared to the ink drawings you were referring to. I’ve seen your drawings before though, so you can definitely use this to build on…"
<30 minutes of specific feedback using the drawing as evidence on: artists to look at for spare line drawings, specific tips on how to set up software/hardware, discussions about the technical aspects of drawing clean lines, the importance of observation/using reference, etc.>

The discussions on “why” is the most important driving force in critique. The artists need to know why they are trying to get feedback, and the participants should be able to articulate why a piece makes them respond a certain way. Challenge your classmates— be that kid who is always asking “why?” If they can’t articulate their position in a logical progression, then you should most likely edit their opinion from your notes in crit (and you should always take notes in crit.)

Speaking of notes, here’s a few quick ones:

- Crit should never be a “me vs. them” kind of thing. It doesn’t really benefit anyone to tear someone down in crit for no reason (I only did it when the student was extremely lazy.) 

- Intent and ignorance isn’t a shield for morally questionable work. 

- No one has all the answers.

Crit is a structure that is there to learn and benefit from. The more you can add to it and understand how to use it, the more it will help your (and your classmates’) work.

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