The Art of Critiquing Art

Tom Post, Ray Hassard, Critique.JPGTom Post and Ray Hassard recently got together at the Art Club to compare their techniques for moderating the Club’s Critique Sessions that are held twice a month at the Club.

Fact 1: Critique is part of our artistic process.

One of the first things we realized is that exhibits like ViewPoint or the shows we all marvel at each month at the Wessel Gallery or other local art galleries … these exhibits are the celebratory part of the painting process. The hard part of the process is what happens before we exhibit our work.

We mostly all create our work alone in the confines of our studios. The only input we get is from our families who see the work in process, but they are not always trained to see what we could do to improve things. As many of us learned back in art school, critiques by instructors or classmates were where we received objective comments to help us improve our work before it goes into a show or gallery. Once out of school, most of us have nowhere to go for this objective input. That is why the Club initiated its Critique Sessions—to give everyone a place to go for respectful input.

Fact 2: Every artist, at every skill level, should find some way of having work critiqued.

The real truth is that once we frame a painting, we are always being critiqued by anyone who happens to see it or considers purchasing it. Critique is part of being an artist. Once we accept this, the real question is how we are critiqued so that the work is as good as it can possibly be before we fram it. And that is the job we try to do when we moderate the Club Critique Sessions.

For historical reasons that no longer are significant, our Club Critique Sessions are labeled “Associate Critique” and “Signature Critique” – but all members are welcome at either or both. The only difference between the two is that Ray Hassard moderates on the first Tuesday and Tom Post on the third Tuesday. Many Club members bring the same paintings to both sessions to get comments. They are two different opportunities, but they are more alike than they are different.

Critique is not about comparing one artist to another but is about improving each work from where it is. As peers, we want to help every artist get better. As moderators, we will not permit picking a painting apart but instead look for areas in each that might be improved. We want it to be a positive learning process. Like actors, we all fear stepping out on the stage to perform. Even full-time, skilled professional painters still have a sense of fear when we are critiqued but we have learned to seek this kind of input.

Fact 3: As the artist, we need to hear what others think, but we do not have to change if we disagree.

We love the compliments, and while people in galleries will say things we don’t want to hear, silence is the worst possible outcome. Critique, whether it is done in one of our free Critique Sessions or by the ultimate viewer, will bring with it elements that we as artists simple disagree. That is perfectly fine. The work is ours and we need to pursue it as we believe it should be done. The critique is simply to get comments from other trusted peer artists on aspects that might be improved. During our Critique Sessions, these comments are more objective because we have a fresh set of eyes, but we don’t always share the same vision that you have when you create your own works. You can accept or dismiss the comments but at least you have had to opportunity to hear some objective thoughts—this is a learning process. It is not about showing, but learning.

Fact 4: We welcome everyone to participate regularly in our critique sessions.

We moderate our sessions with each artist in mind. We start with what you want to learn from the process. Bring up to two paintings at any session and the important thing is that when you leave, you have received the help you most want. Share with us your vision and any aspects about which you would like to receive comments.

There are three ways to learn at each session: (1) Receive critique on your own work, (2) offer comments about other works, and (3) by just sitting back and watching the whole process. We feel confident that what you observe will be a friendly, helpful session and never a flogging. As moderators, we both try to remain sensitive to everyone’s needs and not to overload … trying constantly to take each painting to a higher level.

Fact 5: The next Critique Sessions are October 16 and November 6.

  • Ray Hassard will moderate on the first Tuesday of each month … his next sessions are on November 6 and December 4.
  • Tom Post will moderate on the third Tuesday of each month … his next sessions are on October 16, November 20 and December 18.

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