Friday, July 01, 2005

Criticizing critiques


Well, I think this will probably end up as the most rambly of my entries for this blog assignment. As everyone here in the WCU Master’s Program knows, it’s been a long exhausting week. So I think instead of a mini-essay like usual, I’d like to express my thoughts on critiques and their usefulness.

I have a pen pal (yes people still write letters) in Japan who is also a student, and I was trying to explain to her what a critique was, since it’s, as far as I know, unique to the art school world. I realized, in attempting to explain using non-technical terms she’d understand, that most of my description was negative. Yet I do feel that critiques are an integral and important part of art school. I’ve learned a lot about my work, how to talk about it, how it relates to other art and to the viewer… and I’ve learned how to talk about other people’s work, not to mention learning formal art terms- so is it just that critiques are difficult like an exam, and that’s why they can be so exhausting? I think as any artist who’s been through one knows there’s a much deeper issue than that. I don’t know any artist who doesn’t feel that their work is a part of their soul, an idea to which they gave birth, an extension of their own existence. Criticism will come, but it can be crushing to hear it about something so personal. Even compliments can be tough, as they can steer an artist into a sense of security- which brings me to another point.

Today in our group crits a mention was made several times of “being on an edge” in one way or another. This phrase has several connotations, and I think that in art, one edge exists between security and unknowing. Yes, great art is part instinct. Art can be mimicked by learning, but the good stuff has some intangible quality that can never be taught. So good critiques can foster a sense of security in ones direction- can teach us to trust our instincts even; but in my experience, real breakthroughs usually only come when one is entirely uncomfortable, when one is pushed to the limit of their understanding and endurance. So in some ways, bad critiques can be better than good ones…

I suppose what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Maybe that’s a depressing thought on its face, but in art, you have to be strong to stay on that edge. And the edge is where it all happens.

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