Description: Critiques are a commonplace activity in most post-secondary art schools. The critique is a dedicated time to discuss, review, examine and provide constructive criticism or praise for a work of art. For many students this is one of the few times that their voices are heard and taken into consideration. All too often K-12 art classes are a place where students are expected to merely listen to the teacher, produce homogeneous work, turn it in and never think about it again. Strategies are offered below in hopes of facilitating critique in an art classroom. The strategies can also be applied to any class or situation in which sharing, discussion, debate and community building are strived for.

What is Critique?
The public discourse or performance of critical thinking. It looks like a classroom huddled around and talking about an art project (or a video, or book, etc… ).  As a teacher, this creation of an open dialogue connects you with your students and hopefully leads to the development of a classroom community.

Critique as Triangulation
Critique as Triangulation The image above has been provided to help visualize the structure of a critque. The artwork is at the top of the triangle. The artwork is the point of  focus for the conversation. The other two sides are the audience and the artist. As participants in the critique we are NOT assessing the artist. We are assessing the qualities of the artwork.

How do I do this in my classroom?
Critique is an invitation to discuss ideas. Your students may not want to do this at first. They may not have any experience or training in sharing their thoughts with their teachers.
It is a process that evolves over time. It may seem difficult at first and may be challenging at times but it can lead to the development of critical thinking and reflection on artwork and the world in which live in.

An example of a critique in a high school class.

What exactly are we going to disuss?
To facilitate a critical discussion I suggest the use of the following topics as a guide.

  1. Subject – The basics: the who, what, when, where that are present in the artwork. WHAT do you see in the artwork? WHO is represented? WHEN is it taking place?
  2. Concept – The idea behind the artwork , the artists’ intent or conceptual framework, the intent or concept that the viewer might infer. WHY would an artist make this kind of artwork? WHAT idea do we believe is driving this work? WHAT does it make us thnk?
  3. Composition– the classic elements used to describe art work – line, shape, color, value, tone, emphasis, etc. HOW did the artist use their medium? HOW does the piece appear or exist in space? WHAT color/shape/material?

These broad topics are merely places for conversations to start from. There are countless more questions to ask but the topics above will usually be the easiest place to get the conversation going.

Useful tips on what to do in a critique.

A funny take on what happens when critiques go wrong.

Why is critique important?

  • Assess students – Critiques are a great way to gauge where students are in their art making skills, critical thinking skills, verbal expression skills and writing skills (when combined with writing tasks). Did students build upon their art making skills with their latest project? Are they thinking beyond their artwork and examining bigger issues? Are they confident sharing their thoughts and ideas? Are they developing higher order thinking skills?
  • Assess your teaching -Critiques also offer feedback on teaching. Does the class ‘get it’? Are they picking up on the lesson requirements? How can the teacher energize, re-conceptualize or approach the matter from a new direction?
  • Builds confidence– Critique allows students to develop their critical voice. It honors their voice. Many students have never been told that their ideas are important. Critique allows them to share their ideas and hopefully encourages them to be  passionate about their visions and beliefs and argue for them.
  • Professional practices – In the commercial art world, artwork is made and created through a process of meetings, revisions and re-revisions. Critique introduces students to the idea that their work will be scrutinized and considered by another person. As artists, commercial or not, critique is a process that leads to enriching discussions about the effectiveness of a piece of work. Any review in a newspaper, magazine, TV or blog uses the conventions of critique.
  • Developing critical culture –  All day long we are all responding and making decisions. We ‘like’ certain things, we find some things boring, exciting, enlightening, inspiring. Critique develops a culutre in the classroom where students and teachers go beyond a basic ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ and dig into WHY they make these decisions.
  • Social Justice – Once a classroom opens itself up to critique, various areas of discussion can be introduced such as – Community Issues, Health Issues, Personal History, Gender, Race, Class and beyond! As students and teachers share their opinions and beliefs they can learn about their respective points of view and learn from each other. Conversation and discussion can get tricky, it is important to develop and adhere to the practice of open mindedness, listening, empathy and respect. The road to social justice and a true democratic community starts with a conversation, an open mind and an open heart!

Discrete Strategies for Critique:

  • Compare and Contrast/ Finding Correlation’s- Ask students to look at two works of art (can be from fellow classmate or from outside the classrom) and look for correlations between the work. Have them examine the similarites and differences and explain the themes, concepts or techniques they see in the work.
  • Daily reflections– This can take the form of journal writing, informal comuniques from teacher to student, teacher to artists, student to artist, or student to student. These can be collected by the teacher and graded for participation so as to elicit free discourse. These can also be formal activities that adhere to classroom writing rubrics.
  • Quiet Reflection- At the beginning of a critique, a 5 minute quiet time can be adhered to. During this time the student’s and teacher can quietly examine the work in question. After the 5 minute time limit is up the conversation can be started. This buffer zone can allow students to reflect on the objects and develop their ideas without influence from their peers.
  • Developing References– Artists often take inspiration from other artists and the world around them. As students develop confidence in discussing their own work and work of other artists they will develop their working knowledge of artists and art history. Critiques can serve as a moment to introduce new artitsts and concepts or to draw connections to art movements and art history.
  • Social Media- Students can use social media such as soundcloud, twitter, yotuube, instagram, etc., to share and comment on various media forms. Students can create blog posts, video responses to artworks, memes and develop new trends.
  • Historical or Cultural Connections – Historical artworks can be seen as documents or primary resources for historical events. Students can use this historical connection to guide their discussions or their art practice. This can take the form of research project, museum field trips, historical landmark field trips, visits to local artist’s studios, or community based art practices in which students beautify, enhance or activate their community spaces.
  • Recording dialogue– Have students record themselves as they have their discussion. Have them keep a record of their discussions throughout the semester. When they look back at their recordings they can examine the way they use language to discuss to artwork. Students will see that they have access to or are developing access to critical thinking and critical dialogue.
  • Student Centered Critique- As students develop their critique skills they  can learn to facilitate a discussion of the artwork without their reacher. The studnets can conduct critiques where the teacher is merely an observer. This can build student’s public speaking skills, confidence and autonomous critical thinking.
  • Story Telling- The critique can be used as a place for story telling. Students can relate the artworks to moments in their personal histories or world histories. Students can also use the critique to develop unique narratives and ideas and share them with each other. In this case the artwork can serve as a catalyst for creative writing or new art projects.

Resources:

1. Art Critiques Made Easy (ARTS EDGE/Kennedy Center) http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/how-to/tipsheets/art-crit-made-easy.aspx
2. Teaching Students to Critique (ARTS EDGE/Kennedy Center) http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/how-to/tipsheets/student-critique.aspx
3. Teaching Students about Self-Assessment in the Arts (ARTS EDGE/Kennedy Center) http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/how-to/tipsheets/self-assessment.aspx
4. A reflection handout to use with students Handout-1-Reflection Handout

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