So last week, I made a card for my Art Student Tips & Tricks collection regarding five steps you can take to better prepare yourself for having your artwork critiqued by other people. But what about the other way around? What do you have to do when you're the one that's asked to critique?
While you may think critiquing is simply for the person on the other end of the commentary, think again! Not only does your advice and opinion help them shape their own work, but it also sharpens your art literacy - the way you view and analyze the formal elements of an art composition. In short, being able to comfortably critique your peers' work is learning how to comfortably critique every work!
So here are some pointers to keep in mind when you're asked to critique someone else's work, which can be useful for both in and outside of the classroom!
1. Find a happy medium between Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. If you're a millennial kid like me, you have to remember the original judges of "American Idol". Paula liked everybody. She gave singers of all sorts of levels the equal amount of compliments, all very vague and very "That was great!" Meanwhile, on the other side of the judges' table, Simon Cowell found a way to just tear everybody down. Neither of them would be very good art critics. Sure, if there's something you like about a design, say something about it. And if there's something you don't understand or you feel wasn't executed as well as it could have been, you should say something about that too. Just don't make it your go-to approach of looking at art. Start at neutral and work from there.
2. You are not obligated to love every single piece of art you see. You are not even obligated to like every single piece of art you see. Remember that it is perfectly okay to say something not 100% glowing about somebody's work if need be. Although, when you are making those negative comments, phrase them constructively and use complete thoughts. For example, Simon Cowell's "This is rubbish!" is not a critique. What's rubbish? Why is it rubbish? (A good example would be "The proportion distortion in this corner of the piece is a little distracting.")
3. If you're a little shy or apprehensive about hurting somebody's feelings by being too direct, try the compliment sandwich. First, say something you loved about the project. Second, say something you really weren't feeling about the project. And thirdly, say your overall opinion about the project.
4. On the other side of the spectrum, avoid words like "nice" and "interesting" or phrases like "I like it" or "That's really good". 'Nice' means nothing and really doesn't help in an academic art environment. Again, use complete thoughts.
5. Allow yourself to formally analyze the work before commenting. First, determine what you actually see. Note things like texture, composition, color, scale, and medium selection. (This would be a good time to take a look at the YourDictionary link attached to this card, a helpful list of good adjectives you can use to critique art.)
Secondly, describe what it is that you see to the audience. For example, "I can see how the rough texture in your plasterwork was used to intentionally antiquate the subject matter."
Determine how that makes you feel. This should be pretty obvious, but at the same time, it's extremely important. Art is all about communicating specific emotions to your audience. If an artist wants you to feel sad or nervous, when in reality you actually think it's sort of cheerful or funny, that's a huge problem that you should probably let them know about! (You can use the template: "This work makes me feel ________ because ________.")
Next, does the work remind you of anything? Does it make you think of another artist or the lyrics to a song or maybe even the plot of a book you just finished reading? Inject it into the conversation. All you have to say is "This piece reminds me of ______."
Finally, use your imagination! What would this piece smell like, taste like, or feel like? If the painting you're critiquing was a real environment, what would it sound like? Where would you find a work like this displayed?
The moral of the story is don't be a Paula. Don't be a Simon either. Remember to let your eyes and your mind be friends. Allow yourself to be a valuable resource for those you're critiquing, and in turn, become more and more of a credible art critic!